ENGLAND'S COUNTRY SPAS
by Lynn Parramore
At least since Roman times, Britons have headed for the rolling hills and ravishing moors of the countryside for rest and rejuvenation. Spa towns emerged, and stately manor houses became rural playgrounds for the aristocracy. Pastoral poets have long sung the praises of sun-dappled country lanes over the noise and grime of the city. Today, Londoners enjoy an envious range of retreats when they need to escape the rigors of modern life.
Here are four of the top country spa retreats in England:
Stapleford Park Country House Hotel
If you’ve ever wondered how it might feel to be a character in a Jane Austen novel, Stapleford Park gives you the chance. Just an hour by train from London in the unspoiled East Midlands region, Stapleford Park was founded by the ancient Earls of Harborough. The house and grounds are magical scenes of grazing sheep, falconry lessons, and guests taking brandy by the library’s roaring fire. The staff is welcoming, and the ambiance is at once sophisticated and casual. If you book the lovely Crabtree & Evelyn room, you'll find it decked in fresh floral prints and stocked with samples from the famed maker of English toiletries. Facilities at the main house include a swimming pool, steam room, and whirlpool.
Stapleford Park Lifestyle Wellness Retreat is housed in a cleverly-converted Victorian stable block decorated with equestrian touches evoking its former existence. The Retreat includes a gym, fitness studio, lounge and seven treatment rooms. Choose from a tempting menu of aromatherapy, Swedish and Indian head massages, plus body and face treatments using the Clarins line of plant-based products. The Yummy Mummy’s Afternoon offers a choice of facial or body massage, child care during treatment, and a voucher for the charming thatch-roofed Pavilion restaurant overlooking the golf course.
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When the first Queen Elizabeth wanted to take a break from ruling, she headed to Northhamptonshire’s Fawsley Hall—and nearly bankrupted the owners with the extravagant ways of her entourage. You can follow in her illustrious footsteps and even book the room where Her Majesty once slept at this sprawling Tudor mansion, which has sprouted Georgian and Victorian wings in its venerable history. The surrounding parkland, landscaped in the 18th century, features glorious vistas, lush lawns, tranquil lakes, and stands of centuries-old trees.
The delightful subterranean spa at Fawsley Hall offers a fitness studio in what was formerly a Georgian cellar, along with a sauna, Jacuzzi, two treatment rooms and a gym. Beauty and health treatments include nourishing facials, revitalizing wraps, and the signature Back Facial (like a facial, but for your back), which features an exfoliation and mud mask. Spa-goers can’t wait for a new facility scheduled to open in January, 2009, which will add six treatment rooms, an aerobics studio, a juice bar, south-facing gardens, and a swimming pool.
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Chewton Glen, a legend among country house spas, is nestled at the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. An hour-and-a-half train ride southwest of London, this coastal region is a land of glorious open heaths where 3,000 wild ponies run free. The original structure of Chewton Glen is a stately brick manor house dating to the early 1700s. The main house is grand yet welcoming, surrounded by lush parklands filled with flower gardens and dotted with classical statuary. Upon arriving, guests are greeted by cheerful staff and shown to spacious rooms decorated with tasteful antiques.
The renowned Spa at Chewton offers an indoor pool surrounded by Roman-style paintings, an outdoor whirlpool, a gym, and a dance studio. A flick of your hand across light sensitive pads in the state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool activates body jets that massage joints and muscles. The Spa features ten treatment rooms staffed by therapists skilled in reflexology, acupressure, and skin care. Choose traditional treatments such as the restorative “Hot pebble body massage,” or go for something more exotic, like the “Celestial maracuja body polish,” which uses the essence of the Amazonian passion flower. If you can tear yourself away from the spa, there’s a croquet lawn, a small golf course, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a superb restaurant boasting a Michelin star. Beyond the hotel, England’s south coast is a short walk away.
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The Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa
Alexander House is set in the West Sussex countryside in the village of Turners Hill, just nine miles away from Gatwick airport. The 17th-century stone mansion, once occupied by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, seems to be sprung from the pages of a storybook with its gothic corridors, stone columns and domed ceilings. Plush rooms are papered in stylish Art Deco prints and outfitted with Italian linens.
The Utopia Spa features three pools, steam rooms, saunas, cascading waterfalls and a picturesque outdoor hot tub. The Spa offers an extensive range of treatments, including sugar cane scrubs, hot stone massages and the “Caci Quantum facial,” a “non-surgical facelift” employing microcurrents that has a pleasingly tightening effect. The signature “Chocolate Fondue Indulgence Wrap” is a sweet treat that leaves your skin feeling deliciously soft. After your treatments, stroll through the 170-acre garden, or, if you’re feeling active, take advantage of fitness classes and outdoor fun including horseback riding and archery. Alexander House boasts an excellent formal restaurant and the more casual Brasserie overlooking a courtyard with a blazing log fire pit.
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Lynn Parramore is an NYC-based freelance writer focusing on lifestyle, travel, and women's issues. She's the Founding Editor of IgoUgo.com and Contributing Editor to Travelgirl Magazine.