Reach for the spas
Sarah Ebner takes her sceptical husband to a health spa and, within seconds of arriving, both decide it is good to be in Grayshott
As the parent of young children, I felt that a spa — a place where you could relax, swim, be pampered and, perhaps best of all, not be bothered by children (your own or others) — sounded like a fantasy .
I rather thought I might have to wait until my two were at university before I could actually visit a spa, but thanks to the kindness of my parents — who proved that the best presents do not always come gift wrapped — it became a reality.
As a way of celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary, they offered to look after the children for two nights so that I and my husband — who almost collapsed with gratitude when I told him — could get away. When they made the offer, we were suddenly aware of the dazzling choices open to us: all the places that did not have baby listening devices, child-friendly facilities, or early suppers, were available to us. And when planning the journey, we didn’t have to worry about pit-stops for our fouryear-old.
We thought about going abroad, but decided it would be too much of a rush (my parents wanted us back by bedtime on Sunday — the children’s, not theirs). We questioned friends and mulled it over until we realised that all we wanted to do was relax.
It was at that point that I heard myself say: “Perhaps we should try a health farm.” Apart from my husband’s initial alarm that he might be the only man there (he was not; about a third of health spa clients are male; a higher percentage at weekends), it did not take much to convince him.
And so we found ourselves driving to one of the country’s most luxe and well known spas, Grayshott in Surrey. Not being health farm habituees, we were nervous about what to expect. We even thought about stashing some biscuits in the luggage. However, our fears melted away pretty much as soon as we stopped in front of Grayshott Spa, set within the magnificent former stately home.
The lobby has been renovated along with every guest room, restaurant and lounge — as well as the spa itself. The refurbishment, completed last summer, cost £4.5 million, and is stunning. There are striking modern paintings, a vast staircase sweeping up to the first-floor guest-rooms and a real feeling of grandeur.
Our room, in the main house, was splendid and gorgeously decorated with pale sofas, plump scarlet cushions, vast bed and doors onto a balcony with loungers, and views on to the 47 acres of manicured grounds. Best of all was the knowledge that our huge room was not soon to be filled up with nappies, toys and the general detritus that usually accompanies us on holiday. We also had a widescreen TV, with satellite and DVD — the kinds of luxuries my husband dreams of — safe, big fluffy towels and a huge bathroom, though there was nowhere to hook up the shower — we decided they like their guests to take baths.
Becoming part of the health spa experience was also something of a novelty.
The first thing is to realise that the de rigueur daywear at Grayshott is a robe. Two cosy, white towelling robes were hanging up in our bedroom cupboard, so my husband and I duly slipped into them.
Walking around in the public rooms we were aware of a mixture of genders and ages. Mothers and grown-up daughters seemed to be a popular combination, as were women with female friends. There were also men around, mainly accompanying wives or girlfriends.
Following the refurbishment, the spa has beautifully appointed new treatments rooms and a new, state-ofthe-art hydrotherapy suite, and there are also more treatments, products and therapies on offer.
In the interests of research, my husband felt it was essential to sample one of the facials and massages designed especially for men, and was particularly impressed by his “de-stress” massage — 50 minutes of deep muscle work on his neck and shoulders.
I was certainly not going to miss out on some treatments in addition to the basic body massage which is part of the spa package. All were lovely, but I especially enjoyed the infinitely relaxing “Oriental wisdom,” a mixture of tui-na and shiatsu massage.
We lounged in the big squashy sofas of the fabulously refurbished drawing room, we did a little swimming and my husband took a trip to the gym (far too strenuous for me).
We could have also consulted a dietician about weight-loss and for healthy-eating advice to take home, had a consultation with a personal trainer to improve our fitness regimes and attended any number of classes, from Tai Chi to spinning, aerobics to aquacise.
The spa also has a cinema with recently released movies, and a bar which offers, as well as a variety of teas, smoothies and a range of mineral waters, organic wines and Champagne. Golf, tennis (indoor and outdoor courts), guided walks, and the new outdoor swimming pool were also on offer, although the weather was so horrible we stayed indoors.
Of course, spa ingenues like me always worry about the food — as in will there be any grub beyond the odd lettuce leaf and blob of cottage cheese. Well, these days, you certainly do not starve at a spa. The buffet breakfast was a treat, with cereals, fruit (including the more exotic varieties), yoghurt and a choice of cooked dishes such as porridge and omelettes.
Lunch was a salad buffet, which I found a bit tedious by the second day. I snack a lot in the day, and there was no chance of doing that — but perhaps it just proves I am not cut out for a spa food regime.
Dinner, however, was delicious — three courses, with perfectly cooked fish or vegetarian dishes for mains and even puddings, which tasted wonderfully wicked, even if they were not — but portions were a bit small for those of us with, um, traditional Jewish appetites.
The best part for us, was the relaxation: working and bringing up children, may be rewarding and fun, but it is also exhausting, so it was blissful to be able to nap, read the entire paper uninterrupted and have a lovely long soak without having to worry about supper-time, bathtime and being woken at dawn by a wideawake four-year-old.
Of course, I worried about the children. Even my ridiculously kind parents admitted that they were a bit concerned. In the event of course, they were all fine. Now we are hoping that we can persuade the grandparents to take our offspring again — hopefully before we get to our 20th wedding anniversary.
Gracious Grayshott Spa, standing in 47 acres of landscaped grounds
Longing to chill out: a chaise longue in one of the refurbished suites at Grayshott Spa
The indoor pool at Grayshott Spa, has also enjoyed a facelift as part of the £4.5 million refurbishment