By Shilpa Ganatra
When done right, spa retreats are heaven on earth, a place where every desire is an indulgence in the guise of wellbeing. When done wrong, it leaves the guest more frustrated and less zen than when they entered the doors – with their pockets lighter too.
So in the name of research. we decided to check up on the original health resort, Champneys, over the bank holiday weekend to see just what wonders it did for our health. And here’s what we we noted when we went to its four-star Tring spa retreat:
1. It’s in the proper English countryside, with nothing but woodland, fields and lovely houses in its vicinity. Yet it’s easy enough to get to as it’s a 10-minute drive from the A41, attracting busy London types and celebs like Kylie Minogue and Dizzee Rascal, apparently.
2. You get to wear robes at breakfast and dinner. Which will never lose its novelty. Dinner, however, is most definitely a smartly-clothed affair, as TLE found out when we forgot our shoes and was forced to wear flip-flops one night and trainers the other. Learn from our mistakes, please.
3. The clientele are as expected: mums and daughters, gal pals, solo pampers, lusty couples and local retirees who come as day members.
4. There are problems if you’re looking for them – the rooms could do with updating, supplements on expected amenities were a little stingy, the exercise studios have terrible acoustics – but it teaches us a good lesson of not focusing on our negativity.
5. There’s a helicopter pad there, if you’re in a rush.
6. We loved the range of classes each day – from a light wake -up workout suitable for all ages to a country walk in the morning and after lunch. We would have expected to see more meditation available, but there was only one class a week, available at a supplement.
7. TLE was joined by an acute Crohn’s Disease sufferer who couldn’t eat many ingredients we take for granted. They went to great pains to cater for her when prompted (the chef even whipped her up some special banana pancakes during a busy lunch period), but we hoped they would be more inventive their own accord – her dinner consisted of mackerel for starters and, er, mackerel salad for main. Still, we’d recommend it to those with special diets and also special needs are treated brilliantly by their staff.
8. Otherwise, the food is overall well thought-out. Breakfast is standard, and consists of a range of cereals with a range of milks, fruit and breads (with gluten-free readily available) with eggs available at a cost. Dinner was a three course set menu, and was light but delicious – we particularly loved our courgette and feta starter with seeds for extra goodness. It’s buffet-style lunch was its piece de resistance, with a huge range of hot food, cold prepared salads, salad ingredients, crudités and dips. Vegetarian options included quorn dishes – a surprising rarity. Best of all, they avoid using refined sugar (serving packets of fructose instead, which tastes no different) and using only natural oils in their cooking, though butter is served with bread.
9. Boozers be warned: the only time drinks are served is with dinner. However the wine list has an excellent and well-priced selection, with a glass of tart, chilled champagne £6.20.
10. The pool was in a completely different section to the jacuzzi area, which made it logistically challenging. That was our excuse for not swimming, anyway.
11. The staff say hello to every guest as they pass, a la five-star hotels. We had to keep looking behind us to make sure they were talking to us.
12. We loved their relaxing drawing rooms, where teas and coffees were served after dinner. There’s a piano in one, and classical music in the background of the other.
13. The rooms are of a good standard, with Champney’s own shampoo, conditioner and lotion included. The freebie toiletries are especially important here.
14. It’s only just about worth the price of £569 for the two day break, but a complete bargain with 75% off for Vitality members (they’re not paying/bribing us to say this, promise). This works out to around £75 a night for all meals plus a few treatments and accommodation, which is a genuine steal.
15, Champneys are improving their offerings all the time – next on the agenda is a new hydropool which guests can enjoy later this year. Armed with our Vitality card, we’ll be one of them.