Aqua Sana Spas provide the perfect escape from the activity frenzy that is a typical Center Parcs holiday. The facilities at the impressive Roman-style Aqua Sana are high quality and extensive. Aqua Sana does a great job of combining a stylish and relaxing ambiance with affordable treatments and a whole host of thermal treats. You can lose yourself for a day in the heat experiences, indulge in a powerful massage, or pamper yourself with a relaxing facial.
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9am - 9pm every day
Executive Apartments available for spa breaks.
The Zilli Café provides a selection of fresh and healthy dishes.
What isn't on offer might be quicker to answer. Aqua Sana is an impressive, extensive, temple-like building within the Center Parcs complex. Its facilities include a cosmopolitan array of heat rooms (Laconium, Greek, Herbal, Indian Steam, Japanese Salt Steam) and saunas of both Scandinavian and Hammam varieties.
There is a large relaxation room with a view of a section of the grounds (our visit included a walk-on part by a baby deer), meditation rooms, gardens of various designs, a plunge pool, a café-bar, and of course a multitude of treatment rooms.
Treatments range from facials and body routines to reflexology and infrared therapy, muds, nailcare and a repertoire of massages. Special offers include Spa Days and Express Beauty sessions, encompassing manis and pedis, eyelash tinting, eyebrow stencilling and afternoon tea.
I took two treatments from the short menu of three available for men, the Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial (55 minutes, £56) and the Back Neck and Shoulder Stress Release Massage (25 minutes, £44).
The facial was expertly carried out by Hannah. She began by discussing my concerns, which are the concerns of middle-aged men the western world over (dryness, puffiness, tiredness).
The facial began with a short foot massage to create an agreeable feeling of relaxation. For the start of the skin treatment, Hannah worked in a light, relatively odourless cleansing lotion, which she wiped away with mitts. The second cleanser was a deeper-acting product, Deep Cleanse Facial Wash, a lactic-based wash scented with both peppermint and spearmint and containing oak bark. Hannah worked this into all areas of my face, producing a pleasant tingle, before sponging that away, too.
After some light neck and shoulder massage, Hannah gave my face a light exfoliation with a gently astringent, lightly grainy lotion. She then covered my eyes and applied the face mask, which felt lighter than some I've experienced and less aromatic. While that was doing its job, Hannah performed lymphatic massage on my arms, hands and fingers, gently stretching them with slow, controlled movements. She then peeled the face mask away, and applied Time Defence Eye Reviver to the areas around my eyes. I'm always inclined to be a little sceptical about the likely effectiveness of wrinkle treatments, but this definitely left my skin feeling tauter and looking fresher.
At the end of the treatment, Hannah produced a pair of finger cymbals and clinked them once somewhere above my navel. Ting! Time's up.
The second treatment was a Back Neck and Shoulder Stress Release Massage. This is shorter routine normally incorporates a quick facial but, as I had just had one, we decided to skip.
My therapist, Cherie, started the ball rolling by asking me what my concerns were. I mentioned my usual shoulder tension and spinal crunching (it's a year since my last massage), and she agreed to concentrate on those. I asked for a firm-pressure approach, and she advised that she would work in some firmer work amid the gentler passages.
Cherie began by carrying out longitudinal top-to-bottom massage down either side of my spine, which was followed by a kneading motion on my deltoids. These initial movements were very effective, producing a few tell-tale clicks here and there. Cherie was very skilled at firm-pressure massage; her elbow and forearm work producing deep, borderline-painful grooves of pressure along either side of my back -- the kind of nearly-pain that's worth it.
After that, Cherie concentrated on massaging the ridges of my shoulders, going along the tops with a mixture of kneading and pressing motions. My shoulderblades were next and, as always, the right-hand side was particularly obstinate, but Cherie was nothing if not persistent, and every hard knot was untied and smoothed out, though it took some doing.
Using slightly less fierce pressure, she then worked down my spine, where the worst scrunching of my vertebrae is concentrated. I don't think we quite got to the bottom of that, but the truth is that it may require more than massage.
The final part of the routine was a firm massage of my neck muscles, from my occipital ridge down to the base of my neck. Cherie used a mixture of pinching and turning movements to iron out the inevitable reserves of tension there. At the end, she applied an after-massage lotion to my back, which was initially cooling and then, after a couple of minutes, turned into a kind of deep scorching effect that left me feeling pleasantly dazed. I would have liked to just chill for another half-an-hour in the spa, but unfortunately had a train to catch, otherwise this would have been the perfect conclusion.
Vitalé Café Bar offers a range of light hot dishes, including fresh pasta with sauce variations, fishcakes, salad bowls with chicken or salmon, Danish pastries, fruit salads, with a drinks menu of juices and smoothies, a few Italian wines and bottled beer, Strathmore mineral waters and a standard coffee menu.
My salmon and smoked haddock fishcake was a large, crisply textured object, a little dry but generously packed with fish and herb leaves. It came with a pot of decent lemony aïoli and a heap of lightly vinaigretted rocket. The fruit salad was uninspiring. A glass of Prosecco Sant'Orsola was pleasantly fresh and slightly sweet, in the demi-sec style that used to rule the roost in Prosecco (and now doesn't). A small bottle of Strathmore still came with ice and a slice of lemon, and my cappuccino was properly frothy and chocolated.
The heat rooms. Progressing from hot to hotter, we relaxed in the laconium, sweltered in the Greek herbal room with its fugitive scents of rosemary and sage, and then swooned in the Indian steam room, where the fog of aromatherapy leads on to a revitalising experience shower. The Swedish-style sauna was relaxing and stimulating at the same time.
We would have loved the water-beds, which looked cool, but couldn't get near them in the press of business.
The changing rooms and shower facilities were very good, with decently sized shower stalls for the boys.
We didn't love the chattering crowds. It was, to be fair, the height of the summer season and you can't blame a place for being popular. Nor can you entirely hold a business itself to blame for its customers' behaviour, but Aqua Sana is a social spa. Groups of women and couples are the order of the day, and everybody likes to chat. Fine above the roar of the footbaths; less welcome in the relaxation room, where you struggle to concentrate on a magazine over other users' gossip; even less welcome in the so-called Meditation Rooms. There are notices everywhere you look imploring people to respect others' expectations of tranquillity. These are widely ignored.
The pool is a bit small to cope with the press of custom. It all looked a little intimate in there.
Groups! Parties of two, three, four women are very much in evidence. Book in for a spa day, and have a good old catch-up. There was a heartening number of couples on my visit, the guys sometimes looking a little self-conscious, but generally enjoying having been talked into it. Nice mixture of ages, too, not just younglings. For the solo spa-goer, it’s not ideal, unless you find a less busy session.
Aqua Sana is worth a Good Spa Guide Rating of Four bubbles for the facilities, which are well-maintained, very extensive and various, and helpfully signposted, and for the treatments, which are efficient and professional.
The overall experience, sadly, was disappointing just because of the lack of real relaxation we experienced. Aqua Sana is a sociable spa everywhere, even if you want to meditate. Come with those expectations and you won’t be disappointed.
Aqua Sana Spa at Center Parcs Longleat in July 2013