Set in the in the heart of spectacular Sherwood Forest, it is little wonder that this legendary location should have provided the inspiration for the recent re-design of Center Parcs’ original Aqua Sana.
The former World of Spa has been aptly renamed the Forest Spa, and as my taxi snaked through the long, tree-lined approach, I could see why. Sunlight filtered through the tangle of trunks and branches, illuminating pools of wild bluebells across the forest floor.
The Forest Spa concept brings the beauty of the woodland to the fore, merging the boundaries of indoors and out. Open-air terraces and balconies submerged in the forest give bird’s-eye views from the roots to the treetops.
One of the most talked-about showpieces is the new Treetop Sauna, perched 10 metres above the ground and, until the morning of the unveiling, kept under wraps by a giant Aqua Sana coloured ribbon.
The Forest Spa is not just a gimmicky theme. Forest Bathing, the latest wellness trend to hit British shores, comes from the Japanese concept of ‘shinrin-yoku’ and means ‘to take in the forest atmosphere’. Some research has found that a 15-minute walk amongst trees can improve mood and wellbeing.
The Spa Spies don’t need scientific proof to realise that nature can ease body and soul, but where better to put this theory to the test than in the glades of Sherwood Forest?
From tiny acorns…
There were palpable waves of pride in the air as therapists and spa staff greeted us warmly, directing us into the restaurant. Draped in willow branches and flowers, it felt like Sherwood Forest had been invited inside.
Martin Dalby, CEO of Center Parcs, began by explaining how a £3 million budget had transformed the original Aqua Sana -- launched here in 1987 with just four treatment rooms and a wet flotation area -- into a “leading-edge and world-class attraction”.
We couldn’t wait to get into our swimsuits and robes and be one of the first to explore…
Into the forest
Our friendly spa guide, Luisa, was happy to provide an introductory tour of the six zones with 25 different spa experiences.
Taking seeds of inspiration from forests around the world, the upward climb from the Forest Floor to the Treetop Canopy felt like an adventure. We encountered everything from a freezing Nordic tundra of ice and snow, to hot and humid rainforest jungles.
The Sole Therapy foot spas at the entrance led to the centrepiece outdoor pool, encircled with glass and fringed with flowers. Open to the elements, forest bathers can be lap up the warmth whatever the weather, as well as some powerful massage jets to soothe backs, legs and shoulders.
In the Nordic Forest, the outdoor Scandinavian Snug is especially cosy, with flickering fire pits and soft blankets, while an invigorating ice rub amid whistling winds in the chilly Ice Cave promises a shocking wake-up call to boost circulation.
The Volcanic Forest has a Volcanic Sauna, which gave the illusion of being in a lava flow with fiery lighting and crackling logs. The Volcanic Steam Room was so dark and steamy it felt like I was in the belly of a volcano, journeying to the centre of the earth.
Up in the Treetop Nesting area, the heated recliners, waterbeds and basket-woven loungers looked extremely inviting, as did the cooling mists of the Forest Glade Steam Room and Rainforest Shower. Meanwhile, in the dream-like Forest Immersion meditation zone, you can imagine yourself lying in a summer meadow as birds chirp and the changing sky above darkens from shadowy daylight to inky night.
We couldn’t wait to try the jewel in the crown – the Treetop Sauna. High up among roosting wood pigeons, overlooking ducks bobbing around in the stream below, the hideaway has breath-taking views over Sherwood Forest.
Heading back down below to savour the bubbling outdoor Hot Springs, we blissed out during a sudden burst of sunshine.
Tell us about the treatment
We had a 25-minute Back, Neck and Shoulder massage.
My therapist Lauren asked if I’d prefer her to use Elemis or Decléor products and as I’d popped into a fascinating Decléor demonstration with hostess Rita en route to the treatment rooms, I decided to plump for the latter.
As Lauren’s firm touch began to ease out the knots in my shoulders, I felt all tension ebb away. The products used were reminiscent of the differing spa climates – a warming energising balm to get the blood flow going, followed by an icy and refreshing blast of gel to cool down afterwards.
A surprise glass of bubbly was a very welcome way to wind down in the airy relaxation conservatory with ground-to-sky views of the forest.
Utterly enchanted and enthralled by Aqua Sana’s new Forest Spa, we feel they’ve achieved something special here. Open from 9am until 9pm, the spa after dark will add another enticing dimension with dramatic sunsets and twinkling lights.