When the Spa Spies heard about the launch of Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall, we were so interested in the holistic and healing attitude towards spa-ing that we hot footed it to Devon to see what is reported to be the biggest spa launch of 2016.
Plymouth may not immediately spring to mind when you think spa, but the location is deliberately part of a grand plan: there is no other comparable luxe spa nearby. The areas is in acceleration, going through regeneration and gentrification. Gaia Spa sits five miles outside the city, slightly straddling the edge of Dartmoor.
The spa building is a modern addition to a truly ancient establishment. Boringdon Hall is a 16th century, Grade I listed Elizabethan Manor with an illustrious past. Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh were among its original guests.
Boringdon and Gaia are a family enterprise. The Nettleton’s also have Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa under their belt. When it came to divvying up the hospitality strengths and talents, Diane Nettleton claimed the spa as her baby. In the name of research, she went on a mission travelling the globe, mixing with spa specialists so she could pick out the best bits on international scene and amalgamate well-being both inside and out.
In Greek mythology, Gaia is Mother Nature. This interpretation of the theme is branded tastefully throughout. Spanning three storeys, the decor feels light with floor to ceiling glass, pale wood and brushed metals spotted with tasteful modern art that either reflects nature or is constructed out of natural materials.
There are treatment 12 rooms and 30 therapists to deliver both bespoke Gaia Rituals, developed with their own blended product range, or the full quorum of ESPA facials and body treatments. There’s also a beauty salon with a champagne bar.
I tried the signature head-to-toe Gaia Total Holistic Ritual (120 minutes, £225), a blissful two hours of easing tension, stress and bringing me into balance. It began – as all their treatments do – by soaking my feet as I sniffed out my chosen sensory potion between Awakening, Balancing and Calming. I was cocooned in versions of heat throughout a deep cleanse, exfoliation and warming nourishing mud. All applied and removed with hot towels and exfoliation mitts. The final stage was a brilliant massage with Balinese and Lomi Lomi techniques.
The following day I tried out the Jade Facial (60 minutes, £90) with Gaia products massaged into the skin, using healing crystal wands which work with the heart chakra while stimulating both lymph drainage and blood flow. A mask of honey and Cornish clay hydrated my skin and scalp. Ami, my therapist, managed to get rid of a niggling tension headache I’d had for days.
Post-treatments, I hunkered down in the relaxation room with pot of detoxing tea. I took up my position reclining on a bed with drop lighting, huge pillows and soft teal throws. Full length sliding doors brought some of the outside, inside.
I sampled the communal spa areas at 7.30am on a Saturday morning and indulged in having the whole place to myself. Excited by solace, I hotfooted it between the crystal salt steam room, the aromatherapy steam room, the warming laconium and both the herbal and Finnish saunas. Lovely facilities that we’ve come to expect of any self-respecting luxury spa.
There are two pools; an infinity pool and adjacent hydrotherapy pool where you can swim through a hatch to a heated outside area. A particularly mindful moment was bubbling with rising steam in gentle rain, as the birds sung from the surrounding trees.
On the top floor is the rather cool Spatisserie (serving until 8pm), an airy space with a huge outside terrace. The well-being menu offers a choice of mood-matching healthy but delicious menus under the subtitles of Awakening, Balancing, Calming and Enrich.
Stepping back into the hall and hotel, I felt like I had time travelled. Here the theme is period decor with flagstone floors, oak-panelling, beamed walls and lead mullion windows. The main bar and lounge is in the Great Hall, with an enormous stone fireplace, the coat of arms of King James I above and long Chesterfield-style sofas to sprawl along.
The fine dining options are tempting. We ate in The Gallery restaurant which is elevated above the Great Hall – an intimate setting but which acts as a great vantage point to people-watch. Head Chef, Scott Paton, was the mastermind behind the menu: I started with melt in the mouth morsels of smoked pork belly with peas mint and parliament sauce, followed by poached and roasted monkfish tail, confit mushrooms, oxtail, smoked bacon and watercress.
The night we stayed, there was almost no room at the inn. Boringdon was in high demand with a wedding about to take place and many a romancing couple in occupancy. We stayed in one of the more modest courtyard rooms on the ground level block. Recently refurbed, it had a good size bedroom in contemporary wood and neutral tones. If you’re pushing the boat out, the luxe suites go up to the opulent Royal Suite which has a Jacuzzi in a turret!
Gaia has put this part of Devon on the spa map. Its holistic attitude and charming ritual treatments will make you feel like you’re a world away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Calming Spa Break includes one night’s accommodation, with spa breakfast in the Spatisserie, a la carte dinner and a Gaia ritual treatment each from £379 per couple depending on which room type you opt for.
The Spa Spy
4th October 2016
Intuitive masseurs, inspired or outlandish treatments and design, posh products and celeb spotting.
Anyone po-faced (guests and therapists) or stupid, boring design and treatments.
Behind the scenes