There are no flattering words for growing older – believe me, I’ve tried to find them - but I do like the phrase ‘autumn years.’ Autumn is such a beautiful time of the year, when it’s still light and the leaves are turning orange and red, when we can indulge in comforts like cashmere and home fires, hot drinks and hearty meals. The manic frolicking of summer is over: it’s time to cosy up and reflect.
One of the most blissful heat experiences on a recent spa trip was the Lavender Sauna at the Five Bubble Luxury Dormy House in the Cotswolds. The marble seats were warm and toasty (heavenly on my aching glutes), and every so often a mechanical arm would drop lavender infused water onto hot coals. I could have stayed for hours drifting away in heady herbal scents.
Dormy is probably the quintessential hygge spa. Its Scandi design (I covet those cool lampshades), the warm customer service, stylish home-from-home country house vibe with roaring fires, and the bright spa lounge with its huge wood-burner all make me want to move in. The Pure Massage, with its intense healing strokes, was the ultimate nurturing treatment.
I am so pleased that UK spas are now embracing the idea of year-round outdoor bathing. There is no better feeling than being in a hot vitality pool gazing at mountains or the sea, the odd wisp of icy breeze snaking through the rising steam. I was literally in my element at St Brides Spa & Hotel in Saundersfoot on the Pembrokeshire coast. The Five Bubble spa’s iconic outdoor hydrotherapy pool with its infinity edge enables you to float above the wild Atlantic waves below. Even on a drizzly day the light is pearlescent: it must be amazing in a storm. Both the spa and hotel have that stylish beach house vibe.
Another highlight was the shiny new Source Spa at Saunton Sands in North Devon, a striking piece of modern design where every one of its three floors has glass walls overlooking miles of golden sands, sea and sky. It has the view to top all views. Their vitality pool has an infinity edge and presses against the clear glass: I wallowed there for aeons watching surfers and dog walkers on the beach below. Ending your spa day with a blustery walk on one of Britain’s most beautiful beaches is an experience I will never forget.
A vital element of spa comfort is the spa robe, of course, and Source Spa has some gorgeous deep fluffy grey robes and towels that you can buy at Towelsoft, who supply many of our luxury spas... And one is now is on my Christmas wish list.
Finally, I landed in one of my all-time favourite spas, the Five Bubble Luxury Lucknam Park, near Bath. Lucknam is so romantic, from the majestic, tree-line driveway (stunning at this time of year), through the winding garden paths to the honey-hued spa. The striking spa building, all glass and stone and set in their pretty walled gardens with vivid-hued trees and shrubs, is a treat. You can swim to the outdoor thermal pool and absorb the colour and light as your limbs melt in the warm water. Top this with an ESPA treatment – anything involving hot stones and their Restorative Oil is a must at this time of year.
Readers may remember that I started horse-riding lessons on this, my 50th year, inspired by a previous visit to Lucknam’s equestrian centre. The spa manager insisted I see the stables, saying how at the end of a stressful day, she often came to absorb the atmosphere and stroke a velvety nose or two (belonging to a horse, obviously). After that, I was determined to return one day and be able to try one of their Saddle & Spa experiences. Several lessons later, I did it.
It was pure joy to ride through the grounds on a bright morning under the tutelage of Kiri, who made me feel so safe and infused me with confidence, as well as giving me lots of useful riding tips. Dawn, who runs the centre and is great to talk to, told me she is developing Horse Whispering retreats for next year. After newly experiencing the therapeutic benefits of being with horses, I’m totally in.
I am curling up by any available fireside to read: The Porpoise by Mark Haddon. A beguiling time travelling adventure that slips from a modern-day thriller to Greek legends and Shakespearean London.
My current favourite product: Organic Pharmacy’s Antioxidant Face Serum (35 ml, £85). My skin is glowing like nobody's business.
Good Spa Guide
4th October 2019
Behind the scenes