You know how annoying groups of women can be when you’re trying to Zen out? Well, Aqua Sana at Longleat Forest have come up with a clever solution: a private spa suite for groups. The Hideaway is the ultimate chill-out lounge with its own garden and sauna, and it doesn’t cost that much more than a spa day. Plus, you get food and a mini-treatment.
While an obvious choice for hen-dos, I booked a Sunday night Twilight Package (4-9pm, £79 each) as a get-together for all my expat London friends who have moved out West. It’s about the same price as a dinner with lashings of fine wine, with no danger of anyone needing to be folded into a cab at the end of the night.
It’s quite a long-ish drive through Center Parcs – especially at 10 mph – so not everyone arrived at 4pm, when our Twilight Package kicked off. Our host, Judy, gathered each of us as we arrived at the spa reception and led us to The Hideaway.
First impressions: At the end of the quiet treatment room corridor, a discreet door opens onto a large, bright open-plan room with floor-to-ceiling windows letting in lots of light and of course beautiful forest views. Lime green and soft brown décor, as well as touches like the twisted tree trunk holding up the glass table, bring the forest in. There’s a plush pampering area, a dining table, a lounge with cosy green and brown sofas and a cabinet stacked with teas, coffees, bottled water and biscuits.
The highlight is a semi-circular private garden that has its own seating area with cushions, a hot little barrel sauna that looks rather like a rustic gypsy caravan, plus – my personal favourite – a warm outdoor shower. You’re surrounded by the tallest trees and real, not spa, birdsong.
Best of all, it’s all for us. And we have our private Hideaway spa butler, Judy, to cater to our every whim. The Hideaway is Judy’s baby: she’s run it since it opened three years ago, and people often ask for her specifically when they book – she's respectful, helpful and goes out of her way to make us happy.
My friends were very impressed with the space and couldn’t wait to get into their swimsuits – the downside being one has to share the changing rooms (and the rest of the spa) with the masses. Still, at least we can flee the madding crowd when it all gets too much.
Food and drink
Depending on the time of day, you get a breakfast, lunch or dinner sharing platter. We got boards laden with hummus, stuffed vine leaves, salads, olives, mozzarella, Prosciutto, olive and balsamic dips and heaps of focaccia. We sat around the table and grazed, chatting away. You’ll also have a glass of Prosecco on arrival, or non-alcoholic alternative (elderflower or pomegranate) and another with your meal.
At first, my friends were keen to explore the huge Aqua Sana spa. We scattered off, separating naturally into groups, gossiping in the steam room and telling lewd stories about mutual acquaintances in the outdoor whirlpool – it was fun to be the loud person in the spa for a change.
We had a long chat about how worried we’d been about meeting each other in bikinis instead of clothes and tonnes of make-up in a dimly-lit bar. We all have our body issues, but I was surprised how these vanished when we were there and talking about it, reassuring each other as friends do.
We returned in The Hideaway to eat our delicious platter, then some of us hung out in the garden sauna, or relaxed on the sofas while the rest went back to the main spa. Judy was on hand to make drinks and replace our damp towels and robes.
She also arranged for a therapist to give us a skincare seminar: basically, we sat around and gave ourselves a facial with some rather fancy Elemis products.
What are the treatments like?
Short and sweet – 15 minutes each, you have a choice between head, leg or arm massage, mini-facial, mani or pedi – with our charming therapist, Molly.
Most went for the head massage, as it included a shoulder and neck massage. My cousin, Kate, was so relaxed, she slept all the way through hers. Two had the facial and looked glowing after. I had a manicure (you can also have a pedicure) with CND’s gel range: a quick file and tidy up and then varnish – it looked just as good, as long as you didn’t study my cuticles.
They were more of a taster than a proper treatment, so great if you’ve never been to a spa before. Also, it means you don’t miss out on any spa fun.
We loved/didn’t love
We all agreed it was a fantastic evening, great value and good fun – I had lots of enthusiastic emails the next day. We all felt that The Hideaway was the best part of the entire spa: there was nowhere else where we would have felt so comfortable sitting around and chatting noisily, plus we were made to feel so welcome and pampered to bits.
My chicest friends found the spa a little bit Disney, but both highly approved of The Hideaway; one said she’d like to book it again for friends and post-exam teenage daughters.
It would feel even more special if we had our own changing rooms or even a hot-tub in the garden. But ultimately, The Hideaway was a wonderful venue for our reunion. Absolutely recommended.