Lots of spas offer de-stress breaks, but sometimes too much alone-time can fan the flames of crazy. A spa break with a very good friend, however, can restore you to sanity in no time.
My old school friend Caroline and I booked an overnight break for two at The Spa at Pennyhill Park, a luxury resort near our old stomping grounds in Surrey.
We were both pretty much women on the verge of a nervous breakdown when we got there. 24 hours later we felt younger (or regressed), lighter (as in shoulders, not weight) and a whole lot happier.
“Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship,” wrote the Greek philosopher Epicurus.
Of course, you need to choose your spa buddies wisely – there are some friends who, much as I love them, would send me over the edge after a couple of hours. Caroline, however, is easy company, wise, funny and kind. We have seen each other through a lot of hard and amazing times in our 37-year-long friendship, so we don’t have to put on a show.
It certainly helps to have a backdrop like The Spa at Pennyhill Park for a mutual friend therapy-sesh. While you offload emotionally, the heat and luxurious surroundings help you relax physically.
On a sunny day, you can make like you’re on a Mediterranean holiday around the large outdoor pool, sunning yourself on loungers and occasionally cooling off with a swim. Just remember that sound travels across water: I realised the next day as I lay on the loungers, listening to another pair of friends sharing confidences while sipping fizz and floating about. Very entertaining.
Whatever the weather, there are also four warm bubbly hydra-pools, while indoors you have a huge thermal suite with saunas, steam rooms and a private ladies’ area, that was empty even on a crowded Sunday. Even when it’s busy, you can find a room to let off steam, or a pool to float in while putting the world to rights. You just can’t give each other the same level of uninterrupted attention in a restaurant or a bar.
We were happy drifting around, exploring the space and chatting, but you can also book in a mani-pedicure together, take time out and have a relaxing massage or facial, or if you are more active swim in the giant ballroom pool, join a fitness class or workout in the gym.
In the evening, the main body of mutual-therapy and spa relaxation done, we had a leisurely meal in The Brasserie: deliciously crispy sea bass and two indulgent puddings to share. We had window seats overlooking the lit outdoor pool, which added to the holiday atmosphere. Also, we didn’t have to worry about driving home, so could let our hair down.
Having shared one-man tents at festivals, various grotty bedsits around the world, never mind sleeping on each other’s floors and sofas, our large, luxurious twin room with its two double beds was utter luxury.
The next morning, after a generous buffet breakfast, we went back to the spa for more relaxation and swimming. Having got everything off our chests the day before, it was time to doze by the pool, zone out and take it easy.
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation,” said Cicero. Indeed, the sign of a good friendship is when you can simply be with someone, happy and relaxed in each other’s company, without having to perform or hide how you feel.
With family and work commitments, it’s hard to make a lot of time for a best friend. We’d spent weeks together in the past, then suddenly we were limited to a couple of hours every few months. Our spa break felt like a mini-holiday, an intense shot of friendship, and we both agreed to make it a regular thing. Epicurus is bang on: a good friend can restore your faith in humanity, and yourself. I came away rejuvenated, de-stressed and smiling from ear to ear, ready to enjoy life again.