There is a woman hanging on to a rope above my body while walking up and down my spine. We Spa Spies will road test all manner of manipulation in the name of research, but personally this calls for an added element of trust. My lower back is delicate territory, as I’d just had an MRI scan to locate the source of chronic pain.
My sole-to-soul treatment is called a Chavutti Thirumal or Nomad’s Walk (60 minutes, £70). And who knew the foot could prove to be such a versatile tool? Heels are kneaded into knots, balls of the feet are perfect for glue muscles, pointed toes dig under the scapulars, the side of the foot is angled like a blade and so on. To learn this intricate and ancient form of massage, my therapist Alex went to Southern India twice. First to train with the non-English-speaking Three Sisters of Mysore, then again to refine her technique for a more theory-based month.
I’ve only had to travel to Cornwall for the experience which is still a fair distance in UK terms, but on the weekend I visit Merchant’s Manor in Falmouth, a national newspaper awards the seaside town with the title of ‘Best Place to Live in the Southwest’ and gushes about its ‘salty buzz’. So I am rather smug that I can also encompass this desirable destination into my spa stay.
Based on a hilltop in a residential area of town, under the ‘luxury boutique’ bracket, the 39-bed manor house is in a pivotal location to wander about on foot. Within minutes, I was hanging out by the rolling surf of Gyllyngvase beach, a vast stretch of coastline indented by many a sandy bay. A road in the opposite direction leads to Falmouth’s infamous harbour and the town’s cool high street with independent shops and foodie stops.
Merchant’s Manor comes with good credentials: the married owners Nick Rudlin and Sioned Parry-Rudlin both had 20 year careers in the Ritz, Marriott and other biggies around the globe. The decor mixes old-skool country house and contemporary rural chic.
There is a 12-metre swimming pool with a lane with a current for a low-impact workout while you swim and a separate hydrotherapy area with high pressure jets, a Nordic Barrel sauna, plus a steam room. The adjacent gym’s USP is a Kinesis Wall which - apart from muscle tone - is good for core strength, balance, posture and breathing.
The Linen Rooms were where my foot and other therapies took place, including a four-handed/two-therapist massage called The Apollo Awakening (60 minutes, £135) and a facial. In many hotels, I find that the therapists and treatments are interchangeable, provided as an add-on ubiquitous tick in the box. But Sarah Greenhalgh, Alex Holbrooke and Jamie Drysdale see themselves as “being in the care industry, looking after people and giving them peace of mind with compassionate touch.”
The effect was impressive, even among some of the more global spa aficionados I met during my stay. Swapping our individual experiences over a Cornish G&T, some revealed tears of release and other-worldly channeling. For myself, those 60 minutes being walked upon provided the first pain respite in six weeks despite regular manipulation from my chiropractor.
Whenever possible everything in Merchant’s Manor is Cornish - not in a smugglers, pirates and Poldark sort of way - but fixtures, fittings, food and drink (including tea, chocolate and truly delicious white wine and champagne) are locally sourced. The spa uses Inlight products, luxury, artisan, 100% organic blended oils and plants concocted by a Cornish-dwelling Italian, Dr Mariano Spezia, in a remote laboratory up a farm track. Obviously, the proximity to the sea means serious hauls of shellfish, including delicious lobster served with celeriac.
The Brasserie is under the command of Chef Patron Hylton Espey who hails from Cape Town. He combines cultural influences; Cornish cuisine with his personal passion for wood-smoking. We ate baby gem lettuce grilled over wood with lightly cured and confit local mackerel, followed by a crispy, spicy confit chicken wing with wild garlic alioli. The melt-in-your-mouth, medium rare venison was seared on the grill with roast potatoes prepared over coals with Earl Grey tea smoke. Pudding is Hylton’s signature dish; baked gingerbread cheesecake, fresh ginger biscuit served with honeycomb ice cream.
Merchant’s Manor is not for Skinny-Minnies or detoxing - although you could certainly choose cleaner options than I went for. ‘Well-Being’ is more about being satiated; blissed and chilled out, well-fed and slightly lubricated.
We visited Merchant's Manor for a two-night total break for two people, which included one treatment each day, bed and breakfast, three course supper with champagne, and one light lunch (£360 per person). For more information visit: www.merchantsmanor.com or call 01326 312734.