Cowley Manor is an impressive, discreet, very rural hotel in the Cotswolds. The glass-fronted C-Side spa is an inspired piece of modern design, sunk into the hill to one side of the hotel. There is a green slate-lined indoor pool and an elegant outdoor pool, both heated all year round. There are four treatment rooms and a relaxation area, as well as a gym, steam room and sauna. Advanced facials by emerginC complement the range of therapeutic treatments by Green & Spring, using natural resources found locally, including the spring waters and herbs in the grounds.
Four treatment rooms
19m indoor swimming pool
15m outdoor swimming pool
Green and Spring
Our Spa Spy review
From the outside, Cowley Manor looks exactly as you'd expect an Italianate former stately home to look. The pale Cotswolds stone, beautifully kept grounds, and ancient church next door create a grand and lovely location. Inside, Cowley Manor is a very quirky take on a country hotel. The traditional dining room is enlivened with brilliant star pendant lights. The walls are hung with striking modern art, and more artworks are scattered about the grounds.
C-side, the spa at Cowley Manor, is as interesting and unusual as the hotel. Built in 2002, the glass-fronted spa has been built into the side of a hill; the roof is full of flowers. English Heritage granted "exceptional permission" for the build. The result is an inspired piece of modern design with an impressive spa that lets in the light at every turn.
What's on offer?
The large and airy reception and seating area is the centre of C-Side. Brick walls, white tables and chairs, jam jars of fresh flowers, and a variety of soft cushions make for a comfortable and relaxing area. Here you can check in for your treatments, order drinks and juices, read a magazine, or try some of the spa's own Green & Spring products.
The changing rooms aren't huge and can get busy. A central wooden bench has banks of wooden lockers either side, and a vanity area has mirrors, hairdryers, and plenty of Green & Spring products in brackets on the walls.
The indoor 17-metre slate-lined pool has floor-to-ceiling windows, so the colour of the whole room changes with the season. The pool has graduated steps into the water, and loungers around the edges where you can lie back and relax. In summer, there are more loungers around the outdoor 15-metre heated pool. The pool area is protected on all sides so it's a very sheltered place. The water was brilliantly clean for an outdoor pool, and it was a pure pleasure to swim in the fresh air and watch the swifts swooping overhead. The pools have children's swim times in the morning and afternoon, so check ahead for these.
A small thermal experience area has a wooden sauna large enough for six to eight people, a large and nicely steamy steam room and two showers for cooling down in between.
Tucked away near the four treatment rooms is a relaxation room. It's small, but has three very comfortable seats. You could comfortably have a nap or grab a magazine and continue your post-treatment bliss.
There's also a light and bright gym with cardio and resistance equipment where you can book personal training sessions.
Tell us about the treatments
We tried the Green and Spring Massage (60 minutes, £75), which, as the name suggests, uses the spa's own range of Green & Spring products. These include natural spring waters and herbs found in the spa grounds.
My therapist, Mary, took me to an elegant glass-walled treatment room; the wallpaper uses the spa's signature colourful birds motif. You can choose your own music -- anything from the current charts to classic spa sounds -- which is a nice touch. Mary chose the Indulging oil for the massage, which has scents of rose and jasmine.
To start, Mary walked her hands up and down my spine and pressed reflexology points in my feet. The massage concentrated on my back; Mary used hot stones on my shoulders and neck, where my painful knots lie, and round strokes over my lower back to chase away tension. She focused on acupressure points along the way. As she worked on my hands and arms, I thought: "Ah, so this is what it means to be relaxed."
Mary finished back on my feet to end an all-encompassing, soothing and delightful treatment.
At C-Side, you can also try a range of facials, manicures and pedicures, which use the spa's Green & Spring product range or EmerginC. Options specifically for pregnant women use Mama Mio products.
Lunch is served in the restaurant in the main house. You can walk up in your robe and, thanks to the laid-back atmosphere at Cowley Manor, can feel quite comfortable doing so. The floor-to ceiling-windows overlook the lake and grounds. In the summer months, you can venture out onto the terrace and enjoy al fresco dining.
The menu focuses on seasonal and local produce, so we could choose from chargrilled asparagus, courgette and parmesan fritters, various salads including options for vegetarians, as well as more substantial options such as pizza and pasta. Our smoked salmon with dill and sweet onion was a perfect light choice for a spa day.
In the evening, the restaurant at Cowley Manor offers some classic and unusual dishes such as octopus carpaccio, or John Dory with nettle gnocchi. Our turbot with salsify was full of clean, vibrant flavours.
We loved / we didn't love
The design of the spa: C-Side's slate-lined pool is a treat to swim in, and the outdoor pool even more so.
The food: Fresh and flavoursome, served by attentive staff, with enough range and variety to suit most tastes whatever you want from your spa day.
Our treatments: We always like it when a spa treatment delivers what it says on the tin; in this case, relaxation in spades.
We didn't love
The shower set-up in the changing rooms: Three showers in a row, none with doors, so showering is a bit of a throwback to school days. Yes, they have Green & Spring products on the walls, but they are not luxurious.
Who do you think would like it?
Parents: Cowley Manor's laid-back attitude extends to younger guests, and many families are regulars. Children are allowed in C-Side from 8am to 11am and 3.30pm to 5pm each day so, if you prefer a child-free zone, opt for an evening spa experience or time your treatments wisely.
Anyone who loves natural products: Using herbs and flowers native to the British Isles, the Green & Spring range offers gentle but effective skincare.
Art-lovers: Take some time in your spa day or stay to walk around the amazing gardens at Cowley Manor. Pick up a garden map at the hotel reception desk and hunt down the modern art pieces in the lakes and gardens.
What bubble rating did you give this spa?
We gave C-Side at Cowley Manor a Good Spa Guide rating of 5 bubbles. C-Side is beautiful and different from any other UK spa. You can have an indulgent day or stay, take things at your own pace, and choose a spa style that suits you.