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Lifehouse Spa and Hotel
Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, CO16 OJD
Has a pool
Has thermal facilities
35 treatment rooms
Lifehouse is a contemporary spa set in English Heritage Listed Thorpe Hall Gardens, just over an hour by train from London and close to the pretty Essex town of Frinton-on-Sea. With a wide range of treatments from Clarins, Decléor and Thalgo, plus health/wellbeing consultations from resident specialists, Lifehouse focuses on fitness, life coaching, nutrition, weight loss, medical, alternative and holistic therapy. The spa has 89 guestrooms with views of the gardens or courtyard, and features a swimming pool and thermal area, plus beauty stations and a spa boutique.
Lifehouse Hotel and Spa is a modern retreat; as you drive onto the grounds, you're welcomed to the "escape for adults". The building itself looks like a solid white cube, but it's set in listed gardens with links to Churchill, JM Barrie and Rudyard Kipling. You can peek out over, or wander in, the gardens during your spa time.
When you arrive at the main reception, someone will take you through to the spa where you can check in for your day, stay or tailored retreat. Your escape is up to you; you can detox, lose weight, recover and recuperate, or just use the time as a spa break from the outside world.
Lifehouse Spa is in the right half of the building; the hotel rooms are to the left. A glass walkway leads from the hotel to the spa. Reception opens out to a multi-storey space with a ring of windows high up in the ceiling, letting in the light. A circular reception desk sits in the middle, alongside a spa boutique, and manicure and pedicure lounges decorated with hundreds of colourful nail varnishes. A spiral staircase leads up to a mezzanine which houses the pre-treatment waiting lounge, treatment rooms and relaxation room. The spa takes its design cues from modern Scandinavia with straight lines, greys and whites, and splashes of colour in soft furnishing and stripy carpets.
The changing rooms aren't particularly luxurious, but they're well designed and well stocked. The four changing areas are cleverly broken down by lockers and showers so you're never exposed in a wide open space. Your wrist fob opens your half-sized locker. The rooms have bench-style seating, private changing cubicles, showers with shampoo and conditioner, and vanity areas with hairdryers, straighteners and skincare products. There's only one loo, but there are more in the spa.
The pool and thermal facilities are dark and moody, even on the sunniest day. Grey slate floor, grey tiled walls and two industrial-size pillars are accented by full-height windows with views over greenery and trees. The 18.5-metre pool is free-form with a straight edge to swim lengths and a bulging end which makes it perfect for drifting in. Brown loungers surround the pool.
The thermal facilities are separated by a glass wall with a high door. The large hydro-pool could take 10-12 people and has swan jets, airbeds and bubbly seating. The traditional wooden sauna would comfortably seat ten, as would the relatively moderate steam room with twinkling blue lights and grey tiled seats. The salt inhalation room better matches the large, almost industrial feeling with an orange and white salt wall, high ceiling, and beautifully scented citrus steam. When you're ready to cool down, try the chilly plunge pool and two experience showers. Driftwood and heavy rope decorate the otherwise minimalist space.
The dry relaxation areas are upstairs; there's a lift as well as stairs. The open-plan waiting area has six sets of very comfortable seating; in good weather, you can also head outside to the balcony which overlooks a small lake. Help yourself to fruit-infused water and plenty of magazines if you want to settle in for some pre-treatment chill-out time. Just along the corridor, the deeper relaxation room is very low-lit with flickering candles and free-standing lamps. The walls are black and grey and there are lots of leather loungers. Snooze after a treatment or pick up a magazine and some fruit and enjoy the quietness.
If you're visiting Lifehouse for a special occasion or treat, you may like to book The Hidden Sanctuary just off the main hall. The three-hour experience includes an exfoliation, a bath in a private pool, a full body massage and an hour in sleep pods. A great way to chill out with a partner or best friend.
Lifehouse also has a gym and a studio class with a wide selection of fitness and more holistic classes including yoga and Pilates.
We had the Healing and Balancing (90 minutes, £120), Soul Soother (120 minutes, £125) and a Luxury Pedicure (60 minutes, £55).
The Healing and Balancing session was with Lifehouse's Reiki Master, Michael. I settled, fully clothed, on the treatment bed. Michael explained a little about the treatment and covered me with a towel so I didn't get cold. We started with a short guided meditation to set the scene and intention. Michael placed coloured crystals over chakra points from my forehead to my stomach, and offered me a flower remedy: an oral tincture of different flower essences.
He stood at the head of the treatment bed and placed his hands on my head and forehead, channelling external healing energy. He repeated this process on my head, shoulders, stomach and legs. His touch was warm and reassuring and I drifted into semi-consciousness. Once he'd worked from head to toe, Michael placed headphones over my ears and I listened to a 30-minute meditation. When I was ready to sit up and re-engage with the world, Michael explained a couple of things he'd picked up during the session; his wise words and the treatment made me feel focussed and balanced.
The Soul Soother was with Maria; the treatment was a body exfoliation, full body massage, and mini-facial with a boost of healing energy. Maria exfoliated the backs of my arms and legs, and my back. She carefully uncovered just the area she was working on, exfoliated and wiped off the product with hot mitts. She then massaged each part of my body with a mixture of long soft strokes to warm the muscles, and deeper tissue massage using her elbows and thumbs. She placed healing crystals over my chakra points to draw out negative energy. Maria gently told me I would need to turn over and repeated the process on my arms, stomach and legs.
For the mini-facial, Maria cleansed my skin and applied a facial oil. She massaged my skin, manipulating pressure points, with longer, softer movements over the delicate areas around my eyes and lips. In the final step, she used Tibetan singing bowls; she placed a bowl over my chest, one on my stomach and one on my legs. She rang each bell and the vibrations of the bowls flowed over my body. My skin felt super soft and hydrated and my tense muscles were relaxed. A perfect spa experience.
The Luxury Pedicure left my feet fresh, smooth and picture perfect!
Lifehouse Spa has a huge and varied treatment menu. Choose from Clarins, Decléor, Carita, Spiezia and Thalgo facials, body treatments and massages, OPI manicures and pedicures. Lifehouse takes your wellness as seriously as you want; book in for an appointment with a naturopath, for food intolerance screening, life coaching, physiotherapy, or other holistic treatments.
Lifehouse has both a main restaurant and a small cafe-bar area. During the day, you can eat breakfast and lunch in your robe; in the evening, you will need to dress for supper.
The buffet lunch is in the main restaurant. It's a three-course affair with plenty of salads for starters, hot dishes including meat, fish and vegetarian options for mains, and a dessert of fruit or more indulgent cakes. Afternoon tea is also on offer if you fancy celebrating.
The cafe-bar serves smoothies, juices, coffee, tea, alcohol and snacks throughout the day.
In the evening, the restaurant offers a full a la carte service where you can choose from healthy options designed by the resident naturopath, or more indulgent burgers, chips and chocolatey desserts.
All our food was freshly prepared, hearty and well presented.
The diversity of the facilities: You can choose to use Lifehouse as a local spa day, romantic spa break or a health retreat. You don't need to fly to Europe or the US to experience a personalised detox or holistic break.
The design works well if you want to steer away from Asian or floral inspiration; it's clean-cut minimalist with not a frill in sight.
The historic gardens: Walk through the bluebell woodland, round the lakes and through the sunken garden: a lovely, contemplative experience.
We didn't love
The flipside of Lifehouse's contemporary design is that the space doesn't feel soft and enveloping. Outside of The Hidden Sanctuary, Lifehouse isn't somewhere you can curl up by yourself and wallow in decadence. Because of the lack of soft furnishings, the space can feel a bit echo-y and loud.
Anyone looking for wellness, or the well-curious. The spa offers seven retreat programmes including wellness, detox and recovery. You have a 30-minute consultation before arrival, a tailored nutrition programme, recommended treatments, accommodation, and access to the spa. Staff have been specially trained by the NHS Christie Trust to adapt treatments for anyone recovering from cancer, stress or bereavement.
Couples: The Hidden Sanctuary is a personal and exclusive journey, and the design will keep even the most spa-cynical happy.
The home counties set: The spa is just over an hour from London so makes a very easy weekend break in northern Essex.
We awarded Lifehouse Spa and Hotel a Good Spa Guide rating of 5 bubbles. The spa has excellent facilities, a great range of treatments, and lovely grounds. We felt welcomed by the friendly staff and loved the fact that you can indulge as much as you choose.
Summer Spy visited in September 2016 and awarded it 5 Bubbles
Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, CO16 OJD
The Restaurant at Lifehouse offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a Mediterranean influence, all created with local produce. The bar is open all day offering cocktails, champagne, lite bites and afternoon tea.
Lifehouse Hotel offers 89 en-suite rooms, featuring views of the historic gardens.
06:30-22:00 Monday to Friday
06:30-21:00 Saturday & Sunday