Essex has come a long way since the days of TOWIE, when the only thing to like about the county was, apparently, a pint-sized man called Joey (we never did get it). These days we’ve got a lot of love for Essex, beginning with a tantalising food scene - Jamie Oliver’s pop up restaurant has breathed new life into Southend Pier, while the Oyster Bar on Mersea Island often has queues around the block. There’s also better shopping and a surge of new hotel openings (and million dollar refurbs) set in enviable locations – some right on the beach, others happily ensconced in the countryside. We take a peek around Essex’s best spa hotels and agree – in part – that the only way is Essex.
No list of the best spa hotels in Essex would be complete without the addition of Lifehouse Spa & Hotel, an adults-only spa hotel within 130 acres of beautifully-tended gardens near the trendy coastal town Frinton-on-Sea. The whitewashed Scandi-style hotel building stands out – in a good way – amongst all the greenery, drawing visitors in like a magnet. Inside, clean lines, neutral hues and plenty of glass keep rooms and central areas pared back and Nordic. Try the Italian restaurant – a hit since head chef spa Ugo Simonelli took the helm – and the spa with its 18-metre heated indoor pool, saunas, steam rooms and gym. The treatment menu has Elemis, Clarins and Made for Life with something for everyone, including men and spa-goers living with, or recovering from, cancer.
Maison Talbooth – in the middle of Constable Country on the Suffolk/Essex border – is set in a 19th Century country house. Rooms, of which there are just 12, are spacious and calming; outdoor spaces enchanting and calm-inducing. Don’t miss dinner at Le Talbooth, the hotel’s 3 AA rosette restaurant set on the river (book ahead) – you’ll even be ferried in an out in a courtesy shuttle. The outdoor heated pool surrounded by pristine lawns is a delight on a sunny day; there’s also a pool house with an honesty bar and an open fire, and a garden room for taking lunch or afternoon tea in the sunshine. The Treatment Rooms is Maison Talbooth’s in-house spa, with pool, hot tub and tennis courts; treatments from Aromatherapy Associates and Dermologica include facials, massages, beauty treatments, as well as exclusive ideas for men and teenagers.
The village of Stock is so quaint that, on our last visit, we had our nose pinned against the window of several estate agents looking at house prices (reasonable, as it happens). Greenwoods Hotel & Spa is just as quaint, slotting nicely into the pretty environment with its handsome, tudor-esque exterior and expansive grounds. Inside, guests can dine in the 2AA rosette restaurant, enjoy afternoon tea by an open fire, swim or take a class in the fitness suite, or bed down in a traditionally English yet contemporary room. The Spa at Greenwoods Hotel has everything you would expect, including a 20-metre indoor lap pool and extensive thermal facilities. There’s also a nail parlour and a hair salon. Treatments from Natural Spa Factory – the word in natural, environment-respectful ingredients – are both relaxing and results driven.
When a hotel has the word ‘Hall’ in its name, you know it’s going to be a grand affair; Down Hall Hotel & Spa is so grand you could easily mistake it for Downton Abbey. Outside, there are 110 acres of parkland, woodland and landscaped gardens to run free in, as well as central fountains, statues and tennis courts. Inside, the Italianate mansion – built in 1322 – houses 98 luxury rooms, two restaurants, a cocktail bar (those Martinis won’t make themselves), newly refurbished meeting rooms, a fully-stocked gym with sauna and steam room and the Eden Spa. Book in for an ESPA facial, massage, scrub or beauty treatment; a Jessica manicure or pedicure; or a Mii makeover. A pre-dinner cocktail on the terrace of the Terrace Restaurant, among the lavender, is a must.
This spa hotel – set in the Dedham Value Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – has everything you could want for a spa stay, and a whole lot more. For starters there’s two championship golf courses (try and avoid the lakes), a cutesy homewares and produce outlet, a golf shop, a fitness centre and four modern self catering lodges with wrap-around glass balconies. The hotel itself has four restaurants – 2 AA rosette Lakes, a grill bar, a sports bar and a lounge for afternoon tea with a view. Peake, the hotel’s spa has an indoor heated pool, children’s pool, steam room, physio clinic and bistro. Phew. The treatment menu is unsurprisingly comprehensive with a good crop of the big spa brands getting a look in: pre-natal treatments are by Little Butterfly London, facials and massages by Decleor, wellbeing by Neom and Beauty Despite Cancer treatments by Jennifer Young. Like we said: phew.
You only have to clap eyes of the statement chandelier hanging in the lobby of Orsett Hall Hotel, Restaurant & Spa – which extends down two floors – to know that you’re not in Kansas anymore. But then nothing about this spa hotel is ordinary – you’ll find the words ‘Orsett Hall’ carved out of a hedge in the pristine gardens. Rooms are a bit pot luck in terms of décor but, with its own chapel, several meeting rooms, events space and several dining options (think taster menus, Sunday roasts, afternoon teas), it has everything. The spa is more understated with a large spa pool, good range of thermal facilities, small gym and a menu of Elemis massages, Biotec facials, Jessica manicures and treatments for men.