Thursday 10 May 2012

SENSPA LUXURY in the BRITISH Countryside (written for SIX Magazine)

A couple of weeks ago I was invited down to the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire to experience the tranquillity of SenSpa, a Thai luxury retreat that fuses traditional Eastern and Western philosophies of holistic wellbeing.

Named 'Sen', which in Thai translates as ‘energy meridians in the body’, and 'forest' in Chinese, SenSpa offers the perfect union of the rural British landscape and the healing properties of contemporary Eastern therapy.

Not one to turn down some clean country air and a day of pampering, myself and a guest arrived amid a downpour that was to last the whole weekend. Not dampening our spirits, our first impressions of the Careys Manor Hotel in quaint Brockenhurst were as you’d expect from a luxury four-star country house; grand and stately.

Less than a five minute drive from the train station (Brokenhurst is approximately an hour and a half south-west of Waterloo), Careys Manor and SenSpa are set back from the main road in 14 acre grounds, with all windows providing unrivalled views of lush greenery.

Emphasising a balance of mind, body and spirit, the spa facilities are second to none. If you’re not indulging in a treatment (it would be a shame not to, as they are so good), the hydrotherapy facilities are enough to calm even the tensest of visitors, and are well worth the trip.

Float in the large Hydrotherapy or Ozone swimming pool; sweat out toxins in the herbal sauna and the amethyst crystal steam room and cool down in the ice room – an experience like no other; super cool with crushed ice on tap and energising strobe lighting.

Experience showers, with ‘tropical’, ‘sea’ and’ ice storm’ themes, offer an interesting way to cool down or warm up; featuring an array of jets that hit different regions of the body in strong and short refreshing bursts which work to tone, cleanse and brighten. If you opt for the ‘ice storm’ theme, don’t be scared by the thunder and lightning effects, this is all part of the fun.

Conversely, if you’d prefer to avoid special effects, health showers offer a calming alternative. Enjoy stimulating overhead and side water jets which boost circulation, while aromas of eucalyptus and peppermint work to further relax both body and mind.

With several other facilities designed for optimum relaxation such as tepidarium; a relaxation room with heated loungers and hypnotic twinkling lights that resemble stars in a night sky and laconicum; a gentle thermal room which is less intense than a sauna and offers a gentle heat meaning you can stay for longer. If this wasn’t enough, there is also a room where oriental music is played, and one without, where guests are welcome to indulge in some quality alone time.

For those who prefer to do something more than simply let their stresses drift away, the fully-equipped gymnasium is great for working up a sweat. And then there are the treatments!

With Thai-trained therapists at the helm of SenSpa, the range of authentic treatments on offer is extensive. Seriously spoilt for choice, whether you’re looking for a facial (there are nine to choose from – each lasting between a quarter of an hour and an hour), a body wrap (choose between seven that utilise combinations of aloe vera, brown rice, lemongrass and Himalayan rock salt), a water treatment (three are available, each incorporating various elements such as Rhassoul mud and a variety of massage techniques) or massage (including traditional Thai, relaxing and revitalising); whatever results you’re looking to achieve there is a chemical-free natural remedy designed for the job.
Wanting to combine and experience as many techniques as possible, I opted for the hour-long Nam, Water Relaxer treatment which involved a deep body scrub, Vichy shower and a back, shoulder, neck and head massage.

Held in a Vichy room (one of 17 treatment rooms in the facility), I lay on a gently heated Hammam slab where a mixture of Himalayan rock salt and organic aloe vera was polished into my skin. With even pressure and a circular massage technique, my therapist exfoliated all over and paid particular attention to my heels, knees, elbows and back, ensuring she reached all the places that many find hard to access adequately at home.

Next came the Vichy shower, whereby the seven shower heads directly above me were activated, and warm water jets targeted my spine and ran across my back working to sooth and release tension. Much more comfortable than I had envisaged this was, surprisingly, the best part of the session for me as I wasn’t sure what to expect from the water, but was more than pleasantly surprised.

As the jets washed away the exfoliant, the therapy suite became a wet room, with my therapist paddling around the Hammam slab to massage my back, shoulders and neck, moisturising in the process. Finishing with a head massage which used ancient Ayurvedic techniques, all the stresses I’d arrived at SenSpa with genuinely stopped whirring around my head and I felt calm.

After a good, solid hour had passed my skin felt silky smooth, I was deeply relaxed, having almost fallen asleep on a couple of occasions, and didn’t want to leave. The perfect mix of relaxation and reinvigoration, this treatment targeted all my problem areas (dry skin, tense shoulders and a stiff neck).

No matter which treatment you are having or if you have any problem areas you’d specifically like targeted, the staff have such a way about them whereby you feel completely at ease in their care. My therapist consistently made sure I was comfortable and talked through each stage of my treatment so I knew exactly what to expect.

Exclusively using natural and organic products from the SenSpa Organic Therapy range in treatments; all skincare products use only natural, chemical-free ingredients, made in England and certified organic by the Soil Association. All packaging is designed to be as compact as possible and uses recycled materials, so you need not feel guilty about buying products in order to recreate your favourite treatments at home.

A place where you can easily while away a weekend, let alone a few precious hours, SenSpa and indeed Careys Manor are the ideal destination for relaxing, recuperating or pampering yourself for a few stolen hours. Expect warm, friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere; you can wear your bathrobe across the hotel and spa (including the Zen Garden Thai Restaurant), however, there is a smart casual dress code in the award winning two AA Rosette Manor Restaurant.

Whilst there are a few pubs and other amenities located in the village of Brockenhurst, there is genuinely no need to leave Careys Manor, due to the on-site facilities. Choose between restaurants (Manor and Zen Garden Thai); the latter of which uses local, free-range and organic ingredients wherever possible, a cocktail bar and a boutique – just in case you lose your swimsuit!

Tearing myself away from the spa, some 20 hours after we checked in, I left feeling energised, revitalised and eager to come back and do it all over again. I never really thought I was a spa person, but it turns out I am, provided the atmosphere and surroundings are as tranquil as this, and the facilities as varied and innovative.

Treatment prices begin at £20 for an Anti-ageing eye treatment, rising to £105 for the Saboo, Deep Cleanse.

*Special thanks to Jane at Scarlett PR!*

Friday 4 May 2012