So much more than a massage and a mug of herbal tea, Stylist investigates the dawn of the UK destination spa.
Michelin-starred restaurants, horticulturalist-designed gardens, private thermal suites, cutting-edge VR technology, elite trainer-run gyms, classes in the art of sauna air movement… these aren’t the newest exports from LA – they’re actually part of a massive UK-wide redevelopment of the spa industry. Out are over-washed dressing gowns, awkward paper knickers and lukewarm jacuzzis. In are a new breed of mega-spas taking wellness to the next frontier.
Spas are no longer just an ‘extra’ added on to a luxury hotel, they’re now the main destination. Telegraph spa columnist Rosie Green explains: “Whereas once spas might have got away with a couple of treatment rooms and a cupboard-sized gym, customers are now demanding luxurious relaxation rooms, macrobiotic menus and top trainers.”
Because so many spas are redeveloping their offerings (we had a hard time whittling down this list), finding new ways to entertain, excite and relax guests is more important than ever before, says Anna Ramsay of the Good Spa Guide: “We list 800 spas now compared with 50 a decade ago so to stand out you have to really turn your spa into something exceptional. You have to create a retreat people don’t want to leave.”
As spa travel emerges as one of the only growing markets in the UK hotel business, increasing 50% faster than ‘regular’ tourism, to an approximate current market value of £1.5billion according to research, hotels are investing huge amounts of time and money into taking their spa experiences to the next level.
There are many examples of this, but notably, Rudding Park’s recent rooftop spa redevelopment cost a huge £9.5million (it is the UK’s first rooftop spa and garden, after all), while the bill for the 17,000 sq ft spa at Ye Olde Bell ran into the multimillions too (snowstorm spa experiences don’t come cheap).
And what do the best of the best do? Well, scroll down to find out – but if it’s a Michelin-starred chef creating your (healthy) menu, or a chance to sit in an award-winning outdoor sauna followed by an A-list-approved facial you’re after, then you’re in luck – the new breed of super spa can literally do it all.
Warning: start saving, you’ll want to go to them all.
Rudding Park, Harrogate
With Insta-perfect views, the UK’s first rooftop spa and garden (created by Chelsea Flower Show designer Matthew Wilson) is as breathtaking as it is mindful. Treatments from Carita and Elemental Herbology sit alongside innovative spa facilities such as the four-sense relaxation zone with its mind, visual, audio and sleep areas.
Hero treatment: chronic stress unbalances our cortisol output, which can lead to adrenal fatigue, AKA burnout. The Complete Stress Soother, £190 for 2 hours and 15 minutes, is a two-stage treatment that focuses on keeping adrenal function at optimal levels with naturopathic warmed packs on your face and body followed by a Tibetan massage.
Added extra: the private cinema seats 14 for a fun night in after a hard day’s spa-ing (from £125).
Rooms from £185pp, including dinner, B&B and one 50-minute treatment; treatments from £80; ruddingpark.co.uk
Cliveden House, Berkshire
The showstopper of the heritage estate’s recent spa revamp is the Hollywood-esque glass walkway that now frames the outdoor pool. It also boasts Technogym kit (as loved by Adriana Lima) and an exclusive partnership with A-list facialist Sarah Chapman.
Hero treatment: the Sarah Chapman Skinesis Deluxe Stem Collagen Activator Therapy For Face and Hands, £275 for 2 hours, blends microneedling, peels and LED light therapy with Sarah’s signature massage to improve skin health and appearance.
Added extra: Cliveden Body Collection treatments take place on a water mattress, taking pressure off your joints.
Rooms from £445 based on two sharing; spa treatments from £60; clivedenhouse.co.uk
The Gilpin Hotel, Cumbria
Book a Swedish-style woodland lodge room and you’ll get a private spa suite with steam room, sauna and hot tub. Eat at the Michelin-starred Hrishi restaurant, where chef Hrishikesh Desai uses local Lake District produce. And don’t miss the peanut butter semifreddo.
Hero treatment: during the Aroma Consultation, £40 for 30 minutes, you’ll meet with an aroma therapist to create a bespoke oil blend, which can then be turned into a body cream, bath or pulse oil.
Added extra: the spa lodges each have a hamper of take-home products – a serious upgrade from the usual mini shampoos.
Spa lodges from £615 a night based on two sharing on a B&B basis; treatments from £75; thegilpin.co.uk
Bulgari Spa, London
Crafted from onyx, Italian stone and oak, The Bulgari spa is seriously opulent. The huge mosaic pool is an attention-grabber but it’s the specialists that really wow. From thermal haircuts (sealing the cuticles for fewer split ends) with stylist Stephen Low to Chinese medicine therapies from David Peters, the expertise is next-level.
Hero treatment: in the Custom Rejuvenating Facial with Cosmetic Acupuncture, £290 for 70 minutes, LED light therapy is combined with acupuncture needles and facial cupping to encourage collagen production and cell renewal.
Added extra: head to the Workshop gym, founded by celebrity trainer Lee Mullins (the man who puts Rosie Huntington-Whiteley through her paces), for the capital’s most desired workout space. A PT session with Lee costs from £100.
Rooms from £550 per night on a B&B basis for two; treatments from £70; bulgarihotels.com
Dormy House, Worcestershire
Hi-tech meets low stress at Dormy House. This intimate spa-hotel designed by the team behind Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons blends cutting-edge tech and homely vibes. Think a Cotswold lavender massage combined with a Virtual Reality headset experience.
Hero treatment: created by superstar masseur Beata Aleksandrowicz, the Revitalising Face Pure Massage, £85 for 60minutes, works on facial contours to release tension.
Added extra: for a posh picnic, ask for a Dormy House luxury hamper. It comes with a charcuterie platter, fresh scones, sandwiches and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. From £85 for two people.
Rooms from £215 per room per night on a B&B basis; treatments from £45; dormyhouse.co.uk
Ye Olde Bell, Nottinghamshire
This spa boasts one-of-a-kind experiences such as the snowstorm, where you walk through a gentle snowfall to boost your immune system, and an indoor sunlight-therapy beach, plus the services of a spa butler.
Hero treatment: the Timexpert C+ Anti-Glycation facial, £100 for 90 minutes, works on damage caused by sugar such as sagging and thinning skin for an instant improvement.
Added extra: the Stonebath where hot coals are dropped into a bubbling cauldron to create an intense thermal spa experience.
Rooms from £149.50pp per night including breakfast and lunch; treatments from £40; yeoldebell-hotel.co.uk