Ever since I can remember my Mum has been dropping not so subtle hints to my Dad every Christmas, birthday and anniversary about visiting the ‘health farm’ Champneys. Unfortunately for her he has never taken the bait so when I was lucky enough to be invited to the Forest Mere location in Hampshire to do a review, I knew there was only one person I could take.
Although the term ‘health farm’ is now outdated and replaced with ‘residential spa’, the Champneys experience is still very much all about health and not simply a place to go to sit in a steam room all day, every activity and meal is focussed on wellbeing.
As we travelled up the long, winding driveway to the mansion house the grounds are absolutely spectacular. The fact that everything was covered in snow only added to the beautiful surroundings, making Champneys even more worthy of the title ‘retreat’, which is how the company likes to describe a stay. Vast woodlands surround the site, giving the feeling you are miles from anywhere.
We were welcomed by a very friendly receptionist who checked us in swiftly and took us on a tour to help us get our bearings and show us the kind of things we could do during our stay. There was plenty on offer. From hula hooping and cheerleading classes to pilates and thalasso therapy, there is something for everyone, although there is absolutely no pressure to join in if pure relaxation is preferred.
Next we moved onto the spa area which included forty two treatment rooms, the usual sauna, steam room and whirlpools plus a vast twenty-five metre indoor pool with gorgeous views of the grounds.
Our final stop on the tour was the old house which is part of the original mansion building and has a completely different feel to the more modern health areas of the resort. There were numerous cosy rooms and quiet areas with oversized sofas and open fires perfect for settling down to read a book or chatting with other guests post dinner. Here there is also a restaurant reserved for premier guests which is a slightly more formal version of the other two options at the resort.
At the end of our tour we were presented with our personalised schedules which timetabled all the treatments, sessions and classes we had selected and a paper charge card which allows you to pay for drinks alleviating the need to carry bags around with you.
We were shown to our room and on opening the door we were delighted to see that the porter had delivered our luggage and that fluffy white robes and slippers had been laid out for us on our beds.
Our room was a ‘superior’ grade room and was fairly large in size with a small patio and stunning view of the lake, which we could have enjoyed if the weather had not been minus five! The decor is minimalist and colours are kept neutral for a calming feel. The room was a twin with two comfy single beds, along with a flat screen television and DVD player. The bathroom was also quite spacious and complete with a range of Champneys toiletries for each guest. There are eighty seven bedrooms in total which is just enough to allow each guest plenty of space.
For lunch we chose the terrace restaurant with a stunning view of the snowy grounds. Breakfast and lunch is served buffet style with a vast range of options including soups, salads, jacket potatoes, grilled chicken and fresh fruit, all selected with their nutritional properties in mind but allowing even the hungriest guest to fill up.
After a leisurely lunch we got changed into our robes and headed down to the spa to take full advantage of the pool and steam room before our treatments. On returning to our room to get changed we were met with some beautifully wrapped surprise gifts, containing the accompanying products for our forthcoming spa treatments which were a lovely thought.
We headed off to the spa and were collected by our respective therapists who escorted us down the vast corridor of treatment rooms. I was booked in for a Thai Royale Ritual which is one of Champneys signature treatments and utilizes the Thai Royale range of products recently introduced to their range containing Tahiti oil, lemon grass and coconut milk.
Not being a fan of body treatments, I arrived feeling a little apprehensive, however any concerns I had quickly disappeared as my therapist Emily instantly put me at ease with her description of the treatment which consists of a rhythmic gentle massage involving heat to relax the muscles and lasts for a blissful eighty five minutes.
The treatment uses poultices which in this case are mounds of dried coconut wrapped in muslin, which are then soaked and heated to create a soothing alternative to the therapist’s hands. It began with a foot exfoliation and cleanse, followed by a scalp and face massage focusing on pressure points. Warm oil was then drizzled on my body and the poultices were used rhythmically to relax and soothe in a gentle, flowing routine. Although I usually find it difficult to relax during massages the treatment sent me to sleep more than once.
In my chilled out state I headed back to my room to get ready for dinner in the premier restaurant. The three course menu is nutritionally balanced with a number of options, however the price includes an amuse bouche and sorbet for those feeling hungry following a day of activities.
I opted for the curried parsnip and coriander soup and Mum choose a marinated artichoke, plum tomato and French bean salad, which were both lovely.
As a main course I had a roast parcel of turkey on braised savoy cabbage with a chestnut and brussels sprout potato cake and cranberry jus – the open fires and snowy weather had got me in a festive spirit!
Mum chose the grilled fillet of sea bass which was served on steamed spinach with a raisin and tomato vinaigrette.
Finally we both agreed on the coconut panna cotta with star anise fruits, which was just the sweet treat we needed after our sugar free day.
Whilst Champneys is not somewhere you would come purely for the food, the quality and selection is very good and obviously everything is low in fat and sugar.
Following our meal we had coffee in the piano lounge by the fire and then decided to make the most of the relaxation and have an early night.
The next morning we got our robes back on and went for breakfast in the main restaurant. As with lunch this is served buffet style and a selection of cereals, juices, toasts and fruit are on offer, whilst a separate menu of more filling options such as egg white omelettes and grilled bacon are also available at a small supplement.
Due to the weather we unfortunately had to make our departure earlier than intended.
Checkout proved to be an effortless experience with a bill presented clearly detailing anything you had charged to your cash-free card.
As well as scoring some great “Daughter points” from my Mum, I had an extremely relaxing and enjoyable time on my Champneys break and came away feeling rejuvenated and ready for the chaotic festive period approaching. Everything was calm and effort-free without being up-tight like many serious spas, so the resort is in no way intimidating to the less experienced spa goer.
Champneys packages can be built to suit any party whether you want to be active with friends or have some ‘me time’ alone, you can build your schedule to fit you.