ELISA ROCHE finds the ultimate spa experience and luxury hotel in one
I'VE VISITED a few spas in my time but none have succeeded in reducing me to a Zen-like state, until now. I'm sampling Lifehouse Spa's signature treatment: the Oriental Bathing Experience.
It's so special it's housed in its own mini spa and involves a "journey" lasting more than an hour where the "patient" starts with a foot scrub and massage before progressing from one bathing pool to another.
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In the first hot jets of water invigorate, in the next they calm, and in the last you sip jasmine tea while floating in your own miniature pool. A personal therapist ends your ritual with a hot-stone-and-warm-oil massage. Total, unadulterated bliss.
Lifehouse Spa & Hotel, four miles from Frinton-on-Sea, has a holistic approach to health. As well as the usual face and body treatments, there is food allergy testing, smoking cessation courses and a team of nutritionists keen to tackle just about anything.
Between treatments you can use the library, a gym offering free classes or visit the spa boutique for some retail therapy. Its setting could not be more spectacular, surrounded by 12 acres of listed landscaped grounds.
It was once home to Thorpe Hall, owned by Lord and Lady Byng. Lady Byng, a passionate gardener, sourced exotic plants from around the world for her "wild landscape" garden where Rudyard Kipling once strolled.
Queen Mary was a frequent visitor and a summerhouse and walkway are named after her. The manor house was demolished in the late Nineties and replaced by Lifehouse's sleek spa and hotel.
The contemporary bedrooms are decorated in a fresh, New England style with beige and white striped carpets, limed-oak headboards, Eames-style lime-green chairs and a digital wall print of sunny beach huts. My room had doors opening on to the garden with its lovely old red brick wall, mature trees and lake draped with weeping willows.
I found lots of little take-home surprises too - from a white satin shower cap trimmed with ribbon to my own rubber duck. It didn't take me long to slip into my fluffy white spa robe and slippers.
In the bedroom were a selection of organic teas and coffees and again thoughtful touches such as sachets of honey and herbal teas encased in mini lime-green boxes.
An early start gave me plenty of time to sample the delights of breakfast. As a former chef I cannot fault the wonderful, healthy cuisine where the cooks make use of local fish, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Most of the menu has a low glycaemic index so the pressure to diet is off.
Breakfast is buffet style with poached fruits, cooked meats, cereals, fruit smoothies and cheeses.
The kitchen comes into its own at lunch and dinner, with offerings such as Dedham Vale beef with truffle foam or Cromer crab risotto.
I loved the Water Lilies dining room, overlooking the gardens, which has been designed with indoor plants and banquet seats to make it as welcoming to couples as it is to groups of giggling ladies or single guests.
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And if I needed a quiet moment all I had to do was walk outside to those fabulous grounds to recapture that Zen-like state.
Lifehouse Spa & Hotel (01255 860050/www.lifehouse.co.uk) offers a three-night Detox for Life Package from £434pp, full board.
Doubles at Lifehouse Hotel from £89 per night (two sharing), B&B. Visit Essex: 01255 686633/www.visitessex.com