Mark Bibby Jackson takes an overnight spa break at Champneys Henlow Grange for a pampering experience that leaves him feeling thoroughly rejuvenated.
My previous experience of visiting a spa or wellness resort had been in Thailand at the Kamalaya Koh Samui. There my mind had been full of Anthony Hopkins playing Dr Kellogg in The Road to Wellville and colonic irrigations, only to discover the atmosphere surprisingly relaxed – especially as regards it attitude to alcohol – and a favourable absence of irrigations.
Therefore, as I drove into Champneys Henlow for an overnight spa break I did not quite know what to expect.
Champneys Henlow Treatments
Henlow is the sister spa of flagship Tring Champneys. With some 71 bedrooms and 35 treatment rooms offering a range of beauty treatments and massages, I was slightly confused as to whether it was a hotel with a spa, or a spa with rooms. Any uncertainty was immediately dispelled as I was escorted to my room – a spacious, well-appointed, ground floor deluxe with views of a weir – that Champneys Henlow was most definitely the latter.
My other confusion had been which treatment to pre-book. The Aromatherapy Flotation, perhaps? Or a Head in the Clouds Massage? Should I dabble with some Reiki or maybe the Shiatsu, unless that’s a breed of dog.
I narrowly avoided entering the Relaxation Pod, which resembled the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper
In the end, I plumped for a 50-minute personalised massage with Senior Massage Nina, who had hands that might have been blessed by the Cistercian monks who lived here for 330 years, such was the grace with which she wiped away all tension in my body. As pampering experiences go, this was top notch.
After this, I narrowly avoided entering the Relaxation Pod, which resembled the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper, but is supposed to give a massage tailored to your particular body form rather than depersonalised sex. Instead, I ventured into the Physiotherm Infrared cabin, which was like a Finnish sauna without the coals, or more thankfully the iced bath afterwards.
History of Henlow Grange
What Henlow concedes to Koh Samui in weather – it rained throughout my stay – it makes up for in history.
A Georgian mansion dating back to the late 18th Century, set in 150 acres of land bordering the River Hix, parts of it date back to 1680. Henlow itself gets a name-check in the Doomsday Book in 1086, which records the three manors of Henlow Warden, Henlow de Grey and Henlow Llanthony.
In 1961, the property was bought by Leida Costigan who turned the then derelict building into the UK’s first beauty farm. Photographs dating back to this period adorn the walls providing an interesting pictorial history of what spas seemed like then.
The listed older part of the building is in the last stages of its latest refurbishment, though the glorious wallpaper in the Peacock Room is left untouched.
Following the Snowdrops
Champneys Henlow has an underground complex of rooms offering everything from an urban gym to virtual spin classes and beauty treatment workshops.
However, after my quasi-sauna, I decided to brave the rain – now a steady dribble – and walk through the woodlands following the Snowdrop Walk as best I could.
It was a blessing to be in the fresh air removed from all my fellow dressing-gown-clad inmates, especially as I turned one corner to see a young deer chewing on the leaves of a tree, before it scurried back into the woods startled by my appearance.
One of the attractions of Champneys is the restaurant that offers a range of healthy options – as well as some less so. The light meal explains exactly how many calories you’ll need to burn off to maintain absolute zero status.
Sticking to this diet, like a guilty camper who has just slipped out to the nearby town of Henlow for a crafty pint at the excellent Engineers Arms, I found the leak and potato soup, followed by a tofu dahl excellent, though the chocolate mousse could have benefited from the addition of a few extra calories.
After such a relaxing day, it was no surprise to discover I slept well in my room lulled to sleep by the sound of the water cascading over the weir outside.
One attraction of an overnight stay is you can stay at the resort until 4pm the following day, although you should vacate your room by 11am, and continue using the facilities.
This allowed me, post-breakfast to take my time lazing around the 25-metre swimming pool, and pondering whether I should do some laps or just read my book. Literature won. Eventually, guilt forced me to the fitness suite where I tried out the machines sufficiently to ensure they were all in good working order, rather than actually work up a sweat.
Still, I felt slightly more virtuous as I filled my plate to the brim with salads and dips at the restaurant for lunch before belatedly checking out.
As luxury spa breaks go, Champneys Henlow Grange is a rewarding and rejuvenating experience. Now, the next time I feel like detoxing or recharging I know I just have to make the hour’s drive from London rather than flying all the way to Koh Samui.
Champneys Back in Time
Sample all these black and white images of what Champneys used to be like:
Champneys Henlow Offers and Spa Breaks
Coach Road, Henlow, Bedfordshie, SG16 6BT
T: 0843 5611 919
Cover photo by Jack Hardy.