Thursday, 20 February 2014

Secret Stays: Champneys - Henlow Grange

Henlow Grange always seemed much further away from home in my mind than it actually is, it's literally a 25 minute drive into Bedfordshire from Cambridge, of which I hadn't appreciated until my very recent visit.  Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Champneys at Henlow Grange is a refreshing hideaway (and was once a Cistercian monastery) for the busy lifestyles we lead, it's a grand house set within 150 acres of parkland and still hosts a weir built by monks, standing on the fast flowing river to the rear of this Georgian manor. This is a resort spa with hand-painted walls and Venetian-style mirrors creating a perfect natural light throughout the spa. You can visit for many different experiences, within both packages or as bespoke offerings to help boost your health, fitness and wellbeing, using the fantastic spa facilities such as the art Thalassotherapy pool and over 80 luxury therapies and sports to choose from. You can literally indulge, relax, recharge and burn some energy all at the same time, the range of activities are so extensive that I hardly made a dip into the list myself during my two day stay! You can now buy many of the Champneys body care range in mainstream shops, I've sampled a fair few of them myself over the years, so I was very excited to finally experience the spa itself for a day or two. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Setting The Scene:  With half term upon us, I was a little unsure if this would be a good week to visit, as I imagined rows upon rows of poolside beds being taken over my stressed mums and teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a busy week, so I had been advised by the very friendly Kerry, the General Manager showing me around on checking in, however it's such a large venue that I didn't notice at all. Even in the large restaurant and spa areas, because timings are staggered, there is a gentle wave of guests moving around like clock work, which allows you some peace and quiet as you relax, dine and exercise, it's a perfect system I noted pretty quickly. I was booked in for a 1 night midweek break, with dinner on the day of arrival, breakfast & lunch on the second day and an array of fitness programmes booked in to keep my fitness up as I battled with finding a way to personally relax and let my hair down, this was a near impossible mission of late, as I'm finding it trickier and trickier to chill out easily... I blame my technology & social media addiction - bring on "Twitter Anonymous"! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The first thing Kerry advised me to try was to switch off my phone and Ipad and try to allow myself just one viewing a day to check emails and texts, that way I could really start to unwind and my personal belongings could be safely tucked up in the safety deposit box in my bedroom... Hmm this was great advice, but equally was going to be a challenge to a girl about to set up a new business alongside everything she already does, so only time would tell! What to do first? Unpacking seemed the naturally anal thing to do first of all, I never can relax when living out of a suitcase, so off I hopped to get better acquainted with my bedroom and the facilities it had on offer. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Bedroom:  Henlow Grange has 71 luxury bedrooms, some overlooking the river and fast-flowing weir, of which I was provided with a "Superior room" (room number 42 to be precise!), complete with tame and amusingly curious ducks that stood on my private patio and they peered in every time I opened the large french doors onto the stunning grounds adjacent. The weir was very loud on arrival and it worried me that I might not be able to relax next to it, but I was to find out later on that it would be the one thing that could actually send me to sleep rather quickly ; ) My elegant blue and white twin bedroom was very clean and homely, decorated with framed pictures and modern decorative vases, a flat screen television & DVD adorned the wall in front of the two beds and an en-suite bathroom complete with fluffy bathrobe, a nice large pair of non-slip flip flops to wander around in and some miniature goodies were waiting for me. On using the shampoo & conditioner on offer, I was thrilled to find they were not only good "latherers", but they were minty fresh and really woke me up on the morning of my second day, they were just what I needed to get me feeling fresh and ready for action, a real first from the many bottles of shampoo I've sampled recently! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa I had taken a gamble on not bringing a hairdryer, as most hotels now offer this as standard and I wasn't wrong, but I was glad I had remembered my straighteners (I'm such a girl pfft!) as this wasn't something on offer around the spa. As I opened every drawer, admired the long clear rain macs in the wardrobe and poured myself a glass of sparkling water at my dressing table, I wondered what I should start with first. I could hear the shouts of the trainer in a spinning class down the corridor and just the thought of joining something so hearty straight away was tiring, so I popped on my twin set (miles too big for me as I'm now 2 stone lighter... must buy a new one soon!) and headed for the steam room. The bed was super comfortable, with a nice heavy duvet to keep me warm throughout the night. There were plenty of pillows and although the single bed had concerned me on arrival (I'm a king sized sort of gal!) I had the best night's sleep in a long time, but this could have also been down to all the amazing food and great exercise I was taking in... who cares?! I slept well and didn't want to answer my wake up call the next day! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Pool:  The 25m swimming pool was a swimmers dream, it was warm and spacious to say the very least and at just 1.3m deep, there's no chance of people wanting to dive bomb off the side and splash you as you try to unwind. The whirlpool quietly whirs and bubbles against the poolside, but it doesn't disturb your stride as you crawl past, in fact it was so large that I didn't notice any of my fellow swimmers as I took the plunge, it was fabulous. Throughout the week there are many water-based classes on within a certain area of the pool, such as "Aqua Mitt", "Aquafit" and "Water Netball", all of which sounded great fun, but all clashed with my other activities which was a bit of a shame, but maybe next time! The steam rooms and saunas were separate for men and women, so if couples do visit, they would need to be mindful that they would take these separately before taking to the pool together. Much to my surprise, there were a fair few men at this spa, as couples and alone, it was refreshing to see and I didn't feel uncomfortable in anybody's company, people were so friendly and lots of smiles shared over swims, classes and meals, the atmosphere really is a friendly one here. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Thalassotherapy was an alien term to me, until I realised I had recently been in a "Themassipool" at another spa recently (it's a small pool with lots of jacuzzi-style jet bubbled treatment pods of various shapes and sizes) however, this one has 6 different features including a relaxing bubble bed, lots of massage pipes to work on your calves, feet and thighs and lots of pressure jets to work the upper body too. You can fit up to 7 people in here at one time, but it was just me in there today, I do love it when I can hog something to myself - It's a great way to detox in a salt water pool and it was the perfect introduction to the spa for me. My therapist, who had controlled each of the features as I enjoyed them advised me to take a  shower and rest  for 30 mins before doing anything else, of which I found tricky to do... there was so much to check out that I hadn't yet seen, I could hardly contain myself when 30 minutes of lying by the poolside was up! She also advised me to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It's nice to see a spa that encourages you to drink plenty of water as you move around, not all spas do from experience. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Spa:  Champneys offer a 16+ policy on age, so no children (or pets) are amongst you whilst visiting, I like this policy as an adult trying to get away from those sort of stresses myself. There are more than 80 different therapies on offer here, including their signature treatments such as the paraffin wax bath, "Physiotherm", hypnotherapy and Chinese body therapy to name but a few. I have no idea why people would opt for a wax whilst on a retreat, but if you so wish, you can have the more mundane waxing and preening carried out and of course there are many different massages, facials, body wraps, manicures & pedicures to opt for. I didn't use the spa very much, as my break was fitness geared, so I was working up a sweat instead of melting into my bathrobe, next time... next time! Croquet, mountain bikes, tennis courts and swimming lessons can also be booked privately should you be staying for longer and feel the need to cram something else into your schedule ; ) Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Gym: This is a well equipped gym and it's been a long time since I stepped foot into a proper gymnasium after the last few months of using a personal trainer at home. I spent my first evening sweating it out and making my PT proud with all my new moves to bust out, as well as a run to catch up on some "homework" for my local running group. I was putting the guy next to me to shame... he can keep his show off moves and huffs & puffs, I was cool, calm & controlled and for the very first time, I loved using the facilities! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The treadmill had a charger so you could hook up your phone and do whizzy things with it, TV screens were on all the main treadmills and exercise bikes, cross trainers, etc. It also boasted an array of free weights, bars & weights for dead lifting and many other weight training equipment, not forgetting my trusty medicine balls and mats - I threw one around for a while - the only downside that it was only 5kg (being used to a 12kg weight normally), but that's just being picky! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa There was also a "Vibrogym" steel plate in the gym of which I used on the morning of my second day for some "Vibrotherapy" training with the Champneys fitness consultant, Darren. He was fantastic and helped me through a 25 minute session on this vibrating exercise box... such a bizarre concept, but it works your muscles and gets your blood flowing in a much faster time than a session on the treadmill or the like. I was planking, squatting, laying on this plate and letting it jiggle (yes, the only word I can use to explain this!) me about, my legs were like jelly afterwards, it was brilliant! Darren had advised that this had been used during his days as a trainer at Chelsea FC and it's a great way to rehabilitate people with injuries - he has used this to help a man with a knee injury be able to run a marathon, so there really is no excuse, I'm hooked! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa If that wasn't enough, I enjoyed a light lunch and then a couple of hours later headed to the fitness studio for a "Fitsteps" dance class, which is a fairly new offering to Champneys, having only offered this for a couple of months. Now, consider the fact that the last time I did "the running man", I fell over my own feet and cut my knee open... this is a dance class that even I could throw myself into and have fun with, so anyone can! This is a dance class designed by Ian Waite, Natalie Lowe & Mark Foster from BBC's " Strictly Come Dancing" and it blends Ballroom and Latin dances together to make for a fun and energetic 45 minute exercise class - come loaded with water, it's exhausting! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa I rounded off my visit with a one-to-one Pilates session, something else that was completely new to me and to be honest I was daunted by this, I really felt quite worried that some greased up Adonis would come along and bend me into unthinkable shapes, but it wasn't like this at all, it was in fact the perfect way to end my visit.  I was taught by a Jamaican volley ball player (ok, he was a bit of a GOD!) and he was 100% nuts, I ADORED him! He laughed with me as I sweated buckets and stretched out my entire body in a way I wasn't expecting... I was told Pilates was a relaxing experience, however, I learnt this is not the case, amazing workout and after such a long day of exercise, I was ready to sleep, not drive home! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Restaurant:  Champneys believe that the food should not only be healthy, but should also delight the senses and this didn't disappoint. On arrival (in a dress no less, I decided to take a well needed date with myself!) for dinner, I felt as though I had stepped into a fine dining venue, with clean white linen on the tables, small vases with fresh flowers on the tables and simple green drinking glasses everywhere to add a splash of colour, it was very inviting. The menu is filled with nutritious food, in proper portion sizes (no micro what's-that-now?! portions) and locally sourced ingredients are used where possible, including vegetables grown in their own gardens. I went for sparkling water and smugly avoided the wine and the bread basket (My PT will be so proud of me... until the pudding menu is mentioned!) and the friendly waitress was very efficient, having me only wait 5 minutes for my starter to arrive. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa I opted for the baked sweet potato topped with red onion jam and glazed with cheddar cheese and balsamic glaze, it was delicious and just enough on the plate to get me ready for my main course... Char-grilled breast of guinea fowl with greens, parmentier potatoes, roasted vine tomatoes and crispy ham. I haven't had this meat for a very long time and it was moist and melted in the mouth, it was the best meal I've had in weeks, I loved this main and even I couldn't eat it all, a girl with a huge hunger most days. The man opposite me was having a wash with his napkin between courses, so that was my entertainment sorted, lovely. And just when I thought I could go somewhere without bumping into somebody I know, my old boss sat behind me...awkward! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Pudding defeated me, but I gave it a good old go before heading to bed for a food-coma related snooze. Yoghurt lemon Panacotta with blueberry compote, a gluten free option and so creamy it hurt, it was gorgeous!  The entire meal was a pleasure, relaxed, at my own pace, no annoyance of my usual dining companion wolfing it down fast and me playing catch up... I could suit myself and I loved the freedom of this. There is also "The Champneys Table" in the restaurant, where you can book and join like minded people at dinner. Perfect if visiting alone, allowing you to meet some lovely people around a share table, almost like your very own supperclub, a great idea. A breakfast & lunch buffet offers a huge selection of healthy choices from fresh bread, meats, salads and fruits as well as warm mains such as jacket potatoes and a turkey casserole of which I enjoyed for my early lunch with a wild rice and selection of vegetables. The daily menus suggest different mixes of foods, depending on your health goals and I loved this idea as there was so much food to choose from that the guide really helps if you are targeting a certain goal. These two offerings are much more relaxed, with the restaurant also allowing you to be robed and flip-flopped whilst you dine, I think breakfast should be more like this every day... I wish! Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Little Extras:  By the time I had been shown around the spa and taken to my bedroom, my bags had been delivered to my room and placed on the bed ready to unpack, no there's service! There is a hair salon and Champneys shop on site, so you can browse and buy your favourite goodies whilst visiting. I picked up a gorgeous scented massage oil (a girl can hint when it comes to the reality of being back home!) and a miracle balm for my dry hands & lips in this cold weather. With various offers and discounts throughout the month, there's always an excuse to pick up a treat or two to continue your pampering, it'd be rude not to. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa The Little Niggles:  There is a stunning conservatory at the far end of this spa and in the "QUIET" area there was just one couple sat on a sofa chatting away fairly loudly about their sex life as others around them (myself included) were trying to recharge. This isn't the fault of the spa, but of these guests, I truly wish people would respect this ONE area of any spa, it's crazy to me as to why anybody would break this rule, as it's SO important to have this when trying to relax, if like myself, you find it tricky to climb off the wall - highly irritating and it will be going on one of my TOP niggles for "Spa Etiquette 101" in the very near future!!! In fact one lady (I LOVED her style) sat up, glared at them with the most icy stare I've ever seen and moved to another room... they saw this, smiled and continued... gah! I would say that Henlow Grange could perhaps make it more obvious as to the seriousness of this quiet area, as it really can affect somebody's enjoyment of this area when this happens... I can't quite advise on "Spa Police" but if they want to hire me to "Shhhh" these beggars, I'd happily do so ; ) Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Final Thoughts:  Champneys Henlow Grange offer a similar break to the one I enjoyed based around a fitness break, should you be as nuts as I am to go to a spa to sweat it out from £249 per person, or you could go for a 1 night "Pamper Break" which will be similar and would include:   Arrival 2pm 1 night's accommodation Choose two 25 minute treatments from: Massage, Facial, Aromatherapy Wrap, Scalp Massage. Use of resort facilities Access to up to 20 different classes per day Nutritious dinner, breakfast & lunch Depart by 4pm Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Champneys Henlow is located in Bedfordshire, just a hop from Cambridge and local attractions, should you wish to venture out would include places such as Hatfield House, Woburn Abbey, Wrest Park, Bletchley Park, Shuttleworth Old Warden Park and Milton Keynes is not far away for all your shopping fancies. There is currently 50% off certain Champneys products in the shop, with ranges of makeup, lotions and potions aplenty. Champneys Henlow Grange Spa You can view my full photo album for this stay by clicking here.   Champneys Henlow Grange Spa Please note - This stay was complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The team that work on the day of my visit are never aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions, please do email:

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