Glass explores the award-winning SenSpa at Careys Manor - a traditional Thai spa set in an English stately home
Although SenSpa is not strictly a “retreat”, it’s certainly a place where one’s worldly woes can be left at the door. Located in the beautiful New Forest, Hampshire, south-east England, the spa incorporates health and well-being practises which have been part of Eastern culture for thousands of years (“Sen” is the Thai word which represents the energy meridians in the body). The problem with many luxury spas is that they can often an exude a somewhat stuffy, clinical atmosphere – but here the vibe here is much more relaxed, thanks in no small part to its varied clientele, which includes couples, corporate teams and groups of friends on a mini-break. Guests are not just here to de-stress, but have fun too.
The spa is based in the stately Carey’s Manor, a short walk from Brockenhurst station – a sleepy picture postcard town, where wild New Forest ponies and their young are given free rein to roam the streets. And as one might expect from the manor's elegant exterior, its guest rooms don’t disappoint. Boasting a cheerful view of the gardens, our bedroom is clean and spacious, with unfussy yet elegant furnishings. Unpacked, we head downstairs to relax on the front lawn, taking in the many other cheerful chattering groups and savouring our time away from the polluted city streets.
The spa itself is within easy reach from our room, with two majestic Buddhist statues at the entrance, a promising sign that enlightenment – or at least some serious R&R – lies within. The décor is simple and cosy with subtle Eastern touches which extends to the softly lit treatment rooms. My Traditional Thai Massage is nothing short of thorough, but relaxing at the same time. Described as a “passive yoga workout”, my cheerful therapist gets busy using her hands, elbows, legs and feet, twisting and contorting my body until every cramped joint is loosened with a satisfying “pop ” and each tense muscle is gently stretched and kneaded into submission. It seems all the therapists at SenSpa are of Thai origin and their impressive level of consideration and attentiveness is apparent. My companion is equally impressed with her Essential Relaxation Massage with sweet-smelling oils, and having undergone major surgery several weeks prior, felt it was just what she needed to help her body recover.
Following our treatments, we float serenely down to dinner in the award-winning Manor Restaurant. With a menu using local produce from the New Forest wherever possible, the food is not too heavy on the stomach and cooked to perfection, with delights including delicately seared breast of locally sourced pigeon, crispy beetroot Carpaccio, buttery soft pan-roasted cod and an oozing asparagus garden vegetable risotto – the vegetarian choices being just as extensive and unique as the meat dishes (no dreaded stuffed mushrooms here). Breakfast the next morning in the beautiful Zen Garden Restaurant was just as delightful as dinner. Having been away on a detox retreat the previous week, I tuck into my runny eggs Benedicte and yoghurt and fruit compote with gusto, the only sounds coming from the nearby wood pigeons and gentle trickle of the garden’s water features.
After a brief scenic walk into Brockenhurst village – and debating with a local villager over whether a passing horse is pregnant – we return to the spa for a meditation class (many such classes focused on fitness and relaxation are held throughout the day). The instructor teaches us a special technique to slow down our breathing, which releases serotonin and forces the body to calm itself down – an effect I feel almost immediately – it’s just a shame that the class is only half an hour long.
The remainder of the day is spent exploring the rest of the spa. As well as an expansive swimming pool and Jacuzzi, the spa boasts one of the most impressive hydrotherapy areas I’ve ever encountered. Spilt into two levels, the area itself has an atmosphere which can only be described as womb-like, gently lit with (fake) candles and a ceiling with tiny twinkling lights overhead. Although it’s tempting to simply languish in the pool and be massaged by the water jets, guests are advised to cool off in the scented “experience showers” which involve neon lights and sounds of a stormy sea or a monsoon downpour.
It’s also fun to explore the many different relaxation chambers, which include a herbal sauna and an amethyst crystal steam room – my favourite was the less sweltering Laconium where you can stretch out on the heated floor and breathe in the scent of mandarins. A formidable looking bucket of ice hangs suspended in one of the shower rooms, which I later find out is a “Koubel douche” to be as one might imagine doused over the whole body. Feeling refreshed and relaxed, we take afternoon tea in the hotel’s expansive gardens, before being reluctantly driven down to the station by a kind porter. On the train home, we’re already planning our return visit.
by Viola Levy
A one night Zen spa break (treatments not included) starts from £175. For bookings call 01590624467 or visit: spa.senspa.co.uk