I feel bound to tell you that my trip to Lifehouse Spa & Hotel coincided with the first perfect Autumnal day of the year: bright sunshine and a slight chill in the air heralding the arrival of a very beautiful season … but honestly, I don’t think it would have made a difference what the weather was like (well, it might have impacted on my tour of the garden) – perhaps the best insight is simply to say: ‘wow!’
Built among the foundations of Thorpe Hall, the 19th Century home of Lord and Lady Byng
the hotel is a fusion of ultra contemporary design (glass, polished concrete floors, and lots and lots of light) fused with the red brick of the original outhouses; both the aesthetic and practical elements of the venue have been carefully considered – that is to say you don’t have to go outside if you don’t want to when moving from your room, the restaurant, the spa, or the gym. The rooms themselves are unequivocally modern – invariably looking out onto the gardens – I would suggest paying the extra supplementary fee to guarantee a ground floor room with its own little terrace. The devil is most definitely in the detail with room configurations designed to suit different guests and a little reminder of your proximity to the sea with a wallpaper strip depicting Frinton sea front, lining the open wardrobe space.
To talk about the spa in isolated context is a little misleading because the whole of the Lifehouse ethos stems from the wisdom of their resident naturopath, Sue Davis, and her specialist team which includes physiotherapist Natasha Allsop, shiatsu practitioner Andy Butterfield, hypnotherapist Tom Barber, and a fitness team as well. Carefully constructing menus and treatments to compliment one another, the wealth of knowledge available combined with the facilities means that whether you are here for health, indulgence or both, there is something for everyone. Facilities, which are lined on one side by a glass wall – perfectly positioned to enjoy a view of the setting sun – include a hydro pool, salt room, sauna, steam room, scented experience shower, plunge pool and exercise pool, while on the first floor there is also a dedicated manicure and pedicure room, and a relaxation room complete with shiatsu chairs and 360 chairs (highly recommended post massage), and a shop. Walking into the gym, the question that springs to mind predominantly concerns the seeming lack of equipment, but this is a gym focusing on the power of the body – so beside the treadmills and such there is a range of equipment (you could be forgiven for thinking it is visually reminiscent of a Medieval dungeon) encompassing TRX training, kettlebells and cable machines. There are also trim trails outside, and personal trainers on hand to show you the ropes (literally). Of course none of this would be complete without the treatments, and using ESPA, Jessica and Sienna products, Lifehouse showcases everything from massages and facials to reflexology, shiatsu and hypnotherapy, and also consultations on nutrition, smoking cessation, detox and weight loss.
There is a main restaurant – Water Lilies (named for the view), the spa café – Strawberry Tree (looking out onto the fruit garden), and the bar – Orchids (presumably because of the wild orchids that have been resurfacing since the garden has been allowed to flourish). While nutrition is considered with minute detail and with optimum health benefits in mind, it is not to the detriment of taste and there is no pressure to eschew indulgence. Cocktails, desserts – everything along those lines is available, but it is all fresh, carefully designed and if you so choose – in keeping with your spa package and personal requirements.
Showing off a corner of Essex which one suspects would throw a spanner in the works for many a stereotype, one of the defining features of Lifehouse is the garden. A guided tour from gardener, Stuart, who was almost humming with excitement at the effects of the changing season and the cavalcade of knowledge and enthusiasm he has for the location taught me that the 12 cultivated acres of the 130 acre estate is a conservation area that is gradually being restored to its original design as a wild garden inspired by the work of Victorian gardener, William Robinson. Orchids and rare flowers, treats and once forgotten landscapes are emerging as the coaxing approach to gardening takes hold having been neglected until the redevelopment of the plot in 2010. Paying homage to the Byngs’ high and mighty social life, there are also a series of summer houses dotted around the garden which are named for particularly renowned guests including Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, Queen Mary and JM Barry … frankly, in the right light it wouldn’t be hard to believe he left a little bit of Never Never Land behind him after his visit.
Rather unanimously, everyone from Spabreaks.com who has ventured to Lifehouse has had nothing but good things to say about it, and the attention to detail has much to do with that assessment. It is a spa in the true sense of the word, but without being sanctimonious; you can spend your time wandering around and having each meal in your cosy, white robe, and if you want to quaff champagne all day and eat cream cakes – go for it! Just as long as it’s the best they can find. That said, if you have a particular area of health you would like to focus on, the support here is immense – with food intolerance tests, advice, and consultations readily available. Interestingly, and perhaps in many ways because of the architectural design, the venue also proves extremely popular with men – yes, it’s a spa, but it isn’t pink and fluffy … it’s actually whatever you want it to be.
– Make time for a guided walk around the gardens, even if it isn’t usually your sort of thing, they are beautiful enough as it is, but that extra bit of knowledge will take your experience of the venue to a whole new level.
– If you have a particular health concern you would like to address, use your visit as an opportunity to start – pop in for a chat with their naturopath, fitness team, shiatsu specialist – they are welcoming, knowledgeable and easy to talk to.
– Take some time to appreciate the architecture and artwork scattered around the venue … each proving something of a conversational piece.
– Boys, if you are unfamiliar with the spa scene and are not sure what to expect – this is definitely a good place to start.
To visit Lifehouse Spa & Hotel go to Spabreaks.com or contact the team on: 0800 043 6600.
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