Qualified in Ayurvedic massage, Chavutti Thirumal (which is applied by the feet), Thai massage and Indian Head Massage, journalist, Kathryn Hudson, knows what she’s looking for when it comes to spas, so we sent her to Bovey Castle to find out her expert opinion!
The long sweeping drive through the 275 acre estate, decorated with some lingering snow, built the anticipation, which climaxed with the castle itself. Imposing and grand, it’s reminiscent of Hogwarts. As soon as we drew up outside, a porter, fittingly attired in a tweed jacket and plus fours, rushed forwards to greet us and park the car. Then a lady, wearing an equestrianesque uniform of Barbour jacket, long leather boots and silk scarf, ushered us into the lounge for tea. The abundance of front of house staff makes the service very personal and made us feel special throughout the stay.
The castle looks as though it is centuries old, so I was surprised to find out that it was only built in 1907, as a private residence for the WH Smith family. During the first and second world wars it was used as a military hospital and has been used as a hotel since the end of WWII. The style, masterminded by interior designer, Annabel Elliot, is classic and opulent: Chesterfield sofas, Persian rugs, original oak panelling, bold wallpaper prints, real antler chandeliers and the odd stuffed animal. Much of the artwork reflects its Dartmoor surroundings, with enormous oil paintings of sheep, cows and ponies by local artist, Catherine Lightfoot. There are no shortage of places to sit with a book, or peruse the magazines and newspapers scattered around. The run of lounges along the front of the hotel, are all sunny, thanks to the huge leaded windows, and cosy thanks to the roaring fires.
The spa and swimming pool are in an art deco extension. Blue mosaic tiles line the pool and the surrounding pillars. Low lit, they create a magical atmosphere in the dark. The floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the pool make it possible to feel the warmth of the sun on a winter’s day. The sauna and steam room are poolside and the whirlpool is part of the swimming pool. There’s also a gym, with cardiovascular equipment and free weights. The spa is two floors above the wet facilities. There are five treatment rooms, including a couples’ room with a hydrotherapy bath. The relaxation room has comfy loungers with blankets to snuggle up with after your treatment. The spa menu is impressive, covering all tastes. All the regulars are offered – sports massage, reflexology, manicures – but there is also a wide choice for the more adventurous spa-goer, including Christy Turlington’s Ayurvedic range, SUNDÃRI. It is SUNDÃRI’s flagship spa in the UK, so Bovey Castle offers some therapies that you won’t find elsewhere. The Ytsara range is based on Thai therapies and I chose Mohom from this menu, because it sounded intriguing. I wasn’t disappointed. Combining acupressure, stretches, pounding with a herb poultice containing delicious smelling herbs such as indigo and lemongrass, and a deep tissue massage with China mandarin oil, it is a powerful treatment which works on a deep level. My treatment was exceptional. I think one of the reasons for this is that the therapists are well trained and limited to four treatments a day.
Two restaurants are on offer at Bovey Castle. The Edwardian Grill offers a Beef Menu, which is a nose to tail dining concept using beef which has never left Dartmoor. Despite this, there is no shortage of interesting options for pescatarians (like me) and vegetarians, such as tempura courgette flowers and Torbay sole. The food was simply divine, the service attentive and atmosphere provided by a grand pianist. For a simpler dining experience there is the Castle Bistro, which serves up fare such as pizzas, fish and chips and burgers. Situated between the swimming pool and the spa, the Castle Bistro often offers Spa Specials for lunch: salads, baked fish and griddled chicken. While The Edwardian Grill is smart, you wouldn’t feel out of place eating your lunch at the Castle Bistro in your fluffy white robe. Sunlight floods in through the huge windows and, for warmer weather, there is a terrace overlooking the grounds.
It’s a pleasant drive across the undulations of Dartmoor to get to Bovey Castle. Fitting its title, the entrance to the grounds are suitably auspicious, with iron gates and a gatehouse, giving a sense of arrival.
Bovey Castle is the perfect romantic break for a couple. For partners who don’t like spa, there are loads of other activities on offer on site: golf (on a championship course), fishing, clay pigeon shooting, mountain biking, hiking. It’s also suitable for families, ideally with children of seven years and up, as there is the Bovey Ranger’s scheme to keep them entertained and the innovative complimentary LEGO Room Service Menu. The spa even offers a 50-minute treatment for six to 15-year-olds. Because of the interesting treatment menu and the excellent therapists, this is a good option for the spa savvy, who want a really top notch treatment.
– If you have a new outfit you were saving, wear it. This is a place where you can dress up. A black dress and red lipstick is the look for The Edwardian Grill.
– Try and leave enough time to enjoy a walk around the grounds too. If you don’t have a Barbour jacket and Hunter wellies don’t worry, you can borrow some from the hotel.
– Treat yourself to a lavender and kaffir lime eye mask from the spa. Wearing one in my treatment did more to reduce the dark rings under my eyes than three months without alcohol managed to do. Also the delicious smell will remind you of the spa when you get home.