Published in Feast, issue 37 – June 2019.
When the opportunity came up to enjoy an overnight spa break at a Champneys health spa resort with a group of old friends, I didn’t take too long to weigh up the options.
Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, dates back to 1793 and is steeped in royal heritage. It’s in a beautiful location overlooking the North Downs and, at the end of the long, tree-lined drive, a flock of sheep provide a suitably bucolic backdrop. It takes under three hours to drive there from Norwich, or, if you’re going by train, around 40 minutes from London St Pancras to Ashford International station.
Champneys, which started out more than 90 years ago as the extraordinary vision of one eccentric Latvian massage pioneer, acquired the neo-Elizabethan manor house in 2016. These days the go-to spa boasts four health spa resorts, a hotel and six city spas located throughout Britain. I’d been to the original site, in Tring, Hertfordshire, and so was interested to see how this one compared.
There’s a wide range of accommodation on offer. We were in Eastwell Mews, in a converted Victorian stable yard (a couple of twin bedded rooms in Primrose Cottage, to be precise). We spotted that some rooms have private terraces with uninterrupted views of the North Downs and there are even some luxurious looking Shepherd’s Huts set in the grounds. Inside the Manor House itself, you could really go for it and check into a Deluxe Suite.
After settling in, we headed straight to the Spa, changing into robes and flip flops (which you get to take home) and making the most of the 20m heated indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art steam room, sauna and hydrotherapy pool – not to mention comfy relaxation beds complete with wraparound curtains.
Then it was onto the main event: eating and drinking. We enjoyed Pinkster gin and tonics in the bar, before making our way to the Manor Restaurant, which offers seasonal menus focusing on traditional English dishes tempered with a twist of modern European, and using locally sourced ingredients, including from nearby hunting grounds. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn afterwards that the restaurant has garnered AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence.
For starters, we tucked into dishes such as spiced tofu rice paper roll, smoked chalk stream trout, and salt baked Jerusalem artichoke roll; for main, spinach gnocchi, assiette of Forge Farm lamb, and sous-vide corn-fed chicken breast; and for dessert, strawberry and lavender Frasier. All washed down with a bottle of Aroha Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Breakfast – a nutritious affair – was back in the Restaurant, and afterwards we noticed that outdoor experiences such as falconry were already well underway. Oh and there’s an outdoor pool, waiting
for even warmer weather.
For us, though, there was nothing else for it – we were back to the Spa, this time for a ‘stretch and relax’ fitness class, followed by a soothing massage, followed by a snooze in the relaxation room – there’s also a deep relaxation room which takes things down to whole new level. For me, this is what Champneys all about – permission to properly relax.
What’s great about these overnight breaks is that it offers so much more than just dinner, bed and breakfast. A healthy three-course lunch is thrown in, too. In the recently renovated Spa restaurant, we enjoyed soup of the day, soy cured salmon, and roasted munchkin squash, for starters; supreme of corn fed chicken, and classic Caesar salad, for main; and chocolate brownies, and a selection of fresh fruit, for dessert. Yes, the emphasis is on a light lunch (it is a health spa, after all) but there’s always room for chocolate brownies, right?
We’d already been there for a good 24 hours (you can arrive at 2pm and depart at 4pm on these spa breaks) but one look at Afternoon Tea taking place back at the Manor House and we were sorely tempted to stay even longer!
For bookings at Eastwell Manor visit their website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01233 213000