The service bells of Downton Abbey may be about to ring out their last, but for me the English country-house escape – with spa, in this case – has just begun. I’m at Lucknam Park, the 18th-century Palladian mansion six miles northeast of Bathin Wiltshire, ensconced in a room with a four-poster bed and a view out onto the mile-long driveway. The prospect of my spa retreat is enough to make me feel like a thoroughly modern Lady Mary Crawley – kitchen maids swapped for Michelin-starred chefs, high tea for tension-release massage, and instead of racing cars, my suitor has signed up for yoga.
The spa itself sits within the hotel’s 500 acres of land, with swimming pools both indoor and out (the latter set among maze gardens and manicured lawns), a saltwater plunge pool, a Japanese salt steam room (the salt has natural healing properties) and an amethyst room (the stone is said to have healing properties). The treatment offering is simple and refined, featuring products by Anne Semonin, Carita Paris and Ila.
While the Italian has a game of tennis with a coach on the all-weather court, I opt for a massage. I am peeved to find that there is not a deep-tissue massage on the menu – surely this should be a core offering? – so I go for a made-to-measure tension-release treatment. Fragrant Ila hand-blended body oils are used during the thorough head-to-toe treatment. There’s no wow factor, but I do leave feeling relaxed and unknotted.
After walking to the local pub for lunch, we return for more pampering. I try a 90-minute Carita Cinetic facial. A small hand-held device emitting microcurrents, which promise to tone and reoxygenate the skin, is the first in a triumvirate of high-tech gadgetry (all hooked up to a single machine). Therapist Camilla begins moving the device slowly over my face; the electric currents tingle and tickle slightly. When she has covered my entire face, save my eyes, she begins a gentle finger massage, moving her digits in circular motions. Next Camilla applies a serum to my skin, and then slides a flat, smooth ultrasound pad around my face on top of it, to encourage better penetration of the ingredients. Lastly, she takes an LED wand and draws the pen-like tip of red light over my skin to increase production of collagen and soften fine lines. It feels very slightly warm.
In the evening, we repair to the hotel’s Michelin-starred Park restaurant. It is not, shall we say, a detox destination; gourmet offerings include roast pigeon and hand-rolled macaroni served with truffle butter – exceptional. For full indulgence, we try the wine-paired menu, which does not disappoint.
The next day we begin with a morning run around the grounds, jogging along trails that wend through the park and woodland and past formal gardens filled with roses and herbs. We ruin all our good work with a full breakfast served by a butler in our room.
We have signed up for a one-on-one beginners’ yoga class (it is the Italian’s first time on the mat), and we head along a pretty trellised passage to the Wellbeing House, a cosy-looking two-storey Cotswold-stone cottage that’s separate to the spa and that, in addition to yoga, offers sunlight therapy, dry flotation (on a mattress filled with warm water), Pilates and pop-up specialist clinics – sleep, nutrition and mindfulness – throughout the year. Although I fully expect the class to be an easy ride, the slow transitions between moves involve holding the poses for what feels like aeons – we both find ourselves shaking in each position and quickly breaking a sweat. I’m impressed.
Keen to keep our pulse rates up, we hire bikes and cruise around the grounds and out into the countryside, through rolling hills, farmland and tiny villages to a pub for lunch.
Back at the estate, we head over to the stables, where we have booked an hour-long guided walk on horseback. We saddle up on two chestnuts and go for a leisurely trip around the furthest reaches of the grounds, under canopies of trees – just glimpsing a deer or two on our journey.
That night, the Michelin-starred restaurant is our downfall yet again; we relish the second wine-paired indulgence even more than the first.
The Bottom Line
One of the questions I am most asked is a recommendation for the ultimate British spa break. For an escape sans detox, Lucknam Park ranks among the best. It is a sophisticated getaway, where the pampering and activities are top notch. My facial left my face less puffy, my pores smaller and my skin smoother. Although I was disappointed about not being able to have a deep-tissue massage, the one I had was simple and effective. The yoga class was surprisingly challenging – in a good way – and jogging, cycling and riding around the grounds was heaven, with attentive and helpful staff smoothing the way for every activity.
Spa Junkie, aka Inge Theron, is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies.