I always feel a little guilty taking time out this time of year. They say a little ‘me-time’ all year round is good for the soul, but after two gluttonous weeks off over the festive period (mostly spent on the sofa with one too many pigs-in-blankets to hand) I can’t help but feel like relaxing is, or should be, off limits during the first few months of the year. Life resumes and the feel-good celebrations come to a very abrupt end.
But then, that’s the thing about the promise of spring isn’t it – rather than making you feel like getting your head down and hurtling back to the grind in full force, for many, it can actually make you want to emerge from the wintry greyness, beautify and blossom.
And that’s where good old spa days come in handy. And so, a few Sundays ago, a chum and I said no to a day of hoovering and scouring the aisles of Sainsburys (anyone else dread the big weekly shop?) and, instead, decided to firmly put our New Year guilt on hold in the name of pampering.
Matfen Hall’s Aqua Vitae spa was our hideout of choice. Partly due to its ridiculously tranquil surroundings – it’s nestled in 300 acres of peaceful, Northumbrian parkland – but also because of its great range of ‘day escape’ packages.
Booking one means you and a loved one can kick-back from sunrise ’til sundown, enjoying up to two and a half hours of spa treatments, a two-course lunch, full use of spa facilities and a welcome drink to kick things off.
There’s something for everyone – from couples and friends to guys, groups and mums-to-be – but on this occasion, it was the ‘Amelia’s Collection’ that took our fancy, combining one relaxing hour of treatment time with all the aforementioned extras. You’re also treated to a cheeky glass of champers at lunch – what’s not to love?
After an early check-in, we made ourselves at home in the spa lounge – a cosy little spot, complete its very own juice bar and views of the pool. We arrived bright and early, around 9am, so laying low here while we woke ourselves up, armed with our welcome drinks, felt great.
My pal received their much-needed caffeine shot in the form of a frothy latte, while I opted for one of the spa’s signature smoothies, made with avocado, spinach, apple and other green veg, for a bit of five-a-day goodness to get us going.
We also made our lunch choices. A hard thing, if you can’t stomach the thought of food first thing, but a total joy in our case. If ever there were two foodies who’s lives revolved around eating, you were looking at them.
Kudos to Matfen’s chefs for offering such a varied lunch menu – have a peek and you’ll discover a range of light bites to suit all tastes and diets, whether you’re a green-eating veggie or vegan, or an avid meat-eater.
Treatment-wise, an ‘Amelia’s Collection’ spa day means you can take your pick from either a full, tension-busting body massage, a skin specific facial or a luxury manicure or pedicure.
One of the spa’s dedicated therapist helped us decide how to relax; a 60-minute pore-perfecting facial for my friend, designed to boost radiance and leave skin plump, and one of the spa’s newest, hour-long massage treatments for me, using warm poultices to ease sore, aching muscles. The perfect post-gym pick.
Choices made, we had some free time before we re-robed and enjoyed some probable shut-eye on the massage table. This meant a little bit of everything; a good soak in the bubbling hot tub, a few lengths in the warm pool and some time spent sweating it out in the sauna and the gym – which, on this particular Sunday, we found to be surprisingly peaceful. No racing to nab a treadmill or a pair of weights.
When it was time to don our fluffy slippers, we made our way to the treatment rooms, before being quietly ushered into the spa’s relaxation room – a twinkly, low-lit snug, filled with gorgeous reclining beds, decorated with fluffy pillows, cashmere throws and faux-fur blankets, fresh fruit and herbal teas and stacks of glossy magazines for flicking.
Every spa in the region has one of these rooms, but Matfen’s small, but perfectly-formed, hideout has always been a firm favourite.
Treatments were just as heavenly as we’d hoped. My chum’s ‘Superfood Pro-Radiance’ facial meant their skin had been given a nutritional boost, rich in skin ‘superfoods’ and minerals, and a detoxifying massage to help drain away stress and nasties. And judging by their big smile, smooth, plump cheeks and healthy pink glow post-treatment, it was a facial that had certainly done the trick. A great choice, especially for those with sensitive, more mature skin.
My poultice-powered massage also proved to be a winner – and a one we’d definitely recommend to gym-goers or stressed, stiff office-workers.
Allow yourself to drift off into an undisturbed slumber as your therapist works her magic on your muscles, armed with hot and wonderfully-fragrant poultices, made with amber and quartz, to target sore spots.
But don’t fret – it’s a lot gentler than it sounds. A light slick of essential oil beforehand means the poultices are glided over and pushed into areas of tension with ease – and it’s these gentle, rhythmic kneading movements that melt away knots and helps you drift off. I say try it; your muscles – and your mind – will thank you for it.
An hour later, we both emerged from the spa a little greasier, but considerably lighter on our feet, than we were before we entered, just in time for a spot of lunch.
Being a spa guest means you get to dine in a private room, just off the hotel’s Conservatory Bistro, with fabulous views of its sweeping, 27-hole golf course.
Our morning foodie choices proved to be the right ones; for me, a lunch-sized portion of veggie risotto, served wonderfully creamy, cheesy and oozy, with a side of buttered greens. Sunday stodginess done perfectly.
Our pal, meanwhile, made their way through one of the menu’s good-sized burgers, made the vegetarian way with a falafel-like patty, fresh tomatoes, gherkins and a mayo-like relish for sweetness, and served with a hefty pot of sweet potato fries.
Desserts weren’t needed, but demolished. A gooey slab of sticky toffee pudding for them, and two wedges of dark chocolate brownies for me. Because, well, if you can’t indulge on a Sunday, when can you?
We tootled off, back to reality, soon after, with full bellies, smooth skin and zero back pain. A winning combination if you ask me. And that ‘New Year guilt’ seemed to have eased off too. Breaking away from our grown-up jobs, chores and life gave us time to pamper and giggle and a chance to reconnect – things we all need now and again when faced with the often dreary thought of Monday, next month, and the 350-something days ahead. Thanks, Matfen, for bringing the feel-good-factor.
For more information, visit www.matfenhall.com or call 01661 886400