The perfect spa retreat for spring

JAN RHODES leaves behind the stresses of city life to chill at C.Side Spa in the quintessentially English country grounds of Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds

At this time of year who could possibly resist a 90-minute Green & Spring Indulgence treatment at one of Britain's top spas?


As I turned off the frenetic A417 from London I immediately found myself bouncing down a quiet country track towards Cowley Manor - a boutique-style hotel and spa which lies in 55 acres of lush gardens overlooking its own lake.


As the lane snaked towards the manor house, built in 1855 in the style of an Italianate villa, I past grazing sheep in the fields and pheasants darting in and out of the hedgerows - a sight you don't see too often in the city!


Turning into the driveway, and through the wrought iron gates, it immediately felt like I was entering another world away from the stresses and strains of everyday life. A carpet of daffodils were on the verge of bursting into life - marking the start of spring and a feeling of new beginnings...


And this is precisely why so many people seek out Cowley Manor - to rest and rejuvenate and to get back in touch with nature. It's also a million miles away from the traditional country retreat as it's not only a fusion of old and new - contemporary decor mixes effortlessly with the historic architecture - but is renown for being one of the few family-friendly hotel spas in the UK. This is immediately obvious when you see the multi-colour line-up of wellie boots outside the front door awaiting to be used by the young and old to explore the beautiful gardens.



You'll find no "keep off the grass" signs at this spa hotel. And the reason Cowley manages to combine this cool, contemporary chic with being a home-away-from-home is down to its visionary owner Jessica Frankopan (nee Sainsbury of the family dynasty).


Yet opening a contemporary country-house hotel and spa was not an obvious career path for either Jessica or her husband Peter (or to use his official title Prince Peter Doimi de Frankopan Subic Zrinski). ‘We’d gone from low-budget backpacking in our 20s to slowly wanting to spoil ourselves a bit with romantic weekends away, and we realised how uncomfortable we felt in the very formal, hushed country hotels at the time. It felt like we had to be on our best behaviour all the time," said Jessica in a recent interview.


After finding Cowley it took a further two years to restore it to its former glory, and the hotel and spa opened for business in 2002. "The house itself was very sad and dilapidated, with an awful musty smell. It had previously been a retirement home, But when we walked round the gardens, past the cascades, we were instantly hooked." Very little of the original building remained at Cowley, but Jessica and Peter, who now run their Curious Group of Hotels company, have painstakingly tried to restore features and to use local materials such as Cotswold slate to line the modernist-inspired award-winning pool and spa house.


C.Side Spa is situated away from the main manor house and is a short walk past the old stables block which have now been converted into rooms. From a distance you can just make out the flat slate roof of the spa as it has been integrated into the lay of the land.



Their most recent development is the launch of the Green & Spring range of natural skin, bath and body products inspired by England’s glorious flora and fauna and I am about to try their new signature Green & Spring Indulgence massage which takes 90 glorious minutes!


The chemical-free botanical range is infused with extracts of herbs and flowers such as lavender, camomile, rosemary, red clover, elderflower, dandelion, fennel and rose, inspired by the kitchen and landscaped gardens at Cowley but also by the hedgerows and native blooms. Spring water from the estate is used in the aqueous-based products in the range.


A white fluffy bathrobe is a pre-requisite for any spa treatment and tucked in my spacious locker was exactly that (there is just no excuse for cream, linen robes!) and a warm, slate floor led me towards my therapist. The treatment room was large with one wall decorated in the colourful array of English birds from the Green & Spring range.


While I settled down on the couch I was offered a music menu, which included everything from Norah Jones to Coldplay and started to feel this was going to be a bespoke massage tailored to both my health and emotional needs.


This was truly a top-to-toe treatment as my therapist started with a soothing foot soak and ended with a rejuvenating milk and honey facial and glorious head massage. The main part of my treatment was made up on a scrub followed by the application of hot herbal compresses - think hot stone massage - which contained such natural products as linseed, lavender and oats followed by lemon balm to moisturise the skin.


Relaxing in the spa cafe over a healthy lunch of butternut squash and sage risotto followed by smoke haddock fishcakes, I felt a calmness which had not only come from the exquisite treatment but also from my idyllic surroundings.

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