Spa weekends have traditionally been designed to help one “get away from it all”. The couple of years, “it all” has been outdoing itself.
Getting away from it would require a very long haul flight, possibly to outer space. Since those aren’t easily caught right now (and neither Richard nor Elon will share their seats), I’m seeking out the best places to truly escape, a little closer to home.
Calcot & Spa (formerly Calcot Manor), promises everything one could want in a luxury spa hotel, with a stellar treatment menu, gorgeous indoor pool and a steaming outdoor jacuzzi, complete with a crackling fireplace. I was immediately drawn to the website’s pictures of very relaxed people sipping Champagne in the tub, under the stars, with no masks on. Simpler times. I booked immediately.
Turning off the motorway, the streets of the Cotswolds get prettier with every mile. That ubiquitous golden stone reflects the light in the sunshine, and soaks up rain in a moody atmospheric way too.
Checking in, there’s a lot to draw the eye. Rows of welly boots line up outside the main door, and guests share jokes as they wander to the spa in their robes.
Original features are kept throughout the buildings, but sharpened up with state-of-the-art tech, modern, minimal colourways. Expensive-looking (and feeling) furnishing are reminiscent of London’s quirkier luxury hotels, pops of bright fabric and mixed materials keeping things fresh.
At the time of writing, we wore masks in the hotel’s public areas. But the atmosphere was fab – chatty groups making up for lost time with celebratory meals, couples cheersing on their sun loungers. Fun, at last!
That said, if you’re only prepared to be around other people for so long, the rooms are a fabulous place to hole up in. A DAB played soft jazz as we unpacked our things, munching on homemade shortbread thoughtfully left on the table.
You can sink into giant, puffy pillows to read your book, or draw yourself a deep bath with a rainbow of lush Aromatherapy Associates products.
Tempting though it is to stay in the room, we went for the spa – and it’s one of the country’s finest. A large pool brings the outdoors in, dotted with trees. Upstairs, the sauna features a window, so you can idly judge swimmers’ front crawl as you lie back, sighing at nothing in particular (you’ll do 50 lengths in the morning, right?).
The outdoor hot tub is the star of the show. At the time of booking, you needed to secure a slot ahead of time – an absolute win, because you get the thing to yourself. Best at night, when the stars appear and the fire burns, it’s a truly atmospheric and unforgettable experience (and masks aren’t required). Staff are delighted to bring you any drink of your choosing, while you while away an hour (and make vague plans to get your own Jacuzzi one day).
Sauntering back to the room, it’s tempting to dive between the sheets and drift off. But to miss dinner is unthinkable. The hotel has its very own country pub called The Gumstool Inn, serving real ales and sophisticated pub grub. We loved twice-baked Cheddar cheese soufflé, followed by mushroom, leek & truffle lasagne. Diet that weekend, we did not.
For families, there’s the Ofsted-registered Playbarn, brimming with toys. Older kids (aged eight and over) will adore The Mez, an Aladdin’s cave stuffed with PlayStations, Wii consoles, Xboxes, computers and even a 12-seater cinema.
While the children are busy, parents can get out and explore. Through the pandemic, nature has been a balm for anyone feeling like they need to escape the news cycle – and the Cotswolds has plenty offer. Try a cycling safari (stopping off in every pub terrace en route), rounded off with a treatment back in the spa.
I tried the Rose facial, harnessing the regenerative properties of rose to nourish, soften and hydrate my mask-rubbed face. I managed to forget about the C-word altogether, emerging restored and ready to take on whatever comes next…