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The Spa - Senspa


It's great value.  The cost of visiting Senspa has put me off in the past, but the facilities alone are well worth the price of entry.  The only other spa I've visited which even remotely competes in terms of the variety and quality of thermal spa experiences is the Salon Sensoriale in Tuscany (which has previously won awards for the best value spa in Europe).


Their range of spa offers can be bewildering, especially if you're as fried as I was when I was looking online (not only their website, but offers on but in the end my decision was made by my desperate need to stay overnight and have a bit of a getaway.  To get the lowdown I called the hotel directly (and this is where spa hotels can be streets ahead as they have receptions prepared to deal with stressed out potential customers early in the morning or late at night when the spa itself may be closed – Bailiffscourt ranks even higher as their spa opens at 7am, but the facilities don't begin to compare).


I was so stressed about making this decision I was frantically looking it up on Tripadvisor and also grilling my sister who was been with her husband for the afternoon "Is it good, is it really good?"  (This was before her son had the emergency appendectomy).  Anyhoo, it wasn't just the money – I simply couldn’t cope with disappointment in my stressed out state.


So I was delighted to be escorted from the hotel reception to the spa, to be greeted with a robe and slippers, to be handed some herbal tea and then to be shown the facilities.


The slippers are a bit odd as I had two soft fluffy pairs in my room (which I hadn't been into yet) which the hotel ask you to take home with you rather than throw away (happy to oblige), and I think you may also be given these as part of some day packages, however there is a big sign on the poolside exit from the changing room saying they're not suitable, but other slippers are available.  Reception lent me a pair of rubber slippers (if you take these away they charge you £15) but at some point on the day I think someone walked off in mine and I walked off in theirs!  So on the second day I opted to leave my own flip flops in my locker (for use going into the Zen Garden restaurant) and visit the spa barefoot, which I guess is what you are supposed to do with those fluffy slippers (but I saw a lot getting awfully wet in the Hydrotherapy area).


The changing rooms are a good size, with plentiful extra towels, and I loved the draped hangings on the ceiling.  There are also showers with all the shampoo, conditioner and body gel you could hope for and a couple of loos.  (Although if you have a room as close as mine was to the spa you could just use your own private bathroom and never have to share for your stay!)


As you descend from the changing rooms you find the hotel facilities.  These are open to all guests and include a good sized swimming pool (where they also do aqua fitness classes), a small Jacuzzi, ordinary steam room and sauna as well as a very good shower with a cold drench option and a special drying heater to help reduce the towel laundry carbon footprint.


Then you'll need your key code, given to you each day by the spa reception to enter the Hydrotherapy area.  First off, and most popular by far is the Hydrotherapy pool, which is the best I've ever been in.  There are five different types of water feature here:  There are the metal bar type loungers with bubbles that massage your whole body gently, then the single jets at varying heights which you can use to massage your feet, calves, thighs and even lower back.  These are incredibly powerful and it's quite freaky to look down through the water and see your flesh distorted (a bit like in a Dyson hand dryer).  Then there is a shorter bench made of metal bars which again will massage your body or whatever you choose to sit on it.  Then there are a couple of fountain jets which will make a great job of massaging your shoulders.  Finally there is the volcano hot tub, which bubbles up and gently caresses your whole body.  (I particularly like the sparkling blue ceiling above this feature, which makes it perfect for a last bit of relaxing in the evening.)


Next to the hydrotherapy pool is the ice room – with the ice crash, a Kouble (or Koubel) Douche (yes this is the proper name for the bucket on a rope) and an experience shower that uses smell, flashing lights, thunder and varying streams of water to create three different types of storm effects.  Yes these are the Experience Showers that the name was made for (and the best I've tried so far).  I particularly liked the Sea Storm button which, combined with the Koubel Douche felt like being in the sea during a thunderstorm and having waves crash over your head (which was my first day's holiday experience with the family!)  There are also Ice Storm and Tropical Storm to play with.


In the same small area are the Herbal Sauna, Amethyst Steam Room (yes, this one does also feature a nice big chunk of amethyst unlike some other so-called Amethyst Steam Rooms) and the Health Showers.  One side of the showers features body jets and a choice of Hot or Cold (they both seemed to be cold to me) and the other side again features three choices; Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and Cold (which seemed hot to me).


One quick note about this small area is that there are a lot of towels, robes and slippers hanging up here.  If you don't want to get yours lost I recommend you hang them on the hooks next to the sauna – no one seems to use these hooks, and put them on the very end so you can remember which is yours.


Up the very beautiful spiral staircase you'll find two more experience rooms (plus a shower) and a loo (very handy).  Unfortunately this area is not accessible to those who can't manage the staircase which is a shame because the rest of the spa has been well designed to give wheelchair access.  First there's the Laconicum which I loved for many reasons; the heat is gentler so you can stay in here for longer, you can lie on the floor and look up at the twinkling lights on the ceiling and there is also beautiful gold design work, it reminded me of the fabulous Palais Rhoul spa and perhaps, most importantly, no-one else seemed to "get" this room so I had it pretty much to myself for two days.


Next door is the Tepidarium, curved heated beds surrounding a stone feature, again with twinkling lights on the ceiling.  These type of beds are perfect for a little relaxing as they are warm but not too warm (other places might call these Hammam beds), and like the Laconicum you may be advised that you can stay as long as you like in here.


As well as these facilities (I know, it’s a lot to take in), on the other side of the changing rooms you'll find the massive relaxation room where herbal tea and ridiculous quantities of magazines are available and, a room I've been craving in so many spas, a Quiet Room, where talking is forbidden, with comfortable beds (although no blankets unfortunately) and side lights if you want to read.


But I haven't finished.  There's also a beautiful Thai temple themed studio room for fitness classes (if I haven't said before, the design of the whole spa is exquisite, if a little worn in places).  There's also another small relaxation/waiting room called The Hara for people waiting in between treatments.  Oh yes and the massive, well equipped gym opposite the relaxation room which you're welcome to use as well.


It's hard to know whether to include the Zen Garden in this review or the hotel's so it'll be a little of both.  Situated right next to the hotel pool the tiny zen garden is a wonderful place to sit when it's not raining (even when it is raining really), and at night the candles in the stone lanterns illuminate the trickling stream, the bamboo and the little Thai details.  The Zen Garden (the restaurant) overlooks the zen garden and is open to everyone, spa goers, hotel guests and even the odd passer by.  You're welcome to wear your spa robe here all day, for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea – but don't get too comfortable…  I turned up after my massage in my robe for dinner and was initially seated, and then told by a very embarrassed waiter that I would have to dress for dinner.  (In my case and in this restaurant this really did just mean "put on clothes".)


One of the lovely things about the restaurant is the exceptional choice of smoothies available – and even better than that you can order drinks from the pool with the aid of a handy telephone through to the kitchen.  (Just press the black button – it's silent – so if no one answers it means there's no one there!)  This is the kind of thing that really makes me feel like I'm on holiday.  (One little tip, many of the drinks like coffee etc. come with a homemade biscuit, but as they only serve drinks and no food by the pool you'll miss out on the biscuit if you stay here, and I can tell you that they are worth leaving your lounger for.)


My first day there were no spa treatments available so my day consisted of standing bewildered in amongst all the facilities for a good five minutes before diving in, sometimes literally and making the most of everything.  On this first day my favourites were the hot rooms, the Amethyst Steam Room, Laconicum and the serious water jets in the Hydrotherapy pool until all my muscles were good and relaxed.  I also tore through the magazines (not literally like some people!) and during my stay managed to get through a good twenty or so.  Between that, a smoothie (Chocolate Dream?) on a lounger and a fabulous lunch in the Zen Garden I just had time to check into my room and unpack, a short wander around the hotel gardens (there's only so far you can go in a robe before you feel less like a luxurious spa goer and more like a hospital escapee,) before heading back for a couple more hydrotherapy sessions.  My final stop of the evening was the Volcano hot tub, twinkling lights and I was ready for a sleep.


As there were no treatments available I decided to do my own in-room pampering and bought the body scrub and body oil.  It was so lovely to be able to walk no more than five minutes in my robe to my room – and step into the shower for a scrub, shower and DIY massage.


The next morning I arrived in good time to avoid the groups checking into the spa (there was a bit of a queue on the Wednesday morning) to pick up my spa entry code – everything else was already in my room.


I’d booked a one hour treatment as part of my package deal, and the lovely Lee had managed to add an extra 20 minute Tension Reliever Massage and I'd even managed to add an extra 45 minute Ayurvedic Head Massage in the evening to hopefully guarantee a great night's sleep.  I also booked into a Mind, Body, Spirit class so just had a few hours to enjoy the pool and grab another smoothie.


As Senspa offers numerous deals; for hen parties, couples, afternoon tea it's not surprising that this is quite a social spa at times.  In fact there were moments when the noise in a steam room or rather overly affectionate couple in the hot tub had me heading to another spa room (and wishing I could release a cold shower of my own in the right direction), but it also makes it a nice spa to visit on your own as there's always someone eager to make conversation and it's easy to open a conversation just by helping someone find the button to switch on a water feature.  The great thing about the size of the spa is that there's always somewhere to go for a bit of peace and quiet – even if it is all the way to the Quiet Room.  (One couple did advise me to bring my boyfriend and try the Rhassoul treatment – "interesting" was how they described it – so maybe it's down to that, but still – it’s a hotel – get a room.)


As I hadn't packed my kit the spa lent me a pair of Thai Pyjamas which weren't too bad at all for the Mind, Body, Spirit class, oh, apart from when I tied them up behind my back too tight and had to ask a lady in the changing room to help me untie them so I could go to the loo!  The class was a gentle mix of Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga and Meditation and it made me realise just how tight my body was in certain areas, and I loved the last relaxation section.  It's amazing to me how different it is to try relaxation breathing techniques on your own or in a class with someone else calmly saying "now relax, let go…"  It certainly did the trick for me.


And then it was time for my treatments.  I was a little disappointed with the treatment rooms and the massage beds, compared to some of the other spas I've been to.  It was also an unusual experience to be lain between two Thai bedcovers, slightly heavier than sheets.  What was an even more unusual experience was the Tension Reliever Massage where all of a sudden I felt the masseuse jump on top of me.  She was very light, and knew exactly where to place her weight to relieve tension in my back and legs.  I really felt the tightness in the back of my left thigh which I'd started to feel in my class, (unfortunately this and the subsequent massage didn't release it, but a further session with the jets in the Hydrotherapy did wonders).  I enjoyed this part of the massage and would have it again, but things started to go a little awry in the Relaxing Massage.  Although I'd discussed with both the hotel receptionist and the spa reception when I'd booked and arrived that I was supposed to avoid deep tissue massage (which is why they'd booked me in for this particular massage) and I tried to explain the same thing to the masseuse, this was not a gentle massage.  It started well, with the gentle lifting up of my feet that I've experienced in other oriental massage, and the stronger Swedish strokes felt good on the rest of my body, but when it came to my long suffering shoulders she went to town with her elbows and hands really quite aggressively.  I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and give it a moment, but unfortunately by the end of the massage I was left feeling stiff and bruised.  I tried to explain this to the spa receptionist, and she told me to give it a while as sometimes you can feel a little sore after a massage.


Now I know this to be true.  Even after my very gentle massage at Bailiffscourt my back had felt a little sore the next day, as though bruising was coming out, and perhaps I should have avoided a back massage completely after having two back massages in the last few days – but every other one I had relaxed me and helped me to sleep.  Unfortunately even after the Ayurvedic Head Massage, (more on that in a mo) I found it hard to sleep because my back was so sore.  In fairness even the Hydrotherapy massage and time in the hot rooms can "work" the body and make it sore, but I do feel it was this massage that was the cause or at least a major contributing factor.


In the morning I went back to the spa reception as my back was still sore.  It was then that I really felt that the team, although lovely, didn't really have a proper grasp on either their spa menu or on deep tissue massage and its effects.  First of all when I explained the massage I received and why I had ordered it (because it was supposed to be gentle) the spa receptionist seemed to think I had been given the wrong one.


Then one of the senior spa staff asked me to come to the desk to talk about it.  The more I described the situation and the effects the more I felt I was talking myself round in circles with them watching.  The big crux was "why didn't you say something to the masseuse at the time".  I guess this is the big question and one I struggle to answer myself, but it is really difficult to speak up when you are face down on a massage table, and usually if I have asked for a gentle massage and it gets a bit more pressurised for a moment it is only for a moment.  It's also difficult to speak up when you are tired, stressed out and essentially have come to the spa to recover.  So I won't apologise for not interrupting the treatment.  I simply didn't get what I had ordered.  Just as this happened in the restaurant when I asked for no mushrooms.  The difference is that I just prefer not to eat them and can pick them out, but if I was allergic this would have a major impact.  Likewise I prefer not to have deep tissue massage and can usually speak up when I feel a massage is too strong (I did it at Blue Lagoon in the face of almost coma-inducing relaxation), but I was more battered, tired and lacking than normal on this occasion and on this occasion it was also very important that I did not have deep tissue massage.


Anyway, as you can see, more than the massage itself what has bothered me is the response to the problem – in fairness what could they really do when I’d "eaten" the dish, but I would hesitate to suggest anyone book in for a treatment here unless they are feeling up to challenging their masseuse – and that's not a good recommendation.


It’s a shame as every other person I met here raved about the massages – I was really looking forward to my treatments, and it’s also a shame that one bad experience can put a person new to treatments off for life (like oysters), but stick with me and I'll keep recommending the good experiences!


As for the Ayurvedic Head Massage it was fun (although I did manage to accidentally elbow my masseuse – the lovely Morn – in the stomach as I laid down face up in the bed), but I should have brushed my hair beforehand.  I know this sounds silly but after having argan oil head massages in Morocco after being scrubbed and pummelled I didn't even think it would be an issue.  Morn tried to brush out my hair but it was impossible (it needs at least a gallon of conditioner) and in the end I told her to give up.  What really impressed me about this massage (apart from the fabulous smell of coconut oil – which I have now incorporated into my daily diet I craved it so much) was the gentle rubbing down the side of my face and neck – there's a spot on my neck just below my jaw than I never knew could feel so good (these are the things you learn through massage – tight spots and sweet spots oh my.)


All in all it was sad that the one treatment really let me and the spa down as so much of my stay was miraculous.  It took a couple of days for the soreness in my back to go down, and I have to say the rest of my body felt pretty good.


I would love to bring my mum here, but would hesitate to book her in for a massage after my experience.  I can't imagine her being delighted with someone jumping on her back or using their elbows in her shoulders – but I'll be back – not for the elbows but perhaps for someone to jump on my back again.  (After all, as one of the other guests quipped when I told him I was off for a ride – at least you'll know how the horse feels now.)



The entrance to Senspa from the hotel (beside my bedroom!)

The spa has a bewildering array of offers, with some reserved for local residents.  The best way to get information on them all is to sign up as a VIP on their website.


They often have evening events where, for around £25 you can learn how to make your own face masks and then enjoy an hour or so in the spa.


My Relaxation Massage (not recommended!) would have been £75 for 60 minutes when booked separately.


The 45 minute Ayurvedic Head Massage was £65 for 45 minutes.


The Tension Reliever (only available as an add on to another treatment) was £39 for 20 minutes.


Availability for massages is scarce here so make sure you book in advance.


My midweek break cost £614.11 including two nights bed and breakfast at Careys Manor Hotel, two days use of the Senspa water treatment facilities (plus use of the standard hotel facilities on the last day), one hour Relaxing massage, 20 minute Tension Reliever Massage, 45 minute Ayurvedic Head Massage, Mind Body Spirit class, use of Thai pyjamas, slippers, robes, dinner in the Zen Garden restaurant, dinner at La Blaireau, two lunches at the Zen Garden, and many refreshments (teas, coffees, cakes and biscuits), my horse riding outing at Forest Park and train single journey back to London

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