Deep in the Surrey countryside is Grayshott Spa, a quintessentially English retreat that's tailor-made for city folk in search of somewhere to detox and relax
Under the flawless spring sky stood the imposing stately home. A tangled web of vine roots clawed up the large stone tower, while the pristine lawn, barely poking out from behind the brickwork and terracotta tiles, hinted at the vast grounds beyond.
Arriving at Grayshott Spa’s 19th-century manor house in rural Surrey teleported us to a bygone era. Was I really only an hour away from the capital? Everything was still, the scene quintessentially English. No hum of traffic; just birdsong from the trees and our footsteps on the gravel driveway. I expected Jane Austen types with parasols to come skipping around the corner en route to the village fete, where they would sell jars of home-made jam. Above the doorway appeared the words Pax Intrantibus (Peace as you enter), a motto that has defined this haven since 1886.
A flock of content ladies, each make-up free, with unkempt hair and wearing the uniform cream dressing gown, glided about the place lazily. Any one of them could’ve been Dame Judi Dench, Sheila Hancock or Julie Walters, all of whom have strolled these hushed corridors. Notions of glamour or woes over appearance are banished within these walls. And there aren’t many places where that kind of behaviour is tolerated. But, my, isn’t it refreshing. Even the array of glossy magazines exposing celebrities without their slap wasn’t enough to send these ladies running for their Touche Eclat.
Though not nearly as radical as other detox retreats where, if the horror stories are to be believed, guests live on little more than celery sticks and sunflower seeds, Grayshott certainly preaches healthy living - but it’s subtly done. Treatments encourage a deeper sense of wellbeing and guests are given a real education when it comes to food. Arriving shortly before lunch meant this lesson was learned sooner rather than later. That hearty bowl of carbonara I had naively been hoping for never materialised, and as for a slice of banoffee pie…
The lunch buffet table was, however, awash with colour and goodness. Bowls of diced carrots and other inventive salads were piled high, as were plates of wholemeal pasta, king prawns and slithers of cured meat. Colour-coded plates indicated exactly how much protein, carbs and veg guests should consume, though sticking to that is a matter for the robed individual.
All this is not to suggest that Grayshott falls short on unadulterated luxury. It has, in fact, been voted the UK’s best spa by publications like Conde Nast Traveller and Tatler. And the spa is, simply put, lovely. Relaxed and tasteful, it offers everything. Whether you want to be wrapped up with micronized marine algae or spice up a facial by incorporating a little electricity, this is the place.
There are healthy ageing, weight loss and sleep counselling programmes. The in-house dietician will reveal your food intolerances (curry and brussels sprouts for me) and there’s even an ‘Emotional Detox’ that promises to ‘release unpleasant memories’. The only release I was looking for was from the knots that had set up shop across my upper back.
The Vital Energy Detox massage did the trick. After scrubbed me down with gritty Himalayan salt to the soothing sounds of reiki music, my therapist proceeded to work on energy points, which left me feeling renewed and fully recharged.
To make the most of my new lease of life, I proceeded straight for the great outdoors. The spa is surrounded by 47 acres of beautifully kept grounds where wild rabbits bounded across the green on secret bunny business. Beyond the grounds, in which a large horse chestnut tree takes pride of place, lies an infinite landscape of tumbling hills and bushes of bright gorse. A network of trails carved by dog walkers and nature-lovers over the years weaved through the 400 acres of National Trust wilderness.
The sun’s soft rays filtered through the spindly trees, bathing the tumbling vistas in a warm glow. We followed one path for an hour or so without encountering another soul; surely the ultimate detox for two weary city folk.
A leisurely walk still works up an appetite. The gladrags make an appearance as everyone scrubs up for dinner. We took our seats in the main dining room and feasted on a menu that was thankfully void of a brussels sprout curry. Instead, there was rocket wrapped in parma ham; French poussin with chive mash and honey-glazed chestnuts, and asparagus risotto - and there wasn’t a colour-coded plate to be seen. Our exquisitely presented three-course dinner was rounded off with a thick slice of decadent homemade apple and raison cake.
With the last sitting for dinner at 8.15pm, an early night was definitely on the cards, but not before a nightcap in Bubbles, the warm and inviting wine and champagne bar. Darkness hung at the large bay windows, the red and cream drapes having yet to be lowered. Couples and mother-and-daughter pairs sat at the oak tables, while a group of twentysomething pals, champagne flutes in hand, occupied the velvety red sofa at the far end. The arrival of alcohol to Grayshott is a fairly recent one. Up until three years ago the spa was completely dry and the only fizzy beverage to be found here was sparkling water, but bosses have since reconsidered.
Overnight guests should opt for one of the rooms in the Manor House, which are more spacious and decked out with antique-style furniture and classic English décor. The modern touches like plasma TVs, marble sinks and large showerheads add a hedonistic touch. The Century Wing, built in the 1970s - and it shows – lacks the character of the grand Manor House.
The next day included much of the same: another dip in the pool overlooking the gardens; another walk in the countryside, only pausing to read the Sunday papers in the drawing room by the crackling fire. But the time to check out arrived all too soon and so, reluctantly, I hung my dressing gown on the hook behind the bathroom door and left… feeling as good as new.