Champneys is a name synonymous with relaxation and luxury; So when I was invited to her award-winning Bedfordshire resort during a sweltering heatwave and 18 weeks pregnant, I jumped at the chance for a while to relax.
Nestled at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, Champneys is tucked away in the quaint Bedfordshire village of Henlow, just off the A1. A long drive through the park to the big 18e century-old red-brick country house, Henlow Grange; Pretty pink roses climb the twisting metal doors that arch above the entrance, framing an idyllic lavender-lined bubbling fountain that hums with bumblebees.
The mansion stands proudly in the countryside, surrounded by mature gardens and colorful flower beds. The historic building has been extended to house a state-of-the-art spa that houses specialty facilities typical of Champneys. Inside the front door is a spacious reception where friendly staff are ready to take you to a lounge with a refreshing drink and introduce you to the Champneys experience.
Sit under the towering stone archways and glass roof of the sun-drenched veranda, nestled among palm trees and lush green leaves, for an afternoon drink or stroll through the formal garden of serenity where lounge chairs line the peaceful lily pond. Geese doze by the river and butterflies swarm around the pretty vegetable garden, teeming with colorful flowers and plants.
On the main lawn, oversized lounge chairs and beanbags provide guests with a place to relax in the sun with the soothing sound of the river and weir in the background. There’s also a tennis court for those looking for something to get the heart pumping and, tucked away, a collection of charming and cozy shepherd’s huts where guests looking to get away from it all can enjoy a simple but memorable stay.
Inside is a bustling café-wine bar serving drinks and snacks, as well as a peaceful library that echoes soft piano music and large windows with views of the gardens. There is a large living room with a fireplace and comfortable sofas so you can sit with a drink, read the paper or play a board game in comfort. A separate living room has been transformed into a cinema room with a different film every evening from 9 p.m.
As premier guests, we were lucky enough to stay in one of the hotel’s elegant suites in the main mansion. Located on the top floor, we had stunning views of the fountain and the park beyond, but our room also suffered from the heatwave – even with two fans whirring, it was still stuffy and uncomfortable.
The bedroom had a king size bed and a sitting area with dual aspect windows flooding the suite with light. Antique furniture, plush furnishings, gilded mirrors and a crystal chandelier complete the room with historic flair. A large door opened into a spacious but basic bathroom with a full size bath and separate shower. We were also pleasantly surprised to find gift bags full of wonderful Champneys products to take home so we could continue to pamper ourselves at home.
The hotel offers its guests a wide choice of accommodation, from simple but elegant rooms in the modern spa – close to the facilities – to the cozy and picturesque shepherd’s huts outside, to the large luxury suites in the original part of the mansion.
In the basement, a long corridor leads you from the hotel to the spa. Here, old meets new where the exposed beams and brick walls of the historic building back up against the contemporary extension, dotted with original old windows and wooden doors. Two centuries meet seamlessly as you move from the 1700s to the present day.
The spa is packed with fabulous facilities that can keep you busy during any break. Active guests can lift weights in the Urban Gym or book a time slot with a personal trainer in the fully equipped gym.
Cycling fans or people looking for a good cardio workout can head to the spin studio for an unaccompanied session in front of the giant screen, transporting you to any terrain or location. The large mirrored studio offers a busy and varied schedule of free classes including stretching and bending, Pilates and Zumba, while the staff also offers outdoor activities like country walks (tip: make sure make reservations as they can get busy).
Winding through the building past shops and peaceful gardens, you finally reach the large double-height space that houses the main swimming pool. The cool water glistens as the sun streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows, providing more views of the gardens. The 25m pool is split in two, giving guests the option of floating in the calming water or swimming. Water aerobics classes are popular with guests splashing and paddling to upbeat music or you can just sit back and relax on the plush rattan chairs and day beds.
Champneys offers a wide range of treatments, including anti-tension massages, invigorating facials, indulgent manicures, and revitalizing wraps. The treatment suite is a quiet, dimly lit corner where therapists are busy picking up guests and taking them to their private treatment rooms. I was treated to a special pregnancy aromatherapy massage; a wonderful hour spent lathering up some much needed oils and moisturizers. My therapist was friendly and we chatted while she kneaded my sore muscles and soothed my skin with a relaxing serum.
Guests can also take advantage of the steam room or sauna, book into the infrared cabin – a free treatment where infrared light warms and soothes the body – or take advantage of the healing properties of specialized mud and steam in the Rasul room. There’s also a hair salon (if you’re in the mood for a new hairstyle) and a demo area where experts give talks on different beauty regimes, workout plans, and products.
Food and drink
Housed in the spa is a cafe — serving hot drinks and cakes all day — overlooking the pool as well as a large, modern restaurant decorated in bright colors with large doors leading out to the terrace. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all included in spa packages, so we headed to the restaurant for each of our meals.
The breakfast buffet wasn’t the most exciting but there were plenty of options including cereals, toast, pastries and hot items. For lunch and dinner, you can enjoy three-course meals with a number of options to choose from. The menu is simple but offers wholesome and wholesome options, including light dishes ranging from salad and pasta to steaks and gourmet scallops.
For lunch we decided to keep it light and I opted for one of my favorites, the tomato and mozzarella salad. While the cheese was a bit rubbery, the dish was light and refreshing. Then I chose the sea bass with tomato salsa and grilled corn, served with new potatoes. The fish was beautifully cooked with flaky meat and crispy skin and the corn and salsa were a lovely and flavorful accompaniment. For dessert, we went back to the buffet to choose between orange chocolate cheesecake, Eton mess, mango yoghurt or chocolate, banana and avocado mousse; delicious!
For dinner, we sat outside on the artificial grass terrace, with fairy lights hanging overhead. I chose the Smoked Seafood, Crab and Sweet Potato Cake to start, which was bursting with fishy flavors and served with a creamy but spicy chipotle mayonnaise and a sweet mango salad. To follow, I had the gnocchi with arrabiata sauce and grilled Mediterranean vegetables while my husband tasted the flame-grilled ribeye steak with red wine jus and roasted new potatoes. The gnocchi were a large portion (despite being a light option) but were very tasty while the steak was perfectly cooked. Finally, we finished with the chocolate mousse and the pineapple and ginger cake; a sweetness to end the evening.
The servers were friendly and cheerful, tending to us quickly but also leaving us to enjoy a relaxed evening. Although the food was not mind blowing, the ingredients were clearly high quality and the menu options were excellent value for the price of the package.
In a word
Champneys is renowned across the country for a reason, and Henlow is a perfect example of why so many people flock to these resorts every year. For luxurious relaxation, wholesome indulgence and a little break from everyday life; Champneys Henlow might be just the ticket you need.
Amy’s stay was organized following the Good Spa Guide Awards 2022 in which Champneys Henlow won the Best Health Club Spa category, sponsored by SpaSeekers.
Address: Champneys Henlow, Coach Road, Henlow SG16 6BT
Call: 0343 210 1462