Leo Bear hires a people carrier and heads to Hampshire for a luxurious spa day with the girls
My gang was a mix of exhausted young mothers and burnt-out execs desperate to fling off their Manolos and walk barefoot in the grass. Lucky for us, the sun was shining and the lawns were neatly mown at our venue of choice, the Lime Wood Hotel in Hampshire.
Originally a medieval hunting lodge, the Duke of Clarence reclaimed Lime Wood’s main building in the 1740s. Several extravagant makeovers later, and under the watchful eye of Bamford and Co, the stately pile now has a gentrified yet romantic air with beautifully designed interiors and a world-renowned spa called Herb House.
Our plan was to kick back at the spa, have a long lunch and catch up on all our girl talk –these days we don’t get together nearly as much as we used to. But first, we had to get there.
Our means of transport was a Mercedes Viano people carrier rented through Europcar. To make the most of our day trip, we opted for the company’s Prestige car hire service which includes vehicle delivery and pick-up – all the more time for packing and primping – and I was impressed by how punctual it was. The chap from Europcar was on my doorstep, suited and booted, dangling a set of Mercedes keys, on the dot of 8.45am.
Upon first inspection, my new set of wheels conjured the words ‘Hummer’ and ‘LA homie’. It was massive, black and gleaming to the point of near blindness in the early morning sunshine. Certainly my Fulham neighbours were intrigued.
As my hubby climbed on his bicycle to head off to work he commented (jealously): “It’s just a glorified van”, and while this may partly be true – the Viano is based on the Mercedes-Benz Vito, a commercial panel van – it also boasts beautiful interiors and drives incredibly smoothly. The only criticism I can make is that the engine is a tad noisy, but on the whole, I cannot think of a better car for a group getaway.
Arm rests, drinks holders and the built-in sat-nav system were all put to use during the two-hour journey, not that I could hear the instructions over the squawks coming from my excited passengers. At one point one of them actually buzzed down the window and shouted: “We’re going to Lime Wood, b**ches” to no one in particular.
So far, so Paris Hilton.
But it’s true to say, we did feel like kings of the road in our elevated seats bombing down the M3 – and had masses of room to stretch out.
Pulling up at Lime Wood, where everything from the décor to the farm-bought produce, is tasteful, considered and sedate, we certainly turned a few heads: a gaggle of blonde city girls in our giant Mercedes… But we soon settled in and once the toweling dressing gowns were on, we blended in seamlessly with the horsey Home Counties brigade.
The Herb House spa turned out to be everything we’d dreamed of: a quintessentially English retreat with all the usual facilities of a spa including saunas, steam rooms and a hydrotherapy pool, as well as a 14-metre ozone-treated lap pool, a large outdoor deck and workout studio for classes.
I’d booked a Bamford Rose Relaxing Upper Body and Facial Massage (60mins, £90) to help unlock some of the built-up tension in my back (two kids under the age of five takes its toll) and it didn’t disappoint. The treatment began with a back exfoliation with bergamot, chamomile and patchouli oil followed by a deep-tissue upper back and shoulder massage. It ended with a gentle face and head massage, which very nearly sent me to the land of nod.
While I was having all my kinks and knots pummeled out of me on a heated bed, my friends relaxed in the dappled shade of ancient olive trees reading magazines and took turns doing lengths in the pool.
We regrouped for lunch at the spa’s organic restaurant, Raw & Cured. It was something of an eye opener for us carb-lovers with dishes including nori wraps stuffed with parsnip and pinenuts and chocolate mousse made from avocado and cocoa. Who knew healthy grazing could be so fun? Several courses, all artistically presented, were washed down with carafes of ‘swamp juice’ (leaves, apple, carrot and fennel) – which tastes a lot better than it sounds.
To help us digest, we took a gentle stroll around the gardens of Lime Wood (in our towelling bath robes and flip-flops) only to discover a secret back gate leading into the dense forest beyond; something to remember for next time…
Then before hitting the road, we piled into the spa’s bubbling hydrotherapy pool and giggled as the jets of water tickled our bodies all over. With beautiful steaming forest views, and our bodies and minds refreshed, we savoured our precious last moments together, before returning to our demanding city lives in, of course, our fabulous chariot for the day.