Your captain takes relaxation very seriously…
By Katie Garner
Yes, you may as well cry out in a startled indignation. A spa day? Another one almost exactly a month after your last one? Really? What can I say, us athletic types need our down time; it’s vitally important to rest your muscles you know. Last weekend whilst visiting a friend in Ipswich, we decided to spend the day at the opulent 16th century hunting lodge of Belstead Brook Hotel. Crunching up the gravel towards the decadently decked out red brick building, you couldn’t help but feel you had escaped in to a Jane Austen novel.
Not only is the hotel surrounded by a gorgeous green and secluded nine acres of grounds and right on the estuary of the River Orwell, but it has the fabulously picturesque charm of a historic structure. The swanky reception took my breath away – some people may have considered it dated, but I loved the luxury velvet and leather sofas and armchair arrangements, the expensive gold and cream wallpapering catching the reflections of the dripping central chandelier. It felt grand and regal with an air of old school sophistication.
Despite the grandeur, you can’t always avoid the fact that it is an old building, and that areas will be a tad retro to put it nicely. The changing rooms were clean, but they did remind me of my sport centre ones pre-renovation. They did the job however so no complaints really. To earn ourselves a slap up lunch, we decided to hit the gym first. It was much smaller than I was expecting, in a tidy L shape, the machines neatly organised around the edge of the room, with a smaller side section full of weights, a couple of mats and some benches for free weight work. The cardio equipment seemed rather dated and I couldn’t work out how to negotiate the display to show me how many calories I had burnt, but nevertheless, exercise is exercise so it didn’t matter too much that it didn’t have all the mods cons and gadgetry that I may be used to. After some cross trainer pedalling and some weight work, we wearily wiped our brows, realised it was 12pm, and made our way speedily to the bar area for our deserved lunch.
The dark wood panelled bar was equally elegant and we perused the bar snack menu eagerly. I eventually settled on a Cajun chicken, pepper and brie panini, served with wedges and a side salad. My friend Vick went for the steak and onion panini – they all came with the same sides. While we waited for our food, we settled down in the corner of another L shaped room, onto a pair of high backed armchairs that belonged in a library film set for sure. They were lovely and comfortable, and despite being a Saturday afternoon, the bar area was wonderfully quiet and relaxed. The food arrived and was simply delicious – we swapped halves so that we could both try one half of each flavour and it was so tasty. I had a serious hankering for brie so the oozing, melted cheese really hit the spot, especially when paired with the spicy chicken and my favourite red pepper. The salad had a lovely vinaigrette style dressing covering the rocket leaves, and the wedges were thick and fluffy – just how I like them. At £8 a panini, they aren’t exactly cheap, but the quality of the food and the size of the portion was impressive. The steak used was by no means poor quality, and it was cut in thick slices. Definitely a very indulgent and tasty lunch.
After eating, we made our way back to the changing room to change into our swim wear. We had hired some robes for £5 a pop so swathed in blue towelling, we made our way out to the pool area. It is a really lovely space. It has a conservatory feel, with a sloping and slanting ceiling that reaches up to a central point, except it is made from pale slats of wood instead of glass or plastic. Around a central decorative tree is a curved swimming pool, the light from the wall of windows reflecting prettily off of the water top. Completing the circle around this middle area was a large Jacuzzi – definitely one of the largest I have seen – bubbling and frothing with water as warm as a bath. Pure bliss. Around the circumference of the room were padded sun loungers, ideal for reclining. Tucked away through glass doors were also a separate sauna and steam room. We didn’t sample the sauna, but the steam room fogged up nicely and had the sharp sent of mint to really clear the lungs out. There were also some plastic tables and chairs by the pool for those who would rather eat lunch here instead of the bar area.
I kicked off my flip flops, nabbed a hot chocolate from the machine for £1, propped open my book and undid my robe – I was as happy as a hippo in a swamp. The room was deliciously warm and toasty so you didn’t feel nippy in just your swimwear. It was also nice and quiet, despite the fact that there was a small kid’s pool and children around. The sunlight was pouring in and it had a real holiday atmosphere.
At 2.45pm, we headed off for some treatments – Vick had booked us in for a full body massage each at the really reasonable price of £45 a pop. They did both of our massages at the same time in the couples treatment room, which Vick informed me later they also use for single treatments, so maybe they only have the one room. The massage was perfect though, working my back, shoulders, arms, legs and head. The therapist listened to my problem areas and tackled them with admirable elbow grease to work out the knots with the perfect amount of pressure and a good mix of sweeping strokes and probing prodding. A really lovely treat, we were almost zombie like when we returned to the pool area.
We hit the pool for some lengths of breaststroke, before going prune like in the Jacuzzi – it really is so warm in there you just never want to get out. We splashed around and then lounged lazily until about 5pm, when we decided to go back to the changing rooms to use the showers and head home.
All in all, I was so impressed with Belstead Brook. The environment is really ideal and just exudes peace yet also an upmarket elegance. Yes it is regal and rather posh, but it does also have elements of being dated and maybe needing a bit of TLC, for example in the gym and changing rooms. However, the facilities did the job well and I wouldn’t say it was unpleasant in any way, shape or form. I absolutely loved my day at Belstead Brook and I would love to do it again. The food was delicious, albeit pricey, but the massage was really rather cheap for a full body treatment, so I was impressed with that, especially because of the quality of the treatment as well. The pool area was wonderful and just what I needed after a stressful couple of weeks so it was so lovely to take some time out for me.