Carden Park: Inside the £10m spa which offers a new take on natural luxury
The word spa gets incorrectly slapped on lots of things these days, in a world where everybody needs to relax more. There are far too many hotels which have a small gym, tepid pool, miniscule sauna and charge far too much for a pretty poor 'experience' there. So I tend to approach with a bit of trepidation. These days always come with a hefty price tag and, being from Yorkshire, I want to get my money's worth.
You can tell immediately whether a spa is good or bad - and first impression is everything. If you have ever experienced love at first sight, that's what we felt when we stepped into the world of Carden. The driveway to the hotel takes you through gorgeous countryside, perfectly manicured lawns, majestic fountains and glorious sculptures. You feel special before you even get the very warm welcome from reception staff.
I should mention it has won a ton of awards and cost £10m to create but it is only your own findings that count. Fortunately, every accolade is well earned and it is clear the team understands that you're only as good as your last visitor's experience.
We went on a sunny autumn day and although it wasn't hot, it felt like the perfect temperature to make the most of the exquisitely designed spa garden. It is the first time I have experienced any spa in the UK which has a huge focus on making sure you can enjoy the great outdoors as much as the treatments inside. It has been designed around nature and flows with the seasons. So I guess I'll have to visit at least four times a year to truly make the most of it!
There are numerous hottubs and the planting is done in such a way that you feel relatively secluded even when in the middle of other groups. So you can sit chatting with friends as if you are the only ones there. Even better, you can order Bollinger at the press of a button and it is served straight to your spot of bubbling heaven.
It has one of the cutest outside bars you'll ever see - complete with thatched roof and looking rather like you're in the Caribbean that Cheshire - and an outdoor pool which makes your skin tingle in delight as the warmth envelopes you. The firepit area is straight out of Love Island and an Instagram magnet. Who wouldn't want to relax with your BFFs while sipping a cocktail and looking like a superstar? Look good, feel good - my bedraggled hair and slightly wrinkly skin from overstaying in the pools clearly didn't make me photogenic but I felt incredible.
Spa experiences: Start from £75pp (Fridays, Saturdays and other nights of the week on selected dates) for the Twilight Garden Experience which includes arrival refreshments from 5.30pm, a welcome glass of Carden Park Estate Reserve, and full use of the Spa Garden and Thermal Experiences between 6pm and 9pm
Half-day spa experiences: Start from £85pp for the Morning in the Spa Gardens which includes arrival from 8.30am, with full use of the Spa Garden and Thermal Experiences between 9.00am and 1pm, accompanied by a healthy brunch at the Elements restaurant.
Full day spa experiences: Start from £145pp for the Garden Spa Experience Day, with a 9.30am arrival and lunch in Elements restaurant, full use of the Spa Garden and Thermal Experiences between 10am and 5pm and a comfy robe to use throughout the day,
Spa breaks: Spa Garden Experience Stays start from £180pp for the One Night Garden Escape which includes access to the Spa Garden and Thermal Experiences, overnight accommodation, and breakfast
Room: Starting prices are from £139 for Bed and Breakfast
One of my favourite spots was the 'shed' filled with dried flowers and incredible smells but I had so many best bits, it is hard to include them all. One of the saunas is set up with wooden benches arranged like a cinema - but it is the glorious gardens that act as the screen though an enormous glass window. I could sit and enjoy that view for hours.
There are also more sauna options than I have seen ... salt steam room, tepidarium, aroma steam room, bio sauna, Finnish sauna and experience showers, ice fountain, indoor vitality pool and heated relaxation beds.
We stayed at the hotel the night before. Although the spa experience was the highlight and our reason for visiting, it would be criminal to underplay the quality of the whole package. Everything from the food to the cocktails and the staff - nothing is too much trouble but they are friendly in a way that posh places rarely manage to achieve - warms the cockles of your heart.
The enormous beds are luxuriously comfy, the interior design of each room is perfection and the whole presentation adds to the feeling of being a VIP for the night. We weren't able to dine in the main restaurant due to an event but the alternative was so good, we wouldn't have even known if staff hadn't profusely apologised. To fit in with the settings, I had steak. It melted in the mouth and came with all the perfect accompaniments. We had very little room left after two courses but couldn't resist the cheese board and, from somebody who has sampled enough to declare themselves a professional cheese taster, it was dreamy.
Our breakfast table made the most of the beautiful grounds and golf course. The buffet had lots of options and the coffee was delicious. We were still full from our feast the previous evening but there's nothing like a good breakfast to set you up for the day - so we perceived.
Location: Cheshire, 20 minutes by car from Chester city centre
Spa opening times: 8.30am – 6.30pm (Mon to Weds) and 8.30am – 9.30pm (Thurs to Sun) Spa facilities: Salt steam room, tepidarium, aroma steam room, bio sauna, Finnish sauna and experience showers, ice fountain, indoor vitality pool and heated relaxation beds
Spa Garden features: Fire pit, garden sauna, three outdoor hot tubs, five individually themed garden pods, outdoor vitality pool and over 60 outdoor loungers
Spa dining facilities: Bollinger Garden Bar, Elements Restaurant and The Terrace
Carden Park describes itself as 'pioneering a new era of wellness escapism'. As a straight talking northerner, I'd just say it was flipping fab. I would go back with friends in a heartbeat and, as I sat feeling a million miles away from the stresses of everyday life, I was already compiling a list of who I would return with on my next visit.
Spas are never cheap but all too often they aren't worth the money. People rarely complain because the time spent chilling out with friends or family makes it worthwhile. If you are going to splash out, make sure you pick somewhere that makes you feel a million dollars and fills your heart with joy. Carden should be top of your list.