Easy escapes: Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham

Easy escapes: Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham

Surrounded by 90 acres of countryside, this five star hotel is the perfect Cotswolds retreat

Why Go

This is a hotel steeped in history. Situated at the foot of the magnificent Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds, which has magnificent views of the county, the original building is over 500 years old retaining many of its features such as solid oak doors, Cotswold stone walls and a breath-taking central hall with roaring fire (where they serve a cracking afternoon tea). Surrounded by 90 acres of countryside that leads down to the world-famous Cheltenham race course, you can see why so many of its clientele come back year after year. Ellenborough Park offers the opulence and setting you’d expect from a five star with flawless service thrown in. Yet the staff are down to earth and the overall vibe is relaxed and welcoming. Did we mention the outdoor heated swimming pool and the spa?


Think uber luxurious country house interiors in the central hall – huge marble fireplaces, wood panelling and sweeping staircases with velvet curtains and embroidered cushions. Some of the 61 rooms have four-poster beds and roll top baths in keeping with the period feel but in contrast to the communal areas of the property, the rooms feel modern and stylish. Expect sumptuous king-size beds with puffy pillows, hypno mattresses and espresso machines as standard.

Eat up

Take dinner in the informal brassiere style Horse Box – a gourmet pub- style restaurant where we recommend the slow cooked shoulder of lamb or the traditional fish and chips (although the fresh fish of the day options were pretty good too) all served with fresh seasonal vegetables. Alternatively, sample the 3 course set menu in the more formal main restaurant – an excellent experience not to missed in the oak panelled dining room of the main house (where their great breakfast feast are also served). Amazing value at £55, we were blown away by the quality of the fare here. It’s no surprise that it has the reputation as the best place to eat in Cheltenham. We opted to have each of our courses paired with a wine chosen by the sommelier. Flawless! Stand out offerings included the roast Hake, lemon Veloute and homemade courgette linguine plus the fillet steak with truffle-creamed potato.

Don’t miss:

A dip in the outside heated pool followed by a hot steam in the spa when you arrive – to relax you into your stay. Also make sure you sample one of their award-winning afternoon teas in one of the ‘snugs’ of the grand entrance hall as you take in the history. Walk it all off by climbing Cleeve Hill – just a few minutes away – which offers incredible views.


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Ryanair just announced a huge sale so get booking

Ryanair just announced a huge sale so get booking


This year, we’ve been working out how to double holiday allowance in order to make the most of our annual leave (and it’s actually really easy). We’ve been wistfully looking at the most Instagrammable Airbnbs for inspiration, and we’ve been looking at the best cities 2019 so that we can get to some of this years hotspots before everybody else does.

But no matter how much research you do while procrastinating at work – and while the weather is grey – the fact remains that you still need to fork out for the flights to get to your dream destination.

So if you’re looking for a getaway that won’t break the bank, budget airline Ryanair have just announced a huge sale in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

One way flights taken during April and May will cost you as little as £4.98 to destinations such as Aalborg, Denmark and Belfast.

If you want to spend a few more pounds, you can get to Germany, France, Luxembourg, Poland, Sweden for £7.98.

And if you really want to push the boat out, for £9.98 you can catch a flight to Italy, Spain, Norway or Czech Republic.

Other destinations are included in the sale, including Portugal, Netherlands, Latvia and Austria for £12.98.

If you want to go further afield, there are flights to Morocco and Cyprus for £24.98.

Where will you go?

The seats are sure to sell out (they usually do quite quickly), so if we were you we’d get booking right away.

Sun, sea and sand – here we come.

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Up for learning a new skill? Here’s some of the best activity holidays to book now

Up for learning a new skill? Here’s some of the best activity holidays to book now

Forget just lounging by the pool: these activity-focus holidays combine all the best bits about learning something new, with a bit of luxury thrown in for good measure

activity holidays

For some of us, holidays are the perfect excuse to switch off and unwind from the daily grind, which probably looks something like: sleep, eat, work, repeat (to fade). But for a new gen of hip holidaymakers, breaks away offer the perfect chance to soak up the sun and reset while also learning an exciting new skillset.

And with so many offerings out there (Finnish dog sledding, anyone?) we’ve done all the hard work for you, unearthing some of the best-loved activity-based holidays that the world of travel has to offer. From pro cooking courses in Sicily to mountain biking in rural Scotland, we’ve got you and your intrepid soul covered.

Cook with a Michelin-starred chef in Sicily

Merlin’s Sicily is no ordinary culinary vacation: this is a five-day master cookery course held in an 18th century villa in the rolling Sicilian countryside – led by world-renowned, Michelin-starred chef Merlin Labron-Johnson. Considered one of Britain’s most talented chefs, Labron-Johnson will be cooking traditional Sicilian favourites such as arancini and gnocchi in the villa’s utterly incredible test kitchen, using fresh ingredients from the surrounding estate. The best bit? You’ll learn how to whip up a dish right alongside him and then devour your creations each day with a crisp glass of chilled wine.

When you’re not in the kitchen (or soaking up the sun in the villa’s lush green grounds), you’ll be exploring the local markets and vineyards with Labron-Johnson to discover the region’s finest ingredients, or visiting Mount Etna’s natural wine producers with Master of Wine, Isabelle Legeron, to stock up on premium bottles of organic plonk. (Tip: bring an extra suitcase for this alone.)

The impeccably restored villa Rocca delle Tre Contrade – available to book exclusively through The Thinking Traveller – doesn’t skimp on luxury, either. Expect views of Mount Etna from your bedroom window, lofty communal spaces that are effortlessly both chic and cosy, and the ultimate infinity pool to unwind in after another day of discovering delicious new recipes. It’s a hard life…

The culinary experience at Rocca delle Tre Contrade, led By Michelin-starred Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson and Master Of Wine Isabelle Legeron, runs from 30 March-6 April 2019. A one-week course including all meals and accommodation costs from €4,250 per person (about £3,640), based on two sharing, or €5,950 (about £5,100) for single occupancy.

Live your best life surfing in Portugal with Soul & Surf

activity holidays

A new opening from Soul & Surf in the Algarve, Portugal is set to fire up your inner Point Break persona. Think long, sun-soaked days in the waves learning to duck and ride Altantic rollers, followed by deeply relaxing, meditative yoga sessions in the shala to shift any lingering aches and pains. Being launched in April this year by surfing veterans Ed and Sofie Templeton – who founded their first Soul & Surf retreat in Kerala back in 2010 – this stylish farmhouse venue is the first European base from the duo, delivering their signature laid-back vibes, healthy fare and pro-taught surfing and yoga schedules. What’s more, aside from learning to surf, stretch and meditate, you’ll also be holidaying to help the planet: Soul & Surf has committed to donate 1 per cent of its profits to leading marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage. What’s not to love?

Choose from a 3-night ‘weekend-warriors’ package for a short surf fix; 4-night stay (Monday to Friday) to escape the 9-5, or the usual week-long retreat so you can maximise your time in the salt and on the mat. Either way, days will be led by the tides, and start with good strong coffee and Portugal’s delicious pastel de nata.

Breaks begin from €410pp (about £350) based on two people sharing, on a full-board basis; a 7-night stay in Portugal starts from €790pp (about £680) per week, including 5 surf-coaching sessions, a surf theory session, a video feedback session, all wet suit and board hire, plus yoga classes. Prices exclude flights. Book at soulandsurf.com or call 01273 931 282.

Write your magnum opus in Devon

activity holidays

According to lore, everyone has one great book in them, and Arvon prides itself as having been the home of creative writing for the past 50 years. Every budding author is welcome, regardless of experience, and thanks to on-going support from the Arts Council England, as well as private donors, grants are now available to those who meet the financial criterias – which means you might be able to pay the rent and go on a fulfilling holiday this year.

Whether you’re an aspiring novelist, playwright, poet, YA fiction writer or just starting out on your writing journey, the plethora of courses on offer cover all bases. Choose between three- and five-day breaks to let your creative spirit run free or opt for a more intensive one-to-one workshop session instead to really plough through writer’s block.

Arvon has three locations scattered around the UK, but we are particularly in love with the Totleigh Barton, a 16th century manor house, which happens to be the first Arvon dwelling – and, rather suitably, sounds like it’s straight from a fairy tale.

Course prices vary, visit the website for more details.

Mountain biking in Scotland

activity holidays

Feeling chilled? Thought so. That’s why we’ve gone full-adrenaline junkie in the wilds of Scotland for this one. The wonderfully named Mountain Lassies offer mountain-bike tours of Scotland for women run by expert female guides, who will not only ease you out of your biking comfort zone, but also give you local knowledge about the areas you’re riding through.

The best part? The sheer breadth of tours available and ground you can cover. We’re serious: there are breaks for women who’ve only ever ridden a road bike, options for anyone ‘comfortable riding on trails of any width that are highly unstable and completely unpredictable’ and, thankfully, everything in between. If that’s not enough information for you, Mountain Lassies positively encourages you to phone and have a chat about the adventures that lie ahead.

For those of us who can’t manage a three- or seven-day adventure, they also offer full- and half-day tours in various locations all over Scotland – so you can tag on a white-knuckle experience to a short visit. Once you’ve booked, consider your itinerary, logistics and accommodation sorted… all you need to do now is put pedal to the metal.

Our pick: Mountain Royale, 13-19 July (level 3), £1,005 per person. Half-day tours start from £100.

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You can get free flights to St Lucia if this is your name

You can get free flights to St Lucia if this is your name

*Changes name by deed poll*

st lucia
Credit: Eye Ubiquitous/REX/Shutterstock

Aside from that half a week when the sun decided to shine down on us here in the UK, the weather has been windy, grey and pretty bloody miserable. No wonder most of us are frantically Googling ‘best cities 2019‘ and looking wistfully at the most Instagrammable Airbnbs.

But once you’ve worked out how to double your holiday allowance this year, one thing remains: you need the funds to jump on a plane outta here.

However, if you’re lucky enough to have this name, you could get yourself on a flight to St Lucia for absolutely nothing.

That’s right – a free ticket to the beautiful Caribbean, soaking up the sun and swimming in crystal waters. Sounds too good to be true.

Unless your name is Lucy (or Lucia), that is, then it is in fact doable. How? Virgin Holidays is offering flee flights to the island if that’s your moniker, in celebration of International Women’s Day due to the fact that it’s the only country in the world named after a woman.

From now until 11th March (that’s Monday) you can enter the competition for free travel as long as your name is Lucy or Lucia on your passport.

Joe Thompson, Managing Director of Virgin Holidays, added: ‘We wanted to celebrate St Lucia’s place in the world – the one country named after a woman – by empowering St Lucie’s namesakes, Lucys and Lucias across the UK, with the opportunity to visit this tropical island paradise.’

It’ll take just a few minutes to sign up, and if you win it’ll be totally worth it.

Good luck!

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The secret Ibiza addresses you need to know about

The secret Ibiza addresses you need to know about

Georgiana Huddart, co-founder of Hunza G, shares her top things to do in Ibiza

My favourite beach is…

Xucla Beach in the North, it’s so romantic – it’s a little cove beach with an amazing xiringuito that does the best garlic gambas. It has a cave you can swim through and you can walk around the coastline on the rocks and jump off into crystal sea.

My favourite dress shop is…

Vicente Ganesha, in Ibiza town, that not that many people know about, it has the most incredible dresses! Multi layered flamenco dresses. I have worn this blue one so many times and lent it to tonnes of friends, I don’t think I have ever worn it and not been asked where it’s from.

Annie’s in Ibiza is also a great shop for amazing vintage finds and cool current brands. Annie stocks: Rixo, De La Vali, Clio Peppiat, Isabelle Moore & Graham Cruz.

My favourite club is…

DC10 on Monday night for Circa Loco is the only club I go to in Ibiza as it’s not really a club, it’s half outside, the music is incredible, and you can party with planes flying over your head as it’s right next to the airport.

My favourite daytime excursion is…

Going to Formentera for the day is also something everyone goes to Ibiza should do, it’s lovely and has great restaurants and crystal clear sea.

My favourite restaurant is…

Cicale, beautiful as it’s in a very remote countryside location, you sit on a patio with fairy lights and olive trees around you, plus the the food is wonderful and they have a small boutique with wonderful jewellery and trinkets.

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The Ivy Soho Brasserie just celebrated its second birthday in style

The Ivy Soho Brasserie just celebrated its second birthday in style

The Ivy Soho Brasserie, the fashion crowd’s go-to destination, is celebrating its second birthday the only way it knows to: in style.

Think a a brand new, stylish cocktail menu, inspired by Soho’s musical heritage. Each of the 10 cocktails is an homage to the greats, from David Bowie to The Rolling Stones.

There”s the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ (a mixture of Ketel One Citreon, Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, vanilla syrup and lemon juice, garnished with gold glitter), the ‘Relight My Fire’ (featuring Absolut Vanilla vodka, passion fruit puree, vanilla syrup and half a passion fruit, finished with flaming passionfruit), and ‘Satisfaction’ (mixing Plymouth sloe gin, Luxardo Maraschino liquor, Hibiscus and rose tea blend, lemon juice and egg white).

They were all created by bar manager Will Beaty, who said, ‘I’m very excited to reveal our new cocktails, all of which celebrate Soho and the area’s ties to music. We had a lot of fun developing these new recipes and felt that adding a musical theme really embodied the character of The Ivy Soho Brasserie. It is such a wonderful way to celebrate our birthday.’

If you fancy a little bit of entertainment to go with your drinks, then there’s that too, as guests will be able to enjoy a special DJ series on four consecutive Saturdays from 9 February to 2 March. Each weekend will pay homage to a particular musical era, harking back to the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

Find The Ivy Soho Brasserie on Broadwick Street in the heart of London’s Soho.

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Hit Wild Coast Tented Lodge for Sri Lanka’s most stylish safari

Hit Wild Coast Tented Lodge for Sri Lanka’s most stylish safari

The sexy scaled curves of Wild Coast Tented Lodge lend a slice of cocooned luxury to Yala National Park – a place where the Indian Ocean meets jungle and Sri Lanka’s most majestic wilderness still reigns, writes Nicola Moyne

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

‘Look, there, through the bush – do you see her baby? They want to cross over,’ Damien whispers, while simultaneously signaling for our driver to back up a little, creating a makeshift path large enough for the family’s safe passage.

Deep in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, I’m surrounded by a pack of mud-baked safari jeeps jostling for prime position. A herd of elephants, including several infants, has emerged from the protective scrub of dense Rosewood some 30 feet away to cross the undulated dirt track in front of us and Damien, one of the park’s oldest and most respected rangers, is quietly keeping order. ‘Sometimes the other hotel’s jeeps don’t respect the animals, but I never want to see the wildlife being harassed,’ he explains in low, dulcet tones despite a bustle of engine revs in the background. ‘They are my passion; this job is my life.’

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

Wild Coast Tented Lodge’s bar and lounging areas bring the outside in, safari-style

His quiet, determined devotion to conservation is admirable, as is his standing amongst the rangers – who abide by his traffic-control hand gestures, allowing the elephants to pass unvexed through a malaise of camera-clicking tourists.

I’ve been in the 378-sq-mile park on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast for approximately 40 minutes. So far, we’ve spotted a herd of half-submerged water buffalo cooling off in the midday heat, saltwater crocodiles taking their sun-soaked afternoon naps, and a roving family of wild Sri-Lankan elephants navigating the crowds. Now, we’re hurtling through the dry, cracked earth towards one of Damien’s favourite haunts in the park: Leopard rock.

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

Bedrooms come with a view and a freestanding copper bathtub at Wild Coast Tented Lodge

Life at Wild Coast Tented Lodge, a pioneering wildlife property on the fringes of Yala National Park isn’t exactly for the faint-hearted. You need an escort just to enter the restaurant come dusk for fear of a chance encounter with one of the more rowdy locals: leopards, elephants and sloth bears, who regularly make a surprise appearance in the grounds at night. But every thrill and promise of adventure is matched by a touch of luxury in the boutique colonial-style hotel, whose giant, curved cocoon suites envelop freestanding handmade copper bathtubs, sumptuous four-poster beds and butter-soft leather bucket chairs.

‘And then, as if on cue, we spot him – his golden coat glistening through the bush’

Panoramic jungle views come as standard here, as does a free-form azure swimming pool, which softly weaves its way through the open-air, bamboo-clad bar and restaurant. Sundowners are served on the property’s wild, wave-breaking beach and the gourmet menu delivers fresh, seasonal produce, such as pan-seared yellow fin tuna with fluffy coconut rice and tamarind broth, and traditional Sri Lankan mango cheesecake (both absolutely delicious, and presented on locally produced ceramics so chic I immediately enquire about where to buy them in bulk).

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

One of Yala National Park’s most prestigious residents: the leopard

No detail has been overlooked: even the 28 ‘cocoons’, beautifully curved and clad in sustainable Indonesian teak, are laid out in the shape of a leopard’s paw to honour Yala’s most famous resident. But for all its luxe-safari furnishings and resplendent starch-white linen tablecloths, it’s the hotel’s strong eco stance that really sets it apart from its competitors. Home to Sri Lanka’s foremost leopard conservation station, Wild Coast Tented Lodge uses a solar plant to power 40 per cent of the hotel’s energy and recycles guests’ water to landscape the grounds.

‘It’s a hotel that really cares about nature, about conserving the beauty here,’ Damien tells me as we pull up in leopard rock, hushed and hopeful. And then, as if on cue, we spot him – his golden coat glistening through the bush. He emerges from the trees just metres away from the back of our jeep, strong and athletic: the elusive Sri Lankan leopard in all his majestic glory. How could you not want to conserve such beauty?

Book now

A stay at Wild Coast Tented Lodge starts from approximately £690 per night on a fully inclusive basis, based on double occupancy. This includes daily breakfast, lunch, dinner, beverages including house spirits and wines, safari victuals, one daily game drive, WiFi, taxes and all service charges. For further information, or to book, visit resplendentceylon.com/wildcoastlodge-yala or click on the links above.

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Forget NZ – you can stay in this Irish Hobbit pod for just £69 instead

Forget NZ – you can stay in this Irish Hobbit pod for just £69 instead

Precious bargain

Credit: Airbnb

It’s cold, grey and always feels like a Tuesday. Welcome to February, the month where we spend all our time Googling the most Instagrammable Airbnbs and how to double holiday allowance so that we can enjoy 56 days instead of 28 (it’s actually possible, and really easy FYI).

This year, your travel goals might include visiting some of the best cities 2019 has to offer – hello, Dakar – or you might even want to try out a staycation.

But if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan with dreams of venturing further afield, we’ve got some good news for you: you don’t have to travel all the way to New Zealand to stay in a hobbit house. There’s one literally across the water.

You’ll find this gem of an Airbnb – known as the Hobbit Hillpod – nestled in the hills of Donegal, Ireland, a property inspired by Irish archaeology and snugly located amidst scenes of green. While it’s all cobbled and cute on the outside, inside it’s a modern haven where you can crack open a bottle while you soak up the epic views via the full glass front.

Property owner, Dr Greg Stevenson, told RSVP Live: ‘This is a one-off development with unobstructed views, and, I hope with a quality akin to what you’d like at home. A very good mattress, and decent shower, and a fine view go a long way!’

airbnb hobbit house

Credit: Airbnb

At just £69 per night, it’s an absolute bargain, too.

But we’d get booking ASAP if we were you.

After all, it’s pretty precious.

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Barbados has just announced this incredible environmental initiative

Barbados has just announced this incredible environmental initiative

And it could not be better news for the island’s wildlife

Photo by REX/Shutterstock

Crystal-clear waters, white sands, Rihanna as a governmental ambassador… Barbados has a lot going for it. However, a new initiative means that the Island in the Sun will become an even more incredible place to live and visit: the Barbadian government is banning single-use plastics.

That’s right – from 1st April 2019, Barbados is banning the importation, retail, sale and use of petro-based, i.e. plastic made from petroleum, single-use plastic, and from 1st January 2020, there will be a ban on all petro-based plastic bags, too (excluding single-use plastic bags used for medicine, hygiene and protection of food.)

The Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey, and Minister of the Environment and National Beautification, Trevor Prescod, further explained the parameters of the ban. Humphrey said, ‘Barbados has to be a value-driven country. We have large expectations for ourselves. We have said that we want to be fossil fuel free by 2030; we want to have a renewable platform; we want to be a country that when we speak to the world we speak as an environmentally friendly country and destination.’

He went on, ‘[Therefore] these are the things that we must do if our words and our actions are to be aligned.  And so, we have made ourselves clear as to where we stand on single-use plastic.’

This ban is bound to have a positive effect on the wildlife conservation efforts of the Caribbean island. Horrifyingly, research has suggested that 52% of sea turtles worldwide have eaten plastic waste, and that for 22% of those eat plastic, it’s a death sentence.

Barbados is home to the second-largest hawksbill turtle nesting population in the Caribbean, with up to 500 nesting females per year. The ban surely spells good news for them and groups such as the Barbados Sea Turtle Project that have been involved in their conversation for over 25 years.

Beautiful landscapes, rich culture and history, and now environmental pioneer? Barbados is our dream destination

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Easy Escape. The Grove, Hertfordshire

Easy Escape. The Grove, Hertfordshire

Introducing the ultimate country spa break you can actually reach by Tube.

Why Go

The Grove Hertfordshire ReviewTwo days here is the sumptuous weekend break you’ve been promising yourself you’d take for months. The Grove is a country hotel that combines unbeatable five star luxury, flawless service, an exceptional experiential spa, championship golf course and 300 acres of stunning countryside. If its fresh air you’re after it offers a range of lovely walks in woodland, wetlands or along the picturesque Grand Union Canal and reliably excellent good in all three restaurants. Its also just 40 minutes drive from London or 10 minutes from Watford train and tube stations (yes it really is on the Tube, though you’d never believe it when you see the rolling hills).


The Grove Hertfordshire ReviewExpect opulent country house interiors with lots of velvet curtains and marble fireplaces in the grand halls and lobby areas, but sleek modern minimalist rooms and huge sumptuous beds. Many rooms overlook the beautiful landscaped gardens, which make for stunning views at sunrise. Though grand and traditional in architectural style, staff are warm and friendly and the overall vibe pretty relaxed.

Eat up

The Grove Hertfordshire ReviewWhichever of the three restaurants you eat at you’re assured a great experience. We loved the laid back informality of the Stables, the hotel’s cosy gastropub restaurant set in the original 18th century stable block, which offers winning roasts and classics like a really good fish and chips or an excellently cooked steak. Kids are well catered for too with a range of dishes served with and without sauces and staff only too happy to go off-menu. The Glasshouse is the slightly more formal main buffet-style offering which has a staggering nine cooking stations ranging from Indian and Thai, to French and Italian fare. The spectacular seafood station alone includes lobster, king prawns, sushi and sashimi. The desert station must be seen to be believed. The pastry chef here is a genius. If its intimate you’re after then check out Colettes – the a la carte restaurant– think roasted rack of lamb with Jerusalem artichoke and caraway gnocchi or fillet of seabass with fresh seasonal vegetables – many grown on the hotels’ grounds. Simple but perfectly cooked and delicious. Its worth mentioning that the nine cooking-station breakfast buffet here is pretty incredible too – so outstanding in fact, that we met two couples who travelled from London simply to have brunch.

Don’t miss

The Grove Hertfordshire ReviewThe Sequoia spa, which offers room upon room of experiential treatments to lose yourself in for hours. Start your day in the gym where they run regular morning yoga and Pilates for guests. Then pamper yourself with a calming circuit of experiential hydrotherapy pools, steam rooms, saunas and aromatic showers. Finally book in for one of the signature Rebalance and Restore package and spend the next two hours enveloped in a blissful massage treatment that begins with a unique VR mindfulness meditation to quiet the mind and ease emotional stress. We also loved The Orangery Experience – the ultimate Vitamin C boost for winter skin – a luxurious body treatment followed by a calming facial which left our skin genuinely glowing.

Come here for

The ultimate girls spa break, romantic weekend or Mothers day treat. Rooms from £250 per night. Book in now for the Easter package which includes 50% off your second night or 3 nights for the price of 2.

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