A first look at Heckfield Place’s new wellness retreat
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Heckfield Place likes to take things slowly. A passion project of Dr Gerald Chan, the Hong Kong-born VC, Harvard graduate and philanthropist, the Hampshire country-house hotel made its debut in 2018 – six years later than expected. Five years after that, the much-anticipated Bothy, a wellbeing space (the word “spa” is not encouraged), is finally opening its doors in April.
Attention to detail is a hallmark of the 45-room Heckfield, and the Bothy does not disappoint. It is located in the hotel’s elegant grounds, which were designed in the late 19th century by the horticulturist William Wildsmith (and after whom the hotel’s botanical skincare line is named).
The space was originally the head gardener’s cottage, accessed through a garden planted with wisteria, lavender and English roses. Shelves bear all cuttings of the plants and herbs used in the treatments, and a soothing aroma of sage, camomile, peppermint and palmarosa seems to emanate from the walls. Inside, one is greeted by Reka Seres, the bothy director, and offered a shot of apple cider, turmeric and ginger. Patrons are also divested of their phones. “No need for distractions,” says Seres in her soft, Hungarian-accented voice.
Let’s be clear: if it’s machine-led facial treatments, mani-pedis or an eyelash tint you’re looking for, you won’t find them here. The Bothy is about wellbeing, slowing down, feeling your best in mind and body. In the gym, the floors are wood-sprung, the weights and rowing machine have wood cladding, and the stunning 18m pool – or as they call it, “the waters” – is lined with some 30,000 handmade ceramic tiles. There is a large skylight, and retractable Crittall windows offer views over the verdant landscape. A plant-based menu designed by Heckfield’s culinary director, Skye Gyngell, can be enjoyed in the sun room next to the pool.
I begin with a ritual in the sauna, which overlooks an ancient oak surrounded by wildflowers. Seres infuses the hot stones with birch eucalyptus and tea-tree aromatherapy oils, and the session is completed with the outdoor “bucket” shower. I am then gently (and quite pleasantly) thrashed with soaked linden branches – harvested on midsummer’s night and dried. This removes dead skin cells, stimulates blood circulation, encourages relaxation, can alleviate headaches, and is considered a powerful cleanser. I end with a second bucket shower and a cool-down in the relaxation room.
I also try the Wildsmith Time massage with Manos Dimoudis, who has spent much of his career working in Aman hotels. He begins with kinesiology – to “reveal” my body’s requirements – and the treatment incorporates craniosacral holds, abdominal massage and foot-reflex therapy, plus a deep-tissue massage using Wildsmith Purity oils. I float out. The Radical Botany Facial, using the Wildsmith products, leaves my skin looking like I have been on holiday for two weeks. I am used to technology in my facials, so it makes for a nice change to be lulled into a mildly comatose state with a massage focused on myofascial release, acupressure and breathwork.
In keeping with its holistic principles, the Bothy also offers a menu of “master practitioners” who come in weekly to do further requests. For example, you can have a naturopathy session with Ashmina Manoldis, or be worked on by osteopath Benjamin Pluke.
The level of design and detail throughout is exceptional, from the fluted glass doors in the women’s changing rooms (where even the Dyson hairdryer has its own specially designed hook), to the spacious treatment rooms – there are six, of which two are doubles, each with its own steam shower. The insanely comfortable Lemi treatment beds have been chosen for their therapeutic properties (a soft bed, I am told, is no good for anyone).
For now, the Bothy is only open to hotel guests, though there is talk of a curated small membership to the Heckfield estate in the pipeline. I’ve often believed you need to get on a plane to find this kind of thoughtful excellence in a wellness space. But the best thing about this holistic new offering: it’s less than an hour’s drive from London.
The holistic crew
Four more wellness escapes an easy drive from London. By Maria Shollenbarger
Coombe End Manor
Coombe End Manor is one of the finest private houses for let in the Cotswolds. Next month it debuts a new spa, with two treatment rooms, indoor relaxation areas, and an outdoor sauna, cold plunge pool and hot Jacuzzi. Bespoke programmes range from facialists to personal trainers from nearby Origin Health Group. luxurycotswoldrentals.co.uk, sleeps 18, from £5,000 a night
Coach House Spa at Beaverbrook
The Coach House Spa at Beaverbrook has launched the Seasonal Health Reset, focused on harnessing outdoor activities to maximise wellness. Resident naturopath Camilla Dos Santos crafts bespoke programmes that might variously include al fresco tai chi, Wim Hof-method cold-water exposure, and sound healing. beaverbrook.co.uk, programmes from £275 for day guests
Whatley Manor’s Aquarias Spa
Crystals are the new, holistic thing at Whatley Manor’s Aquarias Spa, where a set of therapies based around them has just been introduced. They’re used to unblock chakras and manipulate energy, and as physical tools in massages and facials; guests leave with a crystal “prescription” for DIY wellness at home. whatleymanor.com, from £195
Cowdray Estate, in West Sussex, has a multifaceted offering that comprises sports massage, guided meditations and all manner of body and breathwork classes. Four cosy-chic “treehouses” have just been added; their large decks are perfect for private sessions of the guided forest bathing and qi gong on offer. cowdray.co.uk, treehouses sleep two, from £388 a night