An expert’s guide to the best spas in the UK

If your muscles are aching, your skin is anything but radiant and you can practically hear a steam room calling your name, we can help you plan the perfect UK spa break.

Our very own resident expert, Koulla Joannou, shares her essential tips – from spa etiquette for beginners to the most romantic setting for a couples spa retreat.

Grayshott Spa. Photograph:

Grayshott Spa. Photograph:

How did you come to be known as a spa expert?

I’ve been working with the spa industry since 2007. I was previously Head of Spa at a large online travel agency and I’ve continued to work with some of the best spas in the UK here at Secret Escapes. I’ve been very lucky to experience lots of different treatments and stay at some fabulous spa destinations along the way!

Tell us about your favourite spa in the UK

My favourite has to be Grayshott Spa in Surrey. Their whole ethos is all around health and well-being and your personal comfort and relaxation is the most important thing. The therapists themselves have worked there for many years and they’re great at what they do. I’ve had some amazing treatments there where the therapists can really tap into how I’m feeling, whether I am stressed or tired etc., and it’s pretty powerful stuff. The food there is super healthy but delicious at the same time and the whole place is just so calming and healing. Whenever I leave, I feel totally refreshed!

Any trends you’re noticing in UK spas at the moment?

Some crazy treatments like Russian Bathing – the Banya treatment in a traditional sauna where they whack you with leafy birch leaves and work with hot and cold to stimulate your body and circulatory system.

K-West Hotel & Spa. Photograph:

K West Hotel & Spa. Photograph:

Lifehouse Spa & Hotel. Photograph:

Lifehouse Spa & Hotel. Photograph:

Is there a particular brand you look out for in terms of treatments and products?

I really like Aromatherapy Associates products. Aromatherapy oils get right into your bloodstream and can make you feel relaxed or alert depending on the oil used. Their treatments are lovely and I use their oils at home in my bath. ESPA is another great brand, their treatments are very holistic, which I’m a big fan of.

Where would you recommend for a spa day in London?

Personally, I love K Spa at the K West Hotel in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Their treatments are very good and they have great hydrotherapy facilities – even a snow cave! If I had a bit more to spend, then for something truly indulgent, I’d suggest the amazing spa at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge. The facilities are big and very luxurious, I could happily lounge there all day!

What’s your top tip for an all-girls spa break?

Lifehouse Spa in Essex is a great option as it’s very relaxed and modern, plus the facilities are huge – so it’s perfect for groups. They serve a delicious afternoon tea and you can drink alcohol during the day, if you’re so inclined!

The Scarlet. Photograph:

The Scarlet. Photograph:

Alexander House. Photograph:

Alexander House. Photograph:

If someone was looking for an experience to suit the season, which spa would you recommend for summer?

My summer tip would be the Scarlet Spa in Cornwall. It has a beautiful setting on a clifftop and has a freshwater outdoor pool.

And for winter?

A winter break would be spent somewhere like Alexander House in Sussex: they have an outdoor hot tub which you can use in cold weather, as well as a cosy lounge with an amazing fireplace.

And how about a romantic experience for couples?

I’d recommend Bishopstrow House in Wiltshire. They have a lovely pool and the hotel itself is just gorgeous, with great food and wine. I think it’s the perfect weekend break away for a couple. You can also book exclusive use of the Rasul mud therapy room, which is very private and relaxing as you have your own chamber together, with the mud and steam to work their magic on your skin.

Which facilities would make you want to book?

A nice swimming pool, outdoor hot tub or Jacuzzi as well as really good hydrotherapy facilities are important to me. However, a good relaxation room is actually the most important thing; it should be dark and quiet, with great comfortable beds so you can have a sleep after your treatments.

Hoar Cross Hall. Photograph:

Hoar Cross Hall. Photograph:

Bishopstrow House. Photograph:

Bishopstrow House. Photograph:

What’s the best spa treatment you’ve ever had in a UK spa?

I recently stayed at Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire and had the most amazing treatment. It was one of their signature Time Peace Collection treatments called ‘Native Synchronicity’. It was an 85-minute hot stone, crystal-healing scalp and full body massage. I’m not usually keen on hot stone massages, as sometimes the therapists spend so long working with the stones themselves that I feel you lose out on actual massage time, but this was not the case here. The therapist was amazing and really worked my muscles with a great massage technique. It was definitely one of the best treatments I’ve had in the UK.

What’s the UK’s best spa for value for money?

A real quality spa hotel is Stanley House in Lancashire. For me, it’s a hidden gem. The spa is beautiful and an overnight break with dinner, bed & breakfast and treatments starts from around £130 per person. Great value if you want a treat but you’re on a budget!

Money’s no object – where should I book?

Pennyhill Park in Surrey; it’s the top of my list! If you live in the North then I would say Rockcliffe Hall Hotel in County Durham. Both are all about the five-star experience!

Pennyhill Park. Photograph:

Pennyhill Park. Photograph:

Pennyhill Park. Photograph:

Pennyhill Park. Photograph:

If the hotel stay was equally important as the spa facilities and treatments, where do you recommend for overall experience?

Chewton Glen in Hampshire would be up there for me. It’s such an iconic hotel offering a total five-star experience. It has been voted best spa by Spafinder as well as Condé Nast in the past.

Which spa do you really want to visit but haven’t yet?

Stoke Park in Berkshire. It’s an epic hotel and country club. They use THALGO and Aromatherapy Associates products for their luxurious treatments. It was given five bubbles by the Good Spa Guide, which is their highest rating.

Spa etiquette – do you have any tips for newbies?

Bring your own flip flops, as sometimes slippers aren’t provided. Make sure you arrive for your treatment 10 minutes early, as there are usually a few forms to fill in and you don’t want to lose out on the treatment time that you’ve paid for. It’s good to stay as relaxed as possible throughout your stay so that you can make the most of it, so I suggest taking a good book or some calming music to listen to.

Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa. Photograph:

Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa. Photograph:

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One Comment

  1. There is nothing more I love than a luxury spa break! I have visited quite a few now, and I have to say that there are some wonderful spa breaks in Birmingham.

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