Hotel Review: Lifehouse Spa & Hotel, Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex
If you looked up the definition of a wellness retreat in a dictionary there would probably be a small, unassuming photo of Lifehouse Spa in Essex.
As you approach along the long drive, the large black building rises from the ground. The unflattering exterior – sharing familiarities with a leisure centre complex – makes way inside for a clean, modern interior and the simple décor is refreshing in a time when many hotels feel cluttered and over-decorated.
Large windows and glass corridors connect the new with the old, as the imposing structure opens out onto a beautiful, flowery courtyard and terrace, and stretches to the charming red-brick building which is one of the few remnants of the site’s origins as Thorpe Hall.
Lord and Lady Byng fell in love with the property and its gardens, described as their ‘spiritual home’. While much of the original house is now gone, the beautiful, manicured gardens remain intact and available for all guests to explore.
If you’re expecting a grand, country estate with heavy velvet curtains and dark oak four-poster beds then Lifehouse isn’t the place for you. The retreat prioritises a clean and healthy break from the stresses of modern life over luxurious spoils and opulence.
It’s about taking a moment to enjoy the simple things in life: the beauty of the surrounding nature, the fragrance of the flowers and the serenity of the ducks floating gracefully on the lake.
The tranquility of the resort stretches out into the surrounding grounds too, where well-planned footpaths wind and meander through copses, past streams and across meadows. Peaceful walks along these routes take you away from the hustle and bustle of the popular hotel and spa, giving you time to ponder and reflect.
Lifehouse’s ambition is to provide escapism and staff encourage the guests to embrace wellness through every aspect of their stay; from the spa to the gym to the food.
Before my trip I was somewhat of a wellness skeptic – considering it to be just another idea conjured up in order for people to make money off of others’ attempts to have a healthier lifestyle.
I had it categorized in the same arena as ‘mindfulness’! However, after my visit to Lifehouse left me feeling reinvigorated and recharged, perhaps it’s not all just a fad…?
We visited Lifehouse during the summer heatwave and, at the earliest opportunity, threw open our patio doors to listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling through the trees. Our room – a ground-floor twin room – was clean and spacious but basic.
The décor is fairly bland and forgettable, and some of the facilities could do with updating but we had everything we needed for our short stay. It’s clear from the moment you arrive at Lifehouse that the hotel isn’t about grandeur and the rooms echo the whole site’s architecture and design – simplicity is key.
The restaurant – while canteen-like in its appearance – serves up a mixture of healthy and wholesome meals mixed with a little bit of indulgence. The menu offers something for everyone from vegan options to nutritious salads to guilty pleasures.
We opted for the vegetarian mezze sharing board as a starter and were pleasantly surprised by the delicious dish that arrived on our table: hummus, salad, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and garlic flatbreads, olives, and crostinis.
The plate was fresh, filling and packed full of flavour. Our fish entrées – lemon sole with butter and caper sauce, and Ugo’s salad with cod – were extremely tasty and appropriately portioned.
As a sweet treat, we finished off the meal with almond and apricot tart and chocolate and passionfruit fondant which, disappointingly, was a little unsatisfactory in the ooze category!
Hotel staff were all genuinely friendly and chatty making us feel welcome and at ease. Service was prompt and everything was done with a smile. While there were lots of waiting staff buzzing around and tending promptly to our needs during dinner on Sunday night, there seemed to be a lack of staff at breakfast the following morning.
The buffet was plentiful and there was a wide variety of foods to choose from including cereals, pastries and cooked food. However, unfortunately, it took over half an hour for my veggie sausages to arrive and we had to ask several times for a coffee as the staff were so busy.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the busy restaurant, the spa was an oasis of serenity and calmness. The spa – the hotel’s centerpiece – is a large, state-of-the-art centre for relaxation and wellness.
A shop, nail bar and beauty salon branch off of a main reception area which leads into the main spa, boasting a curved pool and separate thermal bath area. The large pool arches around neatly organized sunbeds and huge windows allow natural light to flood into the complex.
The main pool is moderately heated, allowing you to comfortably swim lengths or simply bob around in the water chin-wagging with friends.
In an adjoining space, the thermal bath area is much hotter and the small pool bubbles with massaging jets and cannons spray to ease aching muscles.
Lounging in the warm water on a submerged lounger, the sun warming my face, I felt truly relaxed – a quick jump in the icy plunge pool soon got my blood pumping again though, just in time for my hot stone massage.
The spa employs a high-tech system: reporting to reception at your appointment time you’re ushered up to the balcony overlooking the lake where you can wait in comfort until your buzzer goes off.
I was collected and escorted through to a smart treatment room. The 50-minute massage was the perfect combination of relaxation and revitalization, the masseuse was friendly but professional, the music soothing and the room warm. The perfect energizing treatment to prepare me for the long journey ahead.
Lifehouse provides quality spa breaks at affordable prices. If you’re looking for a relaxing and rejuvenating break without the pomp and pretense of some of the expensive, country house hotels, then Lifehouse is the place for you. Their motto says it all: ‘Love life, live well’. I was certainly loving life during my stay.
Lifehouse Love Life Spa Breaks are available from £149.50pp per night (based on two sharing a room) including one night in a double or twin room, breakfast, three-course dinner, full use of the spa facilities, and a 25-minute Lifehouse massage, facial or scalp massage.
Address: Lifehouse Spa & Hotel, Frinton Road, Thorpe-le-Soken, CO16 0JD
Phone: 01255 860050