Champneys is synonymous with relaxation and rejuvenation. If you think of the ultimate spa retreat, there is a high chance Champneys will be the first name that pops into your head. The Champneys name emerged in 1925, the vision of naturopath Stanley Lief, starting as a health farm and growing into the luxury brand that has become one of the world’s leading wellness destination spas.
Just a month after being named the best country retreat spa – in the Good Spa Guide 2019 Awards – I was invited to see what won Champneys Forest Mere the title in the prestigious awards. With Christmas rapidly approaching and the chaos of work in full-swing, it was such a treat to head to the beautiful spa set in enchanting grounds in the Hampshire countryside for 24 hours of R&R.
The long sweeping drive leads you through the rolling greens of a golf course and up to the pretty old building and the state-of-the-art spa and hotel which has been extended over the years. As you approach the destination spa you can see the grand building on the horizon, perched above the glistening lake.
We were welcomed by friendly staff in the formal lobby – adorned with Christmas decorations – and enjoyed a refreshing welcome drink of apple and elderflower before heading straight into the spa.
Champneys Forest Mere is centred around the spa, which occupies a vast and cleverly-designed wing of the building. The main poolhouse houses a large, sparkling pool with vaulted ceiling, exposed beams and a huge window which drenches the space with light. By night – the opening hours are 6.30am-9.30pm – the pool area is softly lit, creating a warm and inviting spa for a twilight dip.
There are lots of seating and lounge areas dotted around the spa for guests who are looking for relaxation, tranquillity and calm. Guests can laze on heated water beds, in relaxation pods, on bean bags and in swinging chairs. The main space would benefit from more loungers or seating for guests who want to spend time around the pool or read a book.
The new thermal poolside suite is home to the thermal cycle rooms – laconium, sauna, snow room and experience showers – with a Jacuzzi at the centre. The space is enclosed and intimate with low ceiling and the raw, wood panelling and materials make the area feel as though its tucked behind a ski chalet in the mountains.
The alpine atmosphere continues into the main hotel where the halls are clad with textured, rustic wooden tiles and the scent of burned wood is homely and welcoming, reminiscent of a roaring fire in a snowy mountain lodge. We headed up to our premier room; a lux gold colour scheme, plush furnishings and lavish finishings with large windows looking out over the garden and lake.
But the best thing about staying at Champneys; the toiletries! We had an amazing set in our bathroom as well as some special gifts: hand cream and dreamy pillow mist.
Spa breaks at Champneys include breakfast, lunch and dinner, and guests staying in premier rooms can enjoy dinner at the upmarket Forest Mere restaurant, situated in the beautiful old part of the house. The refined menu offers lots of choice for meat-eaters and vegetarians so we started with a glass of sparkling Prosecco while we perused the menu. The smart waiting staff brought out some delicious warm, fluffy bread with oil and balsamic vinegar and a mini bruschetta amouse bouche.
I opted for the light and fluffy cheese soufflé with sweet beetroot salad which complimented the gentle taste of cheese. For entrée I chose the lentil and chickpea dahl with rice, chipati, and red onion and tomato salad. The curry was warming, wholesome and packed full of flavour. It was a generous portion but there’s always space for dessert. We stumped up the extra £5 each for the chocolate fondant and, although slightly disappointed it didn’t come with vanilla ice cream, it was tasty and gooey.
The following morning we woke to a bright, chilly winter morning and went for a brisk walk around the grounds and down to the lake. Shepherd’s Huts are perched on the lakeside offering guests an intimate stay away from the hustle and bustle of the main hotel. The main spa restaurant is a light and airy buffet-style eatery situated in the heart of the hotel. We headed down for breakfast; a buffet of smoothies, fresh fruit, yoghurts and hot options.
Day two at the spa meant more relaxation time and tranquil treatments. There are dozens of treatments for guests to choose from – from alternative treatments, massage, beauty treatments, and wellness treatments – while Champneys also boasts a fully-equipped gym and diverse, varied roster of fitness classes from meditation to yoga, hula hoop to ballet fusion.
We were treated to a soothing 25-minute Head in the Clouds treatment – a neck, shoulder and Indian head massage. Emerging from the serene treatment room, we headed down to reception to find a team of therapists who had set up a pop-up offering free hand and foot massages.
There are lots of cosy nooks and corners for relaxation and reflection. The pool lounge is a bright, white sleep zone framed with soft linen drapes. Water beds are swathed in sheepskin blankets to create a calming ‘sleep’ zone – until the aqua aerobics begins next door, that is (with pounding baselines of upbeat dance tunes blaring out across the spa!) Another lounge provides a dark, quiet space with a crackling fire where guests curl up and snooze. Outside, the hydro pool is sunken in the decking in a sheltered courtyard lit up by shards of light from the low, winter sun.
We headed back to the restaurant for a buffet lunch. There are dozens of options from the banquet of fresh salads, fish, omelette station and hot dishes. I spooned beans, pulses and sweet potato wedges onto my plate; sampled the aubergine curry; and made my own Caesar salad with crisp, fresh salad and parmesan shavings. The healthy lunch also offered sweet options and I chose a strawberry and basil mousse which was lighter than air.
With the sweet taste of whipped strawberry still in my mouth, it was time for another treatment. The hot poultice massage was sensual and soothing, offering a deep massage into my aching muscles in preparation for a much more energetic afternoon.
The spa offers talks and sessions with guest speakers while the gym welcomes guest instructors so we decided to try out a dance fit class with a visiting personal trainer. The upbeat class was fun and full of high-energy aerobic routines mixed in with some hip-hop dance moves, salsa flare and even some Bollywood boogying!
Champneys Forest Mere is the perfect rural retreat for guests who want the ultimate spa retreat. But with a whole host of spa treatments, fitness classes, and talks, there’s always something new and exciting to keep guests coming back for more.
Prices at Forest Mere start from £124 for a spa day.
Address: Champneys Forest Mere, Portsmouth Road, Liphook GU30 7JG
Phone: 01428 726000
The Good Spa Guide Awards are voted for by the public. Champneys Forest Mere won the Best Country Retreat category due to their clients’ love and appreciation for the facilities, staff, food, customer service and overall experience. For more information go to goodspaguide.co.uk