Who doesn't love the idea of spending a day digi detoxing in fluffy dressing gowns and hot tubs with a group of their BFs?
But do we love our BFs enough to fork out the mega bucks that city day spas charge?
With quotes for a recent Girls Day Out coming in at almost £400 from London hotels the answer, I'm afraid ladies, is no.
There would be no £ left to spend on that 'discreet, grown-up-enough-to-wear-for-lengths but still somehow cool and flattering' one-piece to wear for a start.
So where to go with a stylish girl gang keen on sharing some down time? It's harder than you think (I know, I know, first world problems). Most of the country spas we spoke to were too small to offer same time appointments meaning no chilling together, or operated a super strict start/finish time, or were located in the back of beyond.
And so we kept coming back to Champneys, the famous (infamous?) UK spa chain that has been pummelling and purifying the nation since the Thirties and has 10 spas dotted around the country.
The name Champneys tends to conjure up images of naff aerobics classes and lettuce leaf lunches. And having experienced first-hand the time warp that is Champneys Forest Mere I was apprehensive about spending a precious Saturday trapped in a chintzy veruca-fest with nothing but bad highlights to keep me entertained.
But for our little group the brand seemed to offer the best combination of treatments, food, facilities, location and value for money, and after reassurances that the Tring resort we were looking at was actually rather chic and full of PLUs* (*people like us) rather than bus loads of bingo-loving OAPs, we took the plunge.
And we had a lovely, lovely day. We really did. Even this spoilt spa snob was happy. Yes there were bingo lovers, and hundreds of bingo wings. But there were also state-of-the-art treatment rooms, premium products, cute couples, cool hen parties, and - crucially - quite a few hot male trainers. And we all bumped along together nicely in the gorgeous country manor.
And you don't have to just take my word for it because I asked my gal pals (aka the Detox|Retox Spa Squad) to review the resort along with me. We all have very different jobs and lives, hailing from all over the country, and, as well as the obvious girl time, between us wanted a variety of things from our spa day, whether that was total relaxation, shiny new skin, a Saturday off the booze, or just the chance to swim uninterrupted.
Here's how we rated the food, the facilities and the fitness on offer....
We were pleasantly surprised by both the size and the style of the resort, billed as the jewel in the Champneys crown.
Set in beautiful grounds, the spa and its various wings are big enough to give guests a feeling of space and serenity that it’s generally hard to achieve with busy day spas. And the main areas are elegant and airy, offering lots of nooks and crannies to hide /gossip/snooze in.
Full disclosure: we skived off the ‘welcome tour’ after spotting several groups looking like they were losing the will to live as they got shuffled around the maze of corridors and treatment rooms, but then did spend most of the rest of the day getting lost.
[tip] If you’re not going to bother with the official tour (valuable chilling time) do get to the resort as early as possible to familiarise yourself with the various areas and make the most of your stay.
The day package included a mini massage and facial and deluxe mani/pedi, and our schedules were nicely organised meaning we all got to lunch together, and any treatments/classes booked in advance were easy enough to change once we we there.
The main areas of the spa were well decked out but the treatment rooms needed a bit of TLC: no windows, pervading restaurant smells (I'd rather be infused with lavender oil not simmering quorn, thanks) and one of our group reported dirty towels on her bed.
BUT the treatments themselves were super pro: my facial included a clever combination of collagen and resurfacing products as per my request to work some magic on fine lines and breakouts. And my mini massage was just tough enough.
And there was no hard sell on the products (a combination of Champneys own as well as Decleor and Elemis), which was really refreshing.
The day package doesn’t include access to the thalassotherapy pools or the spanking new detox arena, but feedback from other guests is that both are top notch.
And the mani/pedi lounge is a thoroughly gorgeous experience: light and lovely with views onto the gardens to distract from all that buffing.
[tip] If you can afford the £ and time try and stay the night as there was so much we didn't get chance to do including more treatments and classes as well as taking in the grounds, attending the evening talks from wellness experts, and drinking wine.
Firstly you need to know that there is caffeine, there are (fibre-rich) carbs and there's even cake on site. Yes, the cake is made from beetroot, but it totally satisfied the sweet-toothed among us. Champneys is a spa not a health farm, so portions aren't controlled and you are expected to be able to police your own eating at the buffet lunch (with a little help from the famous Champneys plate), but of course 99% of the food and drink is healthy.
There are treats to be found including fruit and (dark) chocolate in the Terrace Cafe. And I managed to piece together a mini cheese plate using feta from the wrap bar, grated parmesan from the salad station and a few stray oatcakes at lunch (winning. at. life.).
Lunch is included in the day rate and after the disappointment of discovering the 'no booze' rule (none at lunch, one glass of wine at dinner for overnighters) we all felt rather smug and virtuous after our light, teetotal lunch. The superfood salads and steamed sea bass were fresh and delicious (while some of the more 'modern' concoctions missed the mark: tofu doesn't really belong in a chocolate pudding, and you can't make butter out of butternut squash).
[tip] The smoothies here, by new kid on the block Love Taste, are fabulous but fruit-based, which is worth knowing if you're trying to lose some lbs.
If chilling’s not your thing then the choice of 20 classes a day will keep you busy. I was well impressed with the sporty selection including bootcamp, hula hooping, Tai Chi and Zumba as well as the more classic aerobics and aquafit or simple meditation.
There’s also a gym and lap pool to help burn off that breakfast bagel.
[tip] Book classes in advance and the staff will work your treatments around them.
I was less impressed with the actual fitness facilities, it doesn't seem much thought has gone into the ambience of the studios and gym, with no windows, tinny music and seriously harsh lighting.
There's also a real mix of abilities on site, which is a challenge for the instructors, and I think asking the crew in in my Da Vinci Body Board class, to do one-legged push-ups may have been pushing it, but everyone gave it a jolly good go (never heard of Da Vinci Board? Me neither. As a fitness fan I was mega excited to try something I had never heard of, but the husband burst my bubble when I got home by telling me it's a poor man's reformer. Regardless, I actually got a brilliant workout).
[tip] Book classes in the morning as post-lunch the hot tubs and chill pods suddenly become infinitely more appealing than a hot yoga session.
SOME THINGS WE LOVED...
The conservatory/sun trap and outdoor jacuzzi and beds
Being able to spend all day in a robe and slippers and without a scrap of make-up on
The new relaxation suite: water beds and sheepskin blankets by firelight
The staff: knowledgeable, professional, and just generally really nice
The Terrace Cafe with its bliss balls, coconut kafir and pretend healthy cakes
...AND A FEW WE DIDN'T
All four of us agree that it would have been nice to have the option of a glass of fizz or wine at lunch (there's a reason we are friends) after all, this is a spa not a health farm, and a lot of people visit to celebrate a special occasion
I hated the pages of 'rules' and notice of hidden charges sent in the advance 'welcome' email
Check-in and check-out was a bit slow and onerous for a day guest. We're suggesting an online check-in so you can just grab a robe and your flip-flops and hit the breakfast buffet as soon as you arrive
Changing areas for day guests were a bit cramped at each end of the day
The top-to-toe day package at Tring starts at £219 and includes a massage, facial and mani/pedi as well as breakfast, lunch, use of the facilities and access to all classes.
ps Is your swimwear spa-ready?
Champneys was generally really chilled, with no notable body fascists but mini boho bikinis will not be welcomed (or indeed practical in the whirlpools).
I love swimwear365.com for those 'discreet, grown-up-enough-to-wear-for-lengths but still somehow cool and flattering' one-pieces (check out their genius Shape Calculator to find the right style), and this S.Oliver halter-neck (£45, right) is my go-to for anything poolside (my theory: is the bum looks smaller if you can distract with boobs).