Where: Dunston Hall Hotel, Ipswich Road, Norwich, UK
Set the scene: An impressive Elizabethan-style mansion set in 150 acres of wooded Norfolk parkland. The Lilac Room is the hotel’s bijou spa area offering a range of pampering treatments.
Top Santé tried: The Revitalising Ritual with ESPA, £70 for 50 minutes at The Lilac Room
What is it? A refreshing full body exfoliation either combining sea salts with essential oils or body brushing and body polish to leave skin nourished and smooth. A muscle-easing back or arm massage completes the experience by soothing tension.
There’s nothing like a top-to-toe scrub to prep skin for summer, and the ESPA Revitalising Ritual did not disappoint – my limbs felt soft and smooth afterwards for the first time in months.
I asked for a shoulder and arm massage to go with it – you get the choice of upper back or arms. My therapist was attentive and very skilled and I almost drifted off to sleep.
If you live close by (Norwich is the nearest city) I’d definitely recommend popping into the Lilac Rooms at Dunston Hall for a treatment followed by lunch as the restaurant is beautiful – enormous windows face the extensive gardens and grounds beyond, all of which you can walk around.
Best for big events
While the treatments at the bijou Lilac Room beauty salon are lovely – perfect if you want to nip in for a manicure, wax or massage – as a spa venue I have to be honest and say it’s not really up there with the best.
This is because – and this is something I’ve come to realise from visiting many a spa and retreat over my 13 years as a health journalist – venues where the focus is primarily on weddings, parties, business functions and golfing rarely have spa facilities with the wow factor. This is because the hotel’s focus is split across too many areas.
Inevitably, the spas at these places – and they are all around the country – are a bit of an afterthought, with facilities in need of an update if they want to compete with spas that cater solely to those in search of luxury and pampering.
For example, if you fancy a quiet Sunday morning swim, it’s almost certain you’ll be sharing your lanes with noisy splashing kids, either of families staying over, or of members from the adjoining gym who also get to use the pool.
This is in stark contrast to spas that only cater to spa guests, such as Lifehouse Spa in Essex, Bedford Lodge in Suffolk, Ragdale Hall in Leicestershire and Titanic Spa in Huddersfield, all of which I’ve visited and which are child-free to maintain the peaceful atmosphere.
Over all, the pool area, which also includes a small sauna and Jacuzzi, has a bit of a municipal pool feel (and smell) to it, especially the changing rooms with their rubber blue mats on the floor, reminding me of the public baths where I had swimming lessons as a child.
At spa hotels like the ones mentioned above, you can often amble about in your dressing gown and little else, whether it’s to breakfast, to the treatment rooms or just from room to room. At Dunston Hall you feel a little conspicuous, especially if your room is miles away from the beauty rooms. And you certainly wouldn’t want to rock up to lunch in your white gown, having probably passed numerous guests dressed for business or a wedding.
On the lunch note, there is a good range of food and I was able to find enough things without gluten to satisfy my picky dietary needs. A day stay includes a hot and cold buffet lunch in the restaurant – I had a mixture of salads and a curried chicken dish.
The only downside was that service was incredibly slow – no doubt because staff were multitasking between the restaurant and the wedding taking place. It took three hours for two courses – luckily my friend and I weren’t in a rush and had loads to catch up on.
This review sounds scathing, I know, and I don’t want to detract from all the positives: Dunston Hall has recently had a £2m investment, the bedrooms are lovely, the food is decent – in fact the breakfast buffet is great – and the overall ambience and setting is superb. However, if you’re looking for an indulgent weekend of pampering, I believe you’re better off choosing a place that acts ONLY as a spa, because its sole purpose will be to deliver a great spa experience – it won’t be trying to please multiple types of guests.