Self-catering cottages now offer spa facilities too

'Hmm. Yes, your spine twists slightly to the right at the top of your back." I'm not surprised to hear this. I've been feeling contorted around the shoulders for some time, the consequence of too many hours in front of a computer. But whether Dave, a massage therapist, can really do anything to help ease the strain remains to be seen.

I'm a little dubious about the benefit of massages - I've had too many skin polishes over the years. But as Dave presses and pummels away, I realise I'm in the hands of someone who knows their stuff. It's all the more surprising because I'm not in some fancy retreat - indeed, even in a spa. I'm lying on a massage table in the bedroom of a self-catering cottage.

Yet, this is not as unusual as it sounds. Spas have long been a vital element of any self-respecting five-star hotel. Now, it seems, the same applies to the luxury end of the self-catering market. A growing number of places are offering on-site services for guests - some are even running their own spas.

I am staying at Combermere Abbey Cottages on the Shropshire-Cheshire border, where spa treatments are offered by a local company called Bliss, run by Dave and his wife Jo. Guests can choose from a comprehensive selection of massages administered at the cottages, or enjoy other treatments - from chiropody to Botox - at Bliss's centre in the nearby market town of Whitchurch.

But my desire for a bit of pampering is only one wish to be granted on this short break. I'm holidaying with my mum (77) and my son (6), both of whom deserve a treat too. I say holidaying, in fact, we're only seven miles from my mum's front door. And therein lies the granting of her wish. This is a change of scene, just 20 minutes' drive away - no long journey to prepare for, no motorways, stations or airports to endure.

In fact, we are both surprised at just how far from home our destination feels, not least because Combermere Abbey stands well back from the main road, hidden from view in ancient oak woods. Some 850 years ago, this was the site of a Cistercian monastery. But it fell victim to the dissolution, with only the 16th-century abbot's lodge surviving. The magnificent manor house that stands on the edge of a mere was built later and remodelled in the Gothic style in 1814.

We are staying in the estate's Grade II-listed, Jacobean-style stable block, built in 1837. A charming complex set around a cobbled yard, what was once home to 36 horses has been converted into 10 "cottages" for discerning self-caterers who enjoy luxe living in historic surroundings. It's just part of a plan by the owner, Sarah Callander Beckett, to restore her inherited estate and make it relevant to the 21st century.

Our temporary home, named "Callander", is arranged over two floors. The two bedrooms, bathroom, large lounge and well-equipped kitchen offer more than enough space for our little band of three. All the cottage interiors are designed to an appropriate theme, with names such as Jane Churchill and the Designers Guild adding a stamp of quality. Ours picks up on the resident family's Scottish heritage, using fine tartan fabrics and thistle emblems - even the beams in the sitting room are daubed with bright Celtic symbols.

In an antique sideboard we find a fund of games. But my son is more interested in what the vast grounds have to offer. Plenty: a tennis court and croquet lawn, a fruit tree maze and woodland walk, fishing and swimming in the mere, and lots of bicycles. But his favourite haunts are the small kids' playground and a patch of grass with a football goal on it. I take up position in goal as Petr Cech to his Ronaldinho - back to the massage table...

A week at Combermere Abbey Cottages (01948 662876) starts at £525 in low season. Combermere Abbey is a member of Premier Cottages ( www.premiercottages.com), the UK's leading independent association of four- and five-star holiday cottages. Bliss (01948 666909)

Our top alternative

Downe Cottages (01237 441881; www.downecottages.com) on the Devon coast, offers stylish accommodation in converted farm buildings and the luxury of a spa with therapy rooms, wet and dry relaxation areas and a state of the art gym. Until 2 June, a four-night Pamper Break, (Mon-Fri), costs from £225 per person, based on two sharing.

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