For all the grandeur of a place like Grayshott, it’s not the impressive 19th century buildings, nor the impressive swimming pool and facilities, nor the luxurious rooms. All are great, far posher than I’m used to, don’t get me wrong about that, a real touch of class. But in a spa, where you have to share, and where you spend much of the time in your bathrobe and slippers, it’s the people that matter.
For Grayshott, for all its pretensions as a hotel, is a health spa, a place you come to improve yourself. Part of any (normal) person dreads the idea of portion control, of saunas, thumping massages, and a vague sense of disapproval, or being treated as being a little simple. A January break, indeed, has the potential for repentance. And all the luxury in the world doesn’t quite rid you of that feeling.
So the staff are the place’s biggest asset, and the risk of an ascetic, monkish weekend disappears as you put yourself in their tender hands. A warm welcome that feels genuine, rather than unctuous assuages the worries a little, but not nearly so much as a spa restaurant that, however discreetly, allows wine. It’s not on the list, but its quietly offered. It’s not that I crave alcohol, you understand, but a hotel without it just doesn’t feel right. I can can ease my guilt with the fact that it’s organic. Organic wine. So that’s all right then.
The food itself on that first night was excellent. My husband would have prodded it around looking for signs of pastry or bread-crumbed offerings, but for me, it was perfect. Hot and cold meat and fish, beautifully delivered vie with an array of salads for your attention Healthy, admittedly, but excellent, and colour coded on the buffet bar rather than portion controlled. You stay within the limits, but by choice. A very clever way of keeping us in check.
And so the tone was set the treatments were nicely balanced between the really very pleasant and the improving. The choice is slightly overwhelming on the first trip - two swimming pools (the outdoor one closed for winter, thankfully), jacuzzi, hydrotherapy shower, steam rooms (separated by gender, this isn’t Sweden, you know), a gym, weights room, exercise and relaxation classes (yoga, pilates, you get the idea). And thirty nine treatment rooms.
The trick, perhaps, is to get the balance between relaxation and exercise and, as I say, the key to that relaxation is the people. I had a massage - in many ‘spa’s, they come in two varieties: the real thing or a desultory, greasy back rub. This, I’m happy to say, was the real thing, a massage done with almost medical skill by a woman who knew what she was doing and made all the right conversation about which bit of my back need manipulation, and (unusually) why my stomach needed manipulation, but it was the personal warmth which lingered.
The next morning, after the sleep of the gods in the splendidly large and rather indulgent room, I felt energised enough for exercise, but rather than test out the gym facilities, it was on with the trainers and out to the spacious, well-kept grounds. The fresh air of the Surrey countryside has just the effect and creates the appetite for a hearty breakfast - more fruit and oats than eggs and bacon, but ideal for me (if not the husband).
And on to the acupuncture, slowly deflating the stress, bit by bit, before heading for the steam box, head poking comically out of the top as the toxins leached out of me. Three different treatments, all unwinding me, notches at a time. But you don’t have to take my random pick and mix approach. You can take specific packages which offer to de-stress, detox or relax you. Or you can take the a la carte menu and select a variety of treatment with the help of the friendly practitioners around you, perhaps to be discussed later over the fruit cocktails or mused over during the talks (more than a hint of the Improving-with-a-capital-I here).
The experience is, whoever you come with, rather solitary, you are concentrating on yourself. The staff are concentrating on you, its all, rather pleasingly, you, you, you. And your fellow guests are in the same comfortable fug, padding around in their robe and slippers, moving from elegant bedroom, to luxurious dining room, from fruity drink to champagne, from gym to massage. It’s a relaxation factory - and I’ll take the final product time and again.
For reservations, call 01428 602020 or visit www.grayshottspa.com
Nicola Sturzaker is an osteopath in Streatham, South London