Blow Away the Cobwebs at Blofield Heath
A bijou spa near Norwich
As ex-Editor of both National Geographic Traveller’s The Spa Collection and Spa Secrets magazine, I’m a real fan of the spa concept. But while its all very nice to don a fluffy robe and waft around a warm, watery space until its time for your massage, in a modern world ruled by social media, the spa concept has never been more relevant – the need to switch off and relax never more necessary.
Nobody knows this better than the hotel market – no hotel worth its salt would open these days without a decent spa. Whether they’re big, small, located in a hotel or part of a beauty salon, the concept is the same: to chuck your Smartphone in a locker and be off line for an hour or two.
So, when invited to review Imagine Spa at Blofield Heath, I jumped at the chance. And as afternoons at work go, I’ve got to admit, it was extremely pleasant.
Despite being just a 20-minute drive from Norwich, Imagine Spa is part of Willow Farm so expect lush countryside and horses grazing in the distance. Drive up the gravel driveway and park your car just outside the modern building, with its glass cube extension housing the thermal facilities. So far, so spa.
As day spas go, this one is definitely petite, but don’t let that put you off: it’s got absolutely everything you need for a day of pampering (and more) with some really nice ideas. Inside is modern and cosy with a palette of chocolate and creams punctuated with purple and turquoise; we loved the statement ceiling light in the reception, cleverly resembling falling water.
We began our spa afternoon in the modern changing rooms, swapping our clothes for swimwear, white robes and slippers before sitting in the pre-treatment room to fill out consultation forms and enjoy a welcome drink.
While we sensibly chose tea and coffee, we spotted two couples and a group of three girls all unashamedly tucking into glasses of Prosecco at 1pm. Why do spas offer alcohol, you might wonder? Well, spas are just as much about pampering as they are about relaxing. And we’re all for it.
The thermal facilities at Imagine Spa Willow Farm are light and modern, with large windows letting light flood in.
We de-robed and hopped into the mineral salt grotto, pushing the button on the way in to allow hot, salty steam to fill the room. I’ve been in a lot of steam rooms in my time and am often disappointed: too small, too ‘musty’ or not steamy enough. This large, mosaic-tiled room filled up with steam quickly and was deliciously hot; so hot, in fact, we had to leave after five minutes. Top marks.
Grab handfuls of crushed ice from the smart ice fountain afterwards and quickly rub it on your hot limbs for an instant cooling effect, or head to the experience showers and drench yourself in cool water.
We spent longer in the aroma steam room with its cooler temperature and subtle scent of lavender and rose. Despite the spa being pretty busy for a Wednesday afternoon, we had each room we visited to ourselves.
This was also true of the blue mosaic-tiled, circular hydro-pool with its heated seats and bubbly jets, perfect for pummelling away at tired muscles in your back.
Here, too, is a serial mud therapy room for pre-booked treatments – grab a partner, a handful of mud and cake yourself in the creamy mixture until it hardens, washing it off with the shower head provided. We didn’t try this but I can tell you from previous experience that your skin feels instantly soft afterwards.
Back near reception, you’ll also find a manicure/pedicure salon and, near the changing rooms, a low-lit post-treatment relaxation room with lie-flat beds, a faux fire, magazines, water and turquoise accents.
The spa garden:
A real highlight of Imagine Spa at Willow Farm is its spa garden – compact and bijou spas rarely have outdoor space, let alone all this one has to offer. Head out the door from the hydro-pool and take it all in. There are lie-flat loungers laden with bright green cushions, perfect for a cheeky spot of sunbathing; a reed pond; rattan chairs and tables where you can take afternoon tea; and two heated wooden pods containing large beds, jewel-coloured cushions and flowing curtains. Grab a magazine, order a piece of cake and relax. Genius.
Nip around the back of the pods for the spa’s sensory garden, filled with wild flowers, water features, seats and a border of edible plants (raspberry anyone?). Stay long enough and you’ll see several butterflies and hear birdsong. It’s a charming addition.
Imagine Spa at Willow Farm has several treatment rooms, including one double and a room containing a dry flotation bed – ‘floating’ (wet or dry) is something that the celebs are going mad for these days. Check it out.
Despite having completely different treatments (me a facial; my friend Henry a hot stone massage), we were greeted by two charming ladies and taken through to the double treatment room, which was spacious and cosy. When treating guests side-by-side, it’s all about harmonising the timing so as not to disturb one or the other – this is usually done with identical treatments though, so I was curious to see if this would work.
My therapist, Grace, asked me to lie face-up on the warm bed so that she could perform my facial using Barbor products (a nice change from Elemis or Decleor which tend to dominate the spa market). Grace began by cleansing my face with a Hy-Oil, a plant-based hydrophilic cleansing oil designed to deeply cleanse the skin, before massaging in a gentle exfoliator to slosh away dead skin cells.
On the other side of the room, Henry – a newbie to the spa treatment world – asked if the hot stones were on his skin (they were); his therapist is clearly very skilled.
Next up for me: a vitalising mask to quench my dehydrated skin. As this set, Grace performed a wonderful face, head and scalp massage that could have gone on all day in my opinion. My fantastic facial ended with eye cream, moisturiser and SPF protection, leaving me feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Henry, however, was so relaxed after his first ever – and amazing (his words, not mine) – hot stone massage he could hardly get up off the treatment bed. The promise of afternoon tea did the trick though.
The afternoon tea:
If fizz is the indulgent drink of choice at a spa, then afternoon tea is the food – particularly magical when they come together. Our 4pm afternoon tea was served in the comfort of a heated garden pod, where, once settled, two therapists and the chef himself kindly traipsed everything across for us, including vintage plates, cups and saucers.
The new and improved afternoon tea includes finger sandwiches on brown and white bread (we tucked into fillings of chicken ceasar salad, beef with horseradish mayo, saffron egg mayonnaise with mustard cress and honey roasted ham with apple chutney), a mini scone packed with jam and cream, vanilla Panna cotta, homemade shortbread, fruit cake, vanilla sponge topped with strawberries, a pot of English Breakfast tea and a glass of Adnams Fizz. Everything was dainty and beautifully presented; the shortbread crumbly and buttery, the Panna cotta rich and creamy.
Hot dishes are served in the spa cafe back inside – check this out:
Magazines read, horoscopes mused over, stomachs full and, in my case, face plump and dewy, it was time to go back to reality, but not without one last cheeky look at the comprehensive treatment menu to see what I might have next: I’m thinking the VOYA peppermint and Seaweed Scrub. And you?
Prices: This is a good value spa with a range of 15, 30 or 60-minute treatments on offer, starting at £20.
The treatments: There’s a good choice considering the size of the spa – choose from a range of massages (including hot stones and lava shells), facials, scrubs, manicures, pedicures, spray tans and waxes.
Opening times: 9am until 5pm Mon, Tue, Sat, Sun; 9am until 9pm Wed, Thur, Fri.
What to bring: Just your swimwear – there’s shampoo and conditioner in the showers; towels, robes and slippers are provided, and lockers are key operated.