Recharging the Batteries at Careys Manor and SenSpa:
What a fine idea, to take a short break just before Christmas at a Spa Hotel. I’ve been intrigued by SenSpa for some time – a Thai spa in the New Forest seems unlikely on paper so I was not entirely sure what to expect. But when I was invited to visit by Careys Manor, home to the SenSpa Thai Spa I was intrigued enough to give it a go!
Add to that a Country House hotel with a fine dining restaurant (and two other eateries on site too) and you have an interesting and appealing concept. I arrived by train to be picked up by the hotel’s own shuttle service, though apparently, it isn’t far to walk either. Walking into the oak-panelled reception with imposing staircase and blazing log fire I sensed I was in for a treat.
Upstairs, my room was spacious and comfortable, with a small balcony equipped with table and chairs. There was a neatly printed personalised itinerary on good quality paper detailing at what time I was due in the Spa for treatment, when and where dinner was booked and where I could get breakfast the next day. It’s a small point, but I have found the food and beverage part of a spa hotel doesn’t always co-ordinate well with the spa itself. Here that is clearly not the case and my itinerary was very welcome.
The bathroom came with robe and slippers and White Company toiletries. A full-size bath with a good, over bath shower, plenty of towels and enough space for all my paraphernalia without having to juggle toiletry bags added to the comfort factor.
Most of the hotel’s accommodation is in a modern wing – stylish rooms, all with some kind of outside space. I learnt from other guests that the downstairs rooms with their own patios looking out on the hotel’s garden square are particularly popular during the summer months and I can quite see why.
If you do want a heritage room in the old part of the hotel, you’ll find that they are decorated in ‘English Country Manor’ style. The Bridal Suite comes with a stunning four poster bed and a comfy sitting room area too.
I had just time for a tour of the hotel and a bowl of soup for lunch in The Zen Garden, the Thai restaurant at Careys Manor before I was due in the Spa.
Apparently, the owners of Careys Manor love Thailand and it is their influence that has led to the Thai Spa and Zen Garden, a remarkable and, from what I saw and ate, an authentic Thai restaurant with eight chefs from Thailand and with around half the ingredients used in the dishes imported from there. My soup was delicious – searingly hot and sweet and full of plump prawns.
The Spa itself is the brainchild of Lina Lotto, the Spa director. We learnt that she had been working in Thailand, setting up and managing Spas there for the Dusit Group who launched the premier Thai spa brand Devarana before she was persuaded by the owners of Careys Manor to return to the UK and develop their Spa offering. Originally planning to stay for a couple of years – she’s now been at Careys Manor for thirteen years. And, you really do feel as if you are in Thailand, albeit without the weather!
There’s a pool for swimming and a large hydrotherapy pool with a suite of different treatments. An ice room, various sauna and steam room options and various treatment rooms. My facial made use of the spa’s own range of products and left my skin beautifully soft and hydrated. My companion enjoyed a Thai massage – which involved her wearing a special set of cotton pyjamas and then having a deep tissue massage which she said was at time painful in a way that was also very relaxing. Afterwards, we tried the AlphaSpere deluxe treatment – a sound based relaxation therapy where you lie on moulded fibreglass pods and ‘feel’ the vibrations and sounds. Any more than 25 minutes and I’d have been impossible to wake!
At this point, we started to run out of time to use the Spa facilities. If I have any recommendation for someone visiting it is to allow yourself at least three hours of ‘doing nothing’ in the Spa. You will, of course, be doing something – but there are so many things to try, from the hydrotherapy suite to treatments, classes and a well-equipped gym that you’ll need plenty of time if you want to explore.
After changing for dinner, we met up in the comfy bar area. Cambium is the ‘casual fine dining’ restaurant at Careys Manor. With three AA rosettes, Head Chef Alistair Craig has reinterpreted traditional British dishes using local ingredients and produce from the Careys Manor kitchen garden wherever possible. The menu has a strong vegetarian thread to complement the seasonal and local meat and fish dishes. Cambium also has a large collection of English wines.
We started the evening with a glass of English sparkling wine and some homemade bread with red pepper salsa and hummus. My companion is vegetarian but picked her dishes from the main a la carte menu. There’s also a vegan menu so anyone not wanting to eat meat is spoilt for choice.
For me, the crab starter. Picked white crab, brown custard and avocado with a pink grapefruit granita was a beautiful, light and fresh dish. The crab is sourced from nearby Lymington and was fresh and meaty. I loved the contrasting textures of the crab, avocado mousse and pink grapefruit granita
My companion’s goat’s cheese pannacotta with cooked and raw beetroot was made with heritage beetroot from the Careys Manor cottage garden. Presented with the pannacotta in the ‘bowl’ of a soup dish, this was a pretty plate with unusual styling.
I hesitated when I saw the partridge dish on the menu as it comes with game pie and I wasn’t convinced that would be a good pairing with the partridge breast. But, the pie turned out to be made from the rest of the partridge. Served with a little celeriac dauphinoise, some cabbage, black pudding apple and gravy it was a lovely, autumn into winter dish.
It is the end of the courgette season, so perhaps a dish built around ‘honouring the delicious courgettes…from the garden’ is a little optimistic. As my companion pointed out, there wasn’t a lot of courgette with her tarragon gnocchi. That in no way spoilt her enjoyment of this fresh, seasonal dish though.
Her dessert was the prettier and more dramatic of the pair. She picked the chocolate cremaux with caramel and milk ice cream but switched her ice cream when she noticed that I was getting a prune and Armagnac version. And, I have to say that both of us were suitably impressed with the grown-up version of ‘rum n raisin’ served at Cambium, which was definitely one for adults only!
My treacle tart was delicious winter comfort food – and a great pairing with the prune and Armagnac ice-cream too.
I rolled upstairs to bed…determined to get up early enough the next morning to go for a swim and to use the spa facilities.
That is, of course, one of the big advantages of an overnight stay in a spa hotel. It does allow a ‘not really early start’ to be followed by an hour in the pool and spa before breakfast without any problem. In my book, there’s nothing nicer than waking up and going for an early morning swim.
Especially when you walk into breakfast ravenously hungry to find a feast laid out for you.
I have an allergy to both Chia seeds and strawberries, so these little pots of goodness were not for me. But, I was suitably impressed by the healthy options on the breakfast menu at Careys Manor and when it came to the cooked breakfast you’ll see I picked something remarkable for me!
Temptation was all around though, in the form of cakes and baked goods, toast, jams and perserves and a full English served buffet style.
You could also boil your own eggs…perfect for those who know exactly how they like them cooked.
Meanwhile, I did choose a healthy option from the a la carte – field mushrooms and spinach on wholemeal toast – which is meant to come with a poached egg. While I asked for ‘no-egg’ and got ‘egg’ the staff were very willing to change it for me. But rather than waste the karma of an oozy yolk photo opportunity, I kept the egg – and enjoyed it.
What more is there to say about Careys Manor and SenSpa? Well, I met a couple in the hydrotherapy pool who had been coming to Careys Manor for fifteen years or so since it was, as they said, just a Manor House with a pool. They come back regularly and I can understand completely why.
While it has grown, you still feel as if you are part of an extended family. Instead of one large restaurant, there are three smaller offering, each with their own profile. Enjoy the Thai food at Zen Garden or the French bistro fare of Le Blaireau if you don’t want the casual fine dining of Cambium. There are also a range of healthy all-day dining options – the kind of food you know you SHOULD be eating if you are on a Spa break.
I’d like to go back and try the quirky Le Blaireau restaurant. And I’d like to eat a full meal in Zen Garden because the menu looked incredible. I can thoroughly recommend SenSpa, whether or not you opt for a treatment. And I’d personally really like to explore the area a little more.
Careys Manor Hotel and SenSpa
Brockenhurst SO42 7RH
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Disclosure: I was guest of Careys Manor and SenSpa – all content is editorially given.