"The spa? Oh, that's just a shed in the garden," a friend quipped when I said I was going to Longueville Manor on the island of Jersey. How wrong they are.
Yes, The Cottage Garden spa is boutique, but it's smart country-casual, an understated, unhurried, pretty oasis of calm. But what makes this spa a destination is its masterstroke. The renowned acupuncturist, aromatherapist and holistic facialist Annee de Mamiel chose The Cottage Garden as the only spa in the world to offer her Rhythm of Nature Holistic Facial (£140 for 90 minutes). Her personal wait-list is reputed to be up to three years long.
Two cottagey (of course) treatment rooms, outdoor hot tub and sunloungers are tucked away in the hotel's landscaped garden. Annee de Mamiel chose to train the spa manager Lana Shepperd as only the second therapist, after her associate Katie Light, to offer her signature facial.
Owner Patricia Lewis's flair for contemporary country interior design is everywhere in the house and spa - neat rows of lavender pots and textured wallpaper set the scene. However, because the spa is so small you might hear unexpected chatter from new arrivals during your treatment. The spa garden is all about tranquillity, and there's a wonderful heated outdoor swimming pool and terrace on the lawns, where you relax in your robe and take lunch or afternoon tea.
Naturally there's a buzz on the island whenever "the latest thing" arrives, so the ladies who lunch have been beating a path to the spa. During the 90 minutes, Lana applied de Mamiel's exotic lotions and potions, rich and intense, including Manuka honey, enveloping me with heady aromas and taking me on a blissful sensory journey. The idea is to rebalance my energy through acupressure massage, to enhance a feeling of positivity and wellbeing.
Lana perceived how much tension I hold in my jaw, and spent time bringing softness to this difficult area. The spa also uses Ren, the British brand from Devon, for its popular Bespoke Body Massage (£65 for 60 minutes) and the Spoil Me package (£175 for 210 minutes) for an all-over treat. Treatments for men and mums-to-be means mean no-one misses out.
Jersey, in the English Channel, is less than 20 miles from France, and a short flight from the UK. In the sunshine, it's a bit like Cornwall, by way of the British Virgin Islands, an offshore tax haven with a nautical island flavour - smart, chic and ship-shape. In winter, go for life-affirming coastal walks, cosy pub lunches and blow-the-budget dining.
Longueville Manor is a prestigious address, an 18-acre, manor house withits origins in the 14th century, and 30 rooms and suites. A flagship hotel in the Relais & Chateaux portfolio, it earns its stripes by being everything that all the luxury hotel brands strive for, a home-from-home with impeccable service.
Owned and run by the third generation of the Lewis family (and now the fourth, in the form of David Lewis heading up the kitchen garden), their attention to detail exceeds expectations.
Jersey royals, Jersey cream from Jersey cows... the island still makes quality produce, and, for visitors, it's farm-to-fork eating. With culinary influences from France, England and Portugal, and foraging to the fore, executive chefs headlining the destination hotels aim to make theirs outstanding.
At Longueville, Andrew Baird has been championing local produce for decades, establishing the hotel's kitchen garden. Chefs Shaun Rankin at Ormer, Steve Smith at Bohemia, Mark Jordan at Ocean and Nicolas Valmagna at Tassili are more go-to names for fine-dining.
Harbour-side, Sumas (www.sumasrestaurant.com) has outstanding views of Mont Orgueil Castle at Gorey. Watch the pink sunset with a glass of rose champagne, and tuck into mains, such as pan-fried local turbot, roast loin of lamb or half a lobster thermidor. It's a locals' favourite.
After Gorey, try the old fishing village of St Aubin for quaint restaurants, bars and a friendly vibe.
The other buzz on Jersey's shore is... not the return of Bergerac, but the runaway success of the TV series The Durrells. The writer and naturalist Gerald Durrell settled on Jersey, establishing a conservation zoo here in 1959, which has become the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, to fascinate all ages (www.durrell.org).
I hired a bike for the day from Longueville and whizzed about the country lanes - the island is only 9 miles by 5 miles. If you hire a car, all the rental companies are at the airport.
The Botanic Gardens at Samares Manor (www.samaresmanor.com) has guided tours of the manor house; the grounds have a Japanese garden, arboretum and farm animals for the kids.
If it's a special occasion, then push the boat out - literally. Longueville Manor has its own 42-foot motoryacht, Fizz Too, which you can charter for a half day or full day (from £1,200). Cruise to France or circumnavigate Jersey in complete luxury.
Longueville Manor, a Relais & Chateaux hotel, has doubles from £195 per night B&B.
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Jersey 4-6 times a day, with return fares from £68 (www.ba.com).
Words: Laura Ivill
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