There's nothing quite as magical as when a fragranced aroma takes you back to a special time or place; in one perfumed inhalation, you can be transported there, all your senses tingling with the pleasant memory it evokes.
For me, the scent is geranium (the essential oil for 'the mind, body and spirit') courtesy of luxury product range Bamford. And the place this aura delivers me to is the Herb House Spa at the Lime Wood Hotel.
Earlier this year, myself and my husband were lucky enough to experience the pure relaxation that is time spent at the Lime Wood Hotel in Lyndhurst, set deep in the heart of the New Forest National Park.
The journey there was an experience in itself - we stopped to gaze at a herd of wild ponies grazing on the open spaces, only moments from the hotel - one friendly pony strolled over and popped his head into our car, probably to inspect the food-situation, but we, having nothing to offer and day-dreaming about immersing into a hot sauna (it had been an unbelievably cold winter), slowly pulled away and continued onto our country house retreat.
Upon arrival, the sweeping driveway peeled away to reveal a beautiful, fully restored Regency hunting lodge. It really is stunning. The way the house is positioned, on top of a small brow and surrounded by lush grounds, makes it feel like a house of dreams: a 'one day I want this to be my house' kind of place.
Greeted at the door by a warm smile and ushered into the relaxed yet stylish interiors, it became clear from the off that we were set for a truly enjoyable time: I just knew it.
We arrived early to make time for lunch before check-in, and so we made our way over to the Herb House spa to sample the food at Raw and Cured, Herb House Spa's very own food bar, serving delicious and healthy food made from only the freshest, and often home-grown, ingredients. We could have sat there all day, relaxing as the sun poured in through the floor-length glass doors. There isn't much to say apart from that the service and menu were impeccable.
Refreshed and ready to check-in, we made our way back to reception, where we were welcomed then gently led through the serene hotel and up the stairs to one of the Forest Suites.
Set over two floors, we were treated to a soothingly spacious and airy apartment. The large marble bathroom, complete with a huge roll-top bath, walk-in shower, and double aspect sinks (white fluffy robes, slippers, and Bamford products included) was heavenly in itself.
Floating round the corner we found a perfectly formed seating area with a gorgeous comfy sofa, coffee table and television, and a huge, beautifully draped window. An i-pod sat playing some of the most chilled-out tracks one could fathom.
From there, stairs led up to a mezzanine floor containing a dreamy king sized bed, and the suite had free Wi-Fi, an in-room safe and the most fantastically stocked pantry I have ever seen (containing everything from Moleskin notebooks to organic candles).
By this point I was growing impatient and I simply had to get into the spa to see for myself the gorgeous surroundings suggested by the website photography.
Starting from the top, the polite and calming spa staff took note of our treatment times and accompanied us down to the changing rooms, which were beautiful!
A halcyon of dark wood and tiles, the tonal lighting made this a peaceful place in which to get changed. The passcode lockers, fresh robes and slippers made the usually mild annoyance that is getting changed, transform into a completely stress-free and rather enjoyable act.
Thoughtfully designed, the Spa is set over three levels: the ground floor is where the changing facilities and relaxation rooms are located, and a curved staircase leads up to the pools and treatment rooms. The indoor swimming pool is a lovely space, surrounded by loungers and encased by glass doors that open out onto the sun terrace. Light fills this room and the view onto the terrace and surrounding garden is beautiful. Outside there are more loungers and a hot bubbling pool. Sitting in the Hot Pool, under the stars, will forever be one of my favourite places.
From the garden there are stairs that lead up to the rooftop terrace, which is a living herb roof, packed with lavender and quiet spaces to reflect, offering wonderful panoramic views of the grounds and surrounding forest. Up there is also a fantastic state-of-the-art Technogym, and a spy's view of one of the private treatment rooms, with its very own outdoor hot tub.
Back on the ground floor, and inside the Herb House, is a door that takes you through to the adult-only main spa area. One word to describe this place: serene. Made up of a spacious sauna, one of the largest I think I have ever seen and quite possibly the most beautiful, due to the floor to ceiling window that looks out onto the forest.
This theme is continued into the Hydro pool area; huge windows and uninterrupted, private views of the forest mean that while a water-jet pummels away any muscle aches, the mind is welcomed to wander into the forest: it is absolute tranquility.
To add to this, the steam room is a twinkling haven, and the cold shower makes hopping between these heated therapies one of the loveliest things I know of.
Having relaxed and heated up, I was then ready for my treatment, and I was over-joyed to learn that the eight treatment rooms are all located within a locked corridor, to ensure total peace and quiet. I was welcomed by my lovely therapist who talked me through the essential oils that would be used for my Bamford de-stress massage. I selected Camomile (calming) and Geranium (uplifting) and to start, I was treated to a foot bath. Then, my body, starting with my legs, was massaged so wonderfully that I felt all the tension ease immediately, and as my back, neck and shoulders were worked on, my thoughts relaxed. The massage came to a close with attention paid to my hands and arms, and it ended with a scalp massage. By the time it was over, my body and mind were at complete peace. Coming round in the relaxation room was when I was at my most rested, knowing that, when I felt like it, I had a host of hot therapies upstairs to enjoy, and a restful evening with a good night's sleep ahead of me.
Knowing this is the essence of having a spa break.
There is simply no point in indulging in the whole process if any part of it feels stressful, and there is little point having a massage if the room is ropey with a bed made of stone, or relaxing in a hot pool if the changing rooms are disgusting: all the goodness is too soon undone.
The Lime Wood Hotel and Herb House Spa is a place where this isn't an issue, and visiting this sanctuary is one of the best things one can do to bolster a sense of wellbeing.
Believe it or not, floating around in luxury is enough to work up an appetite, and when the time came we were ready for dinner. The hotel has many different dining options; we opted for the main restaurant, which was brilliant, that's all I need to say.
Since our visit, the Harnett Holder and Co. restaurant is now open.
Do I want to return to Lime Wood to taste the food of Angela Harnett (who famously worked under Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine) and Luke Holder (who has worked in many highly acclaimed restaurants throughout the world including the OXO Tower)?
I would return to Lime Wood in a heartbeat. Give me any reason and I am there.
As briefly mentioned, spa breaks are costly, and, unfortunately, there are many hotels and spas in the UK that are simply not worth the expense. I have been to them, and I know the painful dent in the wallet that accompanies the feeling of resentment from spending a lot on money on something that is only mildly better than a day at a public swimming baths. In fact, I know of some swimming baths that are a dream compared to some of the so-called spas out there. It really can be a risk if you don't know what to look for or what to expect.
Lime Wood, though not in any way cheap, is worth every penny. The value of the experience rests in the feeling of serenity that is taken away.
Besides relaxing, there is so much to do at Lime Wood, and our stay didn't even touch the sides of what was on offer. There are forest walks we've yet to explore (there are Hunters and Barbour jackets for guests to borrow), Spinning and Yoga classes to partake in, not to mention the new gourmet restaurant to enjoy.
Lime Wood is a retreat and I will most certainly return, but until then, I have my Bamford Organic body oil to take me there.
If you're considering a visit, the concierge is really very helpful and will happily guide you through the options, with absolutely no pressure.
However, if you get the opportunity, do make the most of the Late Lime Wood deals that offer the chance to stay at this gorgeous establishment for as little at £195.
It really is worth it. Please do not waste your hard-earned money and precious time going anywhere else.
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