Review: The Balmer Lawn Hotel, New Forest

Posted by Lipglossiping On March - 4 - 2015

My husband had only one simple request for his recent 40th birthday.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t gift him with eternal youth, so instead I opted for a good night’s sleep.  As a light sleeper (I sleep like the dead), it’s fair to say that poor Pauly’s shut-eye has been momentously disrupted ever since the arrival of baby Joe.  Every snuffle, snort, and baby-fart permanently recorded in the under eye circles that adorn his face.

Of course, I wasn’t just going to take him to any old hotel.  Oh no, I made that mistake last time.  And if you remember that less-than-favourable review, you might remember that I mentioned another hotel that I had wanted to secure but had been unable due to  incompatible dates.  Long story short, I had no such problem this time and promptly booked us both in for an overnight stay at the Balmer Lawn Hotel in the New Forest.

This time, I pounced upon a Travelzoo deal to procure our night of hopeful bliss.  I paid for an overnight stay with breakfast, two spa treatments and a three-course meal and awaited the treat with glee.

The day didn’t get off to a great start as I had to cancel the pre-booked spa treatments due to a last-minute offer of a hospital appointment that couldn’t be turned down.  However once that was out of the way, we dashed up the M27 and into the more serene surroundings of the New Forest.

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The Balmer Lawn is a hotel that I must have driven past a thousand times, I think that’s why I’ve wanted to stay for so long… the old hunting lodge has an imposing charm, set alone in splendid surroundings and I’ve always wondered what it’s like inside.  Sadly, I didn’t get to experience its full charms as the hotel was slap-bang in the middle of refurbishment works when we arrived and the main lounge area, with its roaring open fire, was sadly sealed off behind sheets and boards!

It couldn’t be helped though, and despite our room being fairly close to the hub of the work, we weren’t disturbed by any noise during sleeping hours.  I look forward to seeing the result of the work in the future.

We arrived a little earlier than I’d anticipated but it was no problem at all for the receptionist who took it in her stride and cheerfully checked us in early.  I should point out at this point that The Balmer Lawn website has the rather nifty “Look Before You Book” feature which offers plentiful photos of all the rooms available!

We’d only paid for a standard room as part of the deal but the hotel has a policy of upgrading all guests whenever possible, so we ended up with a lovely four poster, superior room with forest views.  Room 7, infact… take a look for yourself.  It was spacious and included everything you’d need for a comfortable overnight stay.

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Once settled in the room, we decided to make best use of our child-free time by checking out the leisure facilities.  As previously mentioned, we had to forfeit our spa treatments (through no fault of the hotel) but we weren’t going to let it spoil our fun and headed straight downstairs to the pool area which was blissfully deserted.  The jacuzzi was heavenly, and I parked myself in its hot, bubbling waters, deciding there and then that I was going to exercise squatters rights until at least May.

I may well have followed through with my dastardly plan had I not realised that it was almost dinner time, and if there’s one thing that can get my backside moving, it’s the promise of food. Slipping back to our room, I took the opportunity to catch up on some TV and refresh my makeup before heading down to the dining room where our attentive (but not too attentive) waiter was ready to talk us through the menu.

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Sadly, the dining room was too dark to do the food much justice in my photos but from a sweetcorn chowder with cornbread to duck and soft boiled egg for starters, a venison and kale main to a trio of beef with vegetable crisps, we both completed the delicious proceedings with a treacle tart.

The food couldn’t be faulted on both presentation and taste, nouvelle cuisine done beautifully, but we left the table with room for a little more and thankful for the full three courses.

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There was just enough time for a relaxing soak in the tub before we made our selections for an in-room breakfast order (£5 tray charge, well worth it) and retired for the night.  The bed was extremely comfortable but I must admit that the best bit of all was the blissful silence and completely undisturbed night of sleep that we both cherished.

Waking the next morning, we enjoyed a full English breakfast sat at the table in our room, overlooking the beauty of the local surroundings before taking full advantage of a late 2pm check out by taking our lazy selves straight back to bed to stock up on some more zzzzzz’s before the return to reality.

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When we booked our night away, we were in desperate need of a recharge, both physically and emotionally.  The kindness of the staff throughout the hotel is what shone through, nothing felt like too much trouble and everyone we passed greeted us with a warm smile and a friendly “hello”.  The people who work at this establishment should be treasured because they helped facilitate the R&R that we so desired, expertly.

Sadly, that was back in early January and we’re already feeling the itch for another recharge!

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Review: The Basingstoke Country Hotel (and spa)

Posted by Lipglossiping On September - 26 - 2014

In line with my usual state of perma-disorganisation, I’d left things quite late when I decided to book a night away for mine and Mr. L’s 10th wedding anniversary.  It felt like such a frivolous thing to do, I wasn’t really sure whether we should be doing it at all, given our current state of finance (we’re saving for a deposit) and the fact that Joe is only 20-weeks old.  But when my cousin offered to have Joe for the night, my resolve was tipped over the edge and I began to frantically google for something that would give us the little treat we felt that we wholeheartedly deserved!

Unfortunately, our anniversary coincided with the Southampton Boat Show, which sees thousands of visitors descend upon Hampshire.  Hotel rooms were at a premium.

The deal I *really* wanted to go for, which was a Balmer Lawn break in the New Forest from Travelzoo, wasn’t available for booking on the date we needed!

In the end, I found something that looked very reasonable on Amazon Local, an overnighter at the Basingstoke Country Hotel which included a meal and a late checkout for £109, good value no?  Reading the reviews on Tripadvisor, people suggested that it was worth upgrading to a better room, so I gave them a ring and asked to upgrade.  I happily paid the extra to upgrade to one of their top rooms, a deluxe double.  I also enquired about the treatment menu at the spa and promptly booked two massages for us over the phone.  All at additional costs.  Mr. L was a bit of a reluctant spa-goer, having never had a massage before but I was excited to introduce him to the experience, and hoped it would be a good one!

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Upon arrival, we checked in and were given directions to our room, which we promptly headed for as we didn’t have long before we were due to go for our spa treatments.  The deluxe room was large but sparse, with a large bed and a flat screen TV.  However, the furnishings are quite dated and things are looking tired.  The bathroom was lovely and big but again, pretty basic.  It had a bidet but to be honest, I would rather have had a clean (non foisty-smelling) shower curtain!

Overall, what became apparent, very quickly indeed, was that this hotel wasn’t going to be a luxury experience.  It’s aimed at the corporate market.  It feels like a Premier Inn.  There’s nothing wrong with a Premier Inn, heck, I spent my honeymoon in one – I’m no hotel snob… but this just wasn’t matching up to its star-rating and description.  There were stains on the carpet, the skirting boards and walls could have done with a good scrub to remove the tea stains, and despite there having not been a drop of rain all day, you couldn’t see out of the window for the condensation and dirt.

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A quick peek through the leaflets on the sideboard revealed that had I not booked my spa-treatments in advance, I could have had 20% off by booking them on the day.  Leaving this information for all guests to access seems a little insensitive.  I understand the principle behind encouraging last-minute bookings in the spa but it’s irksome for a customer who has had the foresight to pre-book only a few days earlier.  A better option would be to invite the receptionist to enquire upon check-in as to whether guests have pre-booked any treatments.  If they have, fine… if they haven’t, perhaps at this point it would be wise to make them aware of the offer.  Rather than, “Hey, here’s a discount YOU CAN’T HAVE”.

We headed down to the spa area, which involved checking-in at the reception area of the gym before being led through to the waiting room.  There was a coffee machine, and we were told to help ourselves while we waited.  I made two teas but then realised that there was no milk available and no-one around to ask so I had to leave them on the side.  The “relaxation” area was pretty unrelaxing.  Hard chairs, too-loud “musak”, and the room is in general need of repair.  The wall behind the coffee area (which I think was also a reception desk), had been boarded up for hopeful future repair?  Basically it just didn’t feel like a retreat.  In any way, shape or form.

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The treatments themselves were sadly pretty insipid.  I’d booked over the phone for two Hot Stone Massages but for some reason, we ended up with plain back massages instead.  I’m pretty easy-going and didn’t mind this but it’s a point to note that you should double-check before arrival.  During the massage, at no point was I asked what kind of pressure I liked, neither was my husband and the CD in his treatment room kept skipping throughout his massage.  The oils, if scented, were undetectable to my nose and although I could feel my therapist passing over various trigger points in my back, she didn’t ask if I’d like her to work on them with a little more firmness.  Again, at the time, I didn’t particularly mind because I was happy to opt for a more relaxing experience.  However, the offer of a little customization would have been nice and really sets one therapist apart from another.

Sadly, we walked out of the treatment rooms feeling quite indifferent about the experience.  I have since assured Mr. L that not all massages are equal and that it is completely possible to experience bliss and relaxation from a good therapist!  He’s unconvinced and it will take some work getting him to try again!  Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled in some glorious spas over the years.  Overall, it certainly wasn’t a terrible experience but I wouldn’t book again.  I just don’t feel that the treatment achieved anything… in terms of easing tension, inducing relaxation, or lifting mood.  It was… for want of a better word, all pretty “meh”.

We headed back to the room to relax a little before dinner.

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Dinner wasn’t too bad, and our server (an older lady, I forget her name) was really lovely.  The fat on our belly pork hadn’t rendered very well though and we could only eat about 30% of the meat… also a little more (well-flavoured) mash wouldn’t have gone amiss!  My favourite was the chicken liver starter that I enjoyed, it was really very tasty indeed.

Sadly, my chocolate brownie dessert was ridiculously small, I would have been red-faced had I been serving that night, a quarter of a strawberry and a piece of brownie no bigger than a small scoop of ice-cream? Come on now!  Also… lose the slates-as-plates please, my ice-cream was melting quicker than I could chase it around the bumpy surface, I reckon I lost most of it either in the ridges or off the side!

We retired to bed feeling pretty dispassionate about the day but we were, at least, very much looking forward to an undisturbed, baby-free sleep!  Unfortunately, the bed was really uncomfortable… both of us found the mattress to be lumpy as hell and fidgeted all night because bits (springs?) were digging in to us.  At least a Premier Inn guarantees you a good nights sleep!  We actually laughed over the following weekend, as we took the kids to Pontins, and got a better night’s sleep in what we had expected to be terrible beds there!

Upon checking out of the Basingstoke Country Hotel, the receptionist asked if we had enjoyed our stay.  In all honesty, I couldn’t even bring myself to do the very British thing of moaning about it throughout before smiling and saying “Oh, yes… lovely” to the reception staff.  I just simply said:  “It was alright, thank you”.

And it was.  But only just.

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Experience the East at Ellenborough Park and Spa

Posted by Lipglossiping On May - 19 - 2011

Situated on the edge of the Cotswolds and with just as much chocolate-box charm, stands Ellenborough Park, once a school for girls and now boasting 62 lavishly-decorated bedrooms within its 15th Century walls.

I was invited along last week to discover the newly opened Spa, heavily influenced by the hotel’s historical connections with Lord Ellenborough, Governor General of India.  The Spa is a haven of Eastern design with careful attention to detail and flourishes that bring the 19th Century colonial rule to a gentler age!

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Spread over two levels, The Spa at Ellenborough Park boasts a hydrotherapy pool, sauna, steam room, sensation showers, seven individual treatment rooms and a couples treatment suite for the use of those who prefer to experience a bit of pampering a deux!

Hydrotherapy Pool – image courtesy of Ellenborough Park

Having spent the journey to Ellenborough Park bickering with Mr. L about the best way to get there, I arrived bad-tempered and weary before throwing myself into the arms of Tessa who’d been charged with the task of introducing me to my first Aromatherapy Massage.

For the first 5 minutes, I was tense and resistant to Tessa’s hands but a few reassuring strokes and a couple of deep breaths later, I’d turned to putty.  She kneaded and unwound the knots across my shoulder blades without a pummel in sight!  I’d chosen the Babor Energising blend of oils which scented my skin (and the room) with a tangy mix of grapefruit and petitgrain, leaving me feeling revitalised and clear-headed.

An exclusive range of Babor products available in the Spa

My massage struck the perfect balance with firm but gentle pressure and thankfully no blathering from my therapist or elevator music to interrupt my bliss.  Whilst the pressure was consistent enough to stop me from nodding off, I may have very nearly dribbled on my towel.  But I won’t confirm that.

If you go, I recommend spending the additional £25 to extend your experience to a full 55 minutes because it’ll take a pair of wild horses to drag you from that bed.  If there are no wild stallions at hand, there’s always the temptation of The Juice Bar where you can sit and quench your thirst or the enticing hydrotherapy pool downstairs.

The Spa blends seamlessly into the tranquil surroundings of the hotel

If massages aren’t your cup of Darjeeling, the Ellenborough Spa also offers signature treatments that include the summery-sounding Maritime Salt Body Exfoliation (£45) and decadent Sea Creation Facial Ritual (£115) along with various manicure/pedicure treatments that make use of the Leighton Denny range.

Leighton Denny at Ellenborough Spa

I’ll leave you with some more images from my visit to Ellenborough Park.  As you can see, I took advantage of the good weather to have a proper nosey around the Cheltenham hotel!









I was fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy their hospitality so soon after the 18-month restoration which has revealed a luxury country retreat that achieves an admirable balance between the traditional and the modern, the formal and the informal… business, pleasure and everything inbetween.

For more information on Ellenborough Park and Spa visit www.ellenboroughpark.com or call 01242 807528

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Disclosure: I was invited to experience Ellenborough Spa as a guest of the hotel and the treatment reviewed was complimentary.

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