“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order” – John Burroughs
Thetford Forest, England
We can all benefit from a full recharge now and again and the great news is this doesn’t have to cost the earth or take you too far away from home. Everyone should have a local spot to turn to in times of need for pure relaxation and a complete vacation from everyday life. My biggest time of need for such a break often hits me in late December, when the party season has begun to take its toll on my body and bank account and I’m utterly fed up of all the running around that has sadly become normal for this time of year!
When you reach the exhausted and deflated state I’m referring to, be it seasonal or not, I highly recommend a very small and very local mini break. Get back to nature, treat your body well and make some time for yourself. On Christmas Eve, I disappeared on a spa day in nearby Thetford Forest for just 24 hours before returning for a family Christmas. This type of retreat is ideal for a wind-down because there’s no need to take extra time off work or spend a small fortune. There really is zero stress attached to it. So whether the January blues are getting you down or you just feel the need for some well-deserved time out, try a rural retreat to recharge your batteries and set you up for whatever lies ahead.
The UK boasts some wonderful spa breaks. One of my absolute favourites is Aqua Sana at Centre Parcs. Our ‘local’ is Elveden located in Thetford Forest. Spas in general can lack variety and unless you spend an awful lot more money on treatments, you may find yourself running out of things to enjoy. This is never the case with Aqua Sana. This amazing spa in every Centre Parcs in the UK is unique for its choice of rooms and selection of places to relax. There are over 15 experiences to try, including a variety of different steam rooms and saunas, the Meditation Room, an outdoor pool, the Zen Garden and countless water beds and sleep pods, both inside and out, to relax, read or fall asleep in. Aqua Sana at Elveden was recently renovated to a very high standard and the number of people booked in at any one time is always limited, so I was able to enjoy every experience on offer at some point during my day. It’s the ultimate UK spa day!
Aqua Sana offers many outdoor experiences which is my favourite part about this retreat. Take a book and relax in the Zen Garden in your dressing gown with local wildlife all around. It is a peaceful experience that speaks to the soul and helps even the most stressed days of my year drift away from body and mind. Even on cold winter days like the one I picked, these outdoor elements are enjoyable. My ultimate relaxation spot is curling up under huge blankets on one of the double waterbeds on the upstairs balcony, just as the sun begins to set. Here, you are sheltered by the forest trees for a little privacy but you get a lovely view of the warm pink sky as the sun goes down in the forest around you. Aaaa. Spa heaven.
Aqua Sana offers a host of treatments, either included in your day or at an extra cost. Personally, I believe the treatments are over-priced for the standard and service. Don’t get me wrong, the rooms are beautifully laid out with a split staircase taking you to your private room, every type of treatment is well catered for on the treatment list and the décor is stunning. But over the years that I have visited, the massages and pedicures I’ve experienced are always ‘nothing to write home about’. It depends on your preference of course and I know many people who rate the Aqua Sana treatments highly. But I know what I look for in a costly treatment and I would recommend simply making the most of the incredible spa!
As well as the various experience rooms, the spa area has a bright and roomy café so you can mosy along in your robe and enjoy food and drink without the need to get dressed. The indoor seating is under a huge conservatory part of the building and there is also outdoor seating for the warmer months. You can buy everything from tea to prosecco, salads to soups, and various sweet treats. On my spa day package, my lunch and refreshments were included, so check out the options Aqua Sana is currently offering in order to get a package that best suits your needs.
Outside of the spa, Thetford forest is a beautiful area with many things nearby to see and do. On this Christmas wind-down, I chose to check in to the Elveden Inn the night before my spa day in order to make the most of the break. Elveden inn is located on the 22,500 acres estate owned by the Earl of Iveagh and is steeped in history. The hotel has modern yet authentic bedrooms, all named after local woodland creatures. The food is incredible with a fantastic wine selection. Elveden estate also boasts an impressive food hall for buying local produce and outdoor experiences such as the nature trail or 4×4 driving! In the winter, stay warm and cosy inside Elveden Inn with a bottle of red wine while the fire burns and the Christmas lights twinkle. If you stay or visit on a warmer day, Elveden Inn has a great garden seating area where you can enjoy the birds and other woodland animals that might pop into view with cool refreshments.
If you do opt for an outdoor-friendly time of year, and if you fancy something more active, we would also highly recommend nearby High Lodge. Treating your body well and re-charging those batteries doesn’t have to mean taking it easy. Take mountain bikes and get out into the forest on one of the specially designed cycle trails or pre-book Go Ape Treetop Adventure for a quick adrenalin fix high in the trees. This vast wooded area of 120 acres is a great family day out for everyone! We love to take a picnic and plenty of refreshments and make a day of it.
Last but by no means least, it wouldn’t be right to finish this particular UK destination without mentioning iconic and well known Centre Parcs itself, although incorporating Centre Parcs requires a little more time … and typically quite a bit more money! Centre Parcs is a firm favourite in the UK and abroad for a family-friendly holiday in the forest. There are 4 separate locations currently within the UK. My own all-adult family still returns to the Elveden Centre Parcs annually for a get-together, so it is by no means a destination just for those with children. The Aqua Sana spa onsite is a huge draw, but whether or not the spa is what you’ve come for, get outside and explore the vast wooded area on two wheels at a leisurely pace. The whole park is a cycle friendly zone so its a great place for kids to learn to ride their bikes and for all members of the family to cycle together. Wander around the many shops, eat in or out with endless food options and don’t forget to go swimming or try a brand new activity for a bit of added fun.
Thetford forest and the surrounding area is ideal for a rural retreat in the UK at any time of year, whether you are looking for outdoor fun or indoor relaxation. I prefer to explore the forest and be active on warm British summer days and save a spa day for the depths of winter when my urge to hibernate and curl up indoors is strongest. Just a car journey away, whatever your ideal re-boot programme looks like, and whenever you need it most, immerse yourself in the trees and wildlife and feel all your stresses slip away. Go on, you deserve it!