So it's world book day today. I am surrounded by excited kids (both young and old) who have been getting dressed up as their favourite literary characters and it is honestly starting to feel very festive throughout Facebook and Twitter right now. Today I'm seeing a lot of kids dressing up in "onesies" for their dress up day at school... Erm, who are you dressing up as exactly? I fear that I may be stuck in some sort of book-ish time warp... WHERE are all the Harry Potter and Hobbit photos people? Have these books and stories had their day? I'm sorely disappointed in the lack of creativity teehee. And WHO is this "onesied" character your children all dress up as today? I'm genuinely baffled, but this may be my own fault. Perhaps this lack of creativity is because everybody has the same secret I have held close to my chest at the mere mention of the topic of books during conversations with friends and colleagues? I always shy away from conversations about books, give me a natter about the latest films any day. I have a terrible confession to make to you. I don't read. Ok, that might be a little fib, I DO read. I CAN read. I just don't ever really do it. Unless magazines count? I have a magazine addiction too, they just take me months to flick through, I certainly get my value for money! I'm even IN a book, with my very first recipe published in "The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook", so I do love books, I truly do. My technology and blog addiction has well and truly taken over my life. I read tweets and blogs until the cows come home and they inspire me hugely, but I don't read good, solid books. You can't sniff a blog or rifle through a tweet, not really... unless you are just plain WEIRD. Cookbooks count as books that I read, right?... I do a lot of recipe hunting, so I guess this could count if you wanted to be pernickety. Pernickety... what a GREAT WORD - I need to learn more great words! (If I see "nom" or "scrummy" in one more book, magazine or blog post I may just scream) We all need to read more, even if it's just the dictionary or thesaurus! The very odd thing is that I have a huge book addiction... I buy them, I stack them, I let them pile up on my bedside table and I START them, but a chapter in, I put it down and get the next one out the very next time I'm ready for a "good book". My overactive mind wanders and I can read an entire chapter without having a clue what I have just read, it's quite the talent really for somebody with a photographic memory (normally). I adore walking into old bookshops... the smell, oh the heavenly, musty, smell, I could spend hours looking at books I'm never going to buy or own, I just have a fascination with the spines, the colours, the photos, I'm a book lover who doesn't read much... is this even normal?! I don't have a favourite genre or type of book, I've never read the classics and I lose interest SO easily, that I just haven't really bothered to get stuck in. I'm always being told to read "The Hobbit" or dive into "Great Expectations" to fall in love with this Colin Firth character, but I just haven't felt the need to, I can read all about it on Wikipedia and save myself a great deal of my valuable time... no? After "The Great Gatsby" came to our cinema screens last year, I decided to change my habits and I READ it before I watched it. For this, I'm SO stupidly glad that I did, as I loved the story and I filled in the gaps within the quirky adaptation with my knowledge of the story fresh in my mind. I believe that as a result of reading it, I enjoyed the film even more and I know that if I had read it after watching it, I'd have filled my head with Leo and Toby sloping around in dark corners and driving fast ridiculous cars, not letting my imagination take hold... all of which in my mind is the importance of reading before watching. So my dear readers, I offer a question to you. WHICH BOOKS DO I NEED IN MY LIFE? It's World Book day... or week... or month... I need to put my iPad down and pick up a good book. I've got cravings of visiting my local library, an explored cavern on my very own doorstep. I've been pinning cute pictures of girls curled up in awesome libraries and I need to put myself in that image myself, even if my library doesn't look as great as the ones in those photos ; ) But what to read? What to avoid? What will change my life? What will I enjoy, but also make me look arrogant and smarmy reading it on public transport? What will make me cry? Or laugh out loud annoyingly in a public place. I'm counting on you to make sure I don't waste any more time on useless stories that I won't enjoy, give me your book loves and ideas on how to enjoy reading them. Leave me a comment below, or drop me a line via Facebook or Twitter, I'd love to natter ABOUT BOOKS - hurrah! Book romance is a feeling I've never had before, I'm ready to be educated! www.worldbookday.com
Thursday, 6 March 2014
Friday, 28 February 2014
I have been blogging for over 4 years now and I've learnt a lot of cruel blogging lessons along the way, including the minefield of rules and laws of using photos that aren't your own (don't use any that aren't your own work would be my advice to keep life simple ; ) and how to deal with negativity and nastiness through your passions and what you are writing about - people can be very cruel behind the computer screen, believe me! If you couldn't say it to somebody's face, don't say it online... It's a simple rule, but so many people are ranting on blogs or through social media and being darn right mean - internet trolls or cyber bullies to name but a few nicknames for these cowards. But when I might meet them face to face, they wouldn't say boo to a goose and most certainly wouldn't speak HALF their mind in person... this irritates me more than I could ever tell you. For some time now I've been thinking about this topic... leaving negative feedback and reviews for others and how do we do this nowadays? As a reviewer, visiting a lot of lovely afternoon tea venues, hotels, restaurants and spas for example, I come across the odd negative experience and when I first started blogging in the early days, I would go by the thought process "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all" and I would simply not write about the venue in question. Simple. But lately, every venue I have visited has been "blog worthy" and if there have been a few creases in the experience, my readers will want to hear about them, otherwise I would be telling them that somewhere is PERFECT and they would find out for themselves that it isn't. In turn, this would make me look like a terrible reviewer for not letting my readers know about the issues I might have been met with. With the likes of TripAdvisor around, everybody has the chance to be a critic nowadays and it makes it very easy to be so, but I feel some comments left can be cruel and unwarranted and don't give the venue a fair chance to deal with this problem in hand. I It's a scary world and my question really is "WHO ARE WE TO PLAY GOD?", especially when feedback can be so damning that it could ruin a business entirely. Businesses are also starting to bite back and threaten legal action, with some even starting to sue people who badmouth them with legal loopholes that will allow them to do this, you do truly have to be careful what you say online, it's well and truly documented for eternity when you press that return key. The internet is a minefield when it comes to reviewing... and I for one am up for giving venues a second chance where humanly possible. I haven't always been like this in my attitude and I don't call myself perfect when it comes to leaving feedback - sometimes if I see red, I will go off the rails and shout, but I am trying to better myself on this approach! If you are going to leave a negative comment or review, it's potentially good advice to stop and think about what you are about to say, will it damage it a business? Is it really necessary? Is this constructive feedback or just a rant to boost your popularity? Just because you experienced a problem doesn't mean you can't be polite, manners get you so much more within my own customer service experience, don't forget it! But, most importantly is this going to benefit anybody or are you just airing your virtual laundry? I try to put myself in the position of the management team at a venue and I try to offer constructive (and discretionary) feedback before I let rip on a blog post. I give them a chance to look at the issues and await their feedback before launching a WW3 style attack on them, it's only fair. With my own personal blog reviews at misssueflay.com, I now call the negative experiences and points "The Little Niggles" as that's all I really find when I visit somewhere. They are just points that could be improved and to be honest, if it was such a calamity that it would all be nothing but negativity, I most likely wouldn't blog about it at all. But that's my personal choice, however I would let the venue know my thoughts so that it didn't go unacknowledged. How are they to know if it isn't fed back to them professionally? Call this approach right or wrong, it feels right for me and my blogging style and I'd truly love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What are YOUR thoughts on "Negative"/negatives in reviews? No matter what industry or what the issue - is it fair to slate BEFORE resolving directly? How do you feedback or complain when you need to? Do you go to Trip Advisor and the like? Or directly? And have you ever had to do so? (If so, were you happy with the outcome...and what was that?) Here are some comments from readers through social media, it's been an interesting discussion so far! Rachael Griffin I have done it directly... to give them a chance to fix it... and then i do a frank review on TripAdvisor... Its only fair in my book to give them a chance to respond first.. Takami Hikokubo I would tell them directly, especially if it's a complain. I suppose general opinions could be posted on Trip Advisor but if you want some responses from the hotel/spa then it would be best to contact them directly. That's my view. Nia Thomas We always feedback directly (ask for a meeting with the manager was our last situation) Chewton Glen they did apologise and offered a free overnight stay (midweek not school holidays!!!!!) we aren't yet happy so no trip advisor review as yet but if we don't get the desired outcome I would use trip advisor and of course word of mouth!!! Rachael Griffin If i am there i do it verbally where possible... otherwise e-mail / letter or phone call... Emma Fryer You MUST complain directly at the time to give 'them' the chance to rectify what has happened. If that is not possible you really ought to complain prior to checkout. Complaint after the event is not as powerful but does give the opportunity to rectify for next time, but at this point would you want to go back Angela Hankins I always tell them the issue via email first and I tend to find that they are grateful for the feedback. One restaurant I emailed never replied, I went back some time later as heard they had improved, they hadn't, so negative review on TA Rachel Hawes Resolve it privately. The world doesn't need to know your first world problems!!!! Laura Selway If you are a reviewer then yes, absolutely. That is your job/ role and you would be doing your readers a disservice by not giving a true reflection in your review. By all means also contact the service provider and see if they resolve the issue then also write about this and their response in your review if applicable. Jane Wallington BreezeBirthing WiseHippo Good question. I think to be reasonable is to be fair. Always give them the opportunity to correct/explain/justify/make a statement. It will BENEFIT them if you tell them to before publishing x Steve T Barman Definitely 100% resolve in private if possible. People are all too quick to jump on someone's back. Everybody makes mistakes...and i mean everyone, even the most oiled machines! It can be anything from a very silly oversight, to an absolute calamity. The thing is, you as a reviewer don't know whether that's the norm or it its a one off. If a reviewer goes in all guns blazing it doesn't given anyone the chance for a positive outcome. The venue/service loses out due to bad publicity. The reviewer gets a bad reputation for being overly critical. Its lose lose. However, give someone the chance to rectify a problem. Who knows you may be making that venue/service even better for someone else and then think how much satisfaction you'd personally get from that. Fair enough, if after trying to resolve on the down low, said person still doesn't make any effort, then you have every right to name and shame. But until that point, keep it quiet. Rachael Griffin Nope - in private first.... you should give someone a chance to respond... I even got Campylobacter from a local (ish) establishment but never slated them publicy... Andy Stephenson Can be fair to do so. Example: we had several issues with our super-expensive hotel in Copenhagen, none of which were resolved. Result: a less-than-glowing review on TripAdvisor. Leave your comment below to join the conversation!
Thursday, 27 February 2014
Set just outside of Newmarket, in Six Mile Bottom, you will find a new and elegant hotel set down a tree-lined drive which takes you up a little track to the latest addition to "The House Collection", the same company behind Poets House in Ely. This house is just a hop from the famous Newmarket racecourses and a short drive from Cambridge or Saffron Walden for some quality shopping experiences whilst you visit. The House Collection are aiming to open a few more locations in the near future and they are offering luxury venues where you can be yourself in a "home away from home", experience a level of service that will exceed expectation, but without any stuffiness. The houses are being offered to provide luxurious accommodation, a passion for food within their dining rooms and bars and space for events, meetings and even weddings. In fact, a friend recently married at Poets House over Xmas 2013, planning her celebrations within a matter of weeks and she couldn't fault the team one iota, she had an intimate and truly memorable affair. I'm very impressed with the fluster-less service menu that this extensive team can offer and I just hoped that my visit would be an equally enjoyable one. Setting The Scene: This hotel was formally known as "Swynford Paddocks" and had become very outdated towards the end of it's "life", so it was going to take a lot of elbow grease to scrub it up and get it shiny & new, something that really does stand out as you push through the heavy front door. Paddocks House is a hotel with 15 luxury bedrooms and was in fact once the home of Lord Byron's sister - it has a hint of a modern day "Downton" about it, complete with grand staircase and feature chandelier. The trees and grass outside the very front of the house are sculpted and preened to show off beautiful shapes, however the rest of the gardens are yet to be landscaped, so a very beautiful lawn and surroundings will be boasted in the summer for the perfect country retreat. The driveway is brightly lit at night, so driving off the main road and creeping up to the house in the dark is an easy experience with the house being lit up to guide you without tripping over verges as you do. Should you have an excess of luggage with you, simply drive up to the front of the house and you will be met with assistance into the house. We personally decided to park the furthest point away and I got to tiptoe over the gravel drive in my heels perfectly unglamorously of course, my readers should expect no less of me... Every room or suite is assigned with a personal butler to ensure that you enjoy every moment of your stay, now that's service! The Welcome: We were met by our butler at reception on arrival and she immediately arranged for our bags to be taken upstairs as we signed in and were handed our (very blingy and certainly wouldn't get lost in my handbag!) key fob. She walked ahead of us and demonstrated how to lock our door (handy, as it wouldn't simply lock behind itself) with a proper key in the lock and explained the smaller details of our room including how to use the "Smart" TV and "Bose" bluetooth sound system which was easy to connect to our iPods. Before leaving us to settle in, she offered us a welcome drink, of which we decided to wait to enjoy before dinner, left alone to press buttons and get acquainted with the huge rainforest shower and fluffy bathrobes. We were staying in Room 5 for the evening and as soon as we took our shoes off we could feel the thick pile carpet underneath us and the bed looked so inviting that we could have skipped dinner quite easily in place of curling up and heading straight for a deep sleep - but of course, we couldn't do that... What I did like about our welcome from a service perspective was that the reception was clean, the desk was tidy and clutter free and the two team members behind the front desk STOOD to greet us. From years of working in the hospitality industry mixed with my experience of staying in hotels & spas, I can disappointingly count on my hands how many people have stood to greet me, so this was an impressive thumbs up from me. The Bedroom: Bedrooms are crisp and clean, decorated in various shades of white, blended with a mix of elegant grey and are very modern in design, with the largest clocks I've seen in my life - there really is no excuse to not be able to see the time at any position within your suite! The first thing I spotted as I stepped off the landing into our room was the stunning free-standing copper bath, of which is a trademark feature in every room, it really was inviting and I'm not even a "bath person", however for this beautiful vessel, I made time for not one, but two indulgent bubble baths during my stay. The king size bed was fairly solid and very comfortable, laden with a white bathrobe each and a bag of designer branded toiletries such as "Hermes" and Bvigari", there was a "spa" feel to the welcome and it really invited you to unwind. This bed was also adorned with lots of cushions, of which I loved - I'm a cushion girl and love burying myself into lots of pillows in a hotel, it's the first thing to do on arrival, alongside the "bounce test" of your mattress... There's also a lot of space in the bedroom, in fact plenty to do a little dance or perform your pre-breakfast press ups, there is no worry of cramping your style in a suite here. If you don't fancy heading downstairs, there is an in-room menu 24 hours a day, with a slight restriction on offerings overnight of course. I made the mistake of reading this before my evening meal and I had the peanut butter ice cream on my mind, making me salivate at the thought... I tucked that menu away back in it's draw quick sharp! The television was very snazzy, you could even connect your many devices to it should you require it for business use, it also pivoted from the wall so that you could position it to view whilst in the bath or in bed, should you want to make time for any viewing... The simple en-suite bathroom offered a square seated toilet with slow closing lid (peaceful lid closing was fab to continue the peace!) and a rainforest shower big enough for two. More white bath sheets and towels were folded and placed on a shelf high up so as not to get damp and the toilet rolls and tissues were folded into shapes to please a "loo roll origami" nerd, even a ship folded into one of the tissue boxes, I was easily pleased. The Restaurant: This is a destination restaurant for guests and simply for visitors for the day or evening, the executive chef, Leah Jenson and her team are magnificently passionate about the menus on offer and they use locally-sourced ingredients where humanly possible. During the day you can even see the hens clucking around on the front lawn, so do drive slow when you head up the long driveway! They claim to have a varying A La Carte menu including old British favourites and cheeky modern twists as well as offering private dining and corporate options for a less than boring business lunch - not forgetting their beautiful afternoon tea, of which I will be heading back to sample another day in the near future! Whilst we waited for our chosen starters to arrive at dinner, we were offered an amuse-bouche which was a mushroom risotto with a mushroom foam and topped with a savoury granola, it was a heavy few mouthfuls, but delicious. Had I know this was on offer, I may have changed my started choice, but I didn't regret it once I tucked in... I had opted for the Macaroni of Scottish wild mushrooms, with soft leek and cheese crumble and the mister went for a more adventurous dish for him, Foie gras parfait set mushroom broth with brioche cream and pickled mushrooms. He was glad he had tried it, but very rich and an unusual in texture, I'm not convinced he'd go for it again, but that's personal taste. He chose the 12oz Sirloin steak and triple cooked chips, which uses a 21 day aged beef, watercress and béarnaise sauce, he ordered it rare and it came out a little on the blue side, however he was happily tucking away and didn't feel the need to ask for anything to be changed, with the biggest steak knife we've seen to date, he happily chopped away into it. I went for my favourite meat, duo of venison, with potato terrine, roasted beets, kale, salsify and an ever so sweet parsnip caramel which worked perfectly with the deep meaty flavours. I absolutely adored this dish and part of the venison was slow cooked and really did melt in the mouth, I couldn't quite finish it as there was a healthy serving, but I gave it a good go. Full to the rafters, I was ready to face plant into my water glass, so we opted for a couple of espresso martini's and were persuaded (oh, go on then, we can't be rude house guests!) to share a baked dark chocolate tart with malted ice-cream. What we hadn't anticipated was that the chef was trying out a brand new pudding and sent out a complimentary rhubarb dessert with almond cake and orange curd which was too inviting to turn down, it was light and the rhubarb parfait was creamy, it was a truly summery dish (we can all wish!) and we gave it a good tearing apart to try every element. Needless to say, we both slept like (very rounded) logs! The Breakfast: I genuinely thought we would be stuffed from dinner the previous evening, but the man-friend went for a full English and I decided to finally get my head around eggs Benedict, a salmon & egg dish that I have yet to try, the eggs were a little on hard side, I could have done with runnier yolks, but the salmon was fresh and tasted of salmon... sometimes it can be so flavorless, especially from supermarket cuts, so this was a real joy. There was a buffet table set up with pastries, cereals, fresh fruit and and the cutest little yoghurt granola kilner jars with a tart blackberry compote, I couldn't resist in this as my pre-breakfast, complete with mini spoon for this individual taster, it was just enough to keep me going! You are never on top of each other in the restaurant, personal space is there and the relaxed background music really does chill you out, it's a very peaceful atmosphere and even though you are a stone throw from the main roads of the area, you feel as though you are in the middle of the rolling countryside, I loved this feeling of seclusion throughout our entire stay. The Butler Service: A personal butler is provided with every stay, no matter what your needs, they will help you with your bags, show you around and help you to settle into your suite, even unpack and pack your case should you not want to do this yourself. You can even arrange for them to run you a bath for your arrival, should you so desire, with a phone call prior to your stay to ask what time you plan to check in and to ensure that everything is seen to for a seamless arrival. You can also use your butler to help you with any bespoke errands or requirements you may have... I love the idea of using this unique service to help propose to a loved one or surprise your partner with a romantic gesture. Whilst at dinner we decided to trial the butler service, wondering if we might feel like a bit of a plonker for asking them to run my bath whilst I finished off my meal... the answer to that is yes, you do very much feel like one when asking for this. However, the butler was very professional, advised me of my bath being run through our waiter at the table and whilst passing the front desk they discreetly walked past us and advised that no product had been put in the water just in case of allergies or dislikes, so all I needed to do was run it a little more and add my own bubbles, fantastic thought, I was impressed. I had wondered if they offered a "turn down" service, but this wasn't ever mentioned and I didn't want to ask, typically "British" of me I'm sure. As we settled in for the night, we had forgotten to draw the curtains, as our room wasn't overlooked in any way and this actually resulted in being woken the next morning by the stunning natural light shining through the high vaulted windows, a superb way to be woken. The Little Extras: The little touches were well thought out, such as a small table next to the bath with folded towels next to it ready to use, the full length mirror in the bay window was a welcome addition to the room whilst getting ready for dinner and the front desk looked after our room key as we dined, as it was simply too large to even pop on our table - we didn't even have to ask, they simply guided us with the solution without us having to worry about it. You couldn't hear anything once tucked up in bed, the staff glide silently and respectfully around the venue and doors don't slam. Most importantly we couldn't hear our neighbours for the night, as the bathroom was between us and the next room, so we felt perfectly isolated within the house. There was a beautiful silver tray set up on the dressing table with bottled water, nice heavy drinking glasses (no knocking these over on the bedside table) and some Corkers crisps to nibble on if peckish, this was a nice touch and I wanted to steal the ornate tray they were placed on - of course I didn't! The Little Niggles: There was no heated towel rail or hook to hang up bath robes and towels when wet, to we had to hang them over the bath tub, however this meant slightly damp goods the next morning which was a mild annoyance. As we had been traveling, this lady needed to use the facilities straight away on arrival, not realising until it was too late that the soap was in my little goodie bag on the bed - luckily I had a partner in crime with me to roll the bar through to me. It might be handy for the venue to place some basic toiletries such as soap in the bathroom itself for such instances, as lovely as the welcome bag looks placed on the bed. The hairdryer wasn't very powerful, a silly thing, but it was a very basic appliance which seems to have been overlooked a little in the luxury department. I was expecting a beast of a dryer with a handy diffuser on the end, but it wasn't meant to be. The staff were a little too attentive over dinner, if this is at all possible? When we sat down to dinner we were introduced to the gentleman who would be looking after us for the evening, however during our meal we were served by four different staff members, which was a little confusing and the service became a little disjointed as a result. We were asked the dreaded question of how our meal was three different times within a very short period of time, all by different people - this was a little inelegant as we responded with mouths full on each occasion. Saying this, everybody was very friendly and nothing was too much trouble, so in this respect it really can't be faulted - they simply need a more fluent dining experience when it comes to the service. Noted, this is a new hotel, so I respect it may take a little time for the staff to get their bearings, I will feed this back to ensure they know how we felt on this. Final Thoughts: "Our house is your hotel... come in, take a look around and make yourself at home" it states on the website and you really ARE welcomed to enjoy your surroundings for the entirety of your stay. This is a very special venue and one that I would highly rate for a romantic or relaxing getaway with no real fuss - the rooms, surroundings and the food itself takes care of everything you are ever going to need here. On checking out, the lady at the front desk commented on how refreshed we both looked and even though I'd also spent 2 days in a local spa that very same week, I felt more relaxed and replenished than I had there, so I feel that certainly says something about Paddocks House... In fact, I will be going back for my very special (30th, ahem) birthday in April for a family gathering over afternoon tea, I cannot hold back my excitement on this, it can't come too soon! There is currently a "Classic Spring Stay" including a cream tea (yes please!!) alongside your stay from £199 per room - simply email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01638 593222. To view my full photo album of this stay, simply click here. www.paddockshouse.com www.thehousecollection.com Please note - This stay was complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The service team that work on the day/duration of my visit are never aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email: email@example.com
Thursday, 20 February 2014
Henlow Grange always seemed much further away from home in my mind than it actually is, it's literally a 25 minute drive into Bedfordshire from Cambridge, of which I hadn't appreciated until my very recent visit. Champneys at Henlow Grange is a refreshing hideaway (and was once a Cistercian monastery) for the busy lifestyles we lead, it's a grand house set within 150 acres of parkland and still hosts a weir built by monks, standing on the fast flowing river to the rear of this Georgian manor. This is a resort spa with hand-painted walls and Venetian-style mirrors creating a perfect natural light throughout the spa. You can visit for many different experiences, within both packages or as bespoke offerings to help boost your health, fitness and wellbeing, using the fantastic spa facilities such as the art Thalassotherapy pool and over 80 luxury therapies and sports to choose from. You can literally indulge, relax, recharge and burn some energy all at the same time, the range of activities are so extensive that I hardly made a dip into the list myself during my two day stay! You can now buy many of the Champneys body care range in mainstream shops, I've sampled a fair few of them myself over the years, so I was very excited to finally experience the spa itself for a day or two. Setting The Scene: With half term upon us, I was a little unsure if this would be a good week to visit, as I imagined rows upon rows of poolside beds being taken over my stressed mums and teachers, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a busy week, so I had been advised by the very friendly Kerry, the General Manager showing me around on checking in, however it's such a large venue that I didn't notice at all. Even in the large restaurant and spa areas, because timings are staggered, there is a gentle wave of guests moving around like clock work, which allows you some peace and quiet as you relax, dine and exercise, it's a perfect system I noted pretty quickly. I was booked in for a 1 night midweek break, with dinner on the day of arrival, breakfast & lunch on the second day and an array of fitness programmes booked in to keep my fitness up as I battled with finding a way to personally relax and let my hair down, this was a near impossible mission of late, as I'm finding it trickier and trickier to chill out easily... I blame my technology & social media addiction - bring on "Twitter Anonymous"! The first thing Kerry advised me to try was to switch off my phone and Ipad and try to allow myself just one viewing a day to check emails and texts, that way I could really start to unwind and my personal belongings could be safely tucked up in the safety deposit box in my bedroom... Hmm this was great advice, but equally was going to be a challenge to a girl about to set up a new business alongside everything she already does, so only time would tell! What to do first? Unpacking seemed the naturally anal thing to do first of all, I never can relax when living out of a suitcase, so off I hopped to get better acquainted with my bedroom and the facilities it had on offer. The Bedroom: Henlow Grange has 71 luxury bedrooms, some overlooking the river and fast-flowing weir, of which I was provided with a "Superior room" (room number 42 to be precise!), complete with tame and amusingly curious ducks that stood on my private patio and they peered in every time I opened the large french doors onto the stunning grounds adjacent. The weir was very loud on arrival and it worried me that I might not be able to relax next to it, but I was to find out later on that it would be the one thing that could actually send me to sleep rather quickly ; ) My elegant blue and white twin bedroom was very clean and homely, decorated with framed pictures and modern decorative vases, a flat screen television & DVD adorned the wall in front of the two beds and an en-suite bathroom complete with fluffy bathrobe, a nice large pair of non-slip flip flops to wander around in and some miniature goodies were waiting for me. On using the shampoo & conditioner on offer, I was thrilled to find they were not only good "latherers", but they were minty fresh and really woke me up on the morning of my second day, they were just what I needed to get me feeling fresh and ready for action, a real first from the many bottles of shampoo I've sampled recently! I had taken a gamble on not bringing a hairdryer, as most hotels now offer this as standard and I wasn't wrong, but I was glad I had remembered my straighteners (I'm such a girl pfft!) as this wasn't something on offer around the spa. As I opened every drawer, admired the long clear rain macs in the wardrobe and poured myself a glass of sparkling water at my dressing table, I wondered what I should start with first. I could hear the shouts of the trainer in a spinning class down the corridor and just the thought of joining something so hearty straight away was tiring, so I popped on my twin set (miles too big for me as I'm now 2 stone lighter... must buy a new one soon!) and headed for the steam room. The bed was super comfortable, with a nice heavy duvet to keep me warm throughout the night. There were plenty of pillows and although the single bed had concerned me on arrival (I'm a king sized sort of gal!) I had the best night's sleep in a long time, but this could have also been down to all the amazing food and great exercise I was taking in... who cares?! I slept well and didn't want to answer my wake up call the next day! The Pool: The 25m swimming pool was a swimmers dream, it was warm and spacious to say the very least and at just 1.3m deep, there's no chance of people wanting to dive bomb off the side and splash you as you try to unwind. The whirlpool quietly whirs and bubbles against the poolside, but it doesn't disturb your stride as you crawl past, in fact it was so large that I didn't notice any of my fellow swimmers as I took the plunge, it was fabulous. Throughout the week there are many water-based classes on within a certain area of the pool, such as "Aqua Mitt", "Aquafit" and "Water Netball", all of which sounded great fun, but all clashed with my other activities which was a bit of a shame, but maybe next time! The steam rooms and saunas were separate for men and women, so if couples do visit, they would need to be mindful that they would take these separately before taking to the pool together. Much to my surprise, there were a fair few men at this spa, as couples and alone, it was refreshing to see and I didn't feel uncomfortable in anybody's company, people were so friendly and lots of smiles shared over swims, classes and meals, the atmosphere really is a friendly one here. Thalassotherapy was an alien term to me, until I realised I had recently been in a "Themassipool" at another spa recently (it's a small pool with lots of jacuzzi-style jet bubbled treatment pods of various shapes and sizes) however, this one has 6 different features including a relaxing bubble bed, lots of massage pipes to work on your calves, feet and thighs and lots of pressure jets to work the upper body too. You can fit up to 7 people in here at one time, but it was just me in there today, I do love it when I can hog something to myself - It's a great way to detox in a salt water pool and it was the perfect introduction to the spa for me. My therapist, who had controlled each of the features as I enjoyed them advised me to take a shower and rest for 30 mins before doing anything else, of which I found tricky to do... there was so much to check out that I hadn't yet seen, I could hardly contain myself when 30 minutes of lying by the poolside was up! She also advised me to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It's nice to see a spa that encourages you to drink plenty of water as you move around, not all spas do from experience. The Spa: Champneys offer a 16+ policy on age, so no children (or pets) are amongst you whilst visiting, I like this policy as an adult trying to get away from those sort of stresses myself. There are more than 80 different therapies on offer here, including their signature treatments such as the paraffin wax bath, "Physiotherm", hypnotherapy and Chinese body therapy to name but a few. I have no idea why people would opt for a wax whilst on a retreat, but if you so wish, you can have the more mundane waxing and preening carried out and of course there are many different massages, facials, body wraps, manicures & pedicures to opt for. I didn't use the spa very much, as my break was fitness geared, so I was working up a sweat instead of melting into my bathrobe, next time... next time! Croquet, mountain bikes, tennis courts and swimming lessons can also be booked privately should you be staying for longer and feel the need to cram something else into your schedule ; ) The Gym: This is a well equipped gym and it's been a long time since I stepped foot into a proper gymnasium after the last few months of using a personal trainer at home. I spent my first evening sweating it out and making my PT proud with all my new moves to bust out, as well as a run to catch up on some "homework" for my local running group. I was putting the guy next to me to shame... he can keep his show off moves and huffs & puffs, I was cool, calm & controlled and for the very first time, I loved using the facilities! The treadmill had a charger so you could hook up your phone and do whizzy things with it, TV screens were on all the main treadmills and exercise bikes, cross trainers, etc. It also boasted an array of free weights, bars & weights for dead lifting and many other weight training equipment, not forgetting my trusty medicine balls and mats - I threw one around for a while - the only downside that it was only 5kg (being used to a 12kg weight normally), but that's just being picky! There was also a "Vibrogym" steel plate in the gym of which I used on the morning of my second day for some "Vibrotherapy" training with the Champneys fitness consultant, Darren. He was fantastic and helped me through a 25 minute session on this vibrating exercise box... such a bizarre concept, but it works your muscles and gets your blood flowing in a much faster time than a session on the treadmill or the like. I was planking, squatting, laying on this plate and letting it jiggle (yes, the only word I can use to explain this!) me about, my legs were like jelly afterwards, it was brilliant! Darren had advised that this had been used during his days as a trainer at Chelsea FC and it's a great way to rehabilitate people with injuries - he has used this to help a man with a knee injury be able to run a marathon, so there really is no excuse, I'm hooked! If that wasn't enough, I enjoyed a light lunch and then a couple of hours later headed to the fitness studio for a "Fitsteps" dance class, which is a fairly new offering to Champneys, having only offered this for a couple of months. Now, consider the fact that the last time I did "the running man", I fell over my own feet and cut my knee open... this is a dance class that even I could throw myself into and have fun with, so anyone can! This is a dance class designed by Ian Waite, Natalie Lowe & Mark Foster from BBC's " Strictly Come Dancing" and it blends Ballroom and Latin dances together to make for a fun and energetic 45 minute exercise class - come loaded with water, it's exhausting! I rounded off my visit with a one-to-one Pilates session, something else that was completely new to me and to be honest I was daunted by this, I really felt quite worried that some greased up Adonis would come along and bend me into unthinkable shapes, but it wasn't like this at all, it was in fact the perfect way to end my visit. I was taught by a Jamaican volley ball player (ok, he was a bit of a GOD!) and he was 100% nuts, I ADORED him! He laughed with me as I sweated buckets and stretched out my entire body in a way I wasn't expecting... I was told Pilates was a relaxing experience, however, I learnt this is not the case, amazing workout and after such a long day of exercise, I was ready to sleep, not drive home! The Restaurant: Champneys believe that the food should not only be healthy, but should also delight the senses and this didn't disappoint. On arrival (in a dress no less, I decided to take a well needed date with myself!) for dinner, I felt as though I had stepped into a fine dining venue, with clean white linen on the tables, small vases with fresh flowers on the tables and simple green drinking glasses everywhere to add a splash of colour, it was very inviting. The menu is filled with nutritious food, in proper portion sizes (no micro what's-that-now?! portions) and locally sourced ingredients are used where possible, including vegetables grown in their own gardens. I went for sparkling water and smugly avoided the wine and the bread basket (My PT will be so proud of me... until the pudding menu is mentioned!) and the friendly waitress was very efficient, having me only wait 5 minutes for my starter to arrive. I opted for the baked sweet potato topped with red onion jam and glazed with cheddar cheese and balsamic glaze, it was delicious and just enough on the plate to get me ready for my main course... Char-grilled breast of guinea fowl with greens, parmentier potatoes, roasted vine tomatoes and crispy ham. I haven't had this meat for a very long time and it was moist and melted in the mouth, it was the best meal I've had in weeks, I loved this main and even I couldn't eat it all, a girl with a huge hunger most days. The man opposite me was having a wash with his napkin between courses, so that was my entertainment sorted, lovely. And just when I thought I could go somewhere without bumping into somebody I know, my old boss sat behind me...awkward! Pudding defeated me, but I gave it a good old go before heading to bed for a food-coma related snooze. Yoghurt lemon Panacotta with blueberry compote, a gluten free option and so creamy it hurt, it was gorgeous! The entire meal was a pleasure, relaxed, at my own pace, no annoyance of my usual dining companion wolfing it down fast and me playing catch up... I could suit myself and I loved the freedom of this. There is also "The Champneys Table" in the restaurant, where you can book and join like minded people at dinner. Perfect if visiting alone, allowing you to meet some lovely people around a share table, almost like your very own supperclub, a great idea. A breakfast & lunch buffet offers a huge selection of healthy choices from fresh bread, meats, salads and fruits as well as warm mains such as jacket potatoes and a turkey casserole of which I enjoyed for my early lunch with a wild rice and selection of vegetables. The daily menus suggest different mixes of foods, depending on your health goals and I loved this idea as there was so much food to choose from that the guide really helps if you are targeting a certain goal. These two offerings are much more relaxed, with the restaurant also allowing you to be robed and flip-flopped whilst you dine, I think breakfast should be more like this every day... I wish! The Little Extras: By the time I had been shown around the spa and taken to my bedroom, my bags had been delivered to my room and placed on the bed ready to unpack, no there's service! There is a hair salon and Champneys shop on site, so you can browse and buy your favourite goodies whilst visiting. I picked up a gorgeous scented massage oil (a girl can hint when it comes to the reality of being back home!) and a miracle balm for my dry hands & lips in this cold weather. With various offers and discounts throughout the month, there's always an excuse to pick up a treat or two to continue your pampering, it'd be rude not to. The Little Niggles: There is a stunning conservatory at the far end of this spa and in the "QUIET" area there was just one couple sat on a sofa chatting away fairly loudly about their sex life as others around them (myself included) were trying to recharge. This isn't the fault of the spa, but of these guests, I truly wish people would respect this ONE area of any spa, it's crazy to me as to why anybody would break this rule, as it's SO important to have this when trying to relax, if like myself, you find it tricky to climb off the wall - highly irritating and it will be going on one of my TOP niggles for "Spa Etiquette 101" in the very near future!!! In fact one lady (I LOVED her style) sat up, glared at them with the most icy stare I've ever seen and moved to another room... they saw this, smiled and continued... gah! I would say that Henlow Grange could perhaps make it more obvious as to the seriousness of this quiet area, as it really can affect somebody's enjoyment of this area when this happens... I can't quite advise on "Spa Police" but if they want to hire me to "Shhhh" these beggars, I'd happily do so ; ) Final Thoughts: Champneys Henlow Grange offer a similar break to the one I enjoyed based around a fitness break, should you be as nuts as I am to go to a spa to sweat it out from £249 per person, or you could go for a 1 night "Pamper Break" which will be similar and would include: Arrival 2pm 1 night's accommodation Choose two 25 minute treatments from: Massage, Facial, Aromatherapy Wrap, Scalp Massage. Use of resort facilities Access to up to 20 different classes per day Nutritious dinner, breakfast & lunch Depart by 4pm Champneys Henlow is located in Bedfordshire, just a hop from Cambridge and local attractions, should you wish to venture out would include places such as Hatfield House, Woburn Abbey, Wrest Park, Bletchley Park, Shuttleworth Old Warden Park and Milton Keynes is not far away for all your shopping fancies. There is currently 50% off certain Champneys products in the shop, with ranges of makeup, lotions and potions aplenty. You can view my full photo album for this stay by clicking here. www.champneys.com Please note - This stay was complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The team that work on the day of my visit are never aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions, please do email: firstname.lastname@example.org