Vegan Spa Star
A pamper day that will leave your skin glowing and your conscience clean? Cowley Manor's Vegan Spa Day ticks all the sexy-sustainability boxes. Read on to see what we thought.
As a writer I spend half my existence hunched over a laptop. And if I’m not at my desk I’m usually perched over one of the pre-teen’s shoulders (trying to find out what they’re watching on Netflix). In short, ‘hunch’ is my default body setting. So the prospect of reviewing the Vegan Spa Day with a 60 minute treatment at country retreat Cowley Manor filled me with excitement on umpteen levels.
Not only to erase the steel knots in my upper shoulders, but because I’m really down with the idea of a more mindful spa and *whispers* self-care experience – a sort of cleanse and tone for your body and conscience.
I pigeon-hole myself in the ‘vegan-curious’ category, rather than the real deal, but I’m not alone. There are currently 600,000 vegans (and rising) in the UK. And Cowley’s latest offering is bang on-trend with Gloucestershire increasingly getting on board with the vegan wave enveloping the country.
We may not be in the London, Norwich or Brighton league of falafel-fandom quite yet, but this month sees the Cheltenham Vegan Fair too, joining its sister event in Stroud, so vegan R&R really is going big in GlosWorcs in 2020.
First things first, Cowley’s Vegan Spa Day is incredibly tempting. For £95 (a steal!) you get a 60-minute Green and Spring treatment of your choice (Cowley’s very own skincare brand, more on that later), use of the spa facilities from 9am to 5pm (ehem, a whole day of hiding from reality people), and a two-course vegan meal which can be taken either in the spa lounge or in the posh environs of Cowley Manor’s restaurant.
Anyone who’s been for the humblest of treatments at any upmarket Cotswold retreat will know that 100 smackers usually barely covers a quick pummell on the back, so the Cowley team have come up with a real corker here.
I’d been to the grand Cowley Manor before – a contemporary chic, Grade II listed hotel, minutes from Cheltenham and nestled in 55 acres of stunning grounds (the inspo for Lewis Carroll’s books) – but never to the award-winning C-Side Spa.
Housed in an iconic post-modern building in the grounds, I headed to reception to check in for the day. I’m always slightly distrusting of spas where you have to squint to see anyone but C-side is light, bright and staffed by a very welcoming team.
After being shown to the small but perfectly formed changing rooms (through giant, solid wood doors with no handles – took me a bit of embarrassing fumbling to get in) you’re given a Spa goody bag which is a lovely touch. Fashioned from eco-friendly jute (of course), it contained a fluffy robe, a pair of flip flops and a box of Godiva chocolates.
I had a good couple of hours to consume said box (well it was never going to make it home) and lounge around before a dip in the very glamorous pool. Not only is it heated and huge, it’s lined with the most stunning, dark green, Cotswold slate giving it a super modernist feel.
But the showstopper is the mammoth glass panel that runs across the entire width of the room – where you can stare at the flora and skipping squirrels for hours on end from the gently lapping water. It’s one of the coolest Cotswold pools I’ve come across and will make you feel like you’re in a James Bond film (aka the hilltop hideaway pool scene).
There is also an outdoor pool (heated to 38 degrees) but the day I went Storm Dennis was blowing a mighty hooley, so nothing was going to tempt me into the arctic winds. There is a smart looking gym right next door that looked popular (I seem to have conveniently ignored that one too!) plus a steam room and sauna which were very relaxing.
The treatment rooms are infused with gorgeously calming oils, and the treatment beds themselves are heated. I could have happily just dozed off there and then to be honest, being mid-way through half-term, but I was awaiting the signature ‘Green and Spring Massage’.
It’s hard to describe a good massage, because if it really is that good you’ll have nodded off like a dribbling wreck for most of it. But it was the most deeply calming massage I have ever had. Using a combination of Green and Spring Exfoliating Body Balm and oils, the therapist worked her way from my back to my feet and legs in a glorious combo of acupressure and reflexology to release tension and rebalance.
Warm, infused compresses on my head and eyes were blissful too. And those knots disappeared in minutes as Hot Stones (made from basalt lava) were kneaded into my back – excellent for melting tension and releasing trapped toxins and fluids. And ohhh the head massage at the end … ten minutes of scalp pampering was just as good as it gets.
My hair looked like a well-oiled indoor shrub afterwards, but heck it was worth it.
Green and Spring is Cowley’s very own range, made from natural botanicals from the fields around Cowley including natural spring waters and herbs found in the gardens. It’s also designed by Cowley co-founder, and member of the Sainsbury’s family, Jessica Frankopan.
I have very sensitive skin so am quite picky about what I put on it, but the whole treatment left my skin feeling so soft and my mind wonderfully spaced out.
You even get to choose the music from a special menu card, I went for ‘Deep Chill’ – lucious and dreamy tunes the blurb said – and I highly recommend it for drifting off. They also have fresh fruit-infused water you can dip into at any time which was really nice, I love little bespoke touches like this at a spa day.
You can head back to the pool for more R&R after the treatment, or into the little relaxation room (not room for many but it has a lovely little corner to curl up in) then I headed up to the main Restaurant for the Vegan Lunch.
The main hotel is so beautifully elegant and peaceful, it always makes me feel like I am naughtily wandering around someone’s (rather large and decadent) home. I adore its series of design-led drawing rooms and fireside lounges to hide yourself away in from the world.
It was fairly quiet being a normal working day, so I had the magnificent wood-pannelled restaurant, with its very attentive and friendly staff all to myself. Whisked to one of the window tables (you can gaze out at the very pretty grounds and lake) I set about choosing two courses off the vegan menu – all of which be be fair sounded very tempting.
I went for the Spiced Jack Fruit and Aubergine with Quinoa, Chickpea Ragout and Puffed Wild Rice for the main, and it was absolutely heaven on a plate. I don’t think I ever realised vegan food could taste this good, an explosion of amazing textures, with little crunchy pieces of puffed wild rice to top it off.
And as a little chaser to my box of chocolates (I did it for you dear reader) I followed up with the Chocolate and Avocado Delice with Blood Orange and Vegan Hazelnut Ice Cream – again, an absolutely moorish dream that was totally delicious.
By the end of my healthy (ish) living lunch I would have happily signed up for lifelong veganism, if I didn’t have to go home and feed two pre-teen boys.
The rest of the day until 5pm is yours to
waddle, I mean wander, back to the C-Side Spa in your robe and extract every last second out of a fabulously restorative – and guilt-free – experience.
Our Verdict: A rock solid, 5-star, guilt-free spa experience and jolly good value.
Good For: Vegans, the vegan-curious and erm, non-vegans. Whether you are into the lifestyle or not, it’s a blissful day out for the senses. Young or old will love it, and it’s great for the time-poor as you can rest, rejuvenate and enjoy a meal out all in one hit. Anyone needing some TLC this wet Feb. Lovey-dovey types – there’s even a double treatment room.
Not For: Raging carnivores?? Anyone who doesn’t like a bargain?! We’re struggling here. But it is only available until the end of February, so get booking now.
To book the Vegan Spa Day at Cowley Manor call now to reserve your place.
Or why not make a weekend of it too and stay over. You’ll love their Best Room, one of the largest suites in the Cotswolds with a wrap around terrace and panoramic views. Take up the Winter Getaway Offer for two with 30% off per stay, valid until the end of March (enter code WINTER30). Or, take up the Spa & Stay Package, £195 for 2 for an overnight stay with breakfast, full spa access and £45 off any 60 minute treatment (until 27 Feb).