The Only Way Is Essex

By | Category: Travel destinations

Kaye Holland heads to the much maligned English county of Essex and finds that – contrary to popular belief – it isn’t all about WAGs and wannabes

Is the daily life grind getting you down? Have you lost your joy of life? If the answer to the aforementioned is yes and you need to recharge batteries without flying half way around the world, I can report that the only way is most definitely Essex.

For the much maligned English county – famed for its white stiletto wearing WAGs and wannabes – is home to the rather lovely Lifehouse Spa and Hotel, an award winning English spa resort the equal of Chiva Som and other such ‘wellness destinations’ abroad.

Perched picturesquely in Thorpe Le Soken –  a hitherto unheard of corner of Essex countryside – this lap of luxury, is a haven of tranquillity. Blackberrys, laptops and the like are banned from all public areas creating a low key, low tech atmosphere – and a good excuse to leave your digital devices at home.

My travelling companion Emile and I, arrived one afternoon in August and were shown to our accommodation. Rooms – there are 89 in total – are sleek and contemporary and boast super comfortable beds with crisp white bed linen and enchanting views of either Lifehouse’s lakes, the surrounding countryside or, as in our case, the 12 acres of English heritage gardens. I loved the bathroom with its wonderfully powerful remote controlled shower (yes really!), while Em was rather taken by the terrace – the right place, she declared, to pen her postcards home over a glass of Prosecco.

Once unpacked (tip: pack lightly as guests are given fluffy bathrobes and slippers to wear and wander around the property in), it was time to try our first treatment in the first floor spa – a diva’s delight reached, via a spiral staircase. The atmosphere in the spa area, with its juice bar and balcony plus relaxation rooms is instantly relaxing. I felt better just being there – and that was before I was collected by my therapist!

The glamorous (well this is Essex) therapists are well trained and intuitive and whatever treatment you could ask for, is offered but do book all treatments in advance. Em – perhaps channeling her inner Essex girl – attempted to book a spray tan on day two, but there were no appointments left. Prices for massages, manicures et al are admittedly fairly high, but then so is the quality – all treatments use the luxury ESPA products – and even those, like me, who usually prefer to be active will find that they have no desire to do anything other than clamber on and off a treatment table.

I tried three 30 minute ‘tasters’: a scrub which saw me buffed to perfection, a cleansing facial treatment and a simply spa-vellous stress relieving massage – my favourite by far. Combined this trio of treatments, indulged all my senses and refreshed mind, body and spirit. After your treatment, rest in the ‘chill out’ area and allow the full effects of your treatment to sink in or head to the spa’s Strawberry Tree juice bar for a post spa sugar hit.

But the Lifehouse is more than just its spa. Guests can also expect exquisite, freshly prepared food in Water Lilies restaurant: every dish Em and I tried shouted of a confident kitchen and had us moaning with pleasure. As a guide, you could start with a salad of fennel, watercress, radish and grilled haloumi or tuck into tiger prawn fishcakes before moving onto main course of pan roasted vegetables with feta cheese or salmon, new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, chorizo and wilted rocket. Portions are ample but won’t leave you too full so as not to be able to manage the not so healthy desserts: think a delightfully decadent chocolate brownie with candied kumquats and vanilla cream, luscious lemon posset with poached strawberries and apple and cinnamon scone with clotted cream and tiptree strawberry jam. Happily Lifehouse is, if you haven’t already gathered, a lot less po faced than many holistic resorts.

You can arrive for breakfast and lunch in your white robe without feeling in the least self conscious, but at dinner it’s de rigeur to dress up. On our visit, women we’d spied slumbering by the salt water swimming pool in their bathrobes during the day had replaced them with mini skirts, maxi dresses and sky scraper heels when the sun set, for dinner – and drinks in Orchids bar. Lifehouse is, after all, in Essex – an area of England that has never been one to let down on the eye candy front (the very watchable Mark Wright and D&G model, David Gandy, anyone?)

The next day after a long lie in (what’s the point in having the comfiest bed in the world, if you don’t make the most of it?) and and late cooked breakfast, I decided it was time to shift some of the extra calories I had consumed. For the energetic, the playground – aka gym – provides a complete work out and if you aren’t a fan of exercising alone, the resort offers group activities from aqua aerobics to bootcamp work outs and zumba classes.

For the more peaceful a chat with resident naturopath Sue Davis, a session in the sauna and steam room, or stroll around the tranquil building which centres on a courtyard with stone paths and  gorgeous gardens could be the way to go. If you have the time and inclination, you can take a tour of the grounds (whose high profile past visitors include Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling) daily at 3pm but we chose to wander around the pretty gardens at our own pace, enjoying the feeling of being miles away from anywhere, lost in a secret world.

You can also borrow bikes and cycle into Thorpe Le Soken, a quaint village which the characters from an Enid Blyton novel could happily have called home, or venture a little further afield to to Frinton-on-Sea, a pretty seaside town that only got its first pub in 2000 and the gateway to England’s east coast.

That said, chances are you won’t want to leave Lifehouse – with its fantastically friendly staff who, with their immaculate manicure nails never look less than perfect, stunning spa and sumptuous bedrooms – even for a minute. For essentially, Lifehouse is a corner of Essex that is oh so easy to love. A top spot for rest and rejuvenation, this perfect purpose built spa is guaranteed to buoy your spirits for months after you return to the ‘real’ world.

Lifehouse Spa and Hotel is 80 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street. For more information or to make a reservation, call 01255 860050 or visit




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