Another weekend looms and thoughts turn to a short break. Nothing too lavish, not too far away. Something different from Saturday night TV and pizza. Just a weekend out in the country; some good food and drink. A spot of pampering perhaps?
A spa is the modern equivalent of a weekend away at Blackpool: a break that’s affordable enough to be viable – and justifiable – and little treat to afford oneself from time to time. Birthday present for Mum? Superior hen weekend? Romantic break? Spa does it every time.
There is, sometimes, a strange formality and ambiguous etiquette to such places that isn’t always conducive to relaxation, however. Do I take this towel with me? Will she ask me to take off my Batman underpants? Do I tip? For the Larry Davids of this world, a spa can hold a universe of terrors.
Lucky then that Spa by Kasia is situated within the unthreatening surroundings of the Grosvenor Pulford, a hotel-cum-restaurant-cum-spa suburban/countryside pile south of Chester. The hotel itself looks superb from the front and is clean and warm – but has the air about it of residents who are bussed in. It’s got a tad too big to be intimate.
Inside the decor is a little faded and the room could only be described as hot – we had to sleep with the window open in January – and, in places, a touch shabby. But it was clean and comfortable. There was free, login-less WiFi, which always garners a tick from us.
A real highlight at Grosvenor Pulford is Ciro’s brasserie, a slightly overblown Mediterranean piazza-style interior complete with statues and ivy that’s a genuinely pleasant sight in light of the Stygian January gloom outside.
The menu does not look dissimilar from The Bear’s Paw’s, which we’ve visited previously. That should not come as a surprise as the hotels share owners, but Ciro’s looks like a step up from the excellent gastropub environs of the former. There’s a predictable European theme to the menu, but the presentation and flourishes elevate it beyond just that.
Sometimes restaurants get everything right – apart from the actual food. Ciro’s did not disappoint with a salty, sweet seafood pasta starter followed by a beautiful 8oz fillet steak (though we pondered the Bouillabaisse) cooked exactly to order, all melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. And so it should be at nearly £30, but you don’t mind spending the cash if the food matches the promise.
We found the vegetarian options slightly lacking in options, though both starter and main were perfectly fine.
We retired to the bar for an aperitif and found a couple of local brews. Nelson’s Bar is, perhaps, one of the less impressive aspects of Grosvenor Pulford, however, and a jarring space in the hotel compared to nearby Ciro’s and s.
Ah, the spa. How could we forget? SevenStreets enjoys a pummelling with the best of them – and who doesn’t enjoy a sauna? The Kasia area feels like a cross between a Turkish baths and Blake’s 7. It feels somehow futuristic yet traditional; it’s an exquisitely relaxing, calming, slightly dreamlike place – anyone concerned about the correct poultice to use, or whether to put feet on the table should not worry.
One of the highlights is the rasul – an individual steam room that comes with three kinds of clay to cover your body in. It is, apparently, a traditional Arabian cleansing ritual. Once daubed up like a member of MGMT, you sit on a throne enjoying the hot steam, which is presumably doing something incredibly energising to your skin as well as releasing fragrances in the oil. When the rasul is over the thrones are doused in warm water – it’s extremely invigorating.
We then enjoyed a lunch from Ciro’s – a delicious thai chicken curry and a rather bland penne pasta dish in the dedicated spa eatery area that prefaces the entrance to the spa. It’s a bit of a strange place to locate it, especially as people need to pass through it to get to the spa and pool. Oddly drinks are not included, which is a problem as there’s nowhere to keep cash when decked out in a robe – unless you go in for some Pulp Fiction-style trickery.
Later we return to the spa to enjoy a Su-Ko-Thai massage that had SevenStreets’ shoulders, usually knotted like particularly troublesome ash, de-tensing like Stevie Gerrard listening to Phil Collins. The back, face and scalp massage uses a hot herbal poultice to firmly, soothingly relax the upper body. Along with the lavender, lemongrass aromas it’s quite wonderful; intense yet calming. We took our poultices home – a little slice of Blake’s 7 spa back in our homes.
There are many, many other treatments: Elemis facials and body treatments; facial therapies; microdermabrasion; eye treatments; St Tropez tanning; waxing and manicures. The sort of thing you imagine Cliff Richard does every day.
We went for a little lie down in a dark, warm room with fresh fruit and water and beds after our massage. After changing – in rooms that could have been larger and more private – we drifted back to the car and up the M57. Liverpool seemed a million miles away. So did everything else. Now our neck hurts again and we want to go back.
Go for the food at Ciro’s, but especially go for the Spa by Kasia. A wonderful place a real cut above the gym-cum-massage parlours that most spas consist of. A genuine grotto of serenity and tranquility just far away enough from Liverpool for it to feel like a little holiday; a rest cure for the 21st century.