Wednesday 27 August 2014

Aqua Sana, Woburn Center Parcs, Bedfordshire

So sometimes mums and dads need a little break from the walking and children and to relax. What better way to relieve tired muscles than a visit to a spa.

Whilst at Longleat Center Parcs I managed to persuade Phil to visit the Aqua Sana spa for 3 hours. At the end of the 3 hours he admitted that it was actually ok and he would go again. Roll on a few weeks and we found ourselves at the recently opened Woburn Center Parcs Aqua Sana spa for a day, on his suggestion.
Aqua Sana entrance. Cafe and outdoor terrace on 1st floor, 6 spa suites on 2nd & 3rd floor
You don't have to be staying at Center Parcs to visit the spa, it was very easy to book packages online, and on arrival at 9am it appeared a popular thing to do. Very friendly staff on hand to greet you, handing out locker wrist bands and towels. The changing rooms are really large, good size lockers (some with a hanger), a number of hair dryers at vanity tables, numerous showers with complementary shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and swim costume spinners with wet bags. There is one private change room. Once changed and though the other side you head up the stairs were staff greet you and direct you to the cafe where you book a lunch slot and complementary breakfast of pastry or fruit salad and a drink is brought to you.  On entry to the spa you are given the times of any treatments you have booked (more can be booked in advance or on arrival depending on availability) and a run down of the spa areas with a tour if you wish.

Herbal Sauna (c) Center Parcs
I had read it can take three hours to go once round the spa, this is quite true. It took us over two hours to visit each room, some so hot (or cold) you don't stay long and others so perfect you stay longer.
Set over 2 floors with 25 experience rooms and divided into 6 zones with an outdoor infinity pool and zen garden you don't realise on first glance how big it is. There are a few wall maps around to help you get your bearings when needed. Each area has a sauna and steam room, along with spa showers. Other times you will find a mix of rain walks and relaxation rooms. There are some rooms especially designed for Center Parcs, such as the volcano room, which is very hot and if you get the right angle lie back and watch volcanos explode on tvs. There was some different uses of tvs in rooms, like the sensory experience sauna where you go through the four seasons projected on the ceiling with smell and touch. There were herbal and flower rooms, along with mineral and salt rooms. We entered a mineral steam bath looking ominously up at the showers wondering if they come on... to eventually laugh when we got drenched (in the nicest possible way). As well as relaxation rooms in the zones there was outside and inside loungers, double round beds to snuggle under a blanket on, and water beds that people fell asleep on. There were a few water points dotted around but sometimes we found the water hadn't been refilled or it was out of cups, the same applied to the single point for cool face cloths (which though placed in ice weren't moist).

Aqua Sana outdoor pool at night (c) Center Parcs
 The infinity pool was very nice, will be more secluded when the tress in-front grow taller with time as jealous onlookers walked by. The jets appear to come on quite randomly, the jacuzzi bed could have been larger at busy times, and some of the water jets were a little harsh. Leaving only the brave to go near. The pool was a lot nicer than the one at Longleat with space to sit, lounge, watch and chat (even in the rain, yes it did rain).

Lunch was a choice of salads, pasta dishes and paninis, enjoyed with juice, hot drink or even with a glass of Prosecco. The "sweet treats" looked very nice so we popped back in the afternoon for coffee and a cake. Service again was excellent and the food tasted as delicious as it looked.

After lunch we went along for our treatment, we both had a Elemis Revive and Refresh Booster Facial. I've been to a few spas and had treatments at Aqua Sana before so knew what to expect. Phil on the other hand was a spa newbie. We were greeted promptly by therapists and made very welcome. We both found the therapist explained what she was about to do and what she was using. Phil did get a bit of a shock with a quick foot massage to start with which was very unexpected, and being a foot hater didn't enjoy this. I on the other hand had no foot massage. We came out feeling relaxed and Phil had to say it wasn't quite as bad as he expected and his skin was a lot better for it.
Infinity pool
After another once round our favorite rooms in the spa sadly our day had to come to an end. We were welcome to use other facilities at Woburn for the day so we had a walk around Woburn and enjoyed a lovely meal at Cafe Rogue before home.
As well as a various choice of spa days on offer you can also book luxury spa breaks and we wished we had booked this for the night, it felt like our day had ended too quickly and the rooms look amazing on the website. It would be an excellent choice for that special occasion.

We went on a Saturday during the summer holidays. So quite probably a popular day but at no point did it feel too busy. I read maximum capacity is 200 people, which sounds a lot and we think there could have been close to that by the afternoon (there was an obvious difference in numbers in the morning to afternoon) but spread over the different "zones", cafe and treatment rooms we never felt we couldn't get into a room or we couldn't find a lounger to lie-on.
One minus of the day was as the spa is spread over 2 floors we did feel we went up and down a bit to lockers to grab a book or kindle and for getting a dry towel or robe. We kept on sneaking to the other side of the changing room for a dry towel and robe, they do get very wet and heavy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day, and really hope to go back. Our favorites being the foot baths, lava volcano room (how long can you stay in for), snow and ice room and mineral room.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Rosemary Cottage, Stackpole, Wales

We were having a two location holiday this summer, mid-week in Center Parcs and a week in wales, for this reason I wanted a nice secluded cottage in Wales for the contrast of busy and quiet.
I struggled to find exactly what I wanted at the right price but then I looked at the National Trust Holiday Cottage website. Most were way out of our budget (as I expected) but then one came up saying basic accommodation and was a price I would pay. I was really unsure about what basic would mean, but I tried to stay open minded no matter what horror stories my dad tried to come up with.

Rosemary Cottage (open right door)
 There is a row of 3 cottages, all for private rental at Stackpole, Pembrokeshire. Beside which is also the manor house which again is a private rental (all through the National Trust Cottage website). The rest of the site is Stackpole Outdoor Learning Centre. It opened about 30 years ago offering residential visits for school children (I remember going to the Gower coast many years ago and loving it), but also takes college/university group trips and offers residential training courses. Whilst we were there we had a few small adult groups staying, one school group and a national trust group on a residential. None of this caused us any problem, most of the time they weren't even on site.

location of  cottages on Stackpole Estate (click for larger image)
 What we loved most was the fact that 8 arch bridge was less than 5 mins away from our accommodation, so we could sit and gaze over the lakes. Just to sit and watch in the peace was wonderful, seeing the fish below, the herons, swans, birds and pond skaters. I'm told there are otters... but despite our best efforts we never saw them.
Carry on across the bridge for a mile and we were at Stackpole Quay. A mile to the West and you have grassy bridge, Broadhaven beach and then beyond to the lilly ponds at Bosherton.

Rosemary Cottage (left)
 Looking through the accommodation comment book one person said said they didn't have to drive off site all week, we could see why as you could just walk the whole area. There are beaches for the children only a short walk, Barafundle is one of the top 50 in the world, cafes and pubs along with the coastal path. Need any ideas of where to go, best cafes etc, just pop into reception and all the staff are so helpful. You may also be able to join in any events they have running during your stay. In our week Charlotte easily completed 13 of her 50 things challenge, and could have done a lot more.

view from living room window to shared garden and fields beyond
The cottage sleeps 6 in 3 bedrooms. Upstairs is a double room with an additional single bed in, the other side of the stairs is a twin room. Downstairs is a large bathroom (very large shower no bath), living area with kitchenette and a 3rd bedroom off the living area with a single bed and a travel cot. Off the 3rd bedroom is the back door to a shared garden. All bedrooms had ample storage for clothes and suitcases. The kitchen was really well stocked with equipment, but limited space for dry goods. Large fridge/freezer, cooker, microwave etc. Exactly 6 of plates, cups, glasses etc.

master bedroom (single bed to left of photo)
 We were surprised to find a new tv with a dvd player, this was useful for the odd rainy afternoon. The bathroom was really large (the door ways were too and this is because it used to be disabled accommodation), with an excellent shower, plenty of hot water and an electric towel rail that I dried the odd bit of clothing on.

twin bedrom
The only thing I hadn't brought with me was a hair dryer... and they didn't have one. I can manage without one but it did stump me for a moment. The only minus we could find about the cottage was the double mattress. The single beds were hard but ok to sleep on but our double had seen better days. But despite this I slept well due to all that fresh air!!! Sorry I forgot to take photos of downstairs rooms but it looked exactly like the ones on the National Trust website.

dinner outside in the shared garden
We loved our week in the cottage and hope to go back to the area at some point. I would really recommend looking at the basic national trust cottages. The lady on reception said in high summer their cottages are cheaper than a week in local static caravan sites. Personal choice but I know what I would opt for.

Please see my recent post of what there is to see and do near Stackpole

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Exploring Stackpole & local area, Pembrokeshire, Wales

I'm not sure how we decided on a holiday in Wales, or how we even ended up in Pembrokeshire. I wanted a cottage that fitted a certain date, not too long a drive from home, quite rural so as to get some peace with plenty of walks and nature so as to be out every day. Readitdaddy keeps saying lets go to Wales so I gave in to him (a rare occurrence!)

Barafundle Bay
We turned up at the cottage with little knowledge of the area and what to do every day, I hadn't done much research on the area which is unlike me. We needn't have worried. Stackpole has plenty of walks, from where we were staying we could walk for miles in each direction and see changing scenery. We were only a mile from 2 glorious beaches. Some of the paths had disabled access and were buggy friendly. We really did walk for miles every day.

So how to fill your time in the Pembroke/Tenby area.

Bosherton Lilly Ponds
 Exploring Stackpole with a child can be done over a few days with beach stops. The Bosherton lilly ponds walk was wonderful with a stop at Broadhaven South beach to have a picnic. It was beautifully peaceful walking round the pond, the water lillys were just coming into flower and some wonderful views from the top of the hill looking across. Broadhaven South had a lovely sandy beach, sand dunes above and clear water. We stopped for ice cream ate the tea room in Bosherton which is very popular.

Barafundle on a wet day
 We walked part of the coastal path between broadhaven and Stackpole Quay stopping at Barafundle for another play on the beach, voted one of the top 50 beaches in the world. The beach was stunning with lovely sand and clear water and is only accessible on foot. It was this wildlife walk but missing out step 7 round the lilly pond  We did a lot of this walk in the rain but thankfully it stopped when we were on the beach. We really did see all sorts of wildlife along the way.

Broadhaven South
 A rainy day was saved for a trip to Pembroke Castle. It means your views from the great towers won't be so stunning (oil refinery in one direction but the rest are great). But there are a number of indoor things explaining the history of the site with replica models, how the castle would have been used, the occupants of the castle over the years, the battle during the civil war and it being the birthplace of Henry VII. It is a huge castle, it's obvious were it has been expanded over time with the crumbling remains of some areas. Charlotte loves history and enjoyed exploring this site and has since taken a book out of the library about medieval castles. We went a little dizzy going up an down towers of varying height (some were high) with tiny little steps. We looked down into the dungeon, reading the sad history of John being kept down there. A good few hours well spent. There is a mill pond walk running behind the shopping area, which is highly recommended in guide books, but sadly the weather got worse so we missed this out.

Pembroke Castle on a very wet day
 We tried to visit Manorbier castle, but was closed for a wedding that day. They do say check online before visiting, but very little network coverage in Stackpoke for us to check. We did visit the beach which was a lot of fun for rock pooling. We found a great sea anemone but no crabs that day.

Manorbier Castle
 We visited Tenby for a day on the beach. We had a walk around the town, which is like stepping back in time to an old seaside resort with lots of little cafes and fish and chip shops. We took a walk to the lifeboat house and passed the old lifeboat house on the way, which I recognised from Grand Designs. We took a look at the boat rides, there was quite a few on offer, but decided just to enjoy the beach. Its a lovely big expanse of golden sand when the tide is out and not many stones to catch feet on. Its very popular beach, and you can hire kyacks and jet skis on the beach. I wanted a kyack but nobody would join me, maybe another time.

fun on the beach at Tenby
 On a windy and damp day we went along to look at Dobby's grave (Harry Potter) on Freshwater West. Its very breezy and popular with surfers, but the day we were there was just the odd paddle boarder. It was another excellent beach again for rock pooling and this time we did find a small crab, and broke Grandads net! From Freshwater West we carried onto Angle on the recommendation of a good place to eat. At the beach car park is the recently opened Wave Crest. Contemporary surroundings and wonderful food and cakes with lovely service. We were going to go for a walk along the coastal path at Angle but the weather took a turn for the worst.

Rock pooling at Freshwater West
 Colby Woodland Gardens was our last stop of the week. A national trust place almost hidden away. It was really beautiful and excellent for kids to explore and do lots of their 50 things (we ticked 13 off on holiday, could have been a lot more). The staff were really chatty and friendly. There is a walled garden with amazing gazebo, wildflower meadows, streams to paddle in and stepping stone across, or attempt to dam the stream like us. Walks in the woods and even one down to the beach. We cheated and drove down to the beach after. Colby is perfect for a picnic with the family and a nice relaxing day.
stepping stones across the stream at Colby
Our last day was a short walk along to Barafundle and a stop in the highly recommended Stackpole Quay cafe for lunch. Excellent lunch and cake again. Just as it started to rain we came home. Left with the car saying 19c and arrived home to 29c, we wanted to turn right back round!

We had a lovely week, and would love to go back to this area. We really enjoyed the mix of walks and trips to the beach. There is plenty to do in the area for those who are really love the outdoor adventure activities and those who just love to sit on the beach. As with Wales there was the odd wet day but mostly lovely warm days and the weather didn't stop us doing anything.