“I feel like we’re crashing a wedding” I say to my boyfriend as we saunter past swathes of people in their Sunday best and enter the lobby of the Thurlestone Hotel. It’s mid-morning on 28th February and we’re having a Valentine’s get-away. (“Valentine’s Day is 14th February” I hear you say to your screen. Yes it is, but I have the worst luck and I got sick two days before we were originally due to leave. Fortunately the hotel were happy to let us change the booking.) We’re way too early for the 3pm check-in time, but staff are kind enough to let us use their spa facilities until the room becomes available, plus they’ll take our luggage to the room for us, bonus! So we grab the essentials from our luggage and hit the Voyage spa area.
Is it just me, or is entering any spa area for the first time a little awkward? Some places emphasise the fact that you should shower before entering a spa, some don’t. Most spas provide an abundance of towels, but what if they’ve run out or you can’t find them? All of these little things make me nervous when I enter a spa area for the first time. This time is no different, especially as two men try entering the women’s changing room when I’m in a state of undress (I’d like to say thank you to the guy working in the spa who redirected them!).
Finding my boyfriend waiting patiently for me, we discover something amazing: Nobody else is here! Perhaps this wedding will work in our favour. We head downstairs to the sauna and steam room area and find that it offers your standard spa facilities: sauna, steam room, plush rainforest showers, and a chill-out area with stone relaxation chairs.
We decide a change of scenery is in order and head for the Jacuzzi. The Jacuzzi really was something else and its jets threw me around like a rag doll. The joy of having the spa area to ourselves was shattered slightly when a couple entered and started lurking around the pool. You know that awkward moment when you can sense somebody wants to get in the Jacuzzi, but you’re in it already, and joining you may be a bit awkward? That was this moment.
Not that it mattered though, as it was almost time for me to get showered and head upstairs, as my lovely boyfriend had booked me a surprise massage. It was a surprise for two reasons: a) he only told me about it on the day and b) he couldn’t remember exactly which massage he’d booked. (“Was it hot stone? No… Maybe… Or maybe it was the Asian thingy, I remember reading something about that… I don’t know. Sorry.”)
It turned out to be the Nuat Namman Asian aromatherapy massage. What an experience! You have the choice of four different massage types: Relaxing, Contouring, Detoxifying, and Energising. My massage therapist rattled off the list of choices so quickly that I panicked and picked the last one she mentioned: Relaxing – which is probably the choice I would have made anyway.
Entering the massage room, she explains a little about what’s going to happen over the next hour or so, instructs me to get changed into the dressing gown and pop my feet in the pre-prepared bowl of water and Asian flowers. Returning a few minutes later, she hands me a hot lemongrass infused flannel to wash my hands as she washes my feet. Apparently this massage technique has an “East meets West” theme and this is part of it.
Next I’m asked to get onto the massage table, with the massage therapist holding up the towel so I can deftly manoeuvre myself without exposing myself to her. The massage continues with lemongrass oils and a lemongrass scent wafting into my nostrils from below the massage table. It’s that heavenly and relaxing that I can’t actually go into more detail about the massage itself because I was too relaxed to concentrate on the specifics. Towards the end we practice a breathing technique where I breathe in for a certain number of counts and out for a certain number of counts, an Asian technique which is also intended to help with the relaxation.
After the massage I’m led outside to the relaxation area and left with a pot of chamomile tea and a load of trashy magazines. I’m told to sit here for as long as possible to let the oils soak in and equally I get the impression I’m not supposed to use the spa facilities any time soon (damn!) so I sit and read about Princess Catherine and Prince William’s luxury holiday on some island I’d never even heard of. After a few cups of tea I decide that’s enough, it’s time to find what the boyfriend’s up to.
He’d been told that our room was ready and I found him there chilling out. Entering the room, one thing became clear: The Thurlestone Hotel love their antique furnishings. We had also received an upgrade to a sea-view room, which didn’t look so nice that day as the weather was grey and misty, but the next day the view was glorious, like something you see on a TV show set in the West Country. We relax in the room with a few glasses of Prosecco and then decide we quite fancy afternoon tea.
We wonder downstairs along a corridor, totally missing the room where they serve food in the afternoon. Just before we get completely lost, one of the waiters ushers us into the lounge area, where we relax at a table by the window. Luckily the wedding party have vacated this area; they were milling around in there when I came out of the Voyage spa. It might have been a bit awkward if we had tried to seat ourselves among them!
My boyfriend and I are both people-watchers and we give a commentary in hushed tones about what we think the group on the nearest arrangements of sofas are doing (a boy and a girl in their twenties and what appears to be her parents) while we sit and wait for our food and tea to arrive.
It turns out they’re getting married in this hotel at some point in the not-so distant future, as we learn when the hotel’s wedding co-ordinator turns up. Their chatter about flowers, cake, and bridesmaids reminds me of my sister planning for her wedding last year, which I say to my boyfriend in not-so-hushed tones.
As our afternoon tea arrives my mouth begins to water at the sandwiches (cucumber, salmon, and egg) on the bottom tray; the scones (fruit and plain) with the ubiquitous jam and clotted cream on the middle tray; and the array of desserts on the top tray. When I think of afternoon tea, I think of a light refreshing snack, but this is so much more than that. It’s a meal in itself and an extremely tasty one at that. So much so that we have to ask for a doggy bag for some of the desserts.
After afternoon tea we head back up to the room and make plans for dinner. In theory we have two choices: the restaurant or the pub around the corner, which seems to be owned by the hotel. As the restaurant requires dinner jackets to be worn and we’re reluctant to ask how stringently they enforce this rule, we plump for the pub. We ring down to reception who tell us that that’s fine, they’ll book us in for 7:30 and we each get £25 to spend on food as part of our hotel package. Bargain!
When heading to the pub, it’s useful to note that the entrance to the pub is not the door in the centre of the pub on the roadside – that’s actually there for purely decorative purposes. Oh no, the entrance is around the corner. So don’t do what we did and try your hardest to get into that door. Approaching the bar once we finally find our way into the pub, we discover that the hotel didn’t actually make a reservation for us. Not to worry though, there are plenty of tables free.
The confusing thing about this pub is its menu (or should I say menus…). There appear to be three of them: the main menu, the specials menu, and the specials board chalked up above the bar. However, the meals on the specials menu – the one written on paper – are conspicuously similar to the main menu, with the odd dish having a different accompaniment or maybe just one ingredient being left out.
The pub starts to get crowded just after we place our order and we’re very surprised to find our starters arrive extremely quickly. The food was really nice and the £25 per person discount on food was enough to get us a starter, a main, and split a dessert. The only criticism I have was that the wait staff seemed a little too eager to whisk our plates back to the kitchen. I understand that wait staff need to check on tables and get the timing right, but this lot were not subtle in their hovering.
Opening the curtains the next morning revealed the sea view in all of its glory. We head down for breakfast and are instantly confused: do we pick a table and sit down? Do we wait to be seated? We pick the wrong waiter to talk to who’s in a rush and just says, “It’s the same table as last night.” (“But we didn’t eat here last night” I think to myself, feeling a bit irritated). Eventually we get escorted to our table and we’re greeted with a magnificent close-up view of the beautiful Devon coast thanks to the breakfast room’s glass panels. Breakfast is plentiful – you can order cooked food, toast, and the like from a menu and there’s also a small buffet bar with cereals, croissants, bread rolls, and ham for those who are more inclined towards a continental breakfast.
Contemplating how to spend our Sunday: do we try to squeeze a bit of time in the sauna in before the 11am check-out time or do we check out and visit somewhere nearby, like Salcombe? We opt for the latter. Our belated Valentine’s weekend was magical and it’s all thanks to the Thurlestone Hotel.
Disclaimer: this review was not written in exchange for any freebies or the like.