Just outside my hotel Piccadilly Circus is roaring with energy, but my 19-year-old niece and I have sunk into cloud-soft loungers in a scented subterranean world of the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, one of the capital’s very finest spas in the basement of Hotel Café Royal.
We have already unwound in a minimalist, domed sauna constructed entirely from sleek hemlock wood, and have stretched out in a temple-like hammam built from thick stabs of Carrara marble. Soon we’ll do some languorous laps in the low-lit pool, then sip margaritas in world-renowned pastry chef Albert Adria’s only UK restaurant (also marble clad, though this time in sunset-hued Sienna).
Indecently decadent? Quite possibly. But British universities have closed up for the summer and if ever there was a time to throw moderation to the wind and love-bomb the student in your life with luxury, it is now.
According to a survey published in May, over 70 per cent of university students have considered dropping out this year. More than 80 per cent say Covid-19 has had a negative effect on their university experience, and over 50 per cent report feeling stressed every single day. Heading to the hammam for the second time, that stress seemed to be falling away for my niece.
Spa breaks can’t fix everything, yet for parents welcoming frazzled teenagers home from grotty student houses and disappointing terms, a weekend away for some relaxation, self care and togetherness is not a bad place to start. But here’s the rub. The atmosphere of some spa hotels can be a little… mature. A fraction clinical; perhaps even a smidgen dull for the young.
So we’ve rounded up the best places to take your teen for TLC with added – as the kids stopped saying decades ago – cool-factor. Plus, the expert’s personal picks of the best treatments for stressed-out students.
The crème de la crème: Hotel Café Royal, London
The undisputed queen of spa breaks for teenagers has absolutely everything they, or anyone else frankly, could possibly ask for; from nine treatment rooms to London’s first Watsu pool via guided meditations, and a private hammam.
The wow-factor carries right the way through the rest of the hotel, too, starting at the vast Art Deco lobby, carrying across the mosaic floors to the gilded ceilings of the Oscar Wild Lounge where the writer first fell for Lord Alfred Douglas, David Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust, and Mick Jagger wiggled his hips. A whole lot sexier, in other words, that the average sedate spa hotel.
The bedrooms have enough glitz and gadgetry to impress the savviest student. Baths are carved from solid blocks of marble; bathroom mirrors turn into televisions; and many have views across Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, into which shopaholic teens can disappear post-spa. Staff hover in every corner to pamper and pander but are of the smiling (not sombre) sort. Heaven.
Spa tip: Gemma Grove, spa director, recommends WE De-Stress: “It is the perfect treatment for anxious students, the frankincense blend and meditation techniques at the start and end of the treatment helps to re-focus the mind, whilst releasing the built-up physical and emotional tension built up while studying for exams.”
How to do it: A weekend escape for two starts at £490, including breakfast, access to the spa, exhibition tickets to the National Gallery, unlimited free in-room movies and Regent Street VIP card granting you a 10 per cent discount in shops (hotelcaferoyal.com). Read the full hotel review here.
The pop up: The Mitre Hampton Court, Surrey
This boutique hotel, recently transformed by celebrity designer Nicola Harding, is transforming one its luxury suites into a pop-up spa from July.
Aromatherapy scents will circulate through the “Pamper Spa Suite”, staffed by a team of therapists under the tutelage of British natural beauty brand, Lola’s Apothecary. Guests can choose from a menu of massage and facials, sip on Lola’s Apothercary’s wellness tea range (supercharged with adaptogenic herbs), then eat a nourishing meal in one of the hotel’s two restaurants, or take part in the new weekend fitness classes taken by bona-fide social media influencers.
Spa tip: Rosa Crawford, founder of Lola’s Apothecary, recommends a massage with Sweet Lullaby Souffle: “Our ‘hug-in-a-bottle’ fragrance has lavender and ylang ylang at its soothing heart, grounded by patchouli and vanilla, and uplifted by fleeting sweet orange. It is popular with teenagers because of the lovely comfort blanket it evokes, for when you need a hug!”
The eco escape: Titanic Spa, Yorkshire
This Yorkshire eco spa is powered by solar panels while the pools use water from a natural spring. Its aesthetic – a restored textile mill with modern warehouse vibes – is far more cool than crusty, however. It welcomes everyone over the age of 18 and its apartment accommodation is perfect for mixed age groups.
Spa tip: Carly Boothroyd, spa manager, recommends The Mud Chamber: “It’s the perfect spa experience for guests to enjoy with loved ones. This 25-minute experience takes place in a private steam room and is inspired by ancient Egyptian bathing which helps to relax the body and mind and detoxify the skin. You simply apply organic mud to your body and face, relax in the warmth of the herbal steam and rinse away the impurities with a gentle tropical rain shower.”
How to do it: Spa breaks for two start at £318 including use of the spa, accommodation in an apartment, continental breakfast, one-course light lunch, and two-course evening meal (titanicspa.com).
The surfer’s paradise: The Headland, Cornwall
Name me a spa with a better view. The Headland is perched above one of Europe’s most famous surfing beaches at Fistral – perfect for active teens (or those who are fans of surfers).
Spa facilities include a hydrotherapy pool, Cornish salt steam room, Swedish sauna, hot tub, and aromatherapy showers. The hotel has also just ploughed £10 million into the new Aqua Club which has six indoor and outdoor pools, including a heated sunset spa with views across the Atlantic, and vitality pool with a granite menhir in the middle. There’s a surf and stand-up paddleboard school, too.
Top tip: Lindsay England, spa and wellness manager, recommends the Castaway Ritual: “It is designed to detox, release tension and nourish the skin.”
The treehouse retreat: Chewton Glen, Hampshire
The UK’s original country house hotel spa underwent a wholesale renovation less than a year ago. But for young people looking for a more contemporary and relaxed atmosphere, Chewton Glen’s treehouse suites are ideal – each is suspended 35 feet above ground, decked out in luxuries from woodburners to hot tubs and has a menu of unique treatments available on its private wrap-around balcony.
Top tip: Spa director Kerry Hudson recommends the New Forest Flow treatment: “This rhythmic deep pressure massage releases tensions and toxins and restores the body’s natural flow with lavender that encourages the release of physical and mental stress. Delivered with compassionate intent in a unique natural environment, this treatment results in an unmistakable lightness of being that is both uplifting and balancing.”
The fun and affordable option: Ribby Hall Village, Yorkshire
If your spa companion has a short attention span, this holiday village also has a water park. Its spa, however, is a haven of surprising sophistication – not only is there a hydrotherapy pool, steam and sauna but also a Balinese salt inhalation room, and Zen garden.
Top tip: Tottoh-Woollatt, the spa duty manager, recommends the Deluxe Scalp Massage: “It includes a hot-stone back massage followed by a scalp massage incorporating the neck, shoulders, face and arms with hot and cold marine stones to further increase relaxation. If a student has been hunched over their coursework or a device for several hours, they may not be aware that some headaches can be caused by their static posture.”
How to do it: Overnight Spa Breaks start at £119 per person (based on two sharing) – including breakfast, use of facilities and £35 dinner allocation (ribbyhall.co.uk).
The all-rounder: Rockliffe Hall, County Durham
Rockliffe Hall ticks off all the ‘iums’: tepidarium, caldarium, tropicarium… Then there’s the roomy swimming pool, the sauna and steam rooms, hydropool, ice fountain, sound-wave therapy beds, spa garden, salt and mud rooms. A brand-new restaurant, The Spa Brasserie, is also opening this summer. Sure there’s golf, but it isn’t too grown up. Luxurious without being snooty.
Top tip: Spa director Katie Towersey recommends the mind therapy room: “30 delicious minutes of profound relaxation cocooned on our Gharani Spawave bed is Rockliffe Hall’s answer to a power nap! Combining audio therapy, chromotherapy and a highly effective vibration system integrated into the lying surface, this innovative sound massage system combines the benefits of deep relaxation techniques as well as meditation and mindfulness.”
The sporty spa: Runnymede Hotel, Surrey
Okay, so the Seventies façade is uninspiring, but what’s beyond is wittily and alluringly retro – from the Austin-Powers-esque, space-age woodburner in the centre of the lounge to the brand-new Airstream caravan that serves drinks and ice creams outside.
The spa is great too. Awarded Guinot crown elite status, it has a marble eucalyptus steam room, infrared and pine saunas and an outdoor hot tub on the riverbank. Sporty students will enjoy the outdoor pool, tennis courts, gym, paddle board hire, archery and laser clay pigeon shooting.
Top tip: Caroline Doran, spa manager, recommends the Guinot Hydradermie facial for stressed student skin: “Using a dramatically effective combination of the latest technology, soothing manual massage and personalised plant extracts, a Hydradermie facial treatment deep-cleans the skin, re-hydrates the deeper layers and speeds up cellular renewal leaving your skin revitalised, toned and glowing with health.”
Please note that the above had availability for the coming months at the time of publishing. For more inspiration on where to take the teenagers, see our guide to the best hotels in England.