Saturday, 15 December 2012

On a cold and frosty morning...












I’m not an outdoors type. Never have been. Give me a centrally-heated house, a roaring fire, cuddled up under a blanket and I’m happy. So when the Lido invited me for a spa day in December, I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for. As Mark Thwaites, Lido Manager, says himself: ‘the Lido isn’t like other spas. People come here expecting a warm, indoor pool, loungers around the edge, and they get this’.

Yes. ‘This’ - the outdoor pool thing. I’ve done swimming in the rain, but what about frost?  I’ve always looked at those pictures of Icelandic hot springs and thought they look so pretty but I couldn’t imagine it being a particularly pleasant experience – all icy shores and steamy water.  The day we spent at the Lido at the beginning of December measured a brisk 5 degrees. The pool is solar-heated, but without much sun about at this time of year, the water temperature was a chilly 19 degrees.

So we sat in the warm, cozy café-bar and ate breakfast – sourdough toast and homemade jam for him, fruit toast and maple butter for me, coffee times two. Life these days means we’re always running late, always hectic, always a whirlwind - after dropping the kids with my parents for the day, we needed to decompress. Sitting in tranquil silence with your loved one, a perfect breakfast, the sound of the lapping water outside. I could get used to this.

I’ve had massages for years but never a Lomi Lomi – the traditional massage of Hawaii, no less, which “brings together the warm spirit of these incredible tropical islands with a deep massage that feels ‘to the bone’’’, according to the treatment description. I’d woken up the day before with an ache in my lower back, and therapist Claire’s expertise sorted it out in an hour in what is one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The oils used in the treatment are part of the Lido’s new range of spa products, years in the making and completely bespoke. We came out red-cheeked, smoothed, fragrant and relaxed, and were directed to the tea room – comfy chairs, blankets, complimentary tea, and magazines – where we came back to reality at our own pace.  

Post-massage, we met up with Mark for a tour and a chat about the ethos of the Lido. He explained that the water contains minimal amounts of chlorine, but to maintain these levels bathers must be scrupulously clean before entering the water. What better way to encourage extensive scrubbing than to provide top quality spa products free of charge? Mark and his team went to a Somerset apothecary to develop their own bespoke range along the same lines as the Lido kitchen, which meant knowing the provenance of each ingredient that goes into the final product. Alongside the Purifying body wash (containing cleansing cypress, lime and grapefruit to ensure squeaky-clean swimmers), another body wash is supplied for the post-pool shower: Rose Geranium body wash, with clary sage and chamomile to hydrate the skin. And to top it off, a Refreshing shampoo completes the trilogy, incorporating chamomile, lemon and lavender. The products contain no animal products or chemical nasties, and I was impressed by the quality of the ingredients, the blend of the essential oils which permeate the whole building, even recognisable from the street if the wind blows in the right direction. I struggled with the pumps in a couple of the showers, making it tricky to get enough product for my hair, but this was a minor niggle.

We followed Mark’s suggestion to bathe in the Nordic fashion (Mark’s mother is Finnish and the Lido’s owner is Swedish, so this is authentic advice) – shower, swim, steam room, swim, steam room, swim, sauna, swim, sauna, one last swim, then the hot tub. Oh, and I forgot the cold water bucket. Post steam/sauna, pre swim. Each time, literally a bucket of cold water tipped over your head from a height. Brrrr….

But, actually, it was fantastic. Invigorating. Refreshing. When I first entered the pool it felt shockingly cold, and to save face I decided I would do two lengths before getting out. But the chill of the pool subsided before those two lengths were up, and I stayed in for many more. The transfer from pool to steam room was pretty parky but the warmth of the steam room felt even more welcome to my goose-pimpled skin. Our final plunge into the hot tub was delicious – bath-water warm, bubbly and relaxing. We felt exhilarated and a huge sense of achievement.

After one final shower, squeaky clean and weary, we got dressed and headed for the restaurant for a late lunch. To start, we chose deep-fried aubergine with goats curd, oregano, chilli and honey. This was one of the lightest dishes I’ve ever eaten, and, despite not being a huge fan of aubergine, it was soft and delicious, enhanced by the earthiness of the honey and the zip of chilli. To follow, we ate butternut squash manti with sweet tomato sauce, pine nuts, yoghurt, brown butter and confit egg yolk. Manti is a kind of middle-eastern stuffed pasta, and the little parcels were full of flavor, contrasting well with the rich sauce, soft egg and crunchy nuts. We finished with dessert – Ben ate salted caramel chocolate tart and I chose chocolate and stout ice-cream. The meal was spectacular, faultless, and the contrast between warming Mediterranean flavours followed by cold ice cream was thoroughly amazing. Chilli meets chilly - extremes of temperature - much like the day itself.

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Full day spa packages include a 1-hour treatment, breakfast, lunch, soft drinks, and full use of the facilities, and cost £115. For seasonal promotions (including the British Winter Swim &Lunch for £30), visit the Lido website or Facebook page, and follow the Lido on Twitter.

Lido Spa products are currently available to buy from the Lido in Bristol and will be available online in 2013. The range includes three types of body wash products, hand wash, hand lotion, hair care and scented candles. Lido Spa has its own Facebook page.

Lido spa bottle shots: Lido Bristol
All other shots: Lottie Storey/Oyster & Pearl

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