As you approach the hotel down the long drive, past the fields and through the huge wooden doors, you know you’re entering somewhere rather special.
Whatley Manor is a perfect and peaceful Cotswolds country house hotel, offering Michelin star dining, beautiful gardens, delightful rooms and a lovely spa. And now, Aquarias spa has a new product partner on board, exclusive French brand Sothy’s, offering relaxing and decadent treatments in tune with Whatley Manor’s nature-embracing, sustainable ethos.
The wisteria-clad Cotswold stone hotel has a warmth about the place and feels well loved by staff and guests alike. The charming manor house is beautifully maintained, as are the Arts and Crafts style gardens that surround the hotel. The whole estate has a serene and friendly atmosphere, making a great choice for a relaxing break.
Located in the east of the Cotswolds, the hotel’s not far from Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury, Chippenham and Bath.
By train, head to Chippenham and it’s a 25-minute taxi transfer from the station.
Whatley Manor’s spa, Aquarias, continues the hotel’s serene vibe. Centred around a large in-out hydrotherapy pool, it’s a classy and comfortable place to relax and enjoy the pool and thermal facilities. The pool area’s filled with natural light and looks out to the gardens, which can be enjoyed from comfy terrace loungers with a glass of bubbly or fresh smoothie.
The spa has a Romanesque feel, reflected in the thermal suite which includes:
• a hot Calidarium steam room and cooler Steam Grotto, complete with twinkly lights
• a hot sauna (Laconium) and cooler Infra-red sauna, which warms from within
• and a large Roman-style Tepidarium with deceptively comfortable heated mosaiced loungers. Great for a cosy nap, it’s also where you’ll be collected if you have any treatments booked.
There’s also an Experience Shower, which has a cold setting for anyone wanting to indulge their inner Wim Hoff and practise contrast therapy, alternating between hot and cold experiences. Cooled face cloths and ice are also available for chill-seekers. And, the spa provides guests with a coconut shower scrub if you want to add to the experience with a skin-smoothing treat.
For anyone wanting a private spa experience, there’s an exclusive VIP treatment suite with dual treatment room, large day bed and its own jacuzzi.
Aquarias has six treatment rooms, including one double, and a separate area for manicures and pedis. There’s also a floatation pod if you’re up for trying something a little different and fancy the idea of floating in saline water and listening to soporific music.
The changing rooms have plenty of lockers and guests are given a robe and towel, plus flip flops for use during their spa visit. Aquarias is one of the first UK spas to robes and towels that require significantly less energy to launder. You won’t find any plastic cups, cozzy bags or any disposable plastic for that matter, as the hotel’s a single-use plastic free zone.
The spa also has its own lounge bar and café area, which serves light lunches and refreshments to spa guests. We enjoyed a quinoa salad bowl, Thai style chicken skewers, and a fresh fruit smoothie, which hit the spa lunch spot perfectly. And we didn’t even have to get out of our spa robes.
There’s also a decent gym with cardio and resistance equipment and its own studio where personal training sessions can be arranged on request.
The spa and gym are open from 8am until 8pm and have lift access.
The new treatment menu at Aquarias is extensive and includes restorative rituals, cocooning mud wraps and body polishing alongside more familiar massages and facials. The spa also offers pregnancy treatments and those designed for people receiving cancer therapies. Some treatments include more spiritual elements too, including crystal therapy and Shirodhara, where warmed coconut oil is poured over your ‘third eye’ in the middle of your forehead.
Whatley Manor has recently partnered with nature-embracing Sothy’s (pronounced ‘so-tees’), alongside fellow fab eco brand Gaia. An exclusive and prestigious French beauty brand, Sothy’s brings its original, decadent treatments to Aquarias spa, with each one designed to offer a personalised experience and the product fragrance changes with the season.
As there are very few UK spas currently offering Sothy’s, I was keen to try one of their new treatments and chose their Sensations Orientales. An exfoliating treatment with an exotic Morroccan influence, it combines chemical enzyme exfoliation with mechanical exfoliation from a handmade terracotta disc.
Here’s our review of the treatment:
Before my treatment started, I was taken to the spa lounge and given a questionnaire to complete to highlight any health issues and areas of tension to address during the treatment. I was then handed a spa robe and flip flops, and invited to make my way to the Tepidarium to wait for my therapist.
The therapist, Georgia, talked me through the treatment and the Sothy’s brand. She explained that the hotel had chosen the brand as their new partner for its luxurious products and strong natural credentials, which are in line with Whatley Manor ‘s own. Both family-owned, they share a respect for nature, and each has an impressive garden that’s central to its offering.
She went on to describe the treatment, explaining that it was based on traditional oriental techniques and that a ‘syrup’ would be smoothed over my skin with the exfoliating stone, starting on the back of my body, then moving on to the front. She also gave me the option to have the treatment completely uncovered, but being of a British disposition, and wanting to maximise my feeling of relaxation, I opted to keep any parts of my body that weren’t actively being massaged firmly covered up.
The treatment started with a soothing foot ritual followed gentle message strokes up and down my back. The massage table was particularly comfy, and I already felt relaxed. Next, the therapist applied the ‘syrup’, an exotic serum with myrrh and amber, which she massaged into my arms, legs and back in slow sweeping motions. The syrup felt thicker than massage oil, and less slippy, which worked well with the gentle pace and added to the relaxation benefit. The product smelled amazing and filled the room with the exotic aroma.
Next, the therapist introduced the textured stone, exfoliating my skin using long sweeping motions. The disc felt surprisingly smooth and silky. Once the stone had worked its magic on my legs, arms and back, the therapist then gently removed the remaining syrup with hot towels. This felt particularly soothing, and it was as much as I could do to stay awake.
Once all the syrup has been removed, the therapist started to apply the warm amber massage oil. The slow pace continued with long, soothing and swirling massage strokes, smoothing the oil over my skin including my décolleté and shoulders. I then heard a soft whisper instructing me to turn over and the same process was repeated on my front.
The combination of the exotic warming fragrance, soothing massage techniques and warmth from the treatment and bed made for a very cocooning experience and was unlike anything I’d experienced before. The effect was quite mesmerising and left me feeling very relaxed, slightly spaced-out and like I’d been transported to Morrocco. At the end of the treatment, I was led back to the tepidarium, where I was given a cup of green tea with rose to enjoy on the warm stone lounger. The therapist also gave me the terracotta stone used in the treatment to keep and use at home. I felt properly pampered and my skin felt, and smelled, divine.
Sothy’s Sensations Orientales treatment costs £110 for 60 minutes.
Rooms and suites are comfortable and individually designed with colourful furnishings and a contemporary-classic feel. Each of the 23 rooms is unique, but they all share the same attention to detail and thoughtful touches that elevate the stay, like good, intuitive lighting and perfectly positioned power sockets. We appreciated the plate of fresh fruit and chocolate truffles waiting for us on arrival, and the additional complimentary snacks and refreshments in the mini bar, with the option of ordering more by QR code. A yoga mat in the wardrobe was another nice touch.
We stayed in room nine, just up the grand wooden staircase. It’s a large, light-filled suite with separate living space and a lovely bay window overlooking the gardens. The bathroom’s a good size, with a bath and separate shower and was stocked with Molten Brown products in refillable ceramic pots.
The bed was exceptionally comfy, and I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had for some time, waking up to birdsong drifting in through the open window. The fact that I was still blissed-out from my treatment and a good meal probably helped too.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome at the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. Speak to the hotel at the time of booking. There’s an additional charge of £30 per dog per night which includes a bed, food bowl, toy and map of good walking routes around the hotel.
Rooms from £354 for a Classic Room including breakfast and full use of the spa facilities from 1pm on the day of arrival to 1pm on the day of check-out.
wining & dining
Whatley Manor has two quality dining options: Grey’s, the hotel’s informal main restaurant, and The Dining Room, offering a 7-course tasting menu experience.
We were booked in to Grey’s but headed to the classic wood-panelled lounge beforehand to enjoy a pre-dinner drink, in my case a cosmopolitan made with Whatley Manor’s own citrus vodka. There’s a relaxed atmosphere throughout the hotel, and the spacious lounge was no exception.
We then headed to Grey’s to eat. The hotel’s main dining space, it offers Michelin quality dining in a relaxed environment, with leather banquettes and a tiled floor that gives the restaurant a slightly continental feel. Our lovely window table looked out through the diamond panes to the front of the hotel.
The menu at Grey’s is just the right size – not overwhelming, but with enough choice for everyone to find something that they fancy. Everything we ordered was very well executed, with an emphasis on fresh flavours and seasonal ingredients, many from the hotel’s own kitchen garden.
We enjoyed tapioca crackers with hummus and roasted chickpeas as an appetiser, followed by a confit duck leg with radicchio and pomegranate starter, perfect roast Cornish trout for main, and fresh rhubarb with ginger and hibiscus panna cotta to finish. All courses were perfectly cooked and presented with interesting and original flavour combinations.
Service was attentive, without being overly so, and the waiter was knowledgeable and friendly, taking time to chat with several fellow diners who were obviously regulars.
Come morning, Grey’s is transformed into a lively breakfast spot, offering a range of cooked and continental options. My Eggs Royale were poached to perfection, and I made sure to save room to enjoy one of the pre-pared pots of fresh fruit for a bit of balance. Delicious.
The hotel also offers a lovely afternoon tea which can be served on the terrace when the weather permits for a quintessential treat.
why so spavellous?
Whatley Manor has a real sense of space, calm and understated luxury, with all the elements necessary for a perfect relaxing retreat: beautiful house, glorious gardens, quietly luxurious rooms, delicious food and welcoming, friendly staff.
It’s a great choice for a special occasion stay – especially for anyone who appreciates a slower pace. The hotel and its Arts and Crafts style gardens are interesting and attractive and there a lots of peaceful places to just sit and be, both outside and in the various charming garden rooms.
Aquarias is a lovely, tranquil place to relax. There’s a good variety of quality, nurturing treatments and the spa’s heat experiences keep the interest and circulation going.
Whatley Manor has a sustainable ethos, with a ‘zero to landfill’ policy and Green Michelin Star for gastronomic sustainability. It’s also a member of the Too Good to Go food waste programme, and Aquarias Spa was the first to receive a Gold accreditation from the Sustainable Spa Association.
Several of the people we spoke with were returning guests and all mentioned the lovely, naturally friendly staff credited with giving the hotel its homely feel.
Take time to explore the gardens and head down to the river and bird hide – maybe with one of the hotel’s lovely picnics.
Consider booking the VIP treatment room for added romance or if you fancy a bit of privacy while you’re being pampered.
‘Whenever I come here, I forget any worries and come out feeling fabulous.’
‘I can’t wait to try one of the new spa treatments.’
‘It is always a treat to come here, the location is sublime, the architecture is charming, the gardens are wonderful, and the spa is superb. What more can you want?’
‘Whatley Manor has that ‘special something’ that makes us return again and again.’