Enjoy a relaxing retreat & afternoon tea at one of Essex's luxury spa hotels

DRIVING down the leafy lane to Lifehouse Spa, the gorgeous countryside had us starting to unwind even before we had arrived at the relaxing retreat.

We had headed here for a weekend away from the stench of hand sanitiser and stream of bad news — and as we turned into the drive we knew we had hit the jackpot.

The luxury spa hotel is in the picturesque village of Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex, just over an hour from London by train.

With 89 guest rooms, 35 treatment rooms, a state-of-the-art spa and a fine dining restaurant, the palatial white-brick hotel is the ultimate retreat — and is inevitably a favourite with Towie girls such as Lydia Bright.

There’s so much to do here — from walks around the 12 acres of peaceful English Heritage-listed gardens to hardcore hitt or pilates classes and juicing retreats. Our one-night Virgin Experience Days’ Love Life Spa Break was a gift to ourselves to brighten up a grim January and kick-start our New Year resolutions.

The break included a stay for two in a double or twin room, a mini 25-minute facial or massage, full use of the spa facilities plus a three-course dinner and breakfast.

The modern, contemporary rooms make a striking first impression with full-height windows and juliet balcony giving a view of the stunning gardens.

Ground-floor garden rooms have their own patios. And for those, like us, going on a girlie break, the cleverly designed twin rooms have two comfy beds and plenty of space.

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After a quick nose around the bathroom with its upmarket toiletries, we changed into fluffy robes and slippers and headed to the spa.

In between using the hot relaxation rooms including the steam, sauna and salt-inhalation, we dived into the chilly plunge pool for that authentic Nordic spa experience. There were screams and gasps, but mainly giggles.

Next up it was time for a swim in the 18-metre pool, which has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the gardens.

Watching the sun set while floating in the ambiently-lit pool was ultimate relaxation.

Ten lengths later — well, you can’t exercise too hard at a spa, can you? — it was time for a dip in the hydrotherapy pool before heading for a mini massage in one of the spa’s peaceful treatment rooms.

Before we knew it, the evening was creeping in so we headed upstairs to change for dinner.

The restaurant offers a huge range of foods from Italian chef Ugo Simonelli, who has worked in fine dining restaurants for 25 years.

Highlights included his fresh fish stew with giant couscous and “Mama’s Tiramisu”.

After a nightcap in the hotel’s bar, we crept up to bed and collapsed into crisp white sheets.

The following morning it was up early for a pre-breakfast swim, then fresh juices, pastries and a full English.

There were plenty of veggie options too, plus smoked salmon and poached eggs available to order.

After more time in the spa and an indulgent afternoon tea — an extra treat to ourselves — the hotel’s shuttle bus ferried us back to the station.

Our break may have been short but it was sweet, and we arrived home feeling utterly relaxed and ready to face the New Year.

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