Ithink what we have here defines what spa is. I know spa means different things to different people, but to me, this is what puts spa on the map,” says group spa manager Kay Pennington of the revamped Aqua Sana spa at Center Parcs’s Sherwood Forest site in Nottinghamshire.
The spa, now known as the Forest Spa, unveiled the results of an investment of more than £3 million at the end of April.
The 16,150sq ft spa, which spans two floors and includes several outdoor sections, has not been expanded, but was renovated area by area over a 10-month period, remaining operational throughout.
Still drawing on a global spa concept, the vast Forest Spa comprises six zones with 26 different experiences. The zones, each featuring a woodland and nature theme, are: Nordic Forest; Volcanic Forest; Hot Springs; Forest Meditation Immersion; Treetop Escape; and Treetop Nesting.
Pennington explains that Center Parcs wanted the design of the restructured spa to reflect the countryside that surrounds it. “In the UK it’s very difficult to resonate with the elements but here at Aqua Sana we have a unique environment where we can use the forest and the nature around us, and that in itself is amazing,” she says. Pennington adds that the brief for Sparcstudio, the design consultancy that Center Parcs worked with on the redesign, was “to bring the outside in”, adding, “The focus was on nature and daylight, and you can see the forest pretty much anywhere in the spa.”
World of wellness
In keeping with the global spa concept, it wasn’t just the immediate nature that Center Parcs wanted to bring in to the Forest Spa. The entire spa was renovated with the Japanese wellness concept of forest bathing in mind, while the various zones draw inspiration from different parts of the world.
The Volcanic Forest was, for example, “created to replicate a forest in Costa Rica”, with facilities including the Lava Sauna and Volcanic Steam, while the Nordic Forest features a Finish-style sauna, eucalyptus and menthol-infused Alpine Steam and cosy, sheepskin-filled Scandinavian Snug relaxation area.
Center Parcs also took customer feedback into account, making sure to build some of the most popular elements from the old spa into the updated facility. “We knew the scent in the Japanese Salt Steam Room was particularly popular,” Pennington says. “So, we maintained a similar feature in what’s now been reinvented as the Salt Steam, which has Himalayan salt rocks that are fantastic for detoxing and remineralising.”
Although there’s tough competition for the title of standout feature in the enormous spa, the treetop sauna probably has the edge. The first of its kind in the UK, it’s a wooden structure elevated 10m above the ground, offering stunning forest views through its panoramic glass window.
“The treetop sauna is so unique and what I personally love about that experience is that you can’t capture the scene from that window anywhere else in the village; you can only get that if you’re elevated in the trees,” Pennington says.
The Forest Spa concept is set to be carried through to the new Longford Forest property, the first Center Parcs to open in Ireland, scheduled for completion in 2019. While it’s logical it will also be rolled out to the other existing Aqua Sanas, no such plans are confirmed at this point, with Pennington commenting: “We know we want to evolve with it but at this stage we’re not in a position to say where.”
For the time being, it’s a priority for Pennington and Center Parcs that there is brand consistency between the Forest Spa and the others in the group’s portfolio (at its Whinfell Forest, Elveden Forest, Woburn Forest and Longleat Forest properties), which are all still branded under the World of Spa moniker.
“We want clients to recognise that, through our business model, experiences, treatments, therapists, Vitalé Café Bar and so on; all of that is the brand,” says Pennington. The Aqua Sana brand also incorporates an in-house range of products and treatments, with options ranging from body lotion, hand wash and body scrub, to shampoo, conditioner and diffusers. This is a side of the business Pennington is keen to grow in the future. “We want to evolve it over the next 12 months and I’m currently looking at new products and ingredients, and at creating new spa packages,” she says.
AT A GLANCE
Relaunched: April 2017
Spa size: 16,150sq ft
Brands: Aqua Sana, Elemis, Decléor, CND
Treatment rooms: 21 including 18 singles, two doubles and a dry flotation room
Facilities: six zones with 26 experiences, including saunas, steam rooms, experience showers, outdoor hot tubs, an ice cave, a swimming pool, Sole Therapy footbath area, the treetop sauna, and many more
Team: 114 people including 70 therapists, 14 spa assistants; five managers; and 25 others including receptionists and retail staff
Just as at the other Center Parcs spas, Forest Spa continues to work with skincare lines Elemis and Decléor and nail brand CND.
The fact that the Forest Spa, with its multitude of facilities, offers something for nearly every client group means it is, Pennington adds, difficult to pinpoint a typical spa-goer. “We have lots of couples but we equally have lots of groups, and mums and daughters, for example, and I think that’s because of the choices we have compared to other spas.”
She does, however, comment that she’s recently noticed an increase in the number of younger couples. “The dynamic has started to change, in particular with millennial couples spending quality time together,” she says. “They’re conscious of their health and having time away from stress to focus on personal wellness.”
Center Parcs offers an activity den where parents can leave their children while they enjoy the spa, although children from the age of 11 can have treatments in the Express Beauty area if accompanied by an adult.
Aside from the group-wide focus on the Aqua Sana products and treatments, the plans for the Forest Spa over the next year is chiefly, Pennington says, to “stabilise our offering, allow the spa to flourish and get guests’ feedback on what we’ve created.”