As the latest spa in Center Parcs’ portfolio to be redeveloped with its signature Forest Spa theme, Wiltshire’s Aqua Sana Longleat Forest has fast become the jewel in the holiday village group’s crown. Completed in January, the £6 million, 18-month project saw all existing areas of the spa reworked, plus an expansion to an upper floor and the addition of five more heat and water experiences, bringing the total to 25.
The spa remained open throughout, creating a challenge in terms of minimising disruption for both guests and team. “Our implementation plan was cut into six phases, so each time, we would carve out an area and commit to creating a certain section,” says group spa manager Kay Pennington. “But it was meticulously done because we needed to ensure that while we were still open, guests had choice and that the range of facilities was balanced. So as we would take away a steam room, we would add a sauna, for example.”
Longleat follows in the footsteps of Sherwood Forest, which was the first Aqua Sana spa to relaunch under the Forest Spa concept in 2017, and Ireland’s Longford Forest, which adopted the concept from its inception and opened in 2019.
Out of the woods
All have multiple heat, water and relaxation zones inspired by the wellness concept of forest bathing. These maximise on Center Parcs’ woodland locations, both by bringing nature into the design through the use of local natural materials, and by creating as many options as possible for guests to look out at the grounds via features such as panoramic windows and outdoor pools. The original concept was created by design agency SparcStudio, which stayed on-board to translate it for Longleat.
All the Forest Spas have five zones - Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest, Forest Immersion and Treetop Nesting. While many of the facilities within these zones mirror those at Sherwood and Longford, there are two that have been created to be exclusive to Longleat - the Forest Cavern and Moonlight Steam Room. The latter creates an imposing effect, bathing users in cool light from a moonlight-effect centrepiece on the ceiling.
However, it is the Forest Cavern that gives Longleat its real USP. “It’s a centrepiece,” says Pennington. “It could only be at Longleat as we’re in an area surrounded by caves.” The space is a tepidarium that has been designed to look like the interior of a cave, and SparcStudio director Neil Fairplay says it is among the features he’s most proud of. “From the outset, we imagined a double-height cave environment where part of the ceiling had collapsed, allowing natural light, trailing foliage and rain water to flood in,” he says. “It’s hard not to be wowed by this experience; I think we’ve really pulled it off.”
Pennington adds: “The planning and the execution has been by far the best on this project because we’ve tested the formula.” There were, however, some key learnings from the previous two that have impacted the design at Longleat. “We know what our most popular spaces are at Sherwood so we’ve increased capacity for some of those here,” says Pennington. “The Nordic Sauna, for example, has become one of our most iconic images - anyone who thinks of Aqua Sana will now think of the Nordic Sauna - so we’ve elongated that space and made sure it has an even better view. We also created extra volume in some of the steam rooms so guests won’t be dissatisfied to find them full, and we’ve increased the capacity in circulation areas for people to wander and not feel congested, opening up the spa as much as we can.”
With the spa now holding up to 125 guests at a time (or 175 including the café, treatment and outdoor areas), a sense of space and a clear journey became a major priority for the project. Fairplay adds: “Prior to the refit, the guest journey was disjointed with lots of different levels, hidden spaces and underutilised areas. We focused hard on creating a seamless and intuitive guest journey…to provide a more comprehensive and complete spa offer.” Now, all zones lead off from the central pool area, with a logical circuit that guests can follow.
In addition to the main wet spa, the adjoining Vitalé Café Bar has also had a makeover. A £340,000 investment has given it a forest-themed design, and a more high-end feel, including table service to alleviate the need to queue. “This is the first time we’ve brought the forest spa into the rest of the facilities and I thought it was so important as part of the launch,” says Pennington.
Size: 23,917sq ft
Staff: 80, including managers, café staff, spa attendants and therapists
Spa zones: Five
Spa experiences: 25
Treatment rooms: 26
Brands: Decléor, Elemis, Flexi Skin, Lava Shells, Made For Life, Mii, Natural Spa Factory
The treatments space has also grown, with the addition of four rooms bringing the total to 26 and staff numbers increasing to match. “We’ve been more aware of recruitment because of the additional treatment rooms, and we knew we needed more hosts to support the guest journey so we’ve recruited them as well,” says Pennington. “When you’re making such huge changes you always expect leakage - you expect some people to leave - but this time we’ve retained almost all our staff. We have a 72% retention rate at Aqua Sana, which we’re very proud of.”
Pennington has also created an exclusive signature treatment for Longleat Forest, using Natural Spa Factory products. “Elemis and Decléor are still our main product houses but I wanted to show that we could create a treatment that’s Aqua Sana right the way through,” she says. “It’s very rural and woody here, so I wanted to use mud, clay and charcoal, which are also great for the skin’s mantle.” The two-hour Nature’s Ultimate Remedy ritual includes a rasul mud body mask, hot stone massage, charcoal face mask and more.
Now Longleat is complete, it’s yet to be decided which of the group’s five villages will be next to get a refit. “There will definitely be enhancements and refurbishments to other locations soon,” says Pennington. “We’re doing budgets right now to pinpoint where we want to spend the money next but if I’m being totally honest I’m looking forward to some breathing space to focus on the day job - looking after the teams and keeping on top of innovations in new treatments and products.” PB