In today’s over-populated, over-stimulated and multi-media saturated world it’s not easy to switch off, kick back and genuinely relax.
Before my visit to Brighton’s Harbour Hotel, based on the end of West Street and overlooking the seafront, I hadn’t properly let my hair down (metaphorically because it’s mostly grey or gone) since about 1985.
I shuffled up to the hotel on a Friday afternoon following a unremarkable busy week, my spine aching from five, largely, desk-bound days, and bounced out a few hours later feeling like well-fed Tigger after a 14-hour sleep in a sun-drenched Hundred Acre Wood.
The keys to my dramatic reanimation were a marvellous massage and spa afternoon, followed by some superb tucker at the hotel’s sea-view rich Jetty Restaurant.
It was the sort of thing you promise you’ll do for yourself but never get round to it.
The Harbour Hotel group has launched its own in-house range of HarSPA products and treatments at nine of it’s spa venues, in destinations including St Ives, Christchurch, and closer to home, Chichester.
As a screaming metrosexual who is no stranger to a pot of age-defying moisturising serum, I was tempted with a facial treatment. But equally, as a creaking middle-aged chap with a grumbling back injury, the HarSPA reviver massage seemed like the most sensible option.
The aptly-named Reviver is a deep tissue massage to ease achy muscles and work on areas of tension.
A softy-spoken masseuse ushered me into an equally softly-spoken room, candle-lit, fragrant, and playing the most gentle of minimal music (the type that would have caused ambient-maestro Brian Eno to ask for ‘something with a bit more oomph.’)
The masseuse asked about past ailments and after I’d whinged about my injury she asked what level of massage I could cope with. I considered telling her I had the heart of a lion and not to hold back, but ending up meekly saying: ‘about medium’.
What followed was 70 minutes of bliss. A personal nirvana. A Shangri-La on sea.
In a haze of almond oil she worked her magic on my creaky old back, my arms and legs, my semi-clawed computer-keyboard hovering hands, my feet, my head, my hair, and even my tum, although she’d have needed the strength of Wonder Woman to get to any muscles in there.
As the knots in my muscles were extricated, so were the naggling, grumbling low-level loops of angst.
All absurd, trivial worries just drifted away like the sound of whale song that I may, or may not have been hearing at the time.
No matter how stressed or preoccupied with nonsense your mind is when you walk in, after more than an hour you’ll leave feeling like the Dalai Llama with the resting heart-rate of a Tour de France winner.
The chills, and no spills, were not over with the massage. With every treatment you can enjoy some time in the brand spanking new underground spa area.
On went the big bufty white bathrobe and it was for time for some serious spa time.
After a few lengths in a fair-sized hotel swimming pool and a splash about in a hydrotherapy pool, I descended into an underground grotto of further heat and moisture-related relaxation.
The sauna, steam room and Scandinavian hot tubs were super, but what was even better were the lovely chill-out area with huge sofa and fat cushions.
Post-spa, free from tension and filled with an almost Zen-like calm, I ushered my renergised form upstairs to The Jetty, the hotel’s refurbished restaurant.
My colleague, who had also enjoyed an afternoon treatment, was already seated and boosting her inner-calm with a glass of wine.I joined her in a glass of Picpoul de Pinets, a zesty French dry white which perfectly suited the fish to come and the early-evening sunshine.
The super-relaxed vibe continued in the bright and airy restaurant, interiors awash with light woods and blues and whites, it screamed summer-fresh. Similarly fresh was the seafood and fish, a crispy monkfish cheek starter was enlivened by tomato kasundi an Asian chutney with cumin mustard seeds chilli and turmeric, and a bountiful mixed grill of bream, brill, mussels, prawns with garlic butter, was a simple but well-executed plate of great fresh fish.
It was a Friday and accordingly my colleague yearned for fish and chips. The Jetty’s take on the nation’s former favourite dish was a good ‘un. A light batter made for perfectly poached fish, with smashed peas and fat chips.
The puddings were also fairly fabulous things.
I was quite taken by the idea of the gin and tonic granita with the elderflower panacotta, and the zingy little icy addition worked well with the delicately flavoured panacotta, which incidently, had the required amount of wobble.
My partner, who had taken in the peaceful afternoon pursuits, pressed on with her fermented-grape relaxation method and I did the decent thing and finished off her Amaretto Sable, a classy combination of cherry ice cream, a substanial white chocolate cremeaux and an extra hit of intense fruit flavour in the form of a cherry gel.
The service in the restaurant was excellent from start to finish (we can’t take credit for the choice of the wine) and serenity abounded from all corners, even the open kitchen from where we could observe the unflappable chefs and kitchen staff doing their thing. If you’re a guy or a girl who’s considering treating themselves to a luxurious spa afternoon and some great food, my advice is to dive in feet first (although not literally, that’d spoil everyone else’s blissed out reveries).