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Five serene retreats to kick-start 2023

From soothing spas to beachy boltholes, Ianthe Butt shares the best spots for New Year relaxation

As much as we love the festive season for its non-stop socialising and permanent state of sparkle, there’s something ever so inviting about the post-Christmas calm. And what better way to lean into a slower pace (at last!) than to retreat to somewhere really relaxing? We asked travel writer Ianthe Butt for the best places to kick back and recharge after welcoming in 2023; whether you’re craving refreshing sea swims, seaweed soaks, clever spa treatments or a nature fix, these UK retreats are guaranteed soul-lifters.

For seaside dips: Chapel House Penzance, Cornwall

After a warm hug of a seaside hotel? Chapel House’s new two-night wellness retreat ticks the box. This red-brick Georgian townhouse turned boutique hotel is top-to-toe homely; it’s decorated with shades of cloud grey, soft marine blues and whitewashed floorboards, a fire flickers in the lounge, and the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafts from the kitchen. Set close to the coast, the wellness break includes guided, invigorating morning sea swims plus a geothermal dip at art deco lido, Jubilee Pool. Back at the hotel, expect a pleasingly restful stay featuring an aromatherapy massage, hot tub and sauna time in the fruit-tree-filled garden, home-cooked breakfasts, and an ‘Ottolenghi by way of Penzance’ lunch whipped up by owner Susan Stuart. Six soothing bedrooms and two suites, with wave-coloured accents, give proceedings an intimate feel, making it a great pick for BFF catch-ups and small groups. Book here.

For countryside escapism: Kittylands at Aller Dorset

Move over van life – this new escape in rolling Dorset farmland, with whirl-of-pink and burgundy interiors and a retreat twist, has us all aflutter for charmed hut life. Owner Cat Earp’s interiors in the custom-designed hut (by Plankbridge, who do The Pig’s) are unapologetically romantic; think beds with scallop-edged headboards, ruffle-edged cushions, a Matilda Goad heart-shaped chair and work-of-art kitchen cabinet. A natural hostess, Cat’s thought of everything: a whimsically-illustrated area guide, heavenly in-hut reflexology with Annabelle Turner, and grounding yoga sessions with Aimee Strongman. Pre-prepped dinners of burrata, pomegranate, pistachio and orange salad, sweetcorn to be rolled in harissa mayo, and jacket potatoes require simple firepit grilling. Add in Bettina Ceramica striped plates and rose-pink candles, and voila – an occasion supper by the woodburner is made wonderfully easy. Don’t miss tramping fern-fringed paths to plunge into the spring-fed lake and sunrise soaks in the outdoor bath, where touch-of-Wes-Anderson maroon chequerboard tiles and twinkly lights, combined with dappled canopy light, are utter magic. Book here.

For spa aficionados: Pennyhill Park, Surrey

Cutting a dash in 120 acres of Surrey parkland, Pennyhill’s home to Tudor-look buildings, atmospheric Hogwarts-feel corridors and an impressive 45,000ft spa. Yes, there are bucketloads of facilities, but what’s special are the unexpected moments; classical music plays underwater in the ballroom pool, and a twenty-strong circuit of saunas, laconiums and steam rooms includes a rose-scented number. Stellar treatments include a Comfort Zone Pro-Sleep massage, where the body’s brushed with warm oil with a featherlight touch to aid deep relaxation. As for bedrooms, all 124 are unique; pick split-level Lily for a straight-out-of-The Crown four poster bed, or Columbine for its sunken Roman-style bath. Skip mealtime decision fatigue with dinner at Michelin-starred Latymer, where multi-course ‘Discovery’ menus feature surprise dishes such as Spenwood cheese and truffle choux, rich maitake quail’s egg and potato emulsion, and zingy whortleberry and basil lemon posset. Book here

For forested zen: Lime Wood, The New Forest

Herb House, the three-storey spa at New Forest charmer Lime Wood, is renowned for its R&R credentials with good reason. Relaxation spaces welcome in the forest with floor-to-ceiling windows, meaning sauna sweats with swaying bamboo views (more Kyoto than Hampshire) and hydrotherapy pool soaks that pair water jet massage and beech tree vistas. On bright days, the 16m indoor pool comes alive with sunbeams, which stream in through a skylight and dance on the water as you swim. Targeted treatments include knot-busting VOYA deep tissue massages, and – from January – the debut of anxiety-alleviating GROUND treatments by Peigin Crowley. Spa aside, you could don Hunter wellies and pony-spot along woodland trails, but the allure of this countryside manor is in hunkering down; feast on gnocchi cacio e pepe at Harnett Holder & Co, or retire to a garden cottage bedroom to unwind fireside before an excellent night’s rest. Book here.

Images: Jake Eastham

For unhurried reflection: The Spa at Laceby Manor, Lincolnshire

This newbie larch-clad spa, set on the fringe of Laceby Manor’s acclaimed golf course in the Lincolnshire Wolds, offers opportunities for private relaxation in abundance. As well as a natural pool – filled using filtered rainwater – for cold water therapies, a monochrome-tiled aromatherapy steam room, indoor-outdoor vitality pool, and Finnish sauna, there’s also a swish bathing room with tranquil Japanese garden. After treatments, which run the gamut from Tribe 517 hot salt stone massage to 111SKIN depuffing cryo facials, settle into cute, individual relaxation ‘couchettes’ which take design inspo from plush railway sleeper carriages. The Oak Room restaurant serves up comforting wood-fired pizzas, and R&R can be continued in the spa’s Scandi-style lodge accommodation, as each has its own terrace with brushed nickel bathtub for seaweed-infused ‘Lazy Days’ VOYA bathing experiences. Book here.