Liz Gill tones up without the tears at this luxurious addition to the beautiful Domaine Butte Aux Bois
A newly opened spa in the heart of Belgium’s only national park is not aimed at puritans of the no-pain-no-gain persuasion. There is, of course, a gym and fitness routines up to boot camp level for those who want to impose punishing routines on themselves but for the rest of us the key word is pampering.
The Spa Retreat La Forêt is the latest addition to La Butte Aux Bois, built as a nobleman’s residence in 1924 and turned into a hotel in the mid-80s. It offers luxurious rooms, fine food and wine (one of its restaurants has a Michelin star), welcomes children and dogs and even sells cigars. This is definitely toning up without tears.
The original spa was among the first of is kind in the country but over the years it became too small to cope with an ever increasing demand, leading to the decision to create a state-of-the-art modern version. At 1350 sq m everything feels on a large scale. There are indoor and outdoor relaxing areas and terraces, spaces for yoga and meditation, a panorama sauna and infra red benches, a Jacuzzi, a hammam, an indoor pool, an iced water area and a little cafe serving delicious light dishes.
The treatments themselves are based on five principles: re-energising, re-harmonising, refreshing, regenerating and recovering and use Shiseido products as well as those developed by Dr. Yolande Bullens-Goessens, a dermatologist and wife of the hotel owner.
One of the draws of the new spa is expected to be the fact that Dr. Bullens, who has her own practice in nearby Genk, will be there one day a week for more serious cosmetic procedures including hyaluronic acid fillers and Botox . In a brief consultation she gives me an honest appraisal of what she could and could not do for my mature face. Her bluntness is slightly unnerving – though she was kind enough to say my crow’s feet didn’t show when I wasn’t laughing and when I was they were part of my character – but it also inspires confidence in her abilities.
I’m afraid I didn’t make the leap though partly because she said there would be bruising which might last a week and I had an important engagement on my return and opted instead for two of the spa’s signature treatments: an anti-ageing facial and the La Forêt Dance of Healing and Harmony.
Dance is only a metaphor here – all the client has to do is lie back, first for a 20 minute exfoliating lavender body scrub followed, after a shower, by a 55 minute Hawaiian-style lomi lomi massage in which only the forearms are used. The technique, says Barbara my therapist, means long, soothing strokes which move the body very gently to promote relaxation. One nice touch is that this treatment includes a fragrance spray which is used at the start and which you can take away with you afterwards to put on your pillow or onto a warm towel.
My anti-ageing facial is multi-layered and takes nearly an hour and a hour. There is a double cleansing with a milky lotion based on white grapes, then a tonic followed by a fruit acid scrub which tingles and feels hot – it’s meant to feel like that, I’m told, because it’s stimulating blood flow and cell regeneration. Next come three serums worked in by a technique which combines a sort of finger flicking with pressure on points that would be used in acupuncture. After this a face mask is left on for 15 minutes to help the absorption of collagen from the last serum and the session ends with a day cream and an eye cream.
After such an arduous day I’m ready for a cocktail in the cosy bar followed by dinner in the award-winning La Source where our menu gourmand starts with amuses bouche of paella crisps with octopus slivers and a bacon and egg beignet which you have to put into your mouth whole and then pop, an experience made slightly disconcerting by the fact that the beignet is black and hard to distinguish from the stones which decorate its serving plate.
We move onto North Sea crab with a variety of tomatoes and jalpeno, turbot with limes and creamed vegetables and lamb with green spices and ricotta. Dessert is a dense chocolate confection with raspberries and cabernet sauvignon vinegar to balance the richness.
I offset all this the next day with a stroll in the Hope Kempen National Park home to wild boar, deer, red squirrels and all kinds of bird life. If I’d had longer I could have gone horse riding, played golf or tennis, done Nordic walking, mountain biking, had workouts with a personal trainer or joined sessions for pilates, boxing or tai chi.
Sited just over the Belgian border La Butte is only five kilometres from Maastricht with its lovely old centre, museums, shops and nightlife. Retail therapy can be found at Maasmechelen outlet village and the Sunday antiques and flea market in nearby Tongeren which draws stallholders from all over Europe.
The hotel which has 59 rooms –20 in the spa extension plus 23 in the old manoir and 16 in La Villa by the lake – is located in the Flemish province of Limburg and only an hour’s drive from several airports including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Brussels and Antwerp making it easily accessible for a weekend break.
My stay was indulgent and restorative. My only complaint – and one shared by my female companions – is that the lighting in the new rooms is incredibly harsh. Note to management: it’s no good making guests feel good if they are then going to get a fright when they look in the mirror.
A three day, two 2-night short-stay package costs £635 per person and includes breakfast, two lunches and two dinners, access to all spa facilities and several treatments.
Treatments start from £57 for a 45 minute facial. La Forêt – A Dance of Healing and Harmony is £130 and a dermatological consultation is £44.
More information www.labutteauxbois.be tel +32 89 739 770