Presence of Mind… and Soul

21st October 2011

The Day Spa at Presence, in Watford Town Centre, has had something of a facelift, and, despite its town centre location promises ‘the quality of a luxury countryside spa’. Jill Glenn went to spend an afternoon
in its new Thermal Suite. Would this be an out-of-body experience?…

The Presence gift shop in The Parade, Watford, is, if its owners will forgive me for saying so, very ordinary. You might clock it if you wanted cards or calendars or fridge magnets, but otherwise you’d probably pass it by without a second thought. Only a street-facing large scale plasma screen showing evocative images of waterfalls and sunrises indicates that anything out of the ordinary lies within…

At the back of the shop, though, is a staircase (I’m tempted to call it a secret staircase, but that would just be letting a romantic idea run away with me) leading to an upper storey. With every step you leave the ordinariness of the High Street behind, both literally and figuratively. At the top is the reception suite, including the ‘daylight room’, a lounge area that could grace a fine hotel, where you can relax before or after a treatment.

And beyond that, behind another door, is the Thermal Suite. It’s like stepping into Narnia – except considerably warmer, not being cursed with perpetual winter; in the Thermal Suite, spring is definitely here.

The changing rooms are smart, and in each locker is a towel and the softiest, fluffiest robe I have ever put on my body. Quite frankly, I could settle down now and manage my own relaxation without any need of further amenities… but there are eight different experiences on offer, and now I’m on the premises it would be rude not to check them out…

I have two hours to spend here, and initially, to be honest, I find it hard to settle. Suite manager Abi shows me the options, which include two types of sauna, two types of steam room, a Vitality Pool and a reflexology foot spa. I start with the latter, and sit with my feet immersed in bubbling water… It’s a divine sensation, but I’m tapping my fingers restlessly and rather wishing I’d brought a book. I don’t know if I can manage the contrast between busy office and this enforced relaxation…

I manage.

When the time to move on approaches I am totally chilled and very reluctant to leave. Indeed, as the clock ticks round I feel a stir of panic that there won’t be a chance to have one more dip in the Vitality Pool, or another ten minutes in the Salt Steam Room. Only the prospect of the Back Massage booked to follow my ‘me time’ coaxes me out.

In the space of two hours I’ve tried everything. Bringing a book would have been pointless (one of the rare occasions in my life on which this might apply) – it would have got far too damp. I’ve tried both saunas, preferring the traditional to the infra-red, and both steam rooms, in which the quantity of the steam itself seems erratic, but the different benefits immediately apparent . I love the Vitality Pool, and have returned more than once – within your booked time you can enjoy each experience as often as you like, flitting from one to the other at random.

Quality and style ooze from the fixtures and fitments. The atmosphere is elegant and refined throughout the entire spa, not just in the Thermal Suite, with little finishing touches carefully implemented.

There’s even a roof garden. I admit to having felt a touch sarcastic about this – hell, it’s not Paris, is it? – but actually it’s lovely. You have no sense of being above a busy street, within a stone’s throw of the ring road… it just feels remote, relaxing and really rather zen.

Finishing with a massage is an ideal way to end the afternoon. The final knots in my neck and shoulders are eradicated and I emerge into the late afternoon…

Oh. How weird. I’m in Watford.

The Spa at Presence, 19-21 The Parade, High Street, Watford • 01923 237869 •

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