Wellbeing is the buzzword of 2019. It has sparked a movement focusing on the importance of prioritising ‘me-time’; of guilt-free relaxation and discovering what recharges your personal batteries and mental health. Mini-breaks are the new holiday and local getaways are the hot new destination. INSPO discovers a rare gem on the outskirts of Cambridge.
No longer just a catchphrase, wellbeing is highly considered in the business world; in stark contrast to years where ‘busyness’ was the commodity of value.
The beauty of wellbeing lies in its simplicity. In the ability to take a moment, stop the treadmill of life and treat yourself with care.
Forget about spending months planning the perfect holiday. Be immediate. Take a quick getaway right now. Find a local spot to pamper and indulge yourself – to rest and recharge.
There’s something intrinsically good for the soul about treating your mind and body to some indulgent nourishment.
After a series of conversations with friends and workmates, it turns out the local getaway is the newest and most popular kid on the block. Somewhere close enough to allow you to make a spur of the moment decision and go. Just grab your cosiest PJs and favourite book and head off before changing your mind or getting bogged down in jobs at work or home.
So in the spirit of research (cough, cough), we decided to search for the ultimate Waikato getaway. Turns out there are an impressive amount of local options to consider. Our checklist included being a maximum half hour drive from Hamilton, a total escape from work and home, gardens/grounds to explore, close to civilisation in case of the overwhelming need for a barista, relaxing surroundings, and pamper options.
Destination success: Henley Hotel
Thanks to Henley Hotel we found all this – and more.
Originally built as an Edwardian Manor in 2001, the property operated as Sarnia Park (specialising as a wedding venue) until new owners in 2017 spared no effort or expense to transform it into a truly unique boutique hotel, officially opening last year. Yes, it’s undeniably posh, but it’s also extraordinarily welcoming for such a grand setting.
Located just minutes from Cambridge, Henley Hotel is conveniently close to a host of popular Waikato destinations, including Lake Karapiro, Hobbiton, the Avantidrome, some of the country’s most prestigious horse studs and plenty of local walks and cycleways.
The ultimate mini-break
Despite only spending 24 hours in this glorious setting, we enjoyed a completely indulgent mini-break; a total escape from the humdrum and stress of everyday life. It’s incredibly satisfying to drive just minutes from home for a transformative lifestyle; no jostling with crowds at airports, or agonising over what to pack.
More like spending time in a stately country house than the traditional hotel experience, there’s nothing mass-produced or repetitive about the sumptuous surroundings, an achievement which owes much to thoughtful interior design. It’s quite something to tick off elegant, grand, subtle, bold, modern and vibrant all in one brief – without being intimidating or overworked.
Henley Hotel is effortlessly stylish, absolutely luxurious and yet somehow warm and welcoming, dotted with cosy escapes (the gin bar, a mini cinema, indoor pool area and yoga/meditation room).
There’s also a spa pool, sauna, day spa, and a multitude of private outdoor areas ideal for a picnic or place of nature and solitude. The entire property is a balm for a busy soul.
Each of the 14 bedrooms are individually themed, with attention to detail making this a true five star experience.
Managing to blend modern fabrics and wall treatments with antique style artwork and furnishings is an achievement of excellence and good taste. From hallway alcoves to the main entrance foyer, everywhere invites you to sit, relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Home sweet home
Having scored one of the best rooms in the house, complete with enormous window seat, gas fire and soaker bath, my most difficult decision was choosing where and how to relax first. With sun streaming in the windows, I curled up on the window seat, wrapped in a cosy blanket from the foot of the bed and gazed out at the pond, listening to the water.
Before I knew it an hour had passed. I hadn’t even opened my book, let alone my laptop. I hadn’t felt the need to do anything or achieve – just sit and relax – definitely a rare experience for someone who lives from deadline to deadline.
The lure of the generous bathtub proved too much to resist so an afternoon soak was in order, followed by a light slumber beside the fireplace. Utter bliss.
Come stroll with me
With the late afternoon setting in, a walk around the grounds beckoned, before a jaunt on one of the guest bikes (a useful inclusion given that Te Awa cycleway goes past the end of the tree lined driveway).
Extensive grounds include a rose garden, cherry arbour, lily pond complete with picturesque bridge and rotunda, herb and vegetable gardens, a charming on-site chapel, and a stylish function centre which can cater for 250 and is often used for product launches, business events, and parties.
September and October are a particular visual highlight, with the cherry arbour transforming into a pink paradise – popular for weddings which are still hosted here.
The impressive grounds are open to all visitors, not just guests, including those who pop in to enjoy a high tea, lunch or the option of Devonshire tea – just remember to book ahead of time.
Food, food, glorious food
When it comes to marrying fine accommodation and fine dining, Henley may be the exception to the norm. After debating popping into one of the many Cambridge restaurants, we were so enamoured of our surroundings that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. (Also the beguiling gin bar may have played a small role in this decision).
Well played sir. The meal was a gastronomical delight. The refreshingly concise menu exceeded expectations and judging by the conversation of our fellow diners, all were unanimously in agreement. We dined like royalty on mushroom arancini (so flavoursome), venison carpaccio, braised pork belly with Asian egg noodle salad and chilli caramel (oh lordy) and the creme brulee of all creme brulees.
Kudos to the impressive chef and his team. The same care and attention applied to our lavish breakfast, bold in flavour and with plenty of personality. All breads and pastries are made on site, and curds and side dressings (oh that lemon curd, I would buy a case of it in a heartbeat) also created in the kitchen.
Fresh herbs and flowers feature generously, grown in the gardens and on-site greenhouse.
Everything is grand in scale, design and detail but the crowning glory is undoubtedly the Henley Hotel team; operating discreetly, seamlessly and with genuinely impressive service from the moment you walk through the front doors.
No matter how magnificent any hotel is, without an equally impressive team to complete the experience, it won’t linger in your memory.
With every room on the premises complete with its own unique theme and personality, there’s an underlying sense of joy about the interior design (our fave was the pink flamingo yoga and meditation room) and that emotion is threaded throughout the Henley experience.
Whether you opt to float in the pool, relax in the spa or sauna or enjoy the grounds, you can choose to nourish yourself with activities or total relaxation.
I highly recommend time spent with Rebecca Osborne, director of Soul Beauty and Skincare Clinic at Henley Hotel. Luxe products like Thalgo, Medik8 and Bestow are transformative under her experienced guidance.
With a focus on a holistic wellbeing, Rebecca thrives on helping people look and feel their best, encouraging relaxation and pampering, with massage and facials, skin treatments and absolute care. The day spa is open to casual visitors (bookings are essential) as well as hotel guests.
Farewell my friends
Despite such a brief (overnight) stay, I feel utterly rejuvenated, as though I’ve had a three or four day respite from the busyness of life.
While I’m an equally big fan of casual getaways (well, glamping rather than camping) and the air bnb experience, there really is nothing comparable to the luxury of handing over all the small details of life to someone else and immersing yourself in the bliss of being pampered, fed and cared for. Henley Hotel – I shall absolutely be back for more. See you soon.