I spent yesterday at Forest Mere with Bob. I have stayed at and written about such places. They started as essentially high-end residential weight watchers where those who are and drank too much in those heady reckless days ( and nights !!!!) of excess of which I was a fully paid up member took time out to detox and diet.
It’s now under the banner of Champneys who also own Tring and Henlow Grange and it’s more of spa operation than a health farm. As I drove up I was reminded and impressed by the lake (mere) in front of the old house and the woods (forest) that surround it.
I had a latte with Bob in the lounge. I had my doubts whether his free spirit was intuitively calibrated to the regime. With certain reservations he said he had benefited from the stay. He praised the food, treatments but had issues over the service. I said that the starting point was what was offered as premier service. He did not have flowers in the room, had difficulty in getting any sort of service on the phone and the plumbing in the bathroom was deficient. He said he was here to rest, not rail, but I had some sympathy for him. Against that £300 per day including classes some treatments, 3 meals and a superior room was not that expensive.
As with Sir Christopher Wren in Windsor the problem is an old building. Champneys have built a new block of a spa and large swimming pool but the rooms remain old and tired. The furniture in Bob’s was Times G-Plan- ugly boxy drawers and desks. I would have gone for a chintzy country house feel. There is a Gideon bible and I half expected that other relic of the seventies hotel the Corby trouser press.
The food was delicious. For lunch, I had a tomato soup, fresh, flavoursome, a copious salad including sea food and a pasta cooked on the spot. Even with calorie control, flavours can be created. After eating well I did not feel bloated. Dinner was even better: avocado and crayfish salad; as good a duck breast as I’ve ever tasted and a cheeseboard. I am sure there is a market for a restaurant that offers only healthy eating. The drawback might be the profit margin on wine. However wine was obtainable at a reasonable £5-£7 pound per glass.
I remember a conversation with Bob’s dad Dr Tickler. He was critical of medical quackery like homeopathy which he regarded as the province of snake oil tradesmen. However I distinctly recall him say he would never knock the health farm. He was early on the well-being market. To feel well, to eat healthily, to reduce alcohol, to offset the daily routine of restaurants and drinking are all essentials in our times. Nor would you have to do marketing: the daily health warnings from the Nanny State would be all you need.
The downside for the likes of Bob who are essentially sociable types is that there is no bar and the conviviality of hotel life does not exist. The whole place is sanitised. However we watched Neil Rosen’s choice of Summer Things a French sex comedy which was an absolute hoot. The story was based around sex coupling on holidays withs plethora of liaisons. The British are too prim to do this (No Sex Please, We’re British) but it was no holds barred here!!! The difference between this and a porno film was the quality of acting , notably Charlotte Rampling. Kristen Scott Thomas is the dominant Anglo-French actress but Charlotte Rampling is a wonderful one too . After 45 Years and Summer Things she has had a new lease of life that gives hope to all us superannuated sex goddesses!!!