Hot on the heels of our visit to review the afternoon tea at the Crescent Hotel in Buxton, we were keen to return and sample the Buxton Crescent Day Spa. After all, the town is most famous for its thermal mineral-rich water and given the decades and millions of pounds invested into restoring the town’s most famous health resort, we were expecting something special. In 2020, the Crescent reopened as a 5-star spa hotel with chain Ensana. Following mixed reviews after opening, the team here at Explore Buxton decided to experience its new luxury service for ourselves.
You don’t have to be an overnight guest to access the spa facilities and baths. We booked a Crescent Relaxing Day Spa package (9am – 3.30pm), with access to the spa circuit, an hour-long treatment with a therapist and lunch in the Spa Café at a cost of £148.50 per person (10% Derbyshire resident discount included). They do have less expensive options. They don’t exactly announce the residential discount with a fanfare so if you’re local, don’t forget to ask. So the big question is: Was it worth it?
Upon arrival, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer choice of spa facilities. The circuit is spread out over several floors, including a spacious and stylish reception, his and hers changing rooms, three pools and several thermal treatment rooms on the lower ground floor, a spa café upstairs and another pool on the roof. As well as that, there is a gym, mud rooms and a salt cave! A very friendly member of staff showed us around and took our orders for lunch. The range of amenities on offer is both bewildering and exciting and leaves you wondering what to try first. The luxury of choice was applied to the lunch menu too. With a choice of a starter and a main or a main and a desert, or all three if you pay a little extra, and 7/8 options for each course, catering for all tastes and diets, we felt like kiddies in a sweet shop. Presented with a wealth of variety gave us the hint that were in for a bit of a treat.The decor throughout the renovated baths is a hotch-potch of styles. The ground floor echoes its heritage and some of it is original; the pool’s mosaic tiles and cast-iron columns. The (new) stained-glass ceiling in the indoor Thermal Pool in gives it the wow factor. The furniture is retro to fit in with the Victorian vibe. The sauna rooms (three) are wooden, as you would expect, and look like they’ve been lifted out of somewhere in Scandinavia and dropped into the hotel; in addition there’s two tiled steam rooms. And long-term residents of Buxton may experience a strange feeling when they venture into a further room that recognisably used to be the underground bar called Springs! The hotel absorbed this part of the building during the renovation and is now filled with hot-tile beds. You can lie down and listen to the ghosts of the countless people who’ve partied down there. Along the corridor are two lit screens showing photographs of bygone spa treatments, which look more like torture. Luckily, the therapies have become considerably more agreeable. We were a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see the salt cave and the mud baths. These were additional to our package so they remain a mystery to us for the time being but there was much else to enjoy.
Upstairs, the interior designers have made an extraordinary decision with a mural depicting mermaids to adorn the walls of the Spa Café and the adjacent corridor. People have been coming to Buxton to sample the water for centuries; the Celts, the Romans, mysterious civilisations even more ancient, and then there’s the Georgian boom period and the eccentricities of the Victorians so what’s on the wall? Mermaids. I thought I heard original architect John Carr turn in his grave. The mural may look more at home in the community swimming baths, but, the hotel should be commended for not going for an obvious choice and one of our group did say the mermaids felt a like soothing choice, perhaps that’s the idea. In actual fact, a quick walk up the road to the local museum does reveal a decidedly more hideous mermaid, displayed amongst more genuine artefacts, such as the Roman coin hoard found underneath the baths in the 1970s, a remarkable and significant discovery which isn’t reflected anywhere in the modern spa, unless we missed it.
After sampling the delights of the ground floor and feeling pretty relaxed, we tried out the famous rooftop pool. The first half of the pool actually starts inside and you are free to get pummelled by several bubble-making mechanisms before swimming into the outdoor bit, with as much grace and composure as you can manage. Paddling out into the notoriously inclement climate of Buxton is a dubious pleasure but luckily the water in the pool is very warm so you aren’t at any risk of freezing to death, unless you get out. There are some extremely optimistic chairs waiting on the pool side. This rooftop escapade is a lot of fun; perhaps a bit of a gimmick but enjoyable nonetheless and contributes hugely to the price of admission.
Mid-morning and it was time for our individual treatments. We had all booked an hour-long session with a therapist, including a facial and a massage but there are plenty of other choices. Two of us chose the full-body massage and it was was fantastic, if a little zealous; more akin to physiotherapy than a relaxing indulgence but this may have been our fault for not expressing our expectations, so if you’re planning to visit, we recommend you perhaps do so. We did feel great afterwards though. Another group member had a facial (and enthused about both the treatment and the bergamot scented products) and was convinced the result shaved off at least five years of wear and tear. We did reflect that by the time the therapists had sorted out who was going with who, led us to their individual rooms and filled in health questionnaires, it’s more of a 45 minute treatment than an hour. We all agreed that this part of the package would have benefitted from less uncertainty and admin but it’s a minor quibble and it didn’t ruin anyone’s day.
The treatments were followed by the pre-ordered lunch. The café is exclusive to the spa so you don’t have to mingle with the other guests who are being catered for in a different part of the hotel complex. This is thankful as the sight of people sitting around eating their lunch in dressing gowns and flip-flops looks like something from a cheese dream. The food was unhurried and faultless, as you would expect from a prestige hotel. The portions were a tad on the small side but you will probably find you don’t want much, especially if you’re heading back into the water and steam afterwards, like us. There was something to please everyone from curried cauliflower to cheese burger and chips.
Once back in the pool area, we discovered it was much busier than before. For about half an hour, the pools were virtually standing room only and it can be a little awkward trying not to make eye contact with so many semi-naked strangers. I’m not sure what the maximum capacity of the facility is but they were pushing it for a while and this was on a week day. I guess they’ve got to claw back those millions of pounds of investment somehow. More chairs would have gone some way to solving it. For us, we could have settled for going home after lunch anyway. After being exposed to extreme extravagance for over five hours, we were getting drowsy and starting to resemble giant prunes. But having more time that you need is part of the luxury.
Our day at the Buxton Crescent Day Spa managed to be greater than a sum of its parts and as a group, we rate the experience 4/5. Given more chairs or less people at mid-day and a smoother start to the individual treatments, it could have been a 5/5. Considering we had personal therapies, a two-course lunch and several hours in the spa circuit, £148.50 pp was actually good value for money. We would absolutely recommend a visit, perhaps for a special occasion, or if someone you know has been poorly. Two weeks previous, someone in our group suffered a nasty bout of covid-19 and we found that “taking the waters” of Buxton helped him cross the finish line. Since opening, there have been some comments about the choice of decor being ‘too corporate’ and not reflecting the heritage of one of Buxton’s most iconic buildings. We actually loved the blend of old and new and importantly, the hotel very much felt worthy of it’s 5-star status.
Despite being at the heart of town, Buxton Crescent Day Spa makes you feel like you’re in a cosy bubble, enveloping you in thermal water and hot steam and expunging the vigours of everyday life. The hotel’s feeling of isolation from the rest of town is a slightly controversial stance, given the building was saved from collapse in part by vast amounts of local tax payer’s money but at the same time, it can’t realistically be an exclusive extravagance without the costly admission; a fact that may continue to be as debatable as its mermaids.
Check out all the current day spa packages available and explore the facilities on offer at ensanahotels.com/en/hotels/buxton-crescent/day-spa
Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel, The Crescent, Buxton, SK17 6BH
T: 01298 808999