i genuinely can’t think of a better way to spend a sunday at this time of year, as the clouds gather overhead and there’s a constant drizzle in the air, than enjoying a spa day with friends. so when spaseekers got in touch recently and invited me along to a special bloggers afternoon tea and spa day at the midland hotel in central manchester, i instantly jumped at the chance – especially once i spotted that they were perfectly happy to cater for my dairy-free diet! in fact, they offer gluten-free and vegan afternoon tea options as well which hugely impressed me, since they’re often few and far between, especially at the bigger, more traditional establishments.
getting together with a group of girlfriends can truly be the best antidote to the grim onset of winter, the shortening days and darkening nights, and whilst i actually only met my fellow bloggers for the very first time as we sat round the table waiting for our tea, i was reminded just how restorative spending time gossiping and laughing with lovely ladies can be.
afternoon tea is perhaps the most quintessential of english customs, introduced in 1840 by the seventh duchess of bedford, to bridge the long gap between lunch and her household’s fashionably late 8 o’clock dinner. her daily ritual tray of tea, buttered bread and cake quickly gave way to a fashionable social event as she invited friends to join her. by the 1880’s society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for afternoon tea gatherings, usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock, enjoying dainty finger sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and preserves, and teas from india or ceylon poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups. we rarely indulge ourselves in such extravagant daily tea breaks these days, yet the enduring appeal of such a quaint and nostalgic ritual lives on as a wonderful treat for a celebration or pamper session.
of course, the very best afternoon teas these days are served with a glass of fizz on the side! the midland’s traditional english afternoon tea includes a selection of sandwiches, freshly baked scones and homemade cakes served alongside an extensive loose-leaf tea selection, with three blends inspired by the hotel’s northern heritage: 1903, a deep malty black tea made with assam and indonesian leaves, paying homage to the hotel’s founding; midland jubilee, a light fragrant indian black tea with notes of strawberry and nougat; and due north, inspired by great british railway travels, with a deep and smokey lapsang suchoeg and a touch of whiskey. sadly though, i’m not a fan of black tea at all (am i even english??), so opted instead for the white elixir; a delicate blend of jasmine petals, gingko leaves and spirulina.
since i no longer eat dairy i was treated to a variety of sandwiches from the midland’s special vegan afternoon tea menu, including toasted hazelnut dukkah with beetroot chutney on walnut bread and lemon chervil quinoa with heritage tomato chutney on dark malt bread, both of which were utterly delicious. this was swiftly followed by vegan scones (of course, the other girls had the real buttery kind) topped with strawberry jam and – would you believe it? – vegan clotted cream! i’m not quite sure what went into the cream, and truth is it didn’t look the most palatable, but i was beyond impressed that they had been able to provide a vegan option at all..
then we all tucked in a round of delectable looking cakes and sweet treats and again, i was taken aback by the great vegan offering with which i was presented: banana & coconut bread, bitter chocolate cake, a mini red berry pavlova and a blueberry & poppy seed sponge. it’s safe to say i couldn’t possibly have eaten them all in one sitting, but happily we were able to take those we couldn’t eat home with us at the end of the day – result!
fully sated and very much in need of a long afternoon nap, we made our way downstairs to the spa at the midland. i don’t know about you, but i always find that the moment i set foot in a (good) spa i instantly feel my troubles melting away, my heart rate slowing and my mind instantly clearing. perhaps it’s the low-level lighting, or the scent of aromatherapy oils wafting through the air, but i always find myself embracing the calm serenity of a spa and feeling ten pounds lighter by the time i leave!
i was booked in for a swedish full-body massage with nicole, who was fantastic at providing just the right amount of firm pressure to truly work out all my knots and tensions, especially in my shoulders. i’d thought that since i no longer really tout my laptop to and fro these days, that perhaps i wouldn’t be holding quite so much tension there anymore, but i guess long days spent tapping away at the keyboard (like now!) still take their toll. it was hard not to drift off to sleep during the hour-long session, with the heady scent of espa detoxifying body oil filling the treatment room…
the main relaxation area to which i retired after my treatment has several different options for unwinding; three big sleep chambers which have been ergonomically created for comfort and tucked away to ensure privacy; four hanging relaxation pods which can fit up to two people in their own private cocoon; two mini relax zones with deep benched seats; and a selection of large noise-cancelling egg chairs with deep-set seats. since we were visiting on a sunday afternoon and the spa was fairly packed, i chose the latter as the perfect chair in which to curl up for a much-needed moment (or two) of peace following my massage.
the spa at the midland also includes a thermal experience in the form of an alder-wood sauna, salt infusion aromatherapy steam room, lifestyle shower (designed to rapidly heat up or cool down your body depending on which option you choose), and a swan neck fountain, whose jets of water help ease shoulder and neck tension. as i mentioned though, the spa was pretty crowded for a sunday evening and, blissed out from my massage, i opted to stay chilling in my egg chair rather than faff about changing into my swimsuit. but of course, that only means i have all the more reason to visit again soon..
our afternoon tea and spa treatments at the midland were provided free of charge in exchange for this review, but all thoughts and afternoon tea photography are my own. spa imagery via the midland.