Natural healing

The new Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall Hotel in Devon offers nature-focused wellness with a nurturing ethos, as Diane Nettleton, director of the group behind it, explains

"We chose the name Gaia, mother earth, because we wanted a very caring, nurturing spa – a spa that kind of puts its arms around you as soon as you arrive,” says Diane Nettleton, director of The Nettleton Hotel Group, which is opening the 1,800sq m Gaia Spa at the 16th century Boringdon Hall Hotel in Plymouth, this summer.

The standalone UK spa, for which a new building has been constructed, is the second for the family-owned hotel group, which also operates Fistral Spa at its Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa in Newquay Cornwall (the group also owns a second property in Newquay, The Esplanade Hotel, which does not have a spa).

The name Gaia was, Nettleton explains, ideal for the ethos behind the spa, on which construction began in February 2015.

“Whenever I’ve gone to a spa the most important thing has been how the spa’s made me feel,” she says. “It’s been about how I’ve felt after having a treatment, so we wanted to create a spa that looks after and cares for people.”

Natural design
From the beginning, the group felt it was essential to give the large-scale spa its own building, rather than incorporate it into the 40-room hotel. “We wanted to have a separate building for the spa because we want it to be a destination spa,” Nettleton says.

It was also important for the business to ensure the spa blended into Dartmoor, the moorland that surrounds the Grade I-listed Boringdon Hall. “The setting of the spa was really key,” Nettleton explains. “We’ve got a lot of land at the back of the hotel and the views are amazing from there.”

“It’s all about the outdoors and bringing that outside element in so people can see the trees and the landscape when they’re in the spa. It was important for us to really position the spa in the area it’s in.”

To enable this, the design features a generous amount of glass, with the architecture reflecting the focus on nature and the connection to the earth. “There are a lot of natural materials in the spa, including wood, stone and glass,” Nettleton says.

Chillout one
The fact that the aim was always for Gaia Spa to become a destination is one of the reasons it features an extensive range of facilities. Nettleton says: “The aspect of creating memories is important and we felt you need to have quite a sizeable spa to do that.”

The Gaia Spa facilities include two relaxation rooms, one for deep relaxation and one more sociable space where food will also be served, two infinity pools, including an indoor-outdoor hydrotherapy pool, a crystal steam room, salt steam room, Finnish sauna, herbal sauna, laconium and experience showers.

There will also be an outdoor thermal area, featuring a rasul and a balneotherapy suite, as well as a gym, retail area and beauty salon.Nettleton says it was a key consideration for there to be sufficient areas for clients to relax and enjoy their visit outside of the treatment rooms as well.

“We wanted to give people the luxury of time and space, which includes ensuring there are lots of breakout spaces, lots of non revenue-generating spaces. It’s about giving people those spaces where they can just be and enjoy the whole feeling that a spa creates.”

Prime products
The spa opening coincides with the launch of an eponymous product range and Nettleton says its own brand was always a must-have for Gaia.

“There are so many great brands out there but it was really important for us to have our own identity,” she says. 

“We wanted to create a complete experience and ensure all our values were reflected in a brand.

"So we needed our own range, to make sure everything we believe in and how we want to make people feel really came through in the products.”

The Gaia Spa range, which comprises the Awakening, Balancing and Calming lines, features professional and retail products and is at the moment primarily focused on body items. Nettleton admits that developing a product line from scratch has been an in-depth and at times demanding process.

“I’ve been working on it for two and a half years now, it’s been quite long and time consuming,” she says. “In the beginning I worked with an aromatherapist, giving ideas for essential oils I thought would work to nurture and care for the guests and the result is the three lines we now have.”

Every aspect of product development was assessed carefully, including packaging. “The packaging was really important, it needed to really reflect the Gaia [ethos], so we have gone for bamboo packaging and then green glass to reflect the green of mother nature,” Nettleton says. Plans are already in place to add products and treatments to the Gaia Spa offering in the not-too-distant future.

“We’re looking to extend the range once we’re open but creating the products has been quite an expensive and [meticulous] thing to do,” Nettleton comments. “And when it comes to the treatments we first want to make sure that everyone knows what they’re doing and that they do it really well [before introducing anything new]. “We don’t want to overload the staff.”

Treatment focus
The Nettleton team has developed a series of Gaia rituals and signature treatments, including the Gaia Raindrop Therapy – a crystal healing treatment designed to unblock the chakras.

There is also the Gaia Jade Facial, using jade crystal rollers to encourage blood flow and stimulate lymphatic drainage, for glowing, revitalised skin.

Aside from the signature Gaia Jade Facial, the own-brand treatments are currently centred on the body.

This is one of the reasons the team decided to add an external brand – with the choice falling on British skincare brand Espa, for the quality of its products, treatments and training. 

Future focus
On the agenda for the future are treatments for clients with or in remission from cancer, something Nettleton is researching at the moment. “I’ve been looking into this for months and I’ve meet with a local Macmillan Cancer Support nurse,” she says.

“I would like to be able to give something back. I’m not yet sure how this is going to pan out and which treatments we’ll be able to offer, but it’s something I want to explore further.”

Nettleton adds that it's also important to continue to innovate once the spa is up and running. “I’ll be thinking about what the next treatments are that we’re going to launch,” she says. “It’s about keeping that current moving forward all the time. You’ve got to keep the momentum going.”

Conceptualising and constructing Gaia Spa has meant a busy few years for the team behind it and things show no signs of slowing down once the spa has opened. It is, however, clear that Nettleton is passionate about the spa and committed to continuing to drive it forward, with a strong belief in what it has to offer.

“We spend so much of our time on our screens, on our phones and on social media,” she says. “When you go to Gaia, you’re really connected to nature and surrounded by the beauty of the countryside. And it’s so important to find that space, where you have time to feel well and relax."