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Monday, May 07, 2012

Clover Spa Review

To Birmingham for a trade show, so instead of the usual boxy hotel I opted for a night at Clover Spa.

This is a small hotel with attached spa (also on the pocket size).  The main thing about it is that it's naturist. I'd heard about over the last couple of years through the naturist press and on forums and such like. It's been running for a couple of years now, but I hadn't got organised enough to go.

As you might imagine, naturists tend towards the German way of doing things when it comes to spa etiquette. That is, the view that getting all the kit off leads to a much better experience than squirming about in shorts or towels. So the usual discourse is usually along the lines of "why can't UK facilities (e.g. steam rooms and saunas) be as comfortably textilfrei as the Germans'" and "why do the massage staff at Spa X insist on messing about with a stupid modesty-towel - why don't they just get on with it". It's presumably this audience that Clover Spa is going for, but at the same time it's promoting itself along luxury lines, so as to attract a general clientele.

So off we go. Physically, it's basically a guest house in a quietish suburban district (within Erdington, I think), with a few other such properties along the same road. There's a generous amount of parking, if you have to drive... though I found the nearby Chester Road railway station a comfy walk. This is served several times an hour from Birmingham New Street.

Inside, Tim the gaffer showed me around. There are 7 rooms of varying dimensions, and all the spa facilities are laid out downstairs. From the reception, a changing area (unisex) allows guests to grab a robe, towel and spa slippers. This leads on the lounge and bar. The far end is used as a dining area for staying guests to take their breakfasts. This area is of a super standard. The behind-bar area serves as a kitchen for light bites and sandwiches. It isn't licensed, so soft drinks only.

The spa is at least as good, if not better, than you'd find at typical UK hotel spas. They have: a big steam room, an equally generous (and properly hot) sauna seating at least a dozen (with a bonus window to the garden), a little one-person plunge bath, heated tiled relaxation seats and showers. Also, plenty of places to hang a robe or towel. Standard places tend to forget this crucial feature, because it's assumed you'll want to stay robed. Just outside, there's a generous hot tub. This would easily take 6 or even 8. There's a garden with sun loungers beyond the patio. This is screened by shrubs and trees, so there's going to be no problem with nosy neighbours. The only thing lacking is a swimming pool.

During my visit, there's was a film crew hanging around (Hotel Inspector, to be broadcast in July - is this a sign of less-than-ideal bookings?), so apparently because of this the usual numbers were down. Usually, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the designated social nights. In the evening there were about 4 other day spa guests and no other overnight guests. Poor things, they were prepping up for a garden party later in the week, but the weather wasn't looking that good.

A variety of beauty treatments are on offer, and I tried a "Swedish", i.e. no tricks, massage. This was delivered enjoyably and competently by a nice therapist. I could have done with a slightly more vigourous working, but this is a very minor quibble. She does other jobs too (including making teas and serving sandwiches at Clover), but prefers this spa (clients at her other gigs are apparently not as pleasant). When Clover first started, the therapists were also nude, but there's been a change (I think the local council want to draw a clear line between places like this - if there are any others - and those which are a front for other shenanigans). This was all to the good as far as my masseuse was concerned, e.g. as otherwise she wouldn't be comfortable working there. I know some principled naturists are sniffy about asymmetric nudity in massage, but I'm not especially dogmatic about this. Speaking to Mrs Monkey, its quite likely that most people find that having nude staff seems like a signal of something funny.

After the treatment, I lounged and enjoyed a simple meal. The other visitors went on their way, leaving me to enjoy the ambience and my Kindle.  There's plenty of TV in the lounge and bedrooms, if you like that sort of thing. The advantage of digital TV is that it can be turned into a radio with a few pokes of the remote.

My room upstairs had all the facilities you'd expect. Everything was modern, clean and tasteful. Not a big wardrobe though, though that doesn't seem odd somehow! I had a smaller room, maybe that's why.

Anyway this review is starting to drift, so I'll quickly wrap up.  I was impressed, so I'll definitely be back, with company.  It's a great little hotel, and the spa is a big big plus for me

Location: convenient for Birmingham, though not too much going on in the district.
Accommodation and general hotel facilities: great.
Therapy: very good range and quality.
Spa: Fantastic, would have to travel to a spa hotel to get as good, and to Germany or Austria to find one as naturist-friendly.

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