Strip off and lido
Hot or not, the Thames Lido is quirky, cool and like no other spa you've been to. Eat, swim, spa… repeat. It's got Muddy's name all over it.
Nothing like the impending pleasure (and pain) of a great British summer heatwave for us to be desperately seeking H2O. The Saharan plume is coming, but you won’t need a lie down, all you need is a lido – and I’ve got just the place. Thames Lido is where the cool kids Eat. Swim. Spa (repeat). Time to get your kit off and dive into the Muddy review…
This year’s Muddy award-winning spa, Thames Lido, is as quirky as it is unique. Sandwiched between Reading train station and the River Thames, it’s an oasis of escapism and in a town centre location. Built in Edwardian times as a women’s-only swimming bath, the pool was fed by water from the river (er, gross). It later fell into disrepair after decades of neglect and closed for good in the early 1970s. A whopping 40-odd years later, swimming superheroes Arne Ringner and Mark Thwaites, sunk a whopping £3.5million into the project and gave it the kiss of life. It reopened in 2017.
The result is blinking spectacular. Many of the original Edwardian features have given a contemporary overhaul, creating an outdoor infinity pool, treatment rooms, restaurant, bar and event space.
Oh so stylish – the perfect marriage of old meets new with a dollop of Scandinavian simplicity. If you’re looking for an urban retreat outside London, this is it. Much of the original building remains: worn red brick, signs, wrought iron columns and panelling, all pimped up in paintbox paint brights. The new bits include the glass-fronted restaurant, a fully refurbished pool finished in gorgeous cobalt blue Italian tiles, two saunas and a new first floor with eight airy treatment rooms.
Chlorine levels are kept deliberately low, so the Lido encourages a ‘wash naked’ policy. There’s a private shower and gorgeously-scented LidoSpa products in every cubicle – both the bigger shower rooms inside and the fun wooden cubbies beside the pool with deckchair striped curtains. What are you waiting for? Pop on your blue robe, grab your towel and step outside.
The main attraction is the 25m outdoor pool, heated to a refreshing 21-25ºC, but after a few gentle lengths up and down, we found a toasty perch in the hot tub – we’re really here for a natter.
If you’re keen to see the mercury rise and detox before you retox in the bar, the saunas are very nice. There are two: one heated to 70 degrees and one at 90 degrees. The cooler of the two was lovely for me – and I’m not usually a fan. Some like it hot, but I prefer it tepid. It’s not too onerous to while away a few hours here, eh?
For the really brave your can enjoy a 2014 flashback with your own private ice challenge. Pull the chain and brace brace. Repeat if you dare.
If you’re not a cold water sadist (or even if you are), do not leave with out having a spa treatment. The room are light, spacious and allow you to hear the swooshing water of the pool area below. I guess some may find that irritating, but I liked it. It’s a paired back menu of massages, facials and exfoliation. The emphasis here is to relax, restore and recharge. I find this back to basics approach right up my street. Mirrors and hairdryers are available in The Boudoir to spruce up afterwards.
All the massages here last for one hour (although there are rumours on an express 30-minute massage coming in the future). That’s 60 minutes of pure bliss. I was booked in for a Classic Massage which can be adapted to suit problematic areas. If you fancy a relaxing, snoozy rub down, you can have it. If you’re in knots and need someone to smooth you out, no problemo. Or, if your battered bod needs some TLC, simply speak up and your wish will be granted.
I was here with my pal Kell (she’s an osteopath and had a fair few massages in her time) and she claimed it was one of the best massages she’d ever had. Neither of us could actually speak afterwards. Something that NEVER happens to me. We had a refreshing cup of green tea (I barely know myself right now) in the dimly lit relaxation room, surrounded by Morroccan pouffs and lanterns. If I didn’t fear snoring and possibly dribbling too, I could have happily had a disco nap.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
When I was a kid, after-swim nosh at my local pool was usually a bag of crisps and a carton of juice. Here the kitchen is creating a menu with mmmmm-Moorish and Mediterranean influences. Come for coffee and cake, breakfast, lunch, tapas or dinner (you can just drop in to eat, you don’t even have to swim – but why wouldn’t you?). Their Swim & Eat packages are brilliant value at £35-£45 and are available for breakfast, lunch, tapas, afternoon tea and dinner.
It’s an anything goes sort of place, with couples, friends and solo diners lunching in towelling robes, mums with pushchairs, people working on laptops. In the warm weather, all the glass doors slide open *sigh*.
We were booked in for a Spa & Lunch package (£95) but had to swap to breakfast because apparently we had to pick up the kids from school. We couldn’t just leave them there.
The breakfast menu was blissfully light. After all, who wants to go swimming on a full stomach. So don’t expect to see a full English and avo’ on toast, here’s, granola, wood fired kippers, a fancy bacon sarnie, but plumped for Turkish eggs (£7.50) – tomato base, yoghurt, poached egg and Aleppo pepper. It’s something I’ve never tried, but despite it looking quite sloppy to eat, it was fresh tasting and had a bit of a kick.
Across from me, Kell was tucking into a more traditional bacon sarnie, but with a grape must mustard and some lettuce to lull you into believing it has health benefits. The coffee was good, the juice was freshly squeezed and for a moment, you kinda feel like you’re on holiday.
I had total lunch envy (damn you school pick up), the food coming out of the wood fired ovens looked flaming lush. Lamb tagine with lemon cous cous, chargrilled lamb, wood roasted skate, a veggie mezze and a delicious array of tapas. Eating out can get a bit samey, so it’s good to find a place that confidently offers something very different.
The food is on the healthier side of burger and chips but you don’t have to be a saint and reluctantly nibble at grains, seeds and salad – especially when there’s a pretty foxy wine list to sample.
WHEN TO COME – AND COSTS
Just rock up to the Lido 1pm-4pm weekdays and £20 will get you three hours in the pool, sauna, steam and hot tub. Open to men and women; children are welcome between 2pm-4pm (£7.50 each). There are no lifeguards so one child per adult. It’s first come first served, so on a hot day it’s best to book a Swim & Eat package from £35.
If you’re going to come a lot, consider taking out a membership (annual fee £649 or £59 per month) which gives access 7am-10pm, seven days a week plus various discounts.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Girly get togethers, a quirky hang out with mates and dates. Sun seekers and swimmers (obviously) will love it. This ain’t no leisure centre pool (thank god). Foodies will enjoy the Mediterranean vibe. Lovers of all things Scandi.
Not for: Anyone expecting the waftiness of a traditional spa. If you like a lengthy, on-trend list of treatments, you’ll probably find the offering a bit basic. And although kids are welcome at restricted times, personally, I’d keep this gem to yourself. It’s waaaay to nice for my pool-bombing boys.
£££: Great value for what you get. Swim & Eat Packages start at £35; Spa Experiences, from £95. A Full Spa Day inc brekkie, lunch, 2 x 60-minute treatments and full use of the facilities is a very reasonable £150.