Review of The Haven Hotel, Sandbanks

My husband and I discovered the The Haven Hotel at Sandbanks when he was working for a prolonged period of time in nearby Poole and it was suggested that this would be a convenient place for him to stay. The recommendation proved fortuitous at the time, the location being a short drive or cycle ride from the centre of the town where his temporary office was situated. It has since offered us a tranquil and luxurious setting for several short breaks as a couple, as well as when accompanied by our teenage sons.

Last week we enjoyed a two night stay in a Harbour View room, with dinner in the La Roche Restaurant on the first evening. Our two sons had a basic room on the floor below, which suited their needs well. This was our fourth visit to the hotel in just over two years, from which you may rightly deduce that we enjoy the time we spend here.

We arrived early afternoon and, after an efficient and friendly check-in, were told that our room would be available in a quarter of an hour. We opted to wait in one of several, comfortable lounges overlooking the sea. The sun was out and, after the busy drive down, it was good to be able to unwind.

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Our room was as cleanly presented and well equipped as ever. Little touches such as padded as well as wooden coat-hangers in the wardrobe; a small box containing a nail file, cotton buds and cotton balls amongst the supplied toiletries; bottles of water as well as the generously stocked hospitality tray, pleased me

I was less pleased to find a set of scales in the spacious bathroom. Of course I could and did choose not to use them, but they reminded me that I should not be indulging in the delicious food on offer with quite my usual abandon.

The Harbour View rooms overlook the Sandbanks Chain Ferry and offer impressive views of the coastline as it enters Poole Harbour. On previous visits we have enjoyed watching the many boats as they sail in and out. On this occasion the water was perhaps a little choppy and sea traffic was minimal.

On one previous visit we upgraded to a Sea View room which offers, as the name suggests, a more encompassing  view of the English Channel. As a writer I value the chance to bathe in visual stimulation and would therefore recommend this upgrade in warmer weather. Last week it was rather too cold to spend long on our balcony and the Harbour View room sufficed.

The boys’ basic room lacked a balcony and looked out over the car park. It was, however, clean, bright and spacious with a well equipped bathroom, the same hospitality tray and a small fridge. Their television did not appear to be working when we arrived, but this was quickly sorted by a member of staff as soon as we reported it to reception. All of the staff that we encountered during our visit were unfailingly polite, friendly and helpful. My boys particularly appreciated the free WiFi that is available in all rooms.

Having settled in and enjoyed the provided refreshments (my younger son particularly appreciated the hot chocolate and selection of delicious biscuits) we ventured out to explore the surrounding area. The location of the hotel is a definite draw. It has direct access to a sandy beach, which can be followed all the way to Bournemouth and beyond. For those willing to get in the car it is a short drive to many places of interest, such as Corfe Castle which we have visited in the past. On this occasion we preferred to explore on foot.

On the first evening of our stay my husband and elder son made use of the well equipped hotel gym while I accompanied my younger son to the swimming pool. Despite the incoming rain he enjoyed a good number of lengths of the outdoor pool before retreating to warm up inside. These facilities are all part of the Harmony Spa that hotel guests may use.

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Having worked up an appetite we tidied ourselves before making our way down to the restaurant for dinner. The quality of the food is another aspect of The Haven that tempts us to return time and again.

My husband and elder son started their meal with mussels, a rare treat as I have an intolerance for shellfish so do not offer such delicacies at home. They declared them delicious, perfectly prepared. My younger son started with a tasty soup and I with the pate. I found my choice rather bland but acceptable.

For main course my husband and elder son chose the sea bass, my younger son had duck and I ordered the beef. Although the others were effusive in their praise of the various dishes offered (there was much sharing and tasting going on) I did not fare so well. Portions of the beef were served rare which I cannot stomach. My family polished off my meal for me and scoffed at my inability to appreciate such a perfectly presented treat.

For dessert my husband and elder son had a sticky date pudding which they both enjoyed. My younger son ordered cheese, which he shared, and I chose the chocolate torte. Had I read the description more carefully I would have realised that this was a creamy concoction, not what I had in mind. I gave it to my boys and it was appreciated as intended.

Most dishes on offer are freshly prepared and menus change regularly. I cannot fault the quality of the food, the service or the ambiance of the restaurant. My family enjoyed their meal and it is nobody’s fault but my own that I had made too many poor choices given my personal preferences. I did not raise any issues with the staff at the time and would continue to recommend La Roche even if I did not enjoy my eating experience on this occasion as much as on previous visits.

After a good night’s sleep in the spacious and comfortable bed I awoke ready for my breakfast. This is mainly self service from a wide selection of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cheese, sliced meat, fish and pastries, along with the usual variety of hot offerings. Staff will also take orders for freshly prepared kippers, smoked haddock and poached eggs. We all found plenty to suit our individual preferences and left replete.

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After a day spent hiking along the coast we ate at a local restaurant on the harbour before returning to the hotel for our second and final night. Although the hotel was busy there was little noise apparent when in the rooms.

We had until 11am the next day to pack up, and could have continued to use the hotel facilities had we wished. However, the sun was shining so we opted to enjoy another local walk before bidding a reluctant farewell.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to return again soon. My younger son is determined that we should go back in the summer, that he may walk from his room to swim in the sea.

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Conforming to type

If media stereotypes are to be believed then I am not a typical woman. I do not enjoy shopping, own very few pairs of shoes, rarely wear any make up and seek the attention of a hairdresser about once a year for a simple trim. I am aware that my choices mean that I do not look as good as I could. When I see how well groomed my friends are I do wonder if I should make more of an effort. Perhaps I am just too lazy; I guess the way I look to others is just not important enough to me. In one area though I am all too predictable. I am constantly trying to be just a bit thinner. Those media images of what is supposed to look good have obviously had an impact.

Yesterday a new month started and I had a 9am appointment with my Personal Trainer. I wished to set up a new program with a new target – to lose fourteen pounds in six weeks. This is pure vanity. I have a couple of events coming up in mid March and want to look better than I currently do in my party dresses. Nobody is saying that I don’t look good already but I don’t feel good. This is all about me. My Personal Trainer explained about how the body metabolises food, how it reacts to exercise and how it copes with sudden change. If I am to lose that amount of weight in that short a time then I need to be radical. He set up a challenging exercise program and explained what I needed to do with my diet. Now it is up to me.

I like to consider myself a fairly optimistic sort of person. When I disappoint myself I believe that I will do better next time. I try to take my life one day at a time. When I let myself down I think, ‘I will do better tomorrow’. I like new beginnings. New Year is, of course, the big one. Whilst I don’t make specific resolutions, I do start each new year with high hopes of achieving personal goals. New months are also times when I look forward to what lies ahead and think about how much better I will make myself be; putting a whole month behind me and reinvigorating my plans and goals.

The gym that I belong to is always busy first thing on a Monday morning. Like me, there are so many people determined to start their week well. Whatever they did in the previous week or month or even just over the weekend, they are going to make this week better. They are going to work out on at least three days this week and every week from now on. They are going to shift that weight, improve their fitness, feel better about themselves. Of course I know that this whole obsession with weight loss is a bit sad. We have been conditioned to aim for trim, slim bodies yet so much of the fun stuff that we do involves food. We celebrate by eating out in a restaurant; we meet up with friends for drinks and a bite to eat; we welcome guests to our home with a carefully prepared meal. As parents we are told that happy families eat together. Good times equate to consumption; good looks to denial.

When I managed to achieve significant weight loss last year I was amazed at how much healthier I felt. Losing the weight was as much about looking after my body (we only get one) as about improving the way I looked. My current desire to lose weight is, however, pure vanity. It is not necessary. I am torn between wanting to do it because I know it will make me feel better about myself and not wanting to conform to a media induced stereotype of how I am supposed to be. I blame the media for a great deal of social engineering and misinformation but on this issue I am aware of the facts and am still choosing to conform.

Trying to lose weight just to look better is such a frivolous issue – a first world problem that will not make me a better person. What I am hoping to achieve, though, is to feel better about myself. If I can be comfortable in my own skin, if I am happier with any part of myself, then that is worth striving for. Self improvement comes from within.

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Working out

I consider myself fortunate to be a member of a small gym and health spa attached to a local hotel. Several times a week I will walk through the impressive gateway, along the tree lined drive and avail myself of the facilities. It is a lovely, friendly place, a pleasure to go to, and it has helped turn me into someone who is now reasonably fit for my age.

This is the third gym that I have belonged to. The first was many years ago. It was linked to the social club of what was then my place of work. When I joined the gym I bought myself a selection of  the latest gym gear of the time and enjoyed going along a few evenings a week to work up a sweat on the bikes, rowing machines and stair climbers. After a couple of years though the site was sold for redevelopment so it had to close.

The second gym I belonged to was in my local leisure centre. Joining this seemed like a good idea at the time. I took advantage of an offer which gave me fifteen months for the price of twelve and waived the joining fee if I paid up front. Not being one to waste money I did the maths and worked out that, if I went three times each week and swam as well (at a cost of only £1 a swim if taken after a gym workout), then the membership would cost no more than swimming a couple of times a week and attending an aerobics class – my usual exercise of choice. The leisure centre is about three miles from my home; it seemed daft to me to drive somewhere in order to do some exercise so I would cycle there and back. The village I live in is on a hill so I could whizz there in next to no time; getting back was not so easy. Are you keeping up? I struggled to. For fifteen months, three times a week, I cycled six miles; did a gym workout; and swam half a mile. I was very glad when that membership expired. It put me off gyms for a long time.

I was tempted to join my current place by a friend who is a bit of a serial spa member. She belongs to at least three spas in our area and was kind enough to take me along as her guest to try a couple of them. She does not use the attached gyms so my visits with her were indulgences – a few lengths of the pool and then long chats in the hot tubs and saunas – lovely. I was tempted by the gyms though. Compared to the leisure centre facility they were small but looked so clean and quiet.

I decided that it would do no harm to get some information on the cost of joining our nearest facility. It was not cheap but it did offer a lot more than just use of a gym and pool. What swung it for me was the location (less than a mile away and no big hills!) and the inclusion of the services of a Personal Trainer. This, I thought, was what I needed; someone to motivate me, who would make sure that I was doing the things I needed to in order to achieve my goals; someone who would put me on a set of scales where I would feel embarrassed if the numbers were not heading in the right direction.

And it has worked. Within a year I had lost twenty kilograms in weight, was going on twenty-five mile cycle rides, walking in excess of ten miles regularly, and I could run a couple of miles without having to stop too often to catch my breath. Most importantly, I felt so much better about myself. I was in better shape than I had been in a lot of years and it felt good.

That was last summer. Since then I have regained a little of the weight (I am rather too fond of my food) and lost some of the fitness, but I continue to make an effort and the gym remains a lovely place to be. The cardio equipment is located by floor to ceiling windows that look out over a small golf practice course so, as I run or cycle or climb, I can watch the golfers. On a quiet day there may be a herd of deer grazing. There is a lake where all manner of birds feed and flirt and fight over territory. Perhaps a gym workout can never be described as relaxing but it does leave me feeling at peace. When I have time I will swim a mile after my gym workout and then rest my weary muscles in the sauna or jacuzzi. The latter looks out over a driving range where the deer sometimes congregate. It doesn’t seem like a very safe place to graze but thankfully I have yet to see any be hit by a golf ball.

My original Personal Trainer left just before Christmas so I am now working with a new one to get back on track. I know I can do it with the right motivation. I need to get back to eating a bit less, which is hard, but I am determined to feel good about myself again. The gym has a wide variety of members of all ages, shapes and sizes and they are generally a friendly bunch of people. I decided when I joined that I did not need the latest, technical workout clothes so I look more frumpy than sleek in my cotton t shirts and trackies. Perhaps if I ever manage to achieve my ‘ideal weight’ I will treat myself to some new gear and start to feel like a real gym bunny rather than a middle aged mum indulging herself. Not that I mind that really. A little bit of indulgence from time to time is no bad thing.

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