Sunday, 14 March 2010

Bristol Lido, March 2010

Bristol Lido is one of an encouragingly increasing number of restored and active Lidos – outdoor swimming pools – around Britain. Its facilities include the pool itself, an outdoor hot tub, a 'sun deck' outdoor seating area, a sauna and steam room and a restaurant-cafe. And in 2009 it won a South West England Green Energy Award for best small renewables project, for its solar heating.

Friend V and I were booked in for an afternoon's pampering – me for a massage and use of the facilities; V, who is pregnant, for a good swim and chill out. However, things were not to go quite as as planned. Due to some unidentified screw-up on the booking system, my 3.30 massage appointment had disappeared into the ether, and no slots were available until 5pm – too late to fit in with the rest of our plans. I'd already been a but disappointed that the only slot left when we'd booked was staffed by a therapist who wasn't qualified to deliver the very attractive sounding 'winter warmer' scrub and massage, and had opted for a standard full body massage instead. So it seemed this appointment was destined not to go right from the start...

Some spas might have quibbled over whether the booking had been properly done or simply given us a flat 'no.' Bristol Spa is too classy for that; instead we were offered complimentary access to the pool and spa facilities (normal cost: £15) and free tea and cake afterwards. Result. The massage should have cost £50, which is steepish by my standards but then this is an upper-range destination in Bristol, after all.

V had been looking forward to a nice swim in a heated pool, the warmth contrasting with the chilly spring air, so she wasn't pleasantly surprised to find that the pool was extremely not-warm. Braving it out she got a few lengths in, but had to thaw herself out in the hot tub after a shortish time. I, meanwhile, had been having a very nice time in the sauna, reading my rather entertaining book on the joys of NOT having children. Horses for courses... The sauna itself was perfectly adequate, standard pine benches and a water scoop to up the humidity. The smaller steam room could have got crowded pretty quickly, but I had that to myself and it was very steamy indeed, with a lung-cleansing tang of wintergreen and teatree. The hot tub was the highlight – blue skies and cold snappy air above, hot churning water below.

One day I'll be able to afford the restaurant at the Lido (if my beloved husband wins the lottery, anyway), but until then the tea and cakes will do nicely. The two floors have long windows looking out over the pool (slightly disconcerting while you're actually outside in the hot tub or hobbling in your cozzie through the freezing air back to the changing rooms) and the menus have a wide range of contemporary dishes on offer. Our unexpected freebie ended up including the Guinness cake, a rich, moist chocolate cake with a slight tang of stout and a creamy white icing to complete the effect. V's freshly-squeezed blood orange juice was gorgeous, if a bit steep at £3, and the teas came in satisfyingly generous pots.

The one (possibly churlish under the circumstances) criticism I'd have was that the co-ordination between staff wasn't great – the new shift on the Lido reception hadn't been told of the comps we'd been offered by the previous staff member and we had to explain, and then the (occasionally rather brusque and stroppy) restaurant staff seemed a bit floored to be presented with unorthodox arrangements.

It's great to see an old Lido like this restored and obviously busy and popular, and with a high quality offer that could make a great afternoon or day's relaxation. Next time I head down that way, I hope to be able to comment on the quality of the massage therapies too...

Bristol Lido, Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol BS8 2BJ. Reception: 0117 933 9530, restaurant: 0117 933 9533. Email:

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