Taking the plunge into the balmy waters of a Cornish lido that offers a heady combination of exercise and relaxation.
Words by Hannah Tapping
When not crafting words, you’ll mostly find me in a swimming pool. My children’s aquatic journeys have given me a new-found respect for the sport and its importance; but why so? I could wax lyrical for many pages about the minutiae of why swimming is good for you, but here are the pertinent points. Whether you live in Cornwall, or visit on holiday, we are surrounded on all sides by water; even our boundary with Devon is demarcated for most of its length by the river Tamar. So, even if we’re just looking at the safety aspect, we should all be able to swim or know how to self-rescue in water.
Swimming also holds myriad health benefits. Water holds up to 90% of the body’s weight making it an activity accessible to all. It’s also an excellent way to burn calories, almost double that of walking, as you have to contend with the constant resistance of the water. Combine that with the fact that swimming uses all the muscles in the body and you start to get the picture. However, it’s not all about lane pounding. Just a few gentle swims a week can have huge wellbeing and mental benefits, lowering stress levels, reducing anxiety and depression and improving sleep patterns – but, I get that the steamy, chlorine-filled atmosphere of a leisure centre pool isn’t for everyone.
What if there was a place where you could float, kick and stroke in an environment more conducive to relaxation and wellbeing? One where you could also take deep breaths of Cornish air? Una St Ives, a resort best known for its 29 lodges, Una Kitchen and Una Spa, has added a lido to its list of luxuries which does just that. At the height of lido culture, Britain had more than 300 outdoor pools, many of which fell into disrepair, their waters drained and abandoned to the weeds. However, a recent revival has seen not only original lidos being brought back to life but new ones being built. The name lido is derived from an island in the Venice Lagoon where Europe’s rich and famous bathed and frolicked in the 19th century. While the frolicking is best left to the history books, bathing in Una’s lido is a unique experience.
Arriving at dawn, with the sun only just making an appearance over the horizon, I step into a wonderful, watery world. For me, the changing experience can make or break a swim. No-one wants to be stood in a cold, unwelcoming changing room and Una didn’t disappoint. Changed, and with swim hat and goggles in hand, I walk out into the clear, crisp morning. With the dawn sky reflecting on the water I dive into the 20-meter pool. The combination of cold Cornish air and the gentle 25-degree warmth of the water was a delight. The design details have been carefully considered with natural stone and gentle planting around the pool’s perimeter. The coloured under-water lighting is muted, creating a sense of calm and, as the pool is raised, a delightful flutter of kicking legs can be seen passing by the glass portholes in its side.
This open-air pool is open year-round to resort guests, those using the spa and existing Una St Ives leisure members. There is selected availability for day guests who can choose from packages that include an early morning dip with breakfast or a swim under the stars with a treatment and dinner. With my body supported by the buoyancy of the water, I begin to swim. For me, the lengths are mediative, each one stripping away another layer of stress or tension. This is an unexpected oasis and one whose experience might start with a lido swim, but certainly doesn’t end there. Lengths completed, I brace myself for the few-yards dash to the sanctuary of the indoor spa. It’s a momentary chill on the skin before I’m embraced by the warmth.
In the sanctuary of the indoor area you also find a 15-metre indoor pool. While a touch too warm for strenuous swimming it’s perfect for gentle lengths. A children’s pool, jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room, are all accessible from the new lido facility, and with four treatment rooms providing an extensive range of pampering and holistic treatments, this is relaxation without bounds. Unable to resist the restorative heat of the sauna, followed by an ice-cold rain forest shower to simulate the blood flow, I change and head to Una Kitchen for a restorative breakfast. Overlooking the lido from my window seat, I reflect on my experience. Una St Ives is a hospitality offering that centres on a sense of retreat. Its holistic environment offers calm and relaxation away from the madding crowds of the nearby town’s thronged streets and the windbreak enclaves of its high-season beaches. Tucked away between Trink and Carbis Bay, this has been a morning of solitary indulgence; not in its derogatory sense, more in terms of a reset for mind and body.
Una St Ives also offers a more convivial experience should this be your desire. A new poolside dining space with cabanas and retractable roof and an outdoor barbecue kitchen serving a street food-inspired menu have just opened. Combined with expertly mixed cocktails and Sunday live music sessions, the vibe is good. Whatever your reason for visiting, whether for a few hours, a day or longer, this is a place to take full advantage of its aquatic offerings.
The lido is part of a multi-million-pound expansion plan that will see a collection of high-end villas with private hot tubs completed for autumn 2023. There are plans for a total of 93 holiday villas, a 55-apartment hotel, and a central piazza with a bar, restaurant, and further leisure facilities to follow. This will elevate Una St Ives to one of the Cornwall’s premier luxury resorts.