Escapism is a rare luxury when you’re a parent.
Switching off completely can be tough, as your head is so full of child-related matters such as bedtime routines, unblocking runny noses and building the perfect Lego house.
There are very few places you can go for just a few hours that get your head out of child supervision mode and take it somewhere else completely.
But I found a place that delivers so well on escapism and relaxation that it’s like taking a holiday, for one evening only.
Stepping into the brand new Thames Lido, you immediately know you’re somewhere special.
The Grade-II listed building had gone to wrack and ruin since it closed to bathers in 1974. It was built in 1902, when it was called the Kings Meadow Ladies Swimming Baths, and the water came from the Thames (can you imagine bathing in that today!).
There have been campaigns and various projects that have fallen by the wayside in the past and at one point it looked like this derelict but unique site didn’t have much of a future.
But three years and £3.5million have transformed it completely, and wow does it impress.
The Victorian features that give this building so much character are still there, but they sit alongside bright leather chairs and other more modern decor.
The marrying of the two has been done to perfection. Everywhere you look there’s something beautiful or interesting to stare at, from the stripy curtains on the poolside showers to the vibrant colours adorning the upstairs massage rooms.
But it’s more than just a beautiful building, there’s a heart to the Thames Lido that beats because of the wonderful staff who make you feel so very at home. The team behind this gorgeous reinvention of the old baths runs the very successful Bristol Lido. Thank goodness they’ve brought that magic to Reading!
We visited on a Saturday evening when the kids were safely tucked up at my parents’ house. Thames Lido offers several swim and eat packages, including swim and breakfast and swim and lunch. We had the swim and dine package. There are choices when you book for what time you want to use the pool then eat. We swam at 4.30pm followed by dinner at 6pm.
I was greeted very warmly by the staff who ushered me over to the changing and shower rooms. There are no lockers at the Lido. Instead you shower and change into your swimwear in one of the lockable shower rooms, then hand your bag and clothes over at the spa reception.
The pool uses very little chlorine, which is so nice as the smell can be seriously overpowering. Instead there is a “wash naked” policy where swimmers are asked to wash before they swim with the Lido Spa products created for the baths by the people behind the gorgeous Cowshed range. It’s lovely stuff, and the candid little illustrations on the bottles of bathers are so very pretty.
Then it’s time to hit the pool! Towels and robes can be hired, plus you can borrow a pair of flip flops if you wish.
The pool temperature was 27C. On the evening I visited it was around 6C outside, so I walked fairly briskly to the pool!
Once I was in and swimming I quickly warmed up. This is the point where I truly relaxed and switched off, steadily gliding through the water with the vibrant blue tiles underneath me and the inky blue sky above.
The view as you swim is like nothing else. The branches of a tree just peek over the wall and stars twinkle above it.
There are several bright white spotlights gleaming underneath the 25 metre pool’s surface. These highlight the steam that rolls off the heated water, it’s so beautiful to cut through this as you’re swimming up and down.
After a few lengths I hopped out and used the hot tub where again I enjoyed the beautiful sight of the night sky with just my head peaking out of the water. The reflection of the swirling water on the walls of the building is so hypnotic, yet another element that takes your mind completely away from child-rearing.
Just to complete my working up of an appetite I headed to the saunas, which have large windows offering a view of the pool in all its glory.
Once you’re out of the sauna you can opt to dump a bucket of cold water over your head, literally. While I’m sure it’s very refreshing, I went for the warm shower on this visit. Maybe next time!
I was more than ready for a glass of wine and food at this point. In the boudoir room there are hair dryers, gorgeous mirrors and hair straighteners so I emerged feeling refreshed and revived.
My hubby had been enjoying a glass of wine in the bar area, where you can also order tapas while enjoying your view over the pool through the floor to high ceiling windows.
There’s a strong Spanish and Mediterranean influence running through the menu, and the open kitchen with its wood burning oven and charcoal grill just adds to the vibrancy of this fabulous venue.
The restaurant runs alongside the length of the pool. It’s incredibly relaxing watching other people swim or just gazing at the water.
My starter was the wood roast scallops with herbs and butter. I’ve never had scallops like them. They had been roasted in the lower half of their shells with the butter inside the wood burning oven.
This meant there was no caramelisation to the outside but wow the taste and texture was superb. The dill and mint running through the luxurious melted butter was just delicious, and I used the bread given to us to share to soak up all the leftover juices as I didn’t want to miss a drop.
My other half had the foie gras which was so very rich and covered with pistachios, date molasses and figs.
I’m a total steak fan so chose the charcoal aged beef rump for my main course, it came with celeriac puree and a wild mushroom and Jerez cream sauce.
The beef was so very tender and combined with the purée and mushrooms, every bite was heaven.
My husband had the slow braised of cheek in Pedro Ximinez – a variety of Spanish grape used to make an intense wine. The meat fell off and was so melt-in-the-mouth yummy I stole several bites (sorry, not sorry!). It came with the most amazing mash that truly put my homemade efforts to shame and kale.
We were intrigued by the flower sprouts – a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale – with pomegranate molasses so ordered some as a side dish. They were so delicious. Crunchy and full of texture, well seasoned. I could have eaten another portion easily!
After all that it seemed rude not to have pudding. My salted caramel ice cream was a perfect way to the end the meal, refreshing and just the right level of saltiness to accompany that beautiful caramel flavour.
My other half had the pistachio and blackberry tart, which looked so tempting he tucked into it before I had a chance to take a picture! In this case a picture definitely says 1,000 words.
I left Thames Lido feeling like I had experienced a proper break and been really well cared for in the process.
Find a spare evening, book the babysitter, beg a relative to step in. Do whatever it takes to find the time to visit this incredible venue, you will not be disappointed!
What else do you need to know?
You can choose from a selection of swim and eat packages, or simply visit the restaurant or pool separately.
There is a function room upstairs where you can hold a party with bespoke dining packages available.
Massage rooms are upstairs overlooking the pool. There is also a relaxation area where you can sit with friends and sip on bubbles while waiting for your massage – the perfect escape from your busy life!
Membership is available, contact the Lido for information.
Gift certificates are sold on the website – a fab gift for a loved one this Christmas.
The swim and dine package costs £45 per person for use of the pool and spa facilities from 4.30pm with dinner at 6pm or 7.30pm swim with dinner at 9pm. Includes a 2 course a la carte dinner in the poolside restaurant. Towel and robe hire available, at £3 and £5 respectively. Only suitable for those aged 18 and over.
For bookings and further details visit the Thames Lido website.
Thames Lido, Napier Road, Reading, Berkshire
Telephone: 0118 2070640