AN AFTERNOON TRIP TO AQUADOME MOUNTAIN SPA (UNHAIS DA SERRA)
Hubby treated us both to a much deserved Sunday Soulmate afternoon at a local mountain spa hotel as a reward for surviving our Covid nightmare. We both tested negative but still feel totally drained so decided that a few hours of aqua therapy would help to re-energise us and aid our recovery and chronic fatigue. I shaved my legs, de-muffed my unkempt lady garden and Abracadabra I was magically bikini body ready. I’ve always wanted to visit Aquadome as it looks so awesome. For those of you who have not heard of this incredible place let me explain its wonder. The H2otel Congress and Medical SPA is a certified eco-hotel providing guests with an authentic and organic experience. It includes the Mountain SPA Aquadome, a space entirely dedicated to health and well-being that offers exclusive, relaxing experiences with maximum comfort and tranquility, healthy food and meditation. In perfect harmony with the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, located in Unhais da Serra, at an altitude of 750 metres and in a valley shaped in the Ice Age, the H2otel is the ideal destination to share the essence of the region with nature. Inspired by the golden age of thermalism but with a holistic and contemporary framework, the H2otel/Aquadome Complex offers exclusive Medical Spa programs based on the H2O wellness philosophy.
I’ve been wanting to visit for a couple of years but then Covid hit and they didn’t accept day guest visitors as the numbers had to be limited so hotel staying guests got priority. When they did eventually accept non hotel guests there were many restrictions in place e.g. certain areas were closed off such as the saunas and steam rooms and face masks had to be worn. I decided to wait until the full facilities of Aquadome was reopened so I could enjoy the whole holistic experience. Our journey took 1 hour and 20 mins each way by car and it was all via mountain roads which are extremely winding and did not help much with my current nausea.
There are several different wellbeing packages you can purchase including an array of holistic therapies and experiences. We spent 4 glorious hours in the Portuguese 30 degree sunshine at Aqualudic which is a water Celtic thermal circuit where you can relax and have fun through the power and healing of water. It includes the largest and most innovative recreational space in Portugal and provides in its different areas unique moments and experiences, relaxation and leisure. The different stations include: Hamman (wet steam room), sauna, sauna with chromotherapy (dry sauna with use of colours harmonising mind, body and spirit), Turkish bath (Steam room), 360 degree contrast shower, ice fountain, various inside and outside pools (heated and non heated) with a variety of options: waterfall, jacuzzis, aerobath with geyser and lazy river/whirlpool. The big pool has whirlpool loungers. Just in case you are wondering if the Turkish bath comes complete with a Turkish Toy Boy and rose or lemon Turkish delight, it doesn’t. I know, I’m gutted (ha ha). There are several areas and sun loungers to rest and relax. There is a cute resting area inside with pretty hanging floral arrangements and the outside areas have plenty of shade.
The spa is such a beautiful surreal setting and nestled amongst pure raw and rugged nature, simply breathtaking. We chose the time slot 12:30-16:30 and enjoyed an afternoon of pure bliss in the 30 degree heat of October. I cannot believe that the session only cost €20 each, what an absolute bargain. This included towel hire. We had to pay a €5 cash deposit for use of a locker which is refunded at the end of your stay. If you book one of the wellbeing packages you also get complimentary robe hire. Swim caps and slippers/flip flops are compulsory and we had a right laugh trying to fit our tight little swim caps on our heads. I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous about visiting this exquisite spa as although it was very affordable it looked very high end and super posh. Unfortunately I am not posh. I am proper common and a true Bristolian. I don’t know why but I never feel worthy of these places. I am a little paranoid about my ageing saggy body and I always have anxiety about everyone looking like skinny top models and I am scared that people might stare at me. I am not very body confident but I’m trying my best to love the skin I’m in. I had nothing to worry about as the whole place was very empty. I think this was due to the fact it’s now October and not the Summer season and the kids are back at school. We only saw a handful of other people at the whole spa so we got the luxury of experiencing all the jacuzzis and saunas to ourselves which was very special indeed. I didn’t book any of the packages with treatments as I am still feeling super fragile and I know it sounds weird but I didn’t want to be touched (massage). My body is feeling very sensitive and I don’t think I could have relaxed at all at present.
Before we visited I emailed the hotel spa and asked several questions as I didn’t want to arrive and do something embarrassing which would make me look like a right plonker. Firstly I asked about male/female areas because one Christmas Day, hubby and I visited a really posh Health Spa in a Las Vegas hotel and I just assumed it was a mixed spa. We both went to different sexed changing room areas and then it quickly became apparent that the spas were separate, one for male and another for females. I had to go back to reception and get a member of staff to secretly pass a message onto hubby to agree how long we would spend on our own. It didn’t cross my mind that it wasn’t mixed. I had a wonderful time but I felt very self conscious all by myself and I quickly realised that a bathing suit was optional! All the ladies were stark naked except for me (ha ha). I clearly didn’t get the memo. There was also one lady who got a bit too friendly with me and I had to casually mention that I had a hubby. She was rather attractive so I was very flattered. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas (ha ha).
Anyway, I was not going to get burnt a second time so I emailed the Portugal Spa my questions and they responded quickly. Our local swimming pool has a crazy strict dress code and doesn’t permit 2 piece swimwear for ladies (bikinis). You have to wear a one piece bathing suit and men have to wear tight fitting trunks like the Speedos, no surfing shorts are allowed. I did try to argue with the receptionist and explain that my bikini was not sparse or a thong, it had big granny knickers but she was having none of it and was very fierce to the point she scared me. She marched me over to a poster on the wall and pointed her finger at the dress code rules (ha ha). I did purchase a one piece with the intention of returning but hubby didn’t fancy Speedos so we never returned. Anyway, my top question was if there were any restrictions on costumes and the answer was no. As I mentioned before, the only rule is you must wear a swim hat and slippers. It is best to pre book your Aquadome session in advance, we did this by email and then we paid on the day upon arrival.
I had a look at the hotel prices as I thought it might be a nice place to return to celebrate hubby’s 50th birthday until I saw the prices (ha ha). €390 for one night in a basic double room and €1200 for the Penthouse! Bejesus, WTF, how much!!!!! For that price I would want a private hot tub on the spacious balcony with Idris Elba under the sensual lightly fragranced bubbles, playing footsie with me and feeding me posh champagne and caviar followed by strawberries with a chocolate fountain (ha ha). Needless to say we won’t be staying overnight unless we win the lotto which is not very likely seeing as we don’t participate in the lottery just the lottery of life. I literally would have to sell my body to stay the night as it costs a fortune. I might make about €15 if I’m lucky, enough for a perfect pizza in the bar (ha ha).
I was very shocked to arrive to the Aquadome entrance and see a couple of people standing outside of the main door just wearing robes and smoking cigarettes. I am super glad that the spa is a non smoking facility but we both thought it was a bit ironic how a couple were enjoying a healthy spa day whilst pumping their veins full with nicotine. It amazes me how some folk can’t go a couple of hours without a cigarette. I wonder what they do on a long haul plane journey.
Thermal Waters at Unhais da Serra – The History
Female Changing Rooms
The locker rooms were immaculate and very clean. The showers were lovely and hot with shower gel provided. I liked that they weren’t on a timer like UK Spa showers. So I didn’t have to continue press a button to re-start the flow of water. The toilets were equally fresh and clean and there are hairdryers available. The lockers work on a card system with a refundable €5 cash deposit. I think a wrist band would have been easier and safer but it was fine. Hubby said the male changing rooms were equally as nice and clean.
OMG what a breathtaking view! It really is a super impressive location and view like no other. We stood and starred at the uninterrupted awe-inspiring mountains. Breathing in the fresh mountain air felt awesome on my lungs. Since relocating to Portugal I have spent many weekends marveling at mountains, its become my new pastime. Chilling on the sun loungers was very relaxing I nearly fell asleep. We had a master plan to sample all the heated options before lunch because I was a little worried I might puke or shit in a hot tub once the heat of the water and jets blasted my delicate Covid recovering IBS prone belly. That clearly went out the window as before we adorned our not so sexy swim caps, we took a few average-decent photos then we morphed into lunatics and ran around inside then outside then back inside like excited children on Christmas Eve. Luckily my abdominals held out and I didn’t alert any evacuation alarms or a code brown deep clean initiative. I can’t imagine the horror of pooping in a pool, I would surely die of embarrassment!
The Beige Towels
Beige towel modelled by ageing geriatric Helena (ha ha).
The Compulsory Swimming Cap
Do we look like idiots in our swim hats? Hell YES but we had a right laugh and it was an unforgettable Soulmate Sunday. I will treasure these memories for a lifetime. It was a lot of fun watching men trying to take alluring photos of their ladies in their bathing suit complete with swim cap. Once this bad boy is on your head it’s game over so you just have to go with the craziness and ride the wave of looking like a plonker for a few hours. My cap is very tight considering my head is of average size (ha ha).
Spa Selfies (External)
It wouldn’t be a Spa day without some crazy selfies!
May your day be as Golden as your Tan
It is hilarious how white hubby’s legs are (ha ha). The tan of a weekday jogger who lives in Portugal verses the tan of a man who works 8:00-17:00 in an office (ha ha). Mine are the American tan tight coloured, non hairy, painted toenailed legs, just in case you are wondering. Hubby’s white exterior does have its benefits as when we experience a power outage my man glows in the dark so we don’t need a to light a candle or search for a torch (ha ha). Hubby’s response: “I don’t need a tan, I sparkle in the sunlight” (ha ha). He looks like the Milkybar Kid just more hairy! Anyone remember the TV advert jingle?
The milkybar kid is strong and tough,
And only the best is good enough,
Creamy milk a whiter bar,
The good taste that’s in milkybar,
“THE MILKYBARS ARE ON ME!”, (YAY!)
Water Lily Modesty Flower
I had to use a water lily modesty flower as I am exposing a little too much lady bootie (ha ha). I’m not exposing by butt unless I get paid for it (ha ha). I blame the water jets for blasting my panties where the sun doesn’t shine!
Aquadome & Aqualudic Thermal Circuit (Interior)
We LOVED it all!
Colour is a Power which directly influences the Soul
Chromotherapy (Colour light therapy), is the process of restoring balance to the body by applying colour. Many people use chromotherapy lights in an infrared sauna to achieve the wellness benefits of colour light therapy. Each colour has a unique benefit and healing impact on the body and mind e.g. red is typically associated with stimulation, while blue is considered calming and green cleansing etc. I will try anything to boost my health and restore balance and harmony. The colours used in chromotherapy are closely aligned to the seven colours of the chakras in ayurvedic medicine. I am a fully trained and qualified Holistic Therapist which includes Reiki so I am familiar with the chakras. I really enjoyed sweating in this sauna!
Crazy Catwalk Cap Selfies (Internal)
Serene to silly in 0.6 seconds as usual (ha ha). I really don’t think theses swim caps will catch on and become the next catwalk sensation but you never know (ha ha). I am going to invest in a new one that is slightly more spacious and waterproof.
Aqua Cafe (Snack Bar)
There is a wooden hut outside by the pool but it was closed when we visited in October and it appears to only sell drinks. Next to reception there is a health bar that sells snack/lunch food, smoothies and ice cream/sorbets. There is a restaurant that requires pre booking but the lounge bar upstairs is gorgeous and requires no pre booking. At first we took a seat at the snack bar but there was no staff. Hubby asked at reception and they quickly sent a waiter to assist us. They don’t have any paper menus only a paper drinks menu but the waiter gave us his iPad with their Website menu. The options were very limited with just overpriced sandwiches, toast and salads. We were a bit disappointed and I think the bloke sensed our sadness. He explained that there was a Lounge Bar upstairs which offers a wider choice of foods including burgers and pizzas. It also serves alcohol but the snack bar does not. He was so friendly and even took the trouble to accompany us up to the bar in the lift chatting to us along the way. I was delighted as I did have a feeling it might be all super duper healthy options and a lot of Vegan delights. Hubby perked up when he heard the word burger and pizza is my all time favourite food, I know I’m a basic girl but a cheap date (ha ha).
I was a little worried as I was dripping wet and was wearing my bikini with a see through coverup. It was fine as there is no strict dress code and the few diners wore robes. We enjoyed yummy pizzas in the lounge bar and mine was so delicious and made from local regional Serra da Estrela goats cheese. Our waiter was very friendly and welcoming. All the staff at the spa spoke excellent English too. In all honesty I think my eyes were bigger than my belly as I was full after 1/2 of my pizza but I persevered slowly and finished the whole lot mainly due to the fact that we were not heading home after lunch so I couldn’t stash 1/2 a pizza in my locker then drive it home in the heat for a further 1 hour 20 mins. I hate waste and the frugal in me rarely leaves food on my plate. This is the most I have eaten in ages. It completely filled me up and I didn’t need any evening dinner so we both just had a bowl of cornflakes at 23:00. Thank the lord for cornflakes and ice cold milk (ha ha). The bar was a bit dark, the service was fairly slow and we had to wait a while for our pizzas to arrive but it wasn’t ridiculously slow. I was aware that lunch was literally eating into our spa time as we only had 4 hours in total. Don’t forget to tip the waiting staff if they do a good job. Ours was genuinely pleased to receive gratuity.
Restaurant & Rant
I did read a few reviews on Tripadvisor which said that the restaurant was horrendous and full of children, they described it as a cross between Butlins and Centre Parks and likened it to a noisy daycare. I was expecting tons of rug rats running around and causing chaos but it was empty when we dined in the adjacent lounge bar. Not a munchkin in sight! I am not sure if it was a different experience for this reviewer but I know one thing for sure, this spa is nothing like the Butlins I know (Minehead, UK) where it’s rough and ready and you eat at your own peril. I contracted the worst food poisoning at Butlins and was given a deadly anti-vomiting drug injection which I was allergic to and sustained an anaphylaxis shock and had to be rushed to hospital by ambulance. I only just survived! Saying that I’ve enjoyed many fun Summer holidays at Butlins in the 90’s. As a single parent it was the only place I could afford to take my toddler Josh. It cost a mere £80 for a week half board (ha ha).
We love Centre Parks and have only visited the Longleat Forest location for one long self catering weekend when my daughter Teanna was about 9. We only visited because it was out of season and cost around £300. Last time I priced up Centre Parks it was over £4000 for a 7 night stay and it was cheaper to go to Las Vegas so that’s what we did (ha ha). Just out of curiosity I just priced up a week stay in August 2024 at Longleat Forest and it costs a whopping £2798 for a 2 bed new style executive lodge! A 4 bed lodge is £5048 but the craziest price is the 4 bed Treehouse for £11198, WTF is going on! Apparently the Treehouse has a hot tub and games room. I would want a brand new car as well at that price. Who pays this ridiculous amount of money? I need to go and have a lay down in a dark room now as I am in total shock. I am eternally grateful that I left the shit show of the UK nearly 4 years ago, I don’t regret a single thing.
The hotel is connected directly to the Aquadome Spa.
I loved everything about this spa, the architecture and landscapes are divine and I especially liked the cheap affordable price. My favourite area apart from the pools was the sauna with chromotherapy. I much prefer the dry heat of saunas over wet steam rooms and the pretty colours of this sauna were so relaxing and therapeutic. All the different stations had their cute names carved into the stone and the temperatures and humidity of each place was written above the doors. I also liked the 360 Contrast Shower which was a mini shower circuit. You place your feet on the foot prints on the floor and each station has water jets that are different temperatures and blast various body parts starting from head (hot) and ending at your toes (cold). The temperature reduces as you go around. I also adored the heated indoor pool connected to the outdoors so we could swim around the lazy river and through a little entrance gap which magically transports you to the gorgeous external heated pool area. I climbed on hubby’s back and he gave me a piggyback around the circuit. The gentle current swept us around the river and we had so much fun.
Another captivating moment was swimming directly underneath the bridge, cave and ferocious waterfall. The pounding water nearly dislodged my contact lenses and I had to go for round 2 as hubby forgot to press record on my phone (ha ha). I didn’t know what to expect and I did have a worry that the spa might be packed with screaming unruly children but it wasn’t. I really liked that certain areas were prohibited to children, I think it was no under 14’s in the inside upper Jacuzzis and the places of heat like the saunas and steam rooms. This didn’t stop one mum sneaking her 7 year old in a jacuzzi. A member of staff quickly had words with them and they had to vacate. I know I’m going to sound harsh but in an ideal world I would like the spa to be adults only or at least no under 16’s but that’s just because I really dislike kids, especially other people (ha ha). Don’t get me wrong, we have 10 children between us so we know all about parenthood. I adore my 2 who are now 21 and 30 but I just can’t tolerate other people’s brats. After childfree spas I think someone should offer childfree aeroplanes, worth every penny (ha ha). I adored how spacious and quiet it was in October although I can imagine it getting quite busy and thriving with children during the Summer months. People make it or break it for me. I much prefer solitude and having places all to ourselves as it makes it a romantic experience. I know this is not usual reality at many tourist attractions but I’m not a peoples person so prefer day trips where it’s just the 2 of us. I think a desert island would be my perfect destination (ha ha).
I can’t really think of many negatives as the whole spa is incredible. My only complaint would be the towels. All the towels and robes are a weird beige colour. I’ve never been to a spa where the towels and robes are not a pristine white. At first I thought the towels were old and dirty but they are clean, just a strange colour which is not very appealing. They are also quite stiff and not very fluffy or plush like me (ha ha). I have a sneaky suspicion that Pedro might have accidentally washed the laundry with a chocolate brown random sock and turned all the white linen a crazy beige colour which resembles dirty dish water (ha ha). The reception area in the spa only had one member of staff and when we arrived and left the spa. We had to queue for 10 minutes to hand our wet towels and locker card to obtain our deposit back. It wasn’t very pleasant holding soaking wet towels for so long. The towel bins are located behind the reception desk and not in the changing rooms. I can only assume because some folk like to steal the rough as ass sandpaper beige towels and take them home as a souvenir (ha ha). There was another man in the reception area but he was busy sorting towels. In the end he served us so it was all fine and not a big issue. The changing rooms had hair dryers but no spinning machine to dry our bathing suits so we laid ours out on the back cover of our car boot parcel shelf on the journey home to dry naturally. I did slip down the steps by the jacuzzi on the upper level as the steps were wet and my €1 Primarni flip flops have zero grip. I basically did the semi splits but miraculously recovered like a not so elegant gymnast. Hubby awarded me a Bronze medal for my effort (ha ha). I think I pulled a muscle in my neck, I might need a deep tissue massage after all (ha ha).
Wow, what a stunning relaxing afternoon amongst 2 of my favourite things: water and nature. I really feel that my senses have reawakened and restored. I feel totally revitalized and at peace with the world. It was such a rare indulgent treat and just the perfect place to rejuvenate. I’ve never had so much vigorous hot water shot up my body holes, I didn’t know if to laugh or cry (ha ha). Some of the jets were so strong they catapulted me across the pool like a rag doll. It was a rather pleasant experience being pummeled with water that I went back for another go as it was rather painful yet pleasant (ha ha). What a spectacular dose of pure posh heaven and the perfect place to unwind, relax and recover from our Covid nightmare. I didn’t feel too self conscious strutting around in my bikini letting my cellulite all hang out. I am learning to love the skin I’m in and embrace my excess skin from huge weight loss. It’s just lovely to be able to visit a spa as when I weighed over 100+ lbs heavier there is no way I would have visited a spa as I would not have enjoyed myself one bit. I would have sat in the corner and covered my body up head to toe.
As 16:30 approached I really wished I had booked the longer session of 12:30-19:30 as I could have easily spent more time relaxing by the outside pool. Who am I kidding, I would have spent my extra time frolicking in the luxury of having all the jacuzzis to ourselves (ha ha). We debated asking reception if we could pay the extra few euro to stay later. I am definitely returning next year with my daughter and I might arrange a girls spa day and invite friends, I just need to make some friends first because we are Billy no mates (ha ha). I also thought that it would make a lovely Winter getaway at Christmas time as Serra da Estrela often has snowfall. Just imagine swimming in an outdoor heated pool with a backdrop of snow capped mountains! After our pampering spa experience, I awoke feeling much better and I really do think that our weekend of water therapy helped my Covid recovery. There is nothing more healing than fresh mountain water washing over one’s body. It was a luxurious experience and I fell in love with the quietness of the location, the soothing and relaxing view of nature, and the smell of fresh air which provided a well deserved peace in my soul. This mountain resort is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and I couldn’t help but smile. A perfect sacred oasis and mountain sanctuary. I know I always say it and I repeat myself like Polly the parrot but I absolutely LOVE living here in Portugal. We had a blast, there’s something remarkable about the way the sun embraces your skin and instantly makes me feel better. Tan lines fade, but memories last forever.
We arrived home at 18:00 and spent an hour in the garden with our chickens. Hubby watched his favourite American Football team play a match on his phone and it turns out that Michonne is also an avid Saints fan (ha ha). This made me laugh so much. I am not into sport and have no idea who the Saints are, only that they are based in New Orleans, USA. I always call them All Saints which is a girl band from the early 90’s. What can I say, I’m easily confused. Carol was not fussed about the footie match, she preferred to hang out with Helena in my hammock. It turned out that Michonne was hubby’s lucky charm as his team won the game!
The Cheerleading Chicken
Meet Michonne the Cheerleading Chicken. A Facebook friend of mine suggested that I make Michonne some Pom Poms so she can be a proper cheerleader diva (ha ha). Hubby loved this idea and funnily enough he has some yellow/gold and black wool left over from his bumble bee crochet project which ironically just so happens to be the Saints colours, so I couldn’t resist the challenge and I made some just for a laugh. I can’t crochet or knit but I used to make cute Pom Poms from as a child by threading wool around 2 cardboard doughnuts so I used this technique. I actually had a lot of fun making the Pom Poms. It took me right back to my 80’s childhood. I think they look like chubby bumble bees and Michonne is impressed yet mildly confused (ha ha).
Helen W (The inspiration behind this project) – These Pom Pom photos of Michonne are just for you my lovely, enjoy (ha ha).
Helena the Mascot & Lucky Charm
I borrowed AKA stole hubby’s Saints shirt because I think it looks better on me. My daughter Teanna bought this retro Saints shirt for hubby from a vintage store in Nottingham. It’s awesome and every time hubby wears it for a match his team wins. I think it looks better on me and I can be his mascot and lucky charm. I have no clue who Thomas is but if he is hot, send him around to my house with a bottle of wine (ha ha).
Shake Your Pom Poms
Michonne loaned me her Pom Poms so I could have some FUN in the garden before the rain comes. Once I’ve finished playing with them I think they would make great substitute breast implants to replace my saggy deflated airbags (ha ha). Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere so why not mix a little foolishness with your serious plans (ha ha).