Fluffy robe and towel, swim-wear on, hair tied back, massage booked and boyfriend in tow can only mean one thing – we’re having a spa day. Thames Lido is located just on the outskirts of Reading town centre and around a five-minute walk from Reading train station. Whilst I’ve been a couple of times over the last year, Steve hasn’t, so for his birthday earlier this week I booked us in on one of the day packages with the hope of having a little relaxation and time out.
Whilst I knew Thames Lido existed, I’d never actually paid a visit until last year when Libby, a very good friend of mine, bagged herself a membership and took me along as a guest.
When I first moved down to Reading back in 2004, I knew nobody. Not a single soul. I moved down from York all wide-eyed and excited but when I first arrived here, I was, unfortunately, a little disappointed. York is beautiful, Reading was just grey! But, hear me out…I do now love it, it’s grown on me and if anything it’s changed SO much in the last 14 years; in fact, I wrote this post which explains it all – Reading, a Place I Finally Like.
I’ve known Libby for around 12 years now and I met her through work. When I first joined, she was on a sabbatical helping fish survive in protected coral reefs and playing pirates for a year with her very funny and very nice boyfriend, Andy. I’d heard lots about Libby through colleagues, I’d been reading her travel diary whilst she was away, and my first thought was ‘there’s no way we’d have anything in common’.
When she speaks, she sounds like a male Alan Carr, she’s a bit of a hippy, she’s opinionated (in a good way) and the only thing we seemed to both like, was good food, cake and now Thames Lido.
I was, of course, completely wrong and we got along like we’d known each other our whole lives, and I absolutely class her as one of my best friends. I can talk to her about anything, she’s trustworthy, we had similar childhoods and can relate to each other a lot. We also have similar values and treat people how we’d like to be treated. She’s a good listener, she never judges people and we both have the same beliefs about various important topics.
I’ve had some mad nights out with her where we ALWAYS end up having shisha and doing some dodgy dancing in a local pub called the Purple Turtle, AND, also like me, she also thinks she can drink a lot more than she really can. She was the first person to take me drinking around Soho, and the last person to witness me pole-dancing in a gay nightclub – purely because nobody needs to see that, and it will only ever happen once!
I didn’t plan to write about my friendship with Libby so much in this post, sorry about that. I’ll cut to the chase.
The Lido is based at King’s Meadow in Reading, just on the outskirts of the town centre. It has limited parking, but you can now reserve yourself a car parking space for £5 in advance if you call before you arrive. 100% of this goes to Ethical Reading and their Reading trees program.
Thames Lido is a refurbished Edwardian swimming pool and was once the Ladies Swimming Baths in Reading’s Kings Meadow, built in 1902 and is believed to be the oldest surviving outdoor pool of the early Edwardian era.
The pool was closed to the public in 1974. In August 2004, as a result of a public campaign, the building was awarded Grade II listed building status. In 2013 a 3-year restoration project began, and Thames Lido re-opened its doors in October 2017.
(My lovely friend Dylan also wrote a little about Thames Lido in this post here.)
Whilst sat in the sauna I was chatting to another guest who said it was her first time visiting since she was a little girl and seeing how it looked now, was incredible. Comparing it to then she said the main difference was how clean it was and there weren’t as many leaves blowing around, nor was there a swim teacher to tell her off!
Isn’t really a Spa. It’s kind of a cross between public swimming baths and a spa. But with the best bits from both. No public changing, no dodgy showers or cold chipped tiles and certainly no vending machines or narky life guides.
The decor is tasteful and fun. They’ve kept traditional features such as the old tiles, the Deep End sign is above the bar in the main restaurant and I loved the little ‘boudoir’ room where you can go to dry your hair and pop some make-up on if you want.
From the moment I walked in, I fell in love with the place and instantly thought about checking the membership options. It’s different from any other spa in the area because it’s so unique. Unpretentious, almost so cool and chilled you feel like you never want to leave. The decor is simple with a Scandinavian feel – and the ‘shower naked’ signs and wooden changing booths only highlights this more.
My only slight criticism is that there’s not enough space for actual lounging and the area that is reserved for loungers has around eight beds and that’s it. Unless you’re having a massage then you also get to spend an hour afterwards in the relaxation room, which was probably my most favourite part. The decor in here changes into something more Moroccan-like with bright warm fabrics, piles of cushions and blankets to get comfy with. Fruit teas are served, and you’re encouraged to drink water – which is apparently necessary after having a massage.
Steve and I both opted for the Classic massage which would each last an hour. I’m always a bit curious when booking a massage about just how they know what pressure people like and in the past, when asked by the masseuse, I’ll just say “oh, you know, in between.”
My Thames Lido massage ended up being one of the best I’ve ever had and Sarah, my masseuse, didn’t ask me too much (in a good way) and just made sure I was comfortable and got on with it. The pressure was perfect. Relaxing, but firm when she detected knots and stressed areas of my back. I laid there wishing it wouldn’t end.
But as with all good things, it did. I met Steve back outside and before even saying hello he said: “that was amazing, she knew exactly what she was doing, and she even found that achy spot on my shoulder.” I didn’t catch the name of his masseuse, but from what I heard from other people having treatments, all the masseuses are very good.
The pool isn’t huge, it stays a constant temperature of 25C and there’s a hot-tub at the back, which is where on all my visits, everyone mostly seemed to gather. There are two saunas at the back (the pink painted one is hotter than the yellow painted one) and a traditional big bucket to drown yourself in freezing cold water.
With any treatment booking you get handed a nice big fluffy dressing gown to wander around in, and a bag for your personal things and clothes which you hand back to reception to look after for you. So yes, no faffing about with lockers and tying a key around your ankle or wrist either.
I’ve eaten at the Lido more than I’ve swum and I’d hesitated in going for so long because when I looked at the menus, the vegetarian options were so limited, and if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that properly pees me off. One vegetarian option is never ok, neither is adding a token mushroom risotto.
BUT, the vegetarian food is really very good, and they change the main menu weekly, so you do get variation. The chefs are also super flexible with adapting dishes and cater for all allergies too.
However, if you book on a spa-day package as we did, you get to choose two courses from the set menu. I decided to go for the main course and a dessert plus we ordered some bread and oil.
On previous visits I’d ordered the freshly baked bread – sometimes sourdough, sometimes focaccia, it’s always warm and always delicious. So again, we couldn’t resist this.
We both ordered the vegetable paella and it was packed with mushrooms and the Romesco sauce on top had so much paprika and chipotle (at least I think it was chipotle) that it over-powered the dish. But I’m not going to let one dish stop me from eating there again as I’ve always enjoyed everything else. Also, Steve liked the paella, so it was just me that wasn’t keen.
Caramel butter ice-cream! And the Thames Lido ice-cream is just so good! Made on-site and unique in flavour when the one scoop arrives, you’re immediately sad that there’s not more. However, one scoop is plenty and I’m already looking forward to seeing what flavour pops up on my next visit.
We are Lido fans. Pure and simple. I’ll avoid at peak times as I like it when it’s quiet and I know I can get a spot on a lounger to read my book. I think the massages are probably the best in the area and I like that it’s unique and different to anything else we have around here.
Have you been? Are you a Thames Lido fan?