When Latvian-born naturopath Stanley Lief set up the country’s first health farm in the mid 1920s, he had no idea how eminent it would become.
And 91 years after Lief achieved his vision nestled on the edge of the leafy Chiltern Hills, Champneys Tring is a world-renowned multi-million-pound spa favoured by celebrities, film stars and affluent sheikhs from the Middle East.
The late Princess Diana, James Bond actor Daniel Craig and The Beckhams are some of the famous faces that have taken a dip in the pool, sweated it out in the gym and relaxed on the massage table.
Trace back to its roots and the history of the estate originates in 1307, when it was owned by Ralph de Champneys as part of the Manor of Tring. The French empire-style house as it stands now was built by the Rev Arthur Sutton Valpy in 1874, before he sold it to Lady Rothschild in the early 1900s.
In the meantime Lief, who had been diagnosed with an incurable heart condition, had nursed himself back to health using naturopathy – which is a combination of exercise, diet and massage – before deciding he wanted to share his methods with the world.
In 1924, the medical pioneer bought the estate from the Rothschilds and opened England’s first ‘haven for the sick’, championing naturopathic medicine.
Lief was held in high esteem among his collegues and students, and was president of the British Naturopathic and Osteopathic Association three times between 1945 and 1956 as well as being life-long dean of the British College of Naturopathy, which he founded in 1936.
The clinic was sold by Lief in 1957 and changed hands several times, including a stint under Viscount Thurso and a Middle Eastern corporation, before being snapped up by businesswoman Dorothy Purdew and her husband Robert in 2002 – and the family still own it today.
Acquiring the sprawling estate in Tring was a gamechanger for the Purdews, who set about rebranding their existing spas in Bedfordshire, Leicestershire and Hampshire with the Champneys name.
After Robert’s death, the pair’s son Stephen took the helm and has built a thriving business based on luxury, which focuses on beauty alongside wellbeing. Think manis, pedis and cellulite busting!
Champneys has gone from strength to strength, with an A-list client list longer than Naomi Campbell’s legs and an even longer treatment menu brimming with cutting-edge beauty treatments. A stint in the infrared room ‘stimulates the sweat glands and helps trigger fat-burning’ while easing sore muscles; a visit to the salt inhalation chambers is thought to detoxify tissues and an iridology session (a study of the iris, FYI) attempts to ‘ascertain constitutional weakness, physiological tendencies and emotional patterns by looking into the eyes’.
The 170-acre estate underwent a £4million makeover around 18 months ago, with new furnishings, opulent fittings and lavish decorations to match its affluent clientele.
The spa celebrated its 90th birthday last year with the unveiling of a brand new detox room.
And boss Stephen, who has three children and married wife Isabelle in 2009, has regular full body massages and a monthly pedicure to make sure he is in tip-top condition – just like his customers!