London is awash with new spas so here’s a round up of the best places to go to get naked and… relax.
This is the newest of the new breed, it only opened earlier this month. You’d be forgiven for not knowing about it – the truth is you could be in the hotel and walk past the Urban Escape and barely notice it. The reception is perversely plain. There’s a bowl of green apples and a lagoon-blue rug, otherwise think oyster – also known as beige outside interior-design circles. There’s no sauna, no swimming pool, no steam room – there’s not even a relaxation area. It just has six treatment rooms, two of which are doubles and have steam showers (no need for the smelling salts – I think I can contain my excitement). So why am I raving about this new spa? Simply because the treatments are fantastic. The company runs some of the world’s best spas including Parrot Cay in the Caribbean and Como Shambhala Estate in Bali and its legion of celebrity fans run from Demi Moore to Daniel Craig. The idea is that The Met will provide an urban lifesaver for Como’s British fans in between long-haul jaunts. The therapists are excellent (it’s the only spa in the UK offering Dr Perricone facials – his skincare range is huge in America and one of the best I’ve ever tried) and, better still, the lack of facilities means the prices are very agreeable. A 60-minute facial or a 60-minute massage is from £90, that’s at least £30 cheaper than some of its rivals – and the quality of the therapists is way above that in most of the other hotels.
There’s not a spa like this in London. It is extraordinary. You get the impression that the owners will be very angry indeed if they haven’t spent as much as humanly possible on creating the ultimate pamper palace – even the changing rooms are lavish, with gorgeous cream leather (it’s like undressing in a Ferrari… not that I ever have). The thermal suite with its ampitheatre-style glass sauna and super-cool swimming pool is the sexiest in the capital. The only annoying thing is you have to pay to use it – even if you have booked a treatment – and it’s £95 for three hours. I know a couple who forked out and found themselves in the company of a nanny and two noisy children. How they laughed… The relaxation room is beautiful, with a suspended fake fire as its centrepiece and gauze drapes between sleep pods to create a lush sense of privacy. Disappointingly, my treatments were not very good (the pedicurist cut my big toe while filing my nails, the facial was not well designed) but where it scores highly is with its medical programme. This is the core of the Espa Life concept, which the company is rolling out at the moment. London was the first, one has recently opened at Gleneagles too, Marrakesh is next. The team is headed by The Gatekeeper – the very Tinker-Tailor title given to its excellent naturopath Hannah Yang. She oversees an integrated wellness team, from fitness trainers to ex-NHS physiotherapists, that work together to correct your health issues. This is a very interesting idea, I’ll be keen to see how it fares. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens about Lafico of Libya’s 33% stake in the hotel.
Thereís the glamour of watching the Eurostar trains depart to points east while sipping champagne in the bar or the chance to laze by a truly glorious (if small) pool (actually I had to share the pool with a family, although I thought the kids were sweet, guess not everyone might agree). The pool, like the heat experiences are in what was formerly the hotelís steam kitchen – a neat touch – and it still sports the original stunning Victorian tiled walls and brick archways. It’s a lovely space. The signature treatments are thoughtfully themed around journeys to Africa, India, Indonesia and beyond. The music played is from the country that inspired your massage and, when your treatment finishes, you get a post-pampering treat that is also from that country. The relaxation area needs work, it’s not that relaxing at the moment, feels a little bit like a dentist’s waiting room and the changing rooms could use their space better (there is a ridiculous amount of room given over to hair care – four blowdrying stations and yet not one private undressing cubicle). That said, the overall experience is very enjoyable.
First a confession: I love the Connaught anyway. Any hotel where the reception staff say things like “May I trouble you for your credit card,” gets my vote. It is delightfully mannered and has been beautifully updated in the past couple of years. Among those renovations is the introduction of a spa. Itís dinky but adorable and managed by Amanresorts, so utterly top-notch to boot. The discreet design (honey oak, dove grey Portland stone, virginal marble, white wicker furniture, Thai silks) makes the most of its relatively small basement space and clever lighting of the latticework in the tiny pool gives the illusion of sunshine streaming through. Itís perfect for watsu (water shiatsu), which is my favourite treatment (the therapist stretches and bends your floating limbs so that you feel as flexible as Darcey Bussell). This is the only place in London that offers watsu. It’s not cheap (£140 for 75 minutes) but it is incredibly relaxing and a great way to overcome jetlag. The therapists are impressive and the Sodashi products are some of the most effective organic creams on the market. If only you didnít hear the distant rumble of Tube trains on the massage beds.
Four Seasons spas are usually fabulous. I really rate those in Hampshire and Paris and was eagerly awaiting the opening of this one. A rooftop retreat with 360-degree panoramas over the Thames, Hyde Park and the Houses of Parliament sounds brilliant but somehow it fails to deliver. The fact is that you canít make the most of those amazing cityscapes during your treatment because your eyes are closed and, ridiculously, the relaxation pods donít have windows. The sauna is a little pokey though it does have a glass wall with those killer views and the cafe, which overlooks the river, is too bright for post-treatment complexions, a little cold and sterile and shared with ďnormalĒ guests so you feel a little self-conscious in a robe. Itís not a place to linger but this is the only spa in London offering Omorovicza facials, which are very good.
The main building has all the charm of a four-star conference hotel, youíll feel underdressed without a name tag and a degree in double glazing. Fortunately, the downstairs spa is a much more glamorous affair, with twinkling sculptures and a very pretty pool. I think Mandarin Oriental was the first hotelier to introduce the concept of booking time rather than individual treatments but it’s always worth pinching the opposition’s good ideas so they offer that option here. It feels so indulgent to mix and match your favourite bits from facials and massages as the mood takes rather than settling for just one and the therapists here are very able so it works well. You can, of course, book standalone facials and massages if you prefer. It was a lovely day when I visited so I decided to have a coffee al fresco. Big mistake, I was instantly aware of the propertyís proximity to Heathrow. On the plus side, thatís great news if youíre a planespotting spa princess.
Susan díArcy is Editor of†Spa Confidential.