Since I was a student at U.C. Berkeley, I have always loved the restorative pleasure of a good massage. After a particularly taxing exam, I remember treating myself to an acupressure massage from a lovely hippie named Julie. While her studio was basic, with just a table and oils, she had magical hands and knew exactly where to apply pressure to relieve stress. Another place I visited frequently was San Francisco’s Japan-town. By the age of twenty, I was a devotee of acupressure and shiatsu massages—and eager to discover more in the world of wellness.
Whenever I travel, I try to relax by visiting a spa or having a treatment in my hotel room on the day that I arrive to combat jetlag. Another treatment on the day before departure gives me something to look forward to. I’ve had several unforgettable experiences, from the earthy and powerful massage at the lovely Esencia Hotel on the Riviera Maya in Mexico to the Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives, perhaps my favorite spa experience to date. The property’s Ayurveda garden spa addressed the whole me—not just the knots in my neck.
When I rate a spa these days, what I look for is more than just being pampered, but also a chance to reconnect with myself and the world around me. I tend to prefer Asian-based holistic treatments that work on the body and soul. I have also come around to reflexology, which I find surprisingly effective in dealing with my whole body’s physical weaknesses. The pet peeves that can turn me off a place immediately: chatty or sullen therapists, uninspired music or cold treatment rooms. I am lucky to live in London, where the offerings are vast and varied, ranging from quiet local neighborhood spots to the uber-luxe treatment facilities in the city’s top hotels. Here are five of my favorite places for one-day indulgent—and rejuvenating—spa trip.
Luxe: ESPA Life
Like restaurants, spas suit different moods. For glitz and glam, ESPA Life in the lavish Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall is just the ticket. Opulent is an understatement for this marble-clad extravaganza—it’s the acclaimed British spa company’s flagship. The four-floor space has towering corridors, Champagne-colored lacquer walls and a gilded ceiling. While the spa offers a full range of treatments, those staying longer in London should check out its myriad lifestyle-wellness programs. Guests must first have an in-depth consultation, including a full medical, nutritional, emotional and physical case study, which leads to customized recommendations for the ideal treatment to regain optimal health.
Neighborhood Spot: Ushvani
Perhaps the polar opposite of the lavish ESPA, Ushvani is a Malaysian-inspired day spa tucked away on a Chelsea backstreet. The ambience is hushed and visitors are given a pair of soft slippers as soon as they enter the space. I couldn’t stop smelling the bespoke creams, balms and butters with their fragrant combinations of papaya, coconut and sunflower; jojoba and lemon tea tree; or mangosteen, aloe vera and seaweed. The treatments and therapies are innovative and comprehensive. For example, the Summer Body Experience includes an invigorating, exfoliating papaya scrub, a stomach massage using green coffee oil (to eliminate bloating), a lymphatic drainage massage on the legs and a hydrating coconut milk wrap. This lovely haven also offers private and group yoga and Pilates classes.
Relaxed but Refined: Mandarin Oriental & Four Seasons Park Lane
Two lovely London spas which fall somewhere in between the wow of Espa Life and the soothing Ushvani are the spas at the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons. The Spa at the Mandarin proves that if properly done, a Zen space is timeless. Hidden away in the lower ground of this busy five-star in Knightsbridge, the spa has been my go-to over the years when I’ve needed a pick-me-up. I can recommend the English Rose treatment, which starts with a relaxing foot massage followed by a rose-infused poultice massage (a Thai herbal massage performed with a heated muslin parcel of aromatic herbs) and mini-facial. The sleek new Four Seasons Park Lane Spa also rates highly, in part because of its incredible tree-top views. The spa occupies the hotel’s tenth floor (the property had to get planning consent from its neighbors at Buckingham Palace). Visitors can also get a good workout on the treadmill while taking in the superlative vistas.
For travelers eager to explore beyond London, Coworth Park is the ideal resting pad. Set on 240 acres of tended grounds, the country house hotel (it’s owned by the Dorchester Group) is only about a 20-minute drive from Heathrow, but it feels like hundreds of miles away. Book an afternoon Traveler’s Tonic massage followed by a swim in the lovely infinity pool bordered by large sculptural amethyst crystals. I guarantee that after an afternoon spent in the eco-friendly property’s spa, you will be watching the sun set across wild flower meadows and polo fields in the distance and wonder, jetlag…what jetlag?
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