IF YOU THINK London had a face-lift in time for the Olympics you’d better believe that Londoners are also looking pretty darn good these days. In fact, there’s no excuse not to, as the British capital is a hotspot of world-class spas, each with its own quirky character. And in the quest for rejuvenation, I was fortunate enough to visit some of the city’s best.
The venue for one of Prince Philip’s two stag nights, the historic Dorchester hotel on Park Lane is also the perfect spot for a hen’s day at The Dorchester Spa. Guests step into a jewellery box of a reception, a visual feast of freesias, curvy sofas and plumped-up cushions. The treatment rooms take on a more serious air, designed for function rather than frivolity, delivering therapies in the shape of anti-ageing by Carol Joy London, healing European-style via Kerstin Florian skincare, and indulgent relaxation with luxurious essential oils by Aromatherapy Associates. The Shiseido facials show Japan’s most established skincare range in its best light, with luscious products chosen specifically for your skin right then and there. Prolong the escape with girly gossip over a light lunch or, even more enjoyably, an indulgent afternoon tea or glass of champagne or three at The Spatisserie.
Only a few minutes’ stroll away is the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane (to use its full name), where a top-to-toe renovation a few years ago added the spectacular light-flooded 10th-floor Spa. The view over the old roofs of Mayfair and Hyde Park towards The Shard, The Gherkin and London Eye can be gazed at from the lounge, the sauna, your treatment room and the Sky Suite for two: sightseeing at its lazy and luxurious best. Treatments here include facials by Vaishaly, Omorovicza, local Espa and The Organic Pharmacy, whose Personalised Body Massage includes whatever your muscles need: aromatherapy, deep tissue, lymphatic drainage, stretching and hot stones. Soak and steam pre-treatment, then luxuriate in front of the fire in the relaxation room post.
Mayfair seems to have all the best spas. Another short spa-hop takes me to The Connaught, a legendary hotel that mixes classic with contemporary style within its Edwardian walls. Here, one floor down, is the Aman Spa. A sweet indoor pool and steam/sauna offer a taster of the prestigious hospitality brand, while the personal spa-within-a-spa suite of rooms for changing, vanity, foot ritual and treatment means no locker rooms to negotiate. The menu brings Eastern healing traditions (from Thailand, India and China), as well as Native American influences, to London’s chilly climes. Book a facial and you’ll first discover your Ayurvedic dosha type, before embarking on a journey of gentle fragrances and textures via products such as the clay cleanser and Manuka honey mask. The Aman Spa also offers Watsu, a modality rarely found in the city.
West into Knightsbridge and a stone’s throw from Harrods is The Bulgari Hotel & Residences. The designer lobby is full of travellers soaking up the London vibe, while more are escaping it upstairs in the divine mini cabanas encircling the 25-metre-long indoor pool. In The Bulgari Spa, book the couples’ suite, a resort-style treatment room with a huge Jacuzzi and day bed in which to while away three hours of downtime. The Enzyme Renewing Facial includes super-ingredients argan oil and seaweed extracts, or go for a Personalised Massage and decide on the techniques you want at the time. The Margaret Dabbs Clinic on-site merges podiatrist standard care with foot-transforming pedicures.
Heading towards Sloane Square, you’ll find one of London’s favourite day spas, Ushvani (usha means dawn and avani earth in Sanskrit). Founder Usha Arumugam’s gift to Londoners, the British hardware – in the form of the Edwardian London house of wooden staircases, flooring and period panelling – matches surprisingly well with the software of Malayan statues, warm orange textiles and Asian atmosphere – naturally blissfully serene. Ushvani products are each mini works of healing art, full of ingredients like hibiscus, mangosteen and kaffir lime. The spa is renowned for the Ushvani Penyepit Facial, which starts with a charming therapist’s consultation, cleanses and scrubs, smooths scrunched up muscles and wrinkles under the soothing glide of chopsticks (penyepit in Malay), then massages, hydrates and nourishes the skin with antioxidants and the power of touch.
The new, much-heralded Life Spa at The Corinthia London is the most recent creation of England’s very own spa guru Susan Harmsworth, founder of Espa. In her own backyard she has reinvented the urban spa. Unusually, the hydro playground of lap pool, vitality pool, steam and showers is mixed – take your swimmers, and your significant other, for a pre-treatment splash. Treatment rooms are beautifully designed, but the relaxation room with its four very private and spacious dens surrounding a floating open fire is dreamy – perfect for London’s occasionally inclement weather. Treatments span osteo and cranial sacral as well as Balinese massage and therapies such as the Age-Defying Acupuncture Rejuvenation Facial. Lifestyle Programmes bring fitness, medical tests and nutritional evaluations to choices like Biological Age Reduction and Men’s Belly Buster.
Finally, in the heart of the West End, the W Hotel brings its usual brand of funkiness to the Away Spa, a bijou healing space that starts with a sleek white reception lounge. Glamming up the menu with celebrity therapists, the spa offers facials by Su-man Hsu (Juliette Binoche loves her), mink eyelashes by Ruthie Belle, and aesthetics like LED or microdermabrasion with the charming Dr Vincent Wong. Alternatively the Body Treat is an all-in-one brief body scrub, wrap and mini facial with the popular Ren brand of skincare, which finishes with a 45-minute massage of deep tissue and trigger-point work for a truly therapeutic experience.
Also worth checking out: The Langham London’s Chuan Spa is a dream of Chinese design and traditional-Chinese-medicineinspired treatments; you’ll find possibly the largest range of skincare brands of any spa in the world at the Urban Retreat at Harrods; designer hotel The Sanderson’s white-on-white Agua Spa is all diaphanous curtains and elegant furnishings; retreat into peaceful darkness at The Spa at Bluebird on the King’s Road; The Berkeley with its stunning rooftop pool has just unveiled its rustic retreat; and The Refinery and Gentlemen’s Tonic both serve up world-class barbering and grooming for men.