Letter from London: the capital’s new state of the art spas are a real Olympic legacy

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Just in time for the Olympics, a new breed of hotel spa has raised the bar in London. Jane Egginton takes a very enjoyable closer look and asks: are they worth it?

I felt like an excited and slightly nervous schoolgirl, on my first visit to the Hogwartian St Pancras Renaissance hotel. Scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here and the location certainly worked some kind of magic on me. The hotel, which first threw open its doors back in 1873, was refurbished last year to the tune of a cool £150 million.

It was a surprise to me that this oh-so-British heritage hotel – with its subterranean spa housed in the old kitchen – is actually a Marriott, but it shows no hint of a chain mentality. The Spa is big on the Cinq Mondes (‘Five Worlds’) range of products, an appropriate match for a bustling international train terminal and its flagship hotel. But, as the Spa’s manager was at pains to explain, that was not the only consideration – every product in the highly thought of French stable is made with natural organic ingredients of extraordinary quality, which explains why they pop up in 200 of the world’s best spas across 20 countries.

Cinq Mondes has inspired a suite of ‘spa journeys’ to transport Renaissance visitors to Europe, India, Indonesia, and beyond. After treatments drawing on the diverse beauty and relaxation rituals in these parts of the world, guests are treated to a special snack, replete with music and smells appropriate to their treatment ‘destination’ – a wonderfully imaginative touch.

Before the Kings Cross renaissance, when it was only a transport hub, the Metropolitan was famous the world over for having the coolest hotel bar in London. With its effortlessly chic décor and staff, it is still utterly impressive, but the Met now has a world-class spa. Slap bang in the centre of London, with extraordinary views of Hyde Park, it may be as urban as you get, but it this a real, out of this world, retreat.

Modelled on the multi award-winning spa at sister hotel, Parrot Cay, in the Caribbean, the Met’s spa manages to be both minimalist and luxurious. And in the well-respected tradition of COMO Shambhala, it offers therapies that look outwards to draw its inspiration from Asia. Who wouldn’t be impressed by a resident acupuncturist and the only UK spa to work with the globally acclaimed Dr. Perricone to offer some of the best facials on the planet? This is a non-invasive anti-ageing procedure that really works. However, the COMO Shambhala signature massage is the real show stopper. Don’t ask me to describe what it involves: I’m afraid it was so effective, I fell asleep, so just try it for yourself.

I was lucky enough to be treated by stand-out therapist Nobue Imai who also specializes in Japanese acupuncture, but I have heard wonderful things about Samantha West’s facials. I was just about to head home feeling as restored and revamped as the St Pancras hotel I would pass on the way home, when Samantha came up with a final suggestion: under her direction, I made for the Met bar and when I arrived, the award-winning barman had whipped up a Storm in a Teacup (one of his best cocktails) to send me on my way.

COMO Shambhala Urban Escape was unveiled to gasps but appears to have held its ground. Although it has only been open a few months, it is planning to host visits by skilled therapists, including osteopaths, nutritionists, and reflexologists who have trained at the hotel group’s other spas worldwide.

It’s a theme that continues at the Corinthia, a grand old dame of a hotel housed in a splendid Victorian building. The spa here hosts professionals from around the world who treat day visitors and hotel guests to age-defying facials and ‘Rush Hour Beauty’ as well as integrated wellness, which combine new and indigenous techniques. It’s not often that one is asked, “How would you like to feel?” and almost unheard of that one’s wishes in this regard are met, but at the Corinithia they succeed.

The spa itself is a spectacular combination of black marble, open fireplaces, textured leather and champagne lacquer panels. The soft, curving lines are cocooning while the sunken sauna in a box of glass is a design masterpiece. There was something a bit James Bond about the whole experience, which is perhaps fitting for an old school hotel a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. A facial left me feeling so rejuvenated that the first thing I did when I left was book another treatment.

These three hotel spas are a far cry from the bolt-on sauna and beauty parlour of old. They have a global outlook, while staying true to their British roots, embracing a holistic approach that combines the best of British luxury with 21st century spa experiences. They deserve to be described as urban sanctuaries and I venture to suggest the hoards of international visitors descending on London this summer will say they are up to scratch.

In the exquisitely decorated spa of the St Pancreas Renaissance hotel, the symbol of a peacock is a reappearing icon. During painstaking renovations (which took nearly a decade) of this historic building, the symbol of a peacock was found in the plasterwork. It seemed an ideal image for the spa which has rejuvenation as its central ethos as the peacock is able to grow a completely set of new feathers when it sheds its old ones. It is also a fitting image for all three of these iconic London hotels.

The very best of them combine a quintessential London experience, with classic British design and hospitality, with the ultimate in well being treatments from around the world. Drawing on the best traditions, harmony is key here and it seems there may be some post Olympics legacy for Londoners after all.






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