Image: Jay Yeo
January 31 2012
We may pride ourselves on our daring, but Londoners operate from a fixed mind-set when it comes to frequenting our favourite establishments at specific times and occasions. I for one have never been to The Wolseley after 11am, Hakkasan before 8pm or Shoreditch House on a Saturday night (unless, in the case of that last one, someone else is picking up the return cab fare from east to west London).
These idiosyncratic location-based rituals provide the comfort of familiarity and help navigate us through our over-scheduled lives. To break with them would bring a sense of deep unease – like going to Canary Wharf on a Sunday, or to The Ritz for afternoon tea without an ageing relative or visiting American. Like my fellow city dwellers, I have a stubborn need to keep order on where I go, when and for what – which is precisely why, despite it having been been voted the best in London, I have never set foot inside the Aman Spa at the Connaught.
It’s not because I am immune to the spa’s buzz and glowing testimonials, or that it’s not set in arguably one of the best hotels in town; it’s simply because the bar at the Connaught is where I always go for a Martini after a stomp through the boutiques of Mayfair on a Saturday afternoon.
But it’s a new year; and rules, as one rationalising lawbreaker once said, are made to be broken. Hence my decision to wreak havoc on my habits, break with my own social convention, bow to the pressure and swap a Martini for a massage. To avoid all temptation, I opt to try the spa, heralded by Tatler and Quintessentially as the best of the very best day experiences on offer (and reviewed well by How To Spend It’s own Travelista). On a bleak Tuesday afternoon, and like a dieter walking past a cake shop, I don’t even allow myself a sideways glance at my favourite post-shopping watering hole as I make my way there.
I take the lift the two floors down to spa level, and at first feel a little disappointed by the surroundings. It’s not quite as lush as the website makes out, but the staff are incredibly friendly and beam genuine smiles that I can’t help but beam back. My first stop is the gym, which, truthfully, I find to be an underwhelming box space and quite dreary. It doesn’t exactly make me want to leap on a stationary bike and pedal the distance to Brighton.
I therefore abandon my plan to work up a sweat and head to the pool; and this, dear reader, is the highlight. Like everything about the Connaught, the pool is beautifully done. A waterfall wall trickles on one side and luxury loungers adorn the other. The lighting is perfect and the space is as serene as you can get in the bustle of W1. Stretched out on a lounger, I start to drift off into a dreamy slumber as I imagine myself poolside at an Amanresort in Bali – until four people arrive. Suddenly the acoustics become apparent and the tranquillity shatters like glass. I sigh and pick up my bathrobe. Never mind; it was time to get my rub-down anyway.
The massage is done by a gentleman elegantly dressed in oriental-style wrap shirt and trousers, reflecting the inspired-by-China signature acupressure massage I’ve booked. The idea with acupressure is to release energy along invisible energy-circuit channels that run throughout the body, which, when they become blocked, can cause havoc – albeit not always of the medically measurable kind, more generally a feeling of malaise. It’s a bit like Feng Shui for your body. Once the trapped energy is released, one’s qi can move through the body more efficiently; in this way it’s similar to Thai massage. My therapist presses hard and consistently on meridians – key energy centres – for what feels like a minute at a time, and then releases; I then feel a surge of energy and heat flow into the area.
The treatments were extremely well done and very thorough, although there were no sighs of great relief of the sort provoked by a deep-tissue massage. That deep kneading of the crunched bits in my back, as if I were a ball of dough at the patisserie, always lifts my mood and remains my preferred massage technique. But I do appreciate this treatment is serving a different purpose.
As well as other eastern-inspired offerings, such as Chinese green-tea foot baths and Thai herbal compress massages, the spa offers an exotic menu based on traditional treatments from all corners of the world, including chakra balancing from India and a Navajo red-clay body wrap with desert herbs from the Americas. It’s truly international in its scope, which reflects the global reach of the Aman group and its numerous jaw-dropping properties.
I rise from a state of near-napping on the table, feeling pampered and serene. It was lovely, if not exactly earth-shattering. I head back to the pool for a dip and a bit of lounging to wrap up my visit. I’m relieved to discover I have it all to myself again, and a blissful hour passes quite quickly before it’s time to venture back out into the great melting pot – but not before I slip onto my favourite barstool. Some habits are impossible to break.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I love the Connaught. I love being greeted by the old-school doormen. I love how it has its own breed of cool, minus the showy obviousness of Claridge’s. The Aman Spa is without question a fabulous way to spend an afternoon – but I’m not sure I would vote it a best-in-class day spa. The pool is wonderful, and although the massage techniques it practises don’t happen to be my preferred deep-tissue one, there is no denying mine was done very well. The staff, from reception to therapist, are all extremely friendly and efficient, as one would expect of a brand of this calibre. But the rest left me a little underwhelmed; and its slightly peculiar layout does not make me inclined to spend an entire day there.
In all, I’m very glad I ventured down in that lift. But the next time I’m Connaught-bound, I know where I will be and I know what I’ll be doing – and it will involve the phrase “I like mine filthy, with extra olives, please”.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.