I am in Barcelona with a friend for a weekend break – a spot of shopping together with some pampering in one of the coolest spa hotels in the Catalan capital: Hotel 1898. The former council seminary, private residence of the López y López family and then the headquarters of the Philippines Tobacco Company is smack-bang on Las Ramblas, the street that – like its cousins Fifth Avenue, Champs–Elysées and Rodeo Drive – is a magnet for hordes of tourists, who bustle along it.
Despite its on-the-beaten-track location, the spa that lurks on the lower ground floor of the hotel has had rave reviews from a discerning friend from Madrid. The hotel lives up to her glowing recommendation and is surprisingly fabulous. It has a rooftop pool, panoramic views and sleek, modern interiors that have a semblance of bygone grandeur – the very antithesis of its noisy surroundings.
The spa is located in the old storage cellar in the basement. In a dimly lit cave towards the back of the spa there is a heated pool that glows invitingly, the ambient blue reflecting on the ceiling’s curved, exposed brickwork. You’ll also find a sauna, a steam room and two tranquil treatment rooms, complete with a range of products by Germaine de Capuccini and FontdeBlanc.
Inspired by the Silk Road, the treatment menu weaves its way from Europe through to Sri Lanka, with an impressive array of offerings from silk-extract wraps to pearl-dust exfoliation. I’m keen to try a massage using shells, which have been heralded as the new hot stones – thanks to their ability to hold heat – and praised as tools for helping alleviate muscle tension (as well as being an increasingly popular alternative to a colonic when used on the abdominal area, by improving digestion, stimulating the elimination of toxins and reduce bloating). I decide to follow the Sri Lankan trail, opting for a 55-minute Ceylonese deep massage using Germaine de Capuccini products that combine cinnamon and ginger with an exotic mix of spices and assorted shells.
The spa manager recommends that I do a thermal circuit before I begin the treatment, to help ease some tension (although I don’t know where it's come from, as I’ve spent a relaxing morning touring galleries and strolling through the Boqueria). I drift from the pool to the sauna via the steam room. It’s off-season and with the hotel at less-than-full capacity, my friend and I have the subterranean spa space all to ourselves. It’s blissfully relaxing and I arrive for my appointment in a decidedly dreamy state.
As I enter the treatment room I spot the tray of palm-sized shells in a variety of shapes that my therapist says she will use in the massage. She explains that the fact they hold heat well (for about 20 minutes) combined with their smooth, narrow edges allows her to precisely knead out any knots and penetrate deep into my tissue.
I lie face down while my masseuse puts on some relaxing music. She begins to cover my skin with a herby cinnamon gel, which heats up as she rubs it across my neck, shoulders, spine and lower back. Then, picking up two shells that have been immersed in a steamer, one in each hand, she moves the wide, rounded surfaces in circular movements, from my shoulders down to my lower back, kneading into the muscles a little deeper when she finds knots. I like their warmth and how smooth they feel.
She turns the shells round to their more pointed edges, and applies a little more pressure, following the curve of my spine all the way up to my shoulder muscles. She continues to alternate between applying pressure with the warm, rounded backs of the shells and their pointed edges. I am almost comatose with sleepy pleasure and can already feel, even before I rise from the table, a noticeable decrease in the tension in my back and shoulders. The lingering warmth of the shells and the scent of cinnamon adds to the overall comforting effect.
I glide out of the treatment room feeling like I’ve been asleep for 12 hours. And after a little downtime in our rooms, my friend and I head back into the buzz of Barcelona in search of a bottle of rioja and a steaming bowl of spaghetti…
The bottom line:
Hotel 1898 is a fantastic find. The spa is a great antidote to a day of sightseeing and I would thoroughly recommend the massage I had. The combination of the heat and the deep pressure applied using the shells eased the tension in my back and shoulders, and left me feeling relaxed and calm.
There are a number of spa practitioners in the UK, including Urban Retreat (www.urbanretreat.co.uk), who offer similar shell treatments, and I know it won’t be long before I book one.