I’ve already had a remarkably industrious Saturday morning. I kick-started my day with a personal training session at Bodyism, then ran down to Vita Pilates for a life-changing bit of stretching on what in my opinion is one of the most extraordinary fitness inventions on the planet – the Pilates reformer. I squeezed in a quick blow-dry before my lunch of quinoa and avocado at KX Gym, and now, still rocking my sports get-up, I’m en route to suss out London’s newest super spa – Espa Life at the recently refurbished Corinthia Hotel, just off Trafalgar Square.
The property dates back to 1885; built as The Metropole hotel, it was commandeered by the MoD for decades, then was vacant for a few years. It has taken several years and upwards of £300m to bring the old dame back to life. I’m greeted by an expansive and opulent reception – a tad too corporate and a little vapid for my liking, it’s more made-for-business than, say, Claridge’s or The Connaught, where the cosy and distinctive mood-enhancing décor makes for the perfect place to melt into a sofa and idle from afternoon to evening.
“I’m sorry, sir, we do not allow guests to tour the spa; we have a presentation on iPad which you are welcome to view in the reception.” I arrive into the middle of a real fracas: the receptionist is explaining policy to some tourists who had been lunching at Massimo’s downstairs and wanted a quick tour – and were not best impressed when I was ushered in within seconds. Pays to make an appointment, eh?
To be honest I have been indifferent to ESPA in the past; the brand did nothing for me, and the products have never really moved me to purchase. But now, as I’m led past stark ebony and ivory lacquered walls, down a Calacatta-and-black-marble staircase, past rows of heated Cleopatra marble loungers which sit pretty in front of futuristic fireplaces, I am definitely taking notice. The Spa is seriously impressive, contemporary and sumptuous, with an elegant use of polished chrome, textured leather, marble, oak, fire, water and pewter. The aggregate is super sexy.
A glass-house sauna takes centre stage; it’s more like a piece of art than a piece of spa equipment. Apart from the Four Seasons Park Lane sauna with its panoramic views, I can’t say I have ever seen anything like it. It overlooks the steel-floored pool flanked by white oversized sofas, all dimly lit and 007-ready.
“I am going to ask you a couple of questions,” says Reeya, the therapist, as she sits me down in the pod of the treatment room.
“Why are you here today? Do you spa often? What treatments do you normally have? How often to you get them? What products do you use? Are you happy with the results? Do you like oils? Any problems or issues I need to know about? Do you have a healthy diet? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? How do you feel right now?”
Are we speed dating? I tell her, seriously, I’m fine, and jokingly add that I’ll feel a lot better once I don’t have to answer a ton of questions and I am laid flat on my stomach on that big heated comfy couch I see in front of me. I appreciate the importance of getting to know your client, but this feels as if it skews a bit more to life-partner compatibility analysis.
“We are going to start with a sensory test. Your body will naturally choose what products and active ingredients it requires,” Reeya says as she holds up two pieces of cotton wool, each of which she has dipped into a different-smelling toner. I inhale deeply and choose the first one, a hydrating floral splash; this tells Reeya that my skin is dehydrated.
Then she places two different oils on my wrists; again, option one wins. This time I’ve picked the regenerating facial oil that will tighten and tone my skin. Lastly my nose picks ESPA’s fitness oil for the massage component of my treatment. “This means your muscles are a tired and stiff,” says Reeya. Damn right; if only she’d seen my morning of self-inflicted torture.
“Surely I have a predisposition to certain smells?” I question the theory. “Won’t I naturally gravitate to certain smells, which don’t always correlate to my health status?”
“Sure you will, sometimes,” she concedes amiably, “and as such we tell our clients to choose either the strongest or the most pleasing. Very often when a smell is very strong, almost overbearing – even if you don’t ‘like’ it – it means your body is reacting to it and it may well be effective in your treatment.”
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.