Spa Junkie at… Faena Hotel + Universe

Our undercover columnist shapes up with tango classes in Buenos Aires

Image: Jay Yeo

Right on cue, the first quarter of this year has echoed with calls of couples baying for blood. And like a rash of misery, the number of Facebook Status downgrades from “In a Relationship” to “Single” has started to spread down my news feed at an alarming rate. Seemingly happy couples have gone from singing Auld Lang Syne to saying sayonara in a matter of months.

Break-ups are the spa consumers’ call to action. In all their varied stages of demise, moribund relationships drive a serious bit of spa business. At whichever stage of upset, my advice has always been: you need a great outing to a spa retreat with your best female friends.

So when the inevitable “it’s not you, it’s me” rhetoric threatens to rear its head, and “we need to talk” messages start popping into your inbox, you are ahead of the curve – lithe, happy, emotionally and mentally well on your way to Moved On.

Such was my advice to the Chelsea Three as we set off, Vuitton sports sacks in tow, to Buenos Aires. Forget Eat, Pray, Love – it was time to breathe, laugh and tango.

My research uncovered a claim, in a study done at McGill University, that “tango is as good for your heart as gymnastics”. Dr Patricia McKinley, who presided over the study, found that the physiological mechanisms you engage while fancy footworking actually help to prevent cardiac diseases. These findings are supported by the International Society of Cardiology, which concurs that “dancing tango, salsa or merengue helps lower blood pressure and prevents the development of heart disease”. Hear that, ladies?

I’m spouting the virtues of the most sensual of dance styles to the girls as we sip bubbly on a very handy direct British Airways flat-bed flight to Buenos Aires, the home of tango; the journey feels more slumber party than long haul, and we arrive footloose and ready to cut a rug.

SUNDAY, 11AM

As we check in poolside at the Faena Hotel + Universe – having arrived via a gorgeous triple-height long corridor, a sort of cathedral of cool – I ponder the conversation a few weeks ago that led to this adventure.

“I want to get as far away from Europe as I can,” chirped Chelsea One. “It needs to be hot,” said Chelsea Two. “I want to lose weight, be pampered and have some fun, and possibly meet men – does that type of programme even exist?” added Chelsea Three.

Well, let’s see: it’s a blistering day (check) and it’s a very sexy scene (meet some handsome men – check). There are strong fitness and healthy-diet plans (lose some weight – check), and the tango room is literally a “sexy box” to “bring our sexy back” (fun – check). Handily, the spa, which will be our spiritual home for the next six days, is gorgeous (pampering – check). So, checkmate – we score.

As the spa manager, Agustina, welcomes us and gives us a tour, which takes in a large, state-of-the-art gym, an incredibly hot hammam, beautifully appointed treatment rooms, a yoga studio and a full pampering hair and treatment space upstairs, I can see the Chelsea Three glowing with approval. Agustina sits with each of us individually to discuss our key areas of concern and explains the philosophy behind the Faena Wellness solution. “Alan Faena’s vision is to bring to life the very best the world has to offer; he creates gorgeous environments that inspire and captivate our guests, and the same thoughtful attention to detail has been brought into the spa, from décor to diet.” In other words, “the art of living well”.

The programme is tailored to our individual (SW3, high-maintenance) needs, but at its core is a robust, week-long tango, yoga and fitness programme alongside nutritiously sound meals – all organic, locally sourced, portion-controlled, with proper food-combination considerations applied. We will all participate in the group activities, which include a daily personal-training session, yoga and what I believe is the answer to resetting the hard drive and bringing the fun factor: tango.

MONDAY, 8.30AM

It’s our first personal training session with the young, handsome Mariano, who walks us through the vast array of cardiovascular equipment, including treadmills, bikes and stair-climbers. “As you will hear during our cardio-boost, the gym has an excellent sound technology. Your teachers will be myself, Jose and Poly; we will be creating a special routine designed for your needs. This routine will include aerobic classes, Tae Bo and a bike ride around the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve and other interesting tourist spots, with circuits of between 3km and 8km.”

It all seems pretty straightforward. “Well then, it’s time to get you warmed-up and orientated,” says Mariano, as we head out for a 30-minute run along the canal in the local area, called Puerto Madero.

A former wasteland where, according to Mariano, just a few years ago you might well have had your eyeballs stolen at night, today it is a cool mix of hotels, shops, cute restaurants and delis reminiscent of downtown Manhattan. As we jog by (at quite a pace), the scale of the change seems unbelievable. Faena, the owner of our hotel, has been recognised for his contribution to gentrifying this area, and we pass not only his hotels, but also apartment blocks and art galleries, and I spot a new Norman Foster residence in development. Faena is the unofficial mayor of all things cool, bohemian and chic here – a bit like an Argentine Tom Ford, with a dash of Sting and Trudie (devout-yogi-yet-totally-rock-star lifestyle) thrown in for good measure. All this is explained to us by Mariano as we pant along.

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Then it’s into the gym for a cardio-blast. The quick-time, high-repetition circuit set to a Beyoncé soundtrack soon has us shaking off the jetlag. It’s a serious, not-to-be-sniffed-at 90-minute workout, followed by “chakra juice” and breakfast by the pool.

12PM

“Ladies, yoga is an important part of our philosophy,” says Agustina. “It requires dedication and willpower to grow spiritually, mentally and physically. However, the rewards of a consistent practice are bountiful as you start to integrate mind, body and spirit. It is thought that yoga was developed about 5,000 years ago in India.” Agustina is smiling, but we can tell she is strict. No matter; anything that has been around for that long gets my vote.

“According to some yoga masters, hatha yoga was originally developed by enlightened teachers to help people survive during the age of Kali, the spiritual dark ages, in which Hindus believe we are now living,” says Agustina, her legs in the lotus position. The Chelsea Three and I would certainly agree.

“Breathing and posture; this is what I want you to focus on today. Correct breathing, or prana – your life force – is vital to ensuring your health in the long term.

“Now, let’s talk about postures; I will take you through a series of positions called asanas. These movements have been perfected over thousands of years to increase blood circulation, eliminate toxins from the glands and organs, and strengthen the muscles and connective tissues.” Before Agustina gets up to put on the dolphin sounds we will practise to – yes, really – she introduces an assistant who will adjust us in the postures. I’m impressed; few places, even hard-core yoga villages, offer this on a full-time basis, and it’s vital in my opinion, as many of us fall into bad habits that can cause injury.

Ninety minutes later, we feel cleansed. I love the almost meditative state I slip into. We all go for a nap to eke out some beauty zeds before our first tango lesson.

4PM

“Welcome to Buenos Aires, ladies – the tango capital of the world. We will get you feeling alive, glamorous and sensual; we’re going to get your bodies pulsating with movement. The classes will have you hot and sweaty and will push your co-ordination to the limits, but you will have so much fun that you won’t be able to wait for the next one,” says Michaela, our teacher for the week.

Michaela took up tango at the age of 13, in the typical milongas (tango venues) of Buenos Aires. At 16, she was working with well-known Argentine choreographer Master Héctor Zaraspe, and has since worked with the crème de la crème of tango dancers, including Gloria and Rodolfo Dinzel and Roberto Herrera, and danced in numerous famous clubs, such as Homero Manzi and El Querandí.

“Today is all about the introduction to the tango dance,” Michaela continues. “Tango is the essence of life here in Buenos Aires; you can see it on every street corner. The passion for tango lies at the very heart of the Faena tango – we live and breathe it with the same intensity as the city’s inhabitants, through music, dance and our shows; we celebrate its history, dress and the poetry of its movements.

“First, we are going to learn the embrace, how to walk together and the basic forward step, ocho adelante. On day two, we will move on to communication exercises, the leading and being led; ocho atrás, sandwichito and pasada. And after that, we work on your postural exercises, which means we review where you are putting most of the weight of the body and how to keep in balance.

“On day four, we will review all of the basic steps in relation to the music, and then start making the connections between them, which should allow the dance poetry to begin. The last few days are all about your hips; we start advanced movements with your torso, hips and feet, and start introducing you to giros, or turns. Your classes will culminate on the dance floor of a milonga, where you ladies can practise the steps you have learnt.”

We learn the embrace – awkwardly putting our hands here and there on our partners, stiff as cardboard in our desperation for the perfect tango position. It’s all very Dirty Dancing – and at first, this Baby rather wishes she really were in the corner. But as the session goes on, we relax. As Beto, the assistant, explains, “Tango boosts self-esteem and allows for a deeper understanding of your body. Soon you will feel more relaxed, sexier – and it helps to increase testosterone levels.”

Now what more do three lonely hearts and their chaperone need? Forget Zumba, we are going to get tangoed – and, oh yes; once we start getting the hang of it, we will burn off 400 calories per class.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.

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