When a Scottish friend invited me to a Burns Night party in Edinburgh I hesitatingly accepted. I’m all for men in kilts and a wee dram of whisky, but bagpipes give me a migraine and haggis, neeps and tatties are not great for my delicate digestion. However, I’ve been longing to get up to the Scottish capital for a while now, in order to try out the new Guerlain Spa at the recently renovated Caledonian hotel. This grande dame sits in the city’s New Town, a stone’s throw from its famous castle, and as facelifts go, the £24m price tag seems to have been well spent.
Bracing myself against the biting Celtic wind and in an ill-advised pair of Lanvin heels, I negotiate the cobbled surface of Princes Street, bound for The Caledonian. Edinburgh is without doubt an alluring city, even in the depths of winter, and it is easy to understand why the grandeur of The Caledonian was a natural choice for Guerlain’s first UK spa.
I enter the hotel and look up at the sweeping marble staircase. There’s something about historic hotels that makes me want to whisper – as if I am in a library. I quietly ask where the spa is located and am told it is on the ground floor; however, I have to take a lift to the first floor, walk to the other side of the building and take the lift back down again in order to access the spa – a circuitous route that rather adds to the air of old-world idiosyncrasy.
The spa reception has the opulence of Versailles, with mirrored walls, gold finishes and a vast contemporary chandelier that covers almost the entire ceiling. So far the only distinguishing difference between the Guerlain Spa at The Caledonian and that at its Champs Elysée counterpart Institut de Beauté, which opened in 1939, is the accent of the chic receptionist.
I am introduced to my “beauty coach” (aka therapist) who takes me through to one of the six treatment rooms. After the reception’s luxe decor I am pleasantly surprised by its understated elegance, which conveys a more sober attitude to beauty rituals.
I decide upon the Orchidée Impériale Prestige Treatment – its facial of facials – an anti-ageing therapy that claims to stimulate the tissues and firm the skin. The key component is the Orchidée Impériale cream, which contains Guerlain’s “secret of eternal youth” – a molecular extract taken from the roots of three species of orchids, including the Gold Orchid, which is believed to increase the life expectancy of skin cells. For two-and-a-half hours I will be treated to three facial massages and three different masks.
As my body is crying out for some TLC, I also opt for the signature Edinburgh Caledonian Chic massage, an hour-and-a-half treatment that’s unique to the hotel, to have beforehand.
To begin, I am taken on a “Guerlain Fragrance Journey”; I am asked how I’d like the treatment to make me feel, and when I say I’d like to emerge more glamorous and dreamily relaxed, the therapist replies: “In that case I’d recommend a creamy vanilla scent with floral notes.” She introduces me to the fragrance and sprays some onto a dressing gown, so I will be enveloped in the aroma.
I change into the robe and a pair of slippers and am guided to a relaxation room to unwind. Meanwhile, my therapist prepares a footbath scented with my chosen aroma. She exfoliates my cobble-bruised feet and my lower legs, while I complete my prescription questionnaire (I may underplay the number of Martinis I enjoy in a week – I don’t want my coach to give up on me before we’ve even started).
I think a foot massage or bath should be a compulsory introduction to any spa experience – it’s the sumptuous starter to a delicious main course and offers a preview of what’s to come. This one is good. The scent is divine, as is the perfect amount of pressure on the sensitive soles of my feet.
As we move on to the massage, my beauty coach, who has been chirpily chatty, falls silent. She covers my body in natural oils, so I’m not intoxicated by an overwhelming fog of perfume, and performs the Edinburgh Caledonian Chic massage. She kneads my back with proficiency, but there is nothing of note that distinguishes it as a “signature” massage.
Up next: An age-defying assault course, from Yunnan jungle face creams to a paraffin hand wrap. Check back on Saturday 23 February