Spa Junkie at… Bamford Haybarn Spa, The Berkeley hotel

Our reporter seeks some Cotswolds calm in the heart of muggy London

Image: Jay Yeo

Who could resist being seduced by the Bamford and Daylesford dream? The Bamford philosophy is rooted in simple pleasures and luxurious quality. So it seems a natural fit for it to team up with one of Belgravia’s bastions of British luxury hospitality, The Berkeley. Once a favourite with the style cognoscenti, such as the late Alexander McQueen – who was rather keen on the hotel’s pool – more recently, the Berkeley’s spa had seen better days. So I was thrilled to learn that Lady Bamford had been asked to work her magic and create the epitome of country-house chic with the new Bamford Haybarn Spa, located in the Berkeley’s Health Club & Spa.

On the day of my visit, London is in the grip of a heatwave, and to be honest, I have started to look forward to a dip in the rooftop pool almost more than the treatments on offer. But I resist the lure of the water and opt instead for the Bamford Body Signature Treatment and Signature Oskia Glow Facial.

The city’s muggy bustle and the highest pollen count I’ve ever had to suffer are soon forgotten as the lift doors open at level seven and I enter the spa’s reception. Within seconds I feel like I have been transported to the Cotswolds, by way of East Hampton. The high-ceilinged wooden space and decor is all duck-egg blue, white-washed wood and white stones. The staff beam at me.

After checking in for my appointment, I am led to the luxuriously spacious changing room, past a dinky set of mani and pedi stations on the left and a Bamford shop on my right, with its range of elegant lifestyle apparel.

I meet with my therapist, who asks me some basic heath questions over a glass of cucumber-and-elderflower water. She leads me up the spiral staircase to the treatment room on the rooftop, where I glimpse the pool. The water dazzles in the sunlight. It is set in a little square space, with eight or so recliners laid out on the artificial lawn. Sadly, the screaming children who screech past me and bomb into the water break my Zen-like daydream.

In the treatment room, my therapist offers me a seat and talks me through the key elements of the massage while she gives my heat-swollen ankles a gentle wash and purposeful rub in a peppermint-infused foot spa. “The Body Signature treatment incorporates three key techniques – shiatsu, meridian and Swedish massage – as well as reflexology and deep yogic breathing. The massage combination is designed to relax and rejuvenate the body, while the reflexology will help promote the flow of energy.”

Before we start, she presents me with three small bowls of oils and asks me to smell each one and pick my favourite. One is designed to rejuvenate, one to calm and the other to relax. I opt for the relaxing potion, since it is almost impossible not to already feel calm in this environment.

Lying face down on the massage table, we start with some deep breathing to get the buzz of the city out of my system, before she starts the shiatsu. Primarily using her fingertips, she starts from my calves and moves up my body to my shoulders. Her touch is reassuringly deep, which unlocks tension around my spinal column – which is spring-coiled, thanks to a brutal combination of lugging my laptop about and a Charlotte Olympia addiction.

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I ask her about the shiatsu technique. It originated in Japan, but is actually derived from traditional Chinese medicine, she explains, adding: “I’m going to use it to encourage the energy flow in your body.” I can feel a sense of unblocking as she presses into my tightened muscles.

After about 20 minutes, during which any twinges of pain are kneaded away, she turns her focus to my meridian lines. Like shiatsu, meridian massage has mixed roots, she says. While it originated in South Korea, it combines Chinese acupressure and Japanese shiatsu. According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are 12 main meridian points in the body, which carry energy that correlate to the major organs. The flow of energy through these meridian lines is thought to be as crucial as blood flowing through the arteries, and practitioners believe that unblocking them, through massage or acupuncture, is a form of preventative medicine.

I notice the difference between shiatsu and meridian massage: with the latter there is a gentle push/pull of the muscles. It further helps to loosen me up and unblock energy. It feels like every muscle is a dough ball being flattened out, from my ankles all the way up to my neck.

I feel the shift to the Swedish style of massage as she begins to make long flowing strokes. It feels infinitely more soothing and relaxing than the pressured fingertip-style of shiatsu and the push/pull of the meridian massage. There are five basic strokes in Swedish massage – sliding, kneading, rhythmic tapping, friction and shaking – and while they may sound like Abba dance moves, when combined, they feel more like the sort of massage that you would traditionally find on a spa menu.

This western technique completely relaxes my muscles. Checking (as she has throughout) that the pressure is OK, my therapist makes gentle sweeping movements up my back but applies more pressure around my neck and arms, before moving to the backs of my legs and thighs. She asks me to turn over so she can perform the same rhythmic movements along the front of my legs, chest and arms.  

By now I am almost comatose, I am so relaxed – although the slightly irritating Ibiza lounge music in the treatment room stops me from entirely zoning out.

While I am still lying on my back, my therapist places a warm stone on my stomach and performs 10 minutes of reflexology on my toes and feet. She tells me that there are more than 7,000 nerve endings in the feet, which are linked to different body parts. I’m not sure if she hit all 7,000, but the gentle squeezing of each toe and the massage on the base of my feet is a sublimely relaxing finish.

Next up, Spa Junkie peels herself from the table and staggers onto a water mattress for a hip new facial. Check back on Tuesday August 6

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