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The Spa At Mandarin Oriental London


I’ve been fantasising about this spa ever since I visited the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong so, when it was voted one of the best 25 spas in the world and they decided to celebrate by giving everyone an extra 30 minutes of treatment time in October 2011, it seemed rude not to take them up on the offer.  It’s funny but when I’m in another country I think nothing of jumping in and booking a four or five star spa, but here, when it’s on my doorstep, I can find a million reasons not to take the plunge.


But as I made my way to the spa I realised another reason (aside from the time, money, decadence) that I don’t jump into the wonderful spas in London; I’m intimidated.  Everywhere else in the world I’m English, but as I got dressed for the spa, freaking out about walking in in my comfies, got on the tube and finally sat in the decadent lounge I realised that in England, when confronted with this kind of five star luxury, I revert back to being a kid from a council estate, the one who didn’t get invited to parties, who even one time turned up to a Christmas local disco to be told it was members only - and sitting in that waiting room or even lying on the massage table there’s a part of me that’s waiting to be told... “sorry you’re not welcome here”.


(By the way if you’re ever in Knightsbridge and need a loo just head down to the spa in the basement and the loos are on the left - you don’t need to go into the spa - but they do have a very nice gift shop.)


I have to say I felt none of that when I booked my treatment on the phone - the lady on reception was lovely, although a little confused about how to add the extra 30 minutes.  There’s a minimum of 1 hour 50 minutes booking time, but a maximum of 1 hour 50 minutes massage - so the extra time had to be made up with a scrub, body wrap or facial.  I went for the body scrub, but in the end this is actually part of the signature therapy, so I had a mini facial instead which was a lovely way to end the treatment.  As I finished booking I got into a little chat with the receptionist; how I was excited, how I loved the Hong Kong spa and how I was a bit run down.  “Don’t worry,” she said “We will take care of you.”


When I arrived, after exchanging my shoes for heavy duty reflexology flip flops, I filled out my health and wellbeing questionnaires accompanied by the tiniest cup of herbal tea and a hot flannel.  As well as the usual questions (blood pressure, skin problems) I also filled out a lifestyle/wellbeing questionnaire; did I have addiction problems with caffeine, how was I sleeping, how were my energy levels?  The spa continually stresses the journey, it’s how they describe a lot of their rituals and therapies and they also stress that visiting the spa and your massage is just part of the journey; I certainly feel that my wellbeing journey continued for a solid week after I visited the spa.


When I’d finished filling in the questionnaires, the receptionist showed me downstairs to the ladies’ side of the spa.


I must admit, after the opulence of the Hong Kong Mandarin Spa the London spa is less exciting initially; the towels and dressing gown were not as sumptuous as I had expected, and the changing area is much smaller, but there were all the nice touches you’d expect; extra towels and a safe in the locker, little toiletries dotted around, and a bracelet with your locker number so you won’t forget it (you make up your own code to lock it).  Important things to remember are that you need to take your dressing gown and towel into the heat and water oasis - or some nice lady will tidy them away.  There are hooks opposite the amethyst steam room - but I did have to ask where they were.


The changing area, oases and relaxation rooms are separate for men and women, so it’s not a spa for couples to enjoy together, I’d even say it’s a spa that is best visited all by yourself - the ultimate me-time.  The wonderful thing about this kind of exclusive spa (although remember the exclusivity is just in the cost) is that I was all by myself for most of my time here.  Occasionally someone drifted through to the oasis or waited for a few moments in the relaxation room, but with only eight treatment rooms and a minimum of two hours treatment time it’s never going to be that crowded.  Add in the fact that many of the spa guests are guests of the hotel and will literally come down in their robes from their rooms and then head straight back up to relax and you’ll see why this is a perfect place for serene spa time.


The heat and water oasis is made up of a Vitality Pool, Amethyst Steam Room, Sanarium and shower.


The Vitality Pool is fabulous on many levels, not least that you press a button to start it yourself; then there is a twenty minute journey as the bubble jets lead you around the pool.  Even at some of the best spas I’ve visited there are timed jets and bubbles, so to have this pool purely for your own relaxation pleasure feels wonderfully decadent.  The first experience is a choice between enjoying bubble jets under your feet, or lying on a contoured shelf as cool air bubbles massage your whole body.  They’ve also considerately placed a tray of flannels beside the pool, so within five minutes I was lying back, head resting on a flannel, barely holding on to the handrail and feeling already more relaxed than I’d been in weeks.  Although I loved the Vitality Pool I didn’t stick to the 2o minute journey, but instead dipped in and out of other rooms, coming back for more bubble relaxation, or just to lie (sometimes face down) in the water and bliss out.


Next to the Vitality Pool is the Amethyst Steam Room.  Although I’ve seen these popping up in many spas, particularly in England, this was the first time I’ve tried one.  I’ll admit I went in and was kind of making fun of the great big crystal until I had a very strong feeling of “sit down, shut up and let me heal you”.  I complied.  A few minutes in and my chest (which had been feeling inflamed from an infection I’d been fighting for weeks) felt much, much better.


When I got a bit too hot it was into the shower (there are also separate showers in the main changing room to wash off before coming into the oasis), which had direct body jets and an overhead waterfall nozzle.  Don’t ask me why body jets feel so much better than regular showers, but this is a wonderful refresher after the Steam Room or Sanarium.  But be careful, there are three controls; one turns on the body jets, one turns on the waterfall nozzle and one changes the temperature, and if you’re not careful it’s very easy to turn the temperature very cold when you’re just trying to switch the shower off!  (For some reason the other showers here all seem to have very low shower heads - and I am not that tall - so I enjoyed this one a lot more.)


So, finally to the Sanarium, which is essentially a Sauna but with a much gentler heat.  This is particularly nice if you, like me, enjoy the feeling of lying on warm wood (without getting branded).  I would have spent more time in here, but on this occasion the Amethyst Steam Room, and the Vitality Pool kept calling me back.  After a few more rounds and enjoying some different jets in the pool which made me wonder if I even needed a massage, I was just about ready to chill out in the Relaxation Room when my masseur came in and found me.  This is the big advantage of the London spa - whereas in Hong Kong I had a few moments of wandering around the spa looking for my masseur - here they tell you to just relax, and the masseur will find you.


Just one point, when the heat and water experiences are so good you may well find that contact lenses become very uncomfortable, so be sure to bring your glasses with you if you wear them.


Also, all of these experiences are likely to create a detox effect, so be sure to drink plenty of the water and juice available here and don’t be surprised if you need half a dozen trips to the loo!


My very lovely masseur also suggested we bring a few cookies as I hadn’t had a chance to have any (or any of the fruit available in the Relaxation Room) up to the treatment room, so that I could have a little something while she did my foot ritual and we had our consultation.


I think overall this is another area that lifts The Spa At Mandarin Oriental London above other spas that I’ve visited, really taking time to find out what you need from your visit.  As we talked I realised just how run down I was; teaching too many classes I kept putting stress on a calf injury and I wasn’t giving myself time to recover from my chest infection.  As she gently washed my feet in a bowl with reflexology stones, dried and wrapped them, we also talked about what I enjoyed, where I was feeling tension.  Unfortunately she also said that sometimes you need a stronger massage (I was complaining about a physio who had been a bit aggressive with my calf), which is something that I frankly don’t believe in.  In retrospect I wish that I’d been a bit more insistent on saying I preferred gentle massage as when she was working on my shoulders (affectionately referred to as “double ironing board” shoulders by friends who’ve tried to massage them) she did use a bit more pressure than I like.  Like me, when confronted with pressure, my shoulders are a little antagonistic and tend to tighten up even more!  Whereas a gentle pressure brings them down from my ears much more effectively!


(Some masseurs do have a very specific idea about massage - so asking them to be gentle is a bit like asking a French chef to cook a good steak well done - but always remember that you are the boss!)


My treatment started with an all over body scrub (not the face!), and she kindly tied up my hair to avoid getting any oil in it (although I was happy to have her give me a scalp massage with oil later, even though it makes my hair look super greasy - I love it).  She was also very careful to leave the room and turn away to protect my modesty (if I had any) so this is also a great spa for anyone who wants a little privacy, although I’m not sure it’s really possible to have any body scrub whilst preserving your modesty as most tend to scrub your bottom and, if not your breasts, then so close to them as to be impossible to not see them.


The scrub felt wonderful going on.  It’s described as realigning the mind and emotions and bringing the body’s energy flow into alignment.  I’ve recently had some wonderful all over sports massages, but being covered with a five star exotic oil, and a gentle surface massage by a female masseur made this an entirely fresh and rejuvenating treatment.


Another thing I have to mention is that during the treatment we made several adjustments to the head rest and to the temperature of the bed (yes, it’s heated).  I don’t like to be pernickety but when she adjusted the head rest once she said “I am here to make you comfortable, we can change it as many times as you want.”  This was the start of a wonderful feeling of actually listening to my body (which I had been overworking for so long, ignoring it’s protests) so that halfway through the scrub, when the oil was starting to feel a bit cool on my body, I asked her to turn up the heat slightly.  It then felt so good that I was almost disappointed when the time came to rinse it off.


There’s a shower cubicle in the massage room, so you don’t actually have to leave, unless you need the loo (so not quite as awesome as my massage suite in Beijing).


Then it was on to the main event, my all over massage.  The Mandarin Oriental Signature massage uses the concept of Oriental Meridians to improve the flow of chi or universal energy.  As I mentioned I’ve had some wonderful sports massages recently, and I have to say the massage on the whole wasn’t better - just different.  What I loved was the heated and perfectly adjusted massage bed, the relaxing music and ambience, the scented candles, the oils, the relaxing and unhurried vibe of the masseur and, although I did feel that she was a little too forceful on my shoulders, I loved the way she worked my arms and legs, and in particular the way she massaged my stomach (towels were draped to protect my modesty).  She spent a lot of time where I needed it the most; my lower back and calves and I could feel myself loosening up as she did.


As she moved on to the facial I was thinking “No, don’t end yet”, but as she finally came to an end I suddenly felt that that was just enough.  The facial itself was very gentle (I often feel my skin is irritated by some facial products) and left me feeling cared for, top to toe.


Another wonderful quality of the spa is the unhurried feeling; there was no rush to move from the bed, she gently elevated it for me and made me a tray of herbal tea and water, and we talked through the experience.  Finally she gave me my lifestyle and product tips; yes, they recommend products in the spa shop, no, there’s no pressure, but the lifestyle guide does give a lot more than this.  Apparently the element which is out of balance in me is wood; relating to fresh green growth and a new cycle; and I do certainly feel that I’ve got stuck in a little bit of a rut.  Some of the common symptoms are familiar; particularly fatigue and being easily stressed, and to help with the ongoing journey I also have a list of foods to enjoy and to avoid.


“You can do a lot of this at home,” was one of the things my masseur said to me.  Just by lighting a few candles, having some oil in a burner, taking a long bath, giving my own poor calves a massage, enjoying more herbal teas and fruit.


Finally she deposited me in the Relaxation Room, inviting me to stay as long as I liked.  At first I felt boundless energy and was ready to run out for sushi, but as soon as I’d eaten half a dozen cookies, some plums and finished my tea I felt completely wiped out.  Although I didn’t go to sleep I kept drifting in and out of deep pockets of relaxation.  I was a little disappointed overall with the Relaxation Room; I liked the lamp which constantly changed colour, and the refreshments, but was a bit disappointed there didn’t seem to be any fresh hot tea, and the headphones only seemed to work in one ear.  I also discovered at the end that the odd echoing music I was hearing was someone else’s headphones that they had left on.  The bed can also be elevated using the buttons at the side so I ended up in a little cradle and conked out again.  In short I was a cranky little kid who really needed to go to sleep in her own bed, and this is when I wished I was staying at the hotel.


After a few hours I did manage to get myself together enough to leave; and it was a huge shock to the system to step out into Knightsbridge in search for sushi.  This is the problem here; the receptionist kindly asked the concierge where I could get some sushi; they recommended Nobu... and a reservation, when I was really looking for the nearest Yo Sushi or Wagamama’s (what with my greasy hair and all).  So my tip is to find a nice close restaurant before your visit so you can decamp and eat something without getting lost amongst the tourists.


My tube journey home was pretty hellish.  I thought I’d missed the rush hour but apparently it goes on for a long time from Knightsbridge.  When I finally got home I had just enough time to light my candles, stoke up the oil burner, disable the smoke alarm and loll around until it was time for bed.


The truth is that straight after the spa day I didn’t feel so hot.  I went in with the idea that you can squeeze a spa week into one day, but you just can’t.  I had needed to slow down for weeks, and taking the time out to have this spa day, and its after effects, did slow me down, but it wasn’t always comfortable or pleasant.  I felt really cranky, resenting anything that wasn’t lying down having a snooze, but I needed this wake up call (or should that be fall asleep call?)


The morning after the spa I made my usual pint of coffee - took one sip and didn’t want it.  I didn’t go to the spa with the intention of giving up coffee, but that’s what happened.  In the week after the spa I went from six cups of coffee a day to one and a half cups in a week (I’ve drunk a lot of herbal tea!)  I stopped eating as much carbs to keep me going - switching in more fruit and vegetables - and felt more energised.


The day after the spa I taught a class, and loved it, and then went out to meet family for a few hours, then, very unlike me, I went home early to relax, eat healthy foods, massage my leg and listen to relaxation music.


The next day; Sunday, I hardly moved, I slept for most of the day, had a long bath, more massage on my leg and just let my body rest; which it’s been begging for for weeks.


The day after I made a decision to put one of my classes on hold until January - it’s too much for me.  And I felt great about the decision.


I said yes to an offer from someone to cover a class, and then asked her to do another one too.


I decided to stop writing my monthly newsletter and do it all on my blog instead, and dumped a lot of things from my to-do list.


I noticed a visible reduction in cellulite; although whether that was from the massage or the water jets it’s hard to say.


My leg has felt both worse and better at times; but I’ve realised that I am probably feeling it much more because of the lack of caffeine.  I’m actually listening to how my body feels instead of just bossing it around.


I’ve let go, letting other people teach my classes and, yes some of them have made mistakes, but I’m learning who I can rely on and, in any case, I’m feeling much healthier.


I’ve watched some afternoon movies and let myself get bored - a feeling I haven’t had for a long time.


I’ve also spent more time meditating, thinking about what’s really important and remembering who I really am.  (Guess what, I’m not a robot.)


And this morning I had a cup of real caffeinated coffee; not because I needed it but because I wanted it.


I suppose a lot of us dream about the “get away from it all holiday in a five star spa” when we feel we don’t have the time or money to have that experience, and so it was really tempting to think that I could squeeze it all into one day in a world class spa in central London (no time and money spent on flights, travel etc.) and what I found is that you can and you can’t.


If you need to change your lifestyle then this spa may well do it, but it will still take time, will still need you to incorporate those changes into your day to day - and in some ways this is probably more effective than a holiday break - as those changes almost impose themselves on you immediately, from having to sleep more to not drinking coffee.  But for me it was putting the brakes on at high speed; a jolt to the system, whereas travelling gives more time to adapt to a change of pace.


Was it worth it?  Of course, or I wouldn’t be recommending it.  If you added up all the benefits I enjoyed in my spa day it was definitely worth it, I’ll even say that some of the experiences may be beyond price - like having The Vitality Pool all to myself - and if you feel the need for a lifestyle change this is a wonderful place to start the journey.


Voted one of the top 25 spas in the world by Condé Nast 2011


I paid £240 for the Mandarin Oriental Signature Spa Therapy, normally 1 hour 50 minutes, but with an extra 30 minutes of treatment time in October 2011 to celebrate the award from Condé Nast.  I spent an hour in the heat and water oasis before my treatment, and then several hours in the relaxation room - a total of just over five and a half hours.


Minimum booking treatment time of 1 hour 20 minutes Monday to Thursday approx. £155 and 1 hour 50 minutes Friday to Sunday approx. £210

includes complimentary 45 minute/1 hour use of the heat and water oasis (single sex so you can go in in swimwear or naked), and as much time as you like (subject to closing time) in the relaxation room.


A credit card is required to hold the booking and you can cancel up to
24 hours in advance.


As at October 2011


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