If I wanted to, I could probably swan from one spa to another, doing ‘research’ as a beauty editor. Irony is, much as I’d love to do that, I have precious little time for treatments of any kind (even though my shoulders need unkinking and my jaw de-stressing as much as the next person). So it really matters to me that a spa visit has to be exceptional – because otherwise, I can think of a gazillion things I’d rather be doing with my time. And indeed, I’ve been known to leap off the couch mid-way through an ineffectual massage or facial, make my apologies, and skidaddle. Life’s too short to lie with my face in a be-towelled couch-hole, festering at the therapist’s not-much-more-than-a-tickle effleurage.
At the following destinations, however, I’ve experienced the not-so-minor-miracle (for me) of truly switching off. They’re all places I’d be happy to return to – and for me, there’s no greater accolade.
Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall (Devon). Gaia Spa opened last summer and is as modern as it gets – but at the same time, it’s a real nod to nature. I’d call the whole vibe ‘eco-glam’ – not a wind chime in sight. Instead, gorgeous fabrics, stunning artworks and sculpture, properly spa-like soothing sounds – and who isn’t going to fall in love with a spa that serves éclairs in its Spatisserie…? Everything is beautiful – not least the treatments themselves. Alongside ESPA treatments but also an entire programme of massages, facials etc. using Gaia Spa‘s own range of very impressive products. I enjoyed – truly enjoyed – the Gaia Spa Holistic Spa Ritual, which blends Balinese and Lomi Lomi techniques (long, smooth movements to release tension, as deep or as light as suits you). The body is exfoliated, followed by a not-too-messy application of re-mineralising Gaia mud, showered off before a choice of Gaia Spa oil blends – I went for Uplifting – is massaged into skin for what feels, blissfully, like ages. (This is a two-hour ritual.) There’s a facial as a finale but to be honest, I can’t remember a thing about that because by now I was away with the fairies who no doubt occupy nearby Dartmoor. There are lots of facilities and restful areas to take advantage of after a treatment – the salt crystal room, chill-out area around the pool (you can swim outside or in), etc. I took the cake option.
Gaia Spa at Boringdon Hall/01752-344455 gaiaboringdon.co.uk
Bodysgallen Hall (Wales). This isn’t on the way to anywhere – unless you’re touring Snowdonia or en route Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland. But it’s worth a pilgrimage. The multi-award-winning Spa itself is tucked away a couple of hundred yards’ walk from the historic National Trust hotel, in a low-built stone conversion. A crackling log fire flanked by inviting chairs greeted me on a winter’s day – and the welcome is equally warm. The spa changing room leads onto a long indoor heated swimming pool, where it’s also possible to lounge between treatments, though I didn’t have time to do much more than slip on a robe and head for a massage, alas. Darphin is the main brand featured on the treatment menu (along with Jessica manicures/pedicures, XEN-Tan and CACI if your face is in need of a bit of gravity-defiance). I often find spa rituals over-fussy when what we really want is someone’s fingers and thumbs working on ‘computer knots’, so I opted for a Deep Rebalancing Massage (which is a very reasonable £60). Mine was a true, gifted therapist rather than a beautician who’s turning her hand to occasional massages (which is the case in too many spas to mention). The hour in the treatment room, with its very comfortable bed, went all-too-quickly.
Bodysgallen Hall, The Royal Welsh Way, Llandudno, North Wales, LL30 1RS/01492-584466 bodysgallen.com
Uniquely Organic EcoSpa (Brighton). Organic spas are few and far between, but even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the Green party, this Hove-based spa is a wonderful place to chill. They stock only organic ranges: Balm Balm, Pinks Boutique and Living Nature feature. Furniture is Fairtrade, and eco-paints have been used in the decor. The staff are not only extremely competent, technically, but they really do tune into the treatment, rather than just going through the motions; founder Kirsty Taylor graduated with a BSc in cosmetic science but went down the natural beauty route after writing her final dissertation on organic cosmetics, and finding her passion in life. The particular treatment that I wallowed in was the fab Pinks Boutique Eco-Chic Facial, £60 for one hour, which incorporates this all-organic range’s cleanser, gentle exfoliator and and facial oil in a really hands-on treatment that totally zaps facial tension, but also gets right into those knotty bits in the shoulders. This is truly guilt-free pampering, and writing this has reminded me to check out the menu again, head to Brighton – just an hour along the coast from my house – and check in for the Muladara (Root Chakra) Ayurvedic treatment, designed to promote a sense of stillness, which I’d put on my spa wishlist.
Uniquely Organic EcoSpa, 40 Church Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 2FN/01273-726973 uoecospa.com
Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms. I’ve said it before – and I’ll almost certainly say it again. (And again.) When it comes to mood-shifting, no oils have the power of Aromatherapy Associates to lift me up or waft me off to the land of Nod. (Fact: my No. 1 desert island must-have is Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil.) Their treatments, of course, are widely available – but my favourite AA ‘branch’ is the flagship store and treatment destination in Knightsbridge. Upstairs, you’ll find the whole range of oils, skincare and bodycare, beautifully showcased. You can experience mini-treatments, or learn by smelling the essential oils in their ‘raw’ form. But downstairs, heaven truly beckons: boutique-hotel-style treatment rooms where you can enjoy facials or body treatments. My favourite is quite simple: a 90-minute City Stress Buster, which does just what it says on the tin (or rather, glass bottle), promising help with disturbed sleep and exhaustion. Therapists are world-class. And at this stage in my life, I’d rather pay a little extra and be assured of that.
Aromatherapy Associates Boutique & Treatment Rooms, 5 Montpelier Street, London SW7 1EZ/020-7838 1117
Margaret Dabbs Sole Spa at SpaceNK. This is one treatment that I do carve time out of my diary for once every four weeks or so, to have hooves shaved, nails buffed, calves massaged – and the finishing touch: a glossy, longlasting polish. (Although that’s booked separately: the podiatrists don’t varnish.) And the more comfy my feet are, the further I walk. Therefore: a medi-pedi isn’t an indulgence, it’s a health necessity. There’s a lovely new setting in which to enjoy these treatments – and the full range of Margaret Dabbs podiatry services, which also include lasering, orthotics and all the really serious foot stuff, tucked away at the back of the vast SpaceNK Apothecary on Westbourne Grove. All the podiatrists are fantastic at what they do – and treatment products came from Margaret’s fab, Beauty Bible Award-winning range which you can of course find on VH. I honestly can’t recommend too highly that if medical pedicures aren’t on your maintenance list, you experience one for yourself. I’d much rather spend money on my actual feet than on endless pairs of new shoes. I’ve said it before, we will definitely say it again: happy feet make a happy woman – which makes all of Margaret Dabbs‘s salons is positive temples to joy.
Margaret Dabbs Notting Hill 127-131 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UP/020-7486 0620 to book (NB this covers all the spas, so be sure to specify New Cavendish Street, Liberty or Westbourne Grove)