Dreamy day spas in London
It may be just a few seconds walk from that noted oasis of calm, Piccadilly Circus, but once you’ve dodged the crowds to retreat inside Akasha’s heavy wooden doors, you really wouldn’t know it. Everything about Akasha is really rather magnificent, from the wood-panelled reception to the clean lines of the changing rooms. After navigating the labyrinth of cool marble walkways, you soon reach the centrepiece – a gorgeously lit 18-metre pool flanked by a sauna, hammam and Jacuzzi. It’s also home to the capital’s only dedicated Watsu pool, where you can opt for a 60-minute session (£130) that encompasses hydrotherapy, meditation and Shiatsu massage.
The Agua Spa opened in 2000 and it’s still at the top of its game, delivering excellent treatments against a dreamy backdrop of swishing white curtains. On a recent visit, we sampled the Mother Nature Pregnancy Massage which involved lying on a warm water bed, being slathered in heavenly Aromatherapy Associates oils and being gently massaged all over from scalp to toes. Ultra-soothing. We can also recommend the Eve Lom Experience facial, hot stone massage and fabulous manicures using Rococo polishes.
While located beneath the Connaught Hotel in less-than-relaxing Mayfair, once you’re being massaged in oils from the continent of your choice in the heavenly Aman Spa, ensconced in hot towels on a heated bed, and being murmured to in hushed tones by your barefoot therapist, you won’t believe you’re not in a Malaysian beach spa. The spa also features what must be London’s nicest swimming pool, black tiled and complete with waterfall.
With its small but perfect open-top swimming pool overlooking Hyde Park, this spa, a favourite with celebrities, wins points for its location. But the treatments are also impressive with emphasis on facials and a strong selection of men’s treatments, such as the Hydra Performance Facial for men featuring Swiss glacial water (just so you know). Less fancy treatments, such as eyebrow shaping, are also available.
This latest opening is London’s first luxury Chinese medicine centre and touted as the hottest ticket in town. Stepping in for its signature Chuan Balancing treatment, you fill in a form to determine what element you are (we’re earth, apparently) before being whisked off for a sublime massage, which stimulates the body’s pressure points to relax and detoxify. We fell asleep mid-treatment – ‘Fifty per cent of people do,’ smiled the therapist.
Primrose Hill is the latest corner of the capital to join the Cowshed herd. Leafy, laid-back and very well-heeled, Regents Park Road feels like an obvious location for the Babington House brand of country-chic day spas. The farmhouse kitchen café is straight out of Ambridge, complete with rustic wood table and vintage milk churns, and leads through to four mani-pedi stations, which boast squashy leather armchairs and mini TVs. We opted for the trademark Cowshed facial (£80), which takes place in one of the seven basement treatment rooms.
An impressive wet room, great (if expensive) treatments and striking middle-Eastern statues make this one of central London’s most tranquil hotel spas. Popular treatments include the chocolate orange massage (£135) and detox wrap (£115-£125). Spa-goers are encouraged to lounge in the relaxation area post treatments as well as indulging in the sauna and steam chamber featuring fibre optic lights on the ceiling, to similate a night’s sky.
The entrance may be more Rodeo Drive than zen garden – a large shop, then a leopardskin chair next to a lion’s-mouth fountain on which to fill out forms – but this Mayfair spa delivers one of the best massages we have experienced. ‘It’s Swedish aromatherapy with a bit of shiatsu thrown in,’ the therapist told us on a recent visit, before smothering us in balm and digging out every recalcitrant knot with the vigour you always ask for but rarely get. Even palms and toes are attended to. There's more unusual treatments too. The Lava Shells Rescue Massage uses lava Shells to relax muscles and cool Glacial Shells to reduce any inflammation.
With its opulent surroundings, crystal steam room, sanarium and vitality pool, The Mandarin Oriental lives up to its reputation as one of London’s most luxurious day spas. Arranged over three levels, the dark wood interior, highlighted with oriental blooms, water features and stone sculptures, is impressive. Clients are encouraged to book time rather than specific treatments to get a perfect bespoke service.
A shiny, monochrome labyrinth of treatment rooms, steam rooms and pools, ESPA Life is thoroughly lavish, modern, low-lit and windowless. It's the ideal place to shut the door on reality. The spa's main area, the Thermal Suite, is a black-marbled oasis which houses a large steam room, swimming pool, jet pool, ice fountain, heated loungers and, most stunning of all, a glass-walled sauna amphitheatre as its centre piece. If you can tear yourself away from the Thermal Suite for longer than just a toilet break, one floor up ESPA relaxation treatments on offer include personalised massages (£150), facials (£140) and harminising rose salt treatments (£250).
Fancy extending your London spa day?
London is vibrant, varied, exciting, seductive, sprawling... and just a little bit exhausting. At some point, you're probably going to need to pause to unwind.