I arrived at the Corinthia hotel, located in a grand Victorian building that once was home to the legendary Hotel Metropole, six hours late (thanks to a delayed flight) and decidedly out of balance. My plan was to check in for two days, immerse myself in the ESPA Life spa experience, and basically not leave the property.
The 35,000 square-foot spa is spread over four levels and includes a Spa Café (where you can order a healthy variety of juices and salads, but also a glass of organic champagne), 15 treatment rooms (they call them “pods”), a nap room with sleeping pods, a salon, a gym and a “thermal floor” with the most gorgeous sauna I’ve ever seen and two pools.
An hour after my arrival, I was meeting with a naturopath who was also trained in acupuncture, Chinese medicine and herbs and homeopathy. While clients can simply book a massage at ESPA and leave it at that, the ideal experience here begins with a naturopathic consultation. The naturopath or “gatekeeper” then creates a schedule of treatments and therapies to address ailments or imbalances.
She immediately booked me info a Detoxifying Body Cleanse meant to “provide an intense detox and vitality boost.” Prior to that, I was ordered to spend half an hour on the aforementioned thermal floor with the gorgeous sauna, steam rooms, and pools. When someone later pointed out that the design of the spa went from light (white floors, walls, furniture) to dark (black marble, fireplaces, mood lighting), I realized it was a version of going from heaven to Hades. Except this Hades is not hellish at all. Sure it’s hot, and there’s a fireplace. I joked that if this is what eternal damnation is like, I’m in.
The Detoxifying Body Cleanse was a two-hour journey that began with a brush exfoliation, followed by a full body algae wrap and herbal poultice massage. It proved to be the perfect antidote to jet lag – I was left completely limp, buffed, and hydrated, but also quite alert and ready to meet friends for dinner at Massimo Restaurant and Oyster bar, one of two dining establishments at the hotel. Better yet, I slept incredibly well and awoke well rested.
Which is good, because my first appointment of the day was a fitness evaluation with one of the spa’s personal trainers. I was not looking forward to this, but I also didn’t realize that his version of a fitness evaluation was very different from the “how many push ups, sit ups, step-ups can you do in a minute” sort that I was used to. This was more of a test of flexibility and balance, using a system called Functional Movement that included evaluating my form when I did squats and lunges. He recommended stretches to loosen up my seriously tight hamstrings, calves and glutes (most involved using a foam roller) and even that pesky IT band. He then relayed his findings to Bhart Shemar.
Mr. Shemar is the spa’s resident osteopath, and he is spoken of in hushed, reverential tones. He is quick, efficient and is very to the point, repeating the mantra “Remember, we’re thinking of your body in a decade or so!”
Mr. Shemar is the spa’s resident osteopath, and he is spoken of in hushed, reverential tones. He is quick, efficient and is very to the point, repeating the mantra “Remember, we’re thinking of your body in a decade or so!” During our consultation he scrutinized every aspect of my stance, from my clenched jaw to rounded shoulders, leg length discrepancy and pronation. He then used neuromuscular techniques to improve my muscle alignment, medical acupuncture on trigger points in my upper back, some spinal manipulation that one would expect from a chiropractor, and a bit of neuromuscular massage. I was sweating afterwards, but it didn’t end there. Shemar sent me away with a to-do list that included speaking with my dentist about the grinding, getting better running shoes, and a regime of stretching.
All these to-do lists were making my head spin. Thankfully the next treatment involved lying on a heated bed while receiving an Age Defying Enzyme Peel facial. I was two weeks away from a significant birthday and welcomed anything with the words “age defying” in the title. This was followed by a blow-out in the Daniel Galvin salon and a much-needed pedicure. That night, over dinner of duck at Corinthia’s other restaurant, The Northall, my dining companion asked if I was in love. The reason? My facial-induced glow.
For a day and a half I did not leave the hotel, except when I checked out and ducked into one of those lovely black cabs that took me to the Heathrow Express at Paddington Station. Within a week of my return, New York City experienced two earthquakes and a hurricane. But I was oddly calm. My balance, it seemed, was restored and, temporarily at least, unshakeable.