Tuesday, 22 January 2013

And relax - a glorious spa day!

For Christmas 2012, Cathy and I bought each other a spa day experience at the CityPoint Club, London, in the heart of The City.

When January 21st finally rolled around, it didn't have the most auspicious start. After a weekend of snow, the trains were completely messed up on Monday with delays and cancellations galore. Our departure time (and station) changed several times until finally we found ourselves London-bound, albeit to a different station from the one we'd booked for.

Fate turned out to be kind though, as arriving at London Bridge meant a far shorter journey to Moorgate on the tube than would have been the case from Victoria. Very surprisingly, we arrived at the spa only half an hour after we were meant to be there. Thankfully, they had picked up my earlier answerphone message explaining our travel problems and had scheduled our treatments for later in the afternoon. 

Once the formalities were done (medical waivers, registration forms), we were given a tour of the facilities - very impressive. There's a 20m swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, ice-cold plunge pool, several relaxation areas (including one darkened room with Zero Gravity massage chairs), and a state-of-the-art gym. We had nearly three hours before our treatments so off we went to the huge changing room to don our cossies. 

Between us, we've been to a fair few spas but this one was definitely a cut above the rest. Being in the heart of the City of London means that they have some rather well-off members and the place reeked of money, yet managed to remain friendly and unpretentious. 

Just to prove that we're possibly rather easily pleased, the main thing that set this apart from others was the fact that you weren't just given a robe, towel and flip-flops (not those silly little fabric slippers you get at some), and expected to use them all day. In each area of the spa was a wall filled to overflowing with fresh white towels. Whenever you wanted a clean one, you just ditched yours in one of the many towel drop bins and grabbed a new one. There was a whole rack of fresh robes in the changing rooms too. 

Anyway, having got over the shock of the towel situation, we headed first into the darkened relaxation room, rather fascinated by the idea of a Zero Gravity massage chair. The sign on the door says "Quiet please - you are entering a relaxation area". Fortunately, there was no-one else in there as the next 15 minutes was filled with the sound of our giggling as we used the remote control to move the chair into every position between upright and fully reclined, whilst playing with the other buttons to see what bizarre combinations of vibration and massage we could come up with. It's hard to describe the sensation of being tipped backwards while your legrest vibrates and the back of the chair squeezes you round the ribs, hips and shoulders with a sometimes vice-like grip. It was odd but lovely. There are seven massage chairs in the room, positioned facing a very large tropical fish tank and it's easy to see why a harassed City worker would pop in here for half an hour, lean back, get a mini-massage and just watch the fish. It was relaxing enough for me and I don't pretend to have a stressful job! 

We could not, sadly, stay in there all day so for the next couple of hours we chopped and changed between the pool, the jacuzzi, the sauna and the steam room, and Cathy did half an hour in the gym. The sauna is, no doubt, fantastic but it was too hot for both of us. Neither of us are fans of dry heat and we managed about three minutes in there before bailing. Happy though I was not to use the gym, I had every intention of using everything else on offer so I headed with some trepidation to the plunge pool. It wasn't very large in diameter nor very deep (1.3m) so it wasn't possible to do a proper plunge as you're meant to, but I did manage to lower myself rather gingerly into the ice-cold water until my shoulders were under, then after a few seconds I got out again rather a lot faster! I can assure you that was bracing enough. The steam room is very lovely. Perfect temperature, perfect amount of steam, twinkly colour-changing lights in the ceiling and the steam vent is positioned in a corner rather than somewhere under the seat as is so often the case in other spas. I have had plenty of experiences of wondering where the steam vent is, only to suddenly find the backs of my legs on fire as a blast of hot steam emanates from under the seat. No such unpleasantness here! The jacuzzi is a bubbling cauldron of lovely warm water with plenty of room and we were the only people in it most of the time. We took no heed of the "10 minutes maximum" sign and simply kept switching it back on whenever it automatically cut off. The only part which could have been improved was the pool. It's 20m long but is divided permanently into 4 lanes, none of which appeared to be designed for those of us who like to bob about a bit, rather than doing any serious swimming. When we first headed to it, it was effectively full. There were two people in each lane, swimming length after length and all looking very serious about it. We did get in there later in the day, when one lane was free and we splashed about looking distinctly inelegant, and playing silly games with the floats. Rather aptly, the lane we were in had a sign at one end saying "Slow swimmers lane"! 

3pm rolled around and it was time for the proper pampering to begin. Our package included a 30-minute neck, shoulder and back massage and a 30-minute facial each. The treatment rooms match the rest of the place in terms of quality. Well sound-proofed, candlelit, tinkly massage music and wonderfully fragrant. But the best things (apart from the actual treatment) are the heated underblanket and duvet on the massage table! Sliding under a thick warm duvet and relaxing for 5 minutes before the massage began was a gorgeous start. The next hour passed in a haze of relaxing loveliness. My masseuse, Kristal, was really good, using just the right amount of pressure and concentrating on the areas that I had told her got very tense and painful. The facial seemed to involve about half a dozen different oils, creams and potions going on and gently being wiped off but the end result was soft, glowing skin, the likes of which I haven't seen in the mirror for about ten years! 

We had time for another quick massage chair stint and a gaze at the fish before the final part of our experience (and, if we're honest, the reason we booked this package at this spa in preference to any other) - the Prosecco Afternoon Tea! Given that we were there on a discount Travelzoo package, they could have been forgiven for fobbing us off with a glass of cava and a Waitrose scone each. But no! Two champagne flutes of proper champagne came first, followed by a plate of cheese salad sandwiches, egg mayo sandwiches on delicious caraway bread, grapes, pineapple slices and four fruit scones, with strawberry jam and a huge dollop of clotted cream on the side. What a way to instantly replace all those toxins we'd spent the rest of the day getting rid of! 

Forty-five minutes later, very full and very relaxed it was time to head for the changing rooms and get ready to go back to the real world. The shower cubicles are huge, the water set to the perfect temperature and each cubicle has full bottles of luxurious shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. The changing rooms even hold little extras - a whole room of mirrors and dressing-room type stools, with numerous hairdryers, hair straighteners and stacks of mousse, gel, hairspray, deodorant, cotton wool balls all laid on. The number of staff constantly (but inconspicuously) going around replenishing everything, removing used towels, straightening the relaxation couches etc, means that the place always looks and feels as if it has just opened for the day. 

And then it was 5.30 - time to wave goodbye and head back out into the hustle and bustle of London. It felt like a different world.