Britain has lagged behind the rest of Europe in both the number and variety of our health spas, so many have tended to go abroad for the full pampering experience. But hotels and retreats are branching out to fill this gap in the market and now we have spas to rival Europe’s best. The current leader is undoubtedly the spa at the Corinthia hotel. It’s a favourite with the jet set and just minutes from the Houses of Parliament, so you may spot A-list celebrities and the odd MP. You don’t have to stay at the hotel to use the spa, and they offer membership if you want to become a regular.
This grand Whitehall building opened as a hotel in 1885. It was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in the second world war and still has a chic cold-war 1950s vibe to it. Ian Fleming would not look out of place sipping a cocktail at the bar and in fact the building was often depicted as MI6 HQ in the James Bond cartoon strip in the Daily Express. It reopened as the Corinthia Hotel in 2011. The spa itself is an enormous four-floor affair, beautifully decked out in black Italian marble with textured leather upholstery and the very latest equipment. Hairdresser Daniel Galvin has a salon to tame any wayward locks after your treatments.
Our spa inspector’s problem was difficulty in sleeping following a bereavement and marriage difficulties, along with headaches and an irritating twitch in her left eyelid. Her GP said this was nothing to worry about — ‘just’ a sign of stress and tiredness. But it was stressing her out even more. Something had to be done, but she didn’t want to resort to sleeping tablets. She needed a break.
The Corinthia’s spa is called Espa Life and its focus is complementary medicine. At the beginning of your treatment you are allocated a ‘gatekeeper’ whose role is to advise on what treatments are best for you, plan everything and be there to hold your hand. Gatekeepers are experienced practitioners in alternative therapies and though our inspector is sceptical of any new-age, hippy approach to health, she found it a welcome change to have someone looking after her, and her gatekeeper turned out to be warm, knowledgeable and very down-to-earth. The programme began with an in depth medical and lifestyle consultation. The spa has packages for specialities such as recovery from surgery, weight loss, skiing and marathon preparation, plus programmes for expectant mums. There are Chinese medicine acupuncturists, herbalists, physiotherapists and personal trainers, plus everything you expect at a spa: massages, facials, etc.
The ‘Sleep Retreat’ programme has more than three hours of complementary treatments per day, including relaxation techniques, aromatherapy and acupuncture. It can be any length from 24 hours up to a month, with about a dozen formal treatments plus full-time use of the vast facilities, including the gym. Its location made it ideal for popping in for half an hour or so after work.
The entire retreat was a dream! In just a few days our inspector’s sleep had improved. She was taught how to relax, she detoxed from stimulants such as caffeine that were affecting her sleep, and found she had more energy and a ‘voom’ that had been missing for years. The headaches were banished without a single paracetamol and the twitching eye was gone too. She wholly recommends it.
The spa has a ‘rush-hour’ package of lunch-break or after-work treatments, so even now she has finished the programme she plans to build certain treatments and classes into her routine to prevent relapse.
THE MEDICAL VIEW
Dr Max Pemberton says: ‘Our inspector did the right thing in trying to resolve her sleep through lifestyle changes rather than medication, which treats only the symptoms, not the causes. Although some GPs reach for their prescription pad as soon as someone mentions sleep problems, the NHS also offers non-pharmacological programmes that focus on relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes. Ask your GP what’s available in your area.’