Forget the stiff upper lip. London wants a facial. Until recently, Britannia didn't give a toot for pedicures. But the global spa trend has established a beachhead on the Thames. Just crossing the Pond is a grooming opportunity: Virgin Atlantic offers inflight massages, while British Airways has introduced Molton Brown travel spas in its Terraces lounges at Heathrow, Gatwick, and JFK. Quickie nail parlors are the latest craze to hit London town, and this fall, Manhattan's hip Bliss Spa sets up shop in Sloane Ranger territory. Even Claridge's, champion of the Mayfair status quo, has bowed to popular demand with a progressive day spa for guests suffering separation anxiety from their gurus. Between Notting Hill and Canary Wharf, here are the best spas in London:
Agua At Sanderson
The main lobby elevator leading up to Agua, the spa at Ian Schrager's postmodern Sanderson Hotel, is the first clue that you're bound for an alien encounter. The interior is pitch black, except for the glowing cosmos enveloping the walls; take the lift one floor and you rise to a parallel universe of shimmering veils, bubbling Philippe Starck fountains, and holistic treatments. The all-white, two-story bathhouse lacks walls—the 14 treatment rooms and the communal lounge are divided by vast diaphanous curtains—but the space remains surprisingly tranquil, despite the absence of soundproofing. (A fountain masks traffic between public rooms, and therapists speak in hushed tones.) After a Thai massage ($130) or Agua's signature goat milk-sesame oil-organic honey Ayurvedic body treatment ($135), enter a twilight zone on a down-filled daybed with out-of-this-world snacks from the Agua day menu ($20). 50 Berners Street; 44-207-300-1414.
The Berkeley Health Club And Spa
The Berkeley recently teamed up with Indonesia's stellar Begawan Giri Estate and Spa to introduce fashionable Knightsbridge to a series of five Balinese treatments. Among these are Javanese Lulur, an exfoliation ritual used during Central Java's 40-day royal-marriage celebration, and Bali Boreh Spice, a poultice of hand-crushed spices that helps relieve aching joints and sore muscles ($145). The spa and pool's swank rooftop location is key; it has the only retractable open-air roof in Central London. La Stone massage therapy, imported from distant, mysterious Arizona, is also on offer ($180). Wilton Place; 44-207-235-6000.
London achieves a state of Bliss this fall when the two-story branch debuts in South Kensington. Expect the same clever details and whimsical services that made the original spa downtown Manhattan's favorite retreat. The Quickbliss Nail Bar is devoted to hands and feet (the hot-milk-and-almond pedicure is sublime). Other standards include microdermabrasion facials ($55-$135), a carrot-and-sesame body buff ($150), and a 135-minute ginger-rub massage ($200). The hydrating Mudsage wrap and a Four Flower Facial will soon be unveiled, along with Bliss' new spa-strength skincare line. 60 Sloane Avenue; 212-931-6382, 44-207-584-3888.
The Dorchester Spa & Gymnasium
The Dorchester has a long-term association with Eve Lom, London's own skincare expert, whose closest associates practice her beauty techniques at the hotel's Art Deco spa. Prepare for perfection with her one-and-a-half-hour intensive facial ($155), which pairs acupressure, lymphatic drainage, and reiki massage techniques with Lom's signature products. Park Lane; 44-207-495-7335.
Elemis Day Spa
New to Mayfair, in a townhouse near Claridge's, the British-based beauty line Elemis borrows rituals and holistic therapies from Tibet, Japan, and Polynesia for its 24-treatment spa menu. Couples can reserve one of three "sensory" suites: The Moroccan Moorish Suite has a Rasul herbal-steam chamber and heated stone floors; the Balinese Suite contains a slipper bathtub with underwater jets; the Thai Suite at the top of the building includes a skylight relaxation area and a dry-float cocoon. For those going solo, there's the Hawaiian Wave Four Hands massage ($175), the Japanese silk-protein booster facial ($130), or a delicious lime-and-ginger salt scrub. 2-3 Lancashire Court; 44-208-909-5042.
The Olympus Suite
Under the eaves on Claridge's penthouse floor, the hotel has set up a posh fitness center and three-room spa featuring Anne Semonin treatments from Paris. A seaweed-infused jet-lag treatment helps relieve stress and fatigue; the signature facial matches essential oils with lymphatic drainage. However, Claridge's draw is the forward-thinking Visiting Specialists program, which hosts an enviable roster of jet-setting experts who practice their beauty skills here on a weekly basis. Book a medical pedicure with Parisian foot whiz Bastien Gonzales, a body-harmonizing fasciatherapy session with Claire Davrainville, or a kinetic Body Shift massage with Los Angeles-based physical therapist Barry Pluck. And if you are truly open-minded, Helen Dodd's Eternal Light Healing cleanses your aura with chakra and reiki techniques ($90-$130). Brook Street, Mayfair; 44-207-409-6565.
Qi Salon, The Club At St. James Court
In a private courtyard within shouting range of Buckingham Palace, Shiseido's Qi Salon serves as a discreet hideaway for high-profile guests staying next door in one of 51 Buckingham Gate's pieds-à-terre (think personal butler, 24-hour security, and chauffeur). A therapist leads you to a serene birchwood-paneled room, where she practices the Japanese beauty line's innovative services. According to the salon, the Qi method helps stimulate the body's energy points through shiatsu massage, combined with hot oshibori towels and aromatherapy fragrances to ease tension. Translation: It's heavenly to dip your feet in a whirlpool bath as a masseuse gently slathers your arms and neck with aromatic tonics ($40-$110). 51 Buckingham Gate; 44-207-963-8307.
The Refinery is a one-stop, gents-only grooming emporium in a five-story Mayfair townhouse. The concept here revolves around urban detox for the world-weary: purifying, anti-pollution hair and body treatments. Watch cable television in one of the many treatment rooms as Mickaella administers a grime-fighting Shu Uemura facial ($90), or rev your engine with a Turbo Boost salt scrub, Vichy shower, and power-massage package ($150). You can also book a hot-towel shave in the barbershop, go on-line in the club lounge, or relax in the dry-flotation tank as the spa valet shines your Pradas. Can't escape the boardroom? Another branch will open in the City before the end of this year. 60 Brook Street; 44-207-409-2001.
The Spa At Mandarin Oriental
On the ground floor of Mandarin Oriental's Hyde Park hotel , you cross a Zimbabwean-granite threshold, leave your shoes on a tatami mat, ease into a pair of slippers, and decompress to the sound of water falling over stones beyond horsehair panels. Head for the Zen relaxation chamber, where headsets built into the black walnut Azumi daybeds whisper electronic New Age mantras under a mood light. Or detox in the steam sauna and drench showers. While you can book a single treatment—like the Balinese synchronized massage ($315), the Ayurvedic body wrap ($120), or the aromatherapy facial ($120)—the best bet here is called Time ($205), a ritual experience that starts with Tibetan cymbals, soothing herbal tea, and a warm footbath. Your therapist (ask for Karen) then performs a customized sequence of wraps, scrubs, and massage with magnetized basalt stones from Arizona. 66 Knightsbridge; 44-207-838-9888.
Nicky Kinnaird has a knack for sourcing the globe's latest beauty products and services before anyone else. On the lower level of her hip SPACE.NK apothecary in Notting Hill, a monochrome day spa merges the coolness of minimal design with the hottest holistic therapies. Book the nourishing Essential Rose Body Cocoon ($75), the stimulating Samuel Par facial ($125), or the Body Balancing therapy ($118), which employs reflexology, chi massage, and micro-batch aromatherapy oils. 127-131 Westbourne Grove; 44-207-727-8002.
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