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Issue 2 - Indoor Oasis

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002

 

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Indoor Oasis

Scotland is winning accolades for something new - the delicate art of total pampering. Our pampering expert looks at a selection of Scotland's finest spas

Global warming has brought mixed benefits to Scotland. Our cold, damp and grey winters are undoubtedly less cold now, but the downside is they are greyer and damper. One advantage of centuries of dealing with often cruel elements however is that there is no-one better than the Scots at creating indoor oases of warmth and luxury where aching muscles, tired skin and other lifestyle damage can be gently soothed and cosseted away. And, let’s face it, when it comes to purifying, detoxing and general pampering it’s best to leave it to the experts.

As with many other ‘modern’ inventions, health spas were first developed by the Victorians who believed passionately in the power of water to cure all ills. Since the water in Scotland was considered particularly beneficial there were soon a number of hydropathic establishments all over the country, from Peebles in the Borders to Strathpeffer in the Highlands. Here the sickly, frail or simply over-indulged would regularly retreat not only to take the waters but to undergo water-based treatments such as mud baths, cold showers and seaweed soaks. The regime was spartan – plain food, hard beds, lots of exercise and absolutely no alcohol. How different it all is today.

My mission was to find the best pampering places in Scotland: places where you enjoy luxurious pampering as a residential guest, places where you go for a day visit and places where you pop in when you’re in need of a quick fix. I started at the top. Literally.

My day at One Spa at Edinburgh’s Sheraton Grand began with the surreal experience of lying on a bubbling bed in the Spa’s rooftop outdoor pool gazing dreamily at the Dali-esque skyscape of Edinburgh’s new financial district with the Castle looming close enough to touch. Housed in a new state-of-the-art building designed by Terry Farrell, One Spa is a monument to fabulous taste and is already considered to be one of the best spas in the UK. A typical Spa day gives you use of all the spa’s facilities which include the gymnasium, ozone-friendly swimming pool and outdoor hydropool, aroma-filled sauna, steam rooms and scented rainforest showers. Lunch is in the Spa Café which serves Mediterranean-style food from top Italian restaurant Santini’s next door. Then comes the hands-on stuff. The Balinese Ritual is the signature treatment here and it is three-and-a-half hours of absolute heaven being scrubbed, cleansed, moisturised and toned, finishing with a Balinese massage with scented oils. I actually thought I was experiencing the touch equivalent of double vision when I felt four hands kneading away. But no, there really were two people massaging me. The only problem is that I realise sadly that one pair of hands is never going to be enough again.

If One Spa is the fashionista of pampering, Gleneagles is the grande dame. The mighty Gleneagles was one of the first resort hotels to offer its own dedicated health and leisure facilities and facilities and the standard that Gleneagles set became the norm. Gleneagles has continued to invest to stay ahead of the game and today Gleneagles Country Club is among the best equipped you’ll ever see. There’s a leisure pool complete with underwater bubble jets and an outdoor hot pool where you could sit and relax even if it’s snowing. A major asset is that serious swimmers now have a 20-metre lap pool with plenty of space to power up and down uninterrupted. Tire of swimming and you can make the most of the lavishly appointed health suites with relaxation areas, solarium, sauna and steam room.

Pampering proper takes place in the Spa, next door to the Country Club, where there’s a choice of over 30 body treatments alone including Shisheido’s Qi method treatments. These combine shiatsu pressure point massages with Japanese hot-towel therapy. Gleneagles is also one of the few places in Scotland where you’ll find Thai massage therapy. Being a time-served international spa spy always on the lookout for something different, I tried this one out. It was different. For a start, you keep your clothes on and your masseur uses ancient acupressure, yoga and stretching techniques to activate your body’s healing energy lines. It’s certainly effective as you emerge feeling super-alert and energised, as befits a hotel where sporting activities are very much on the agenda. Gleneagles Spa has recently introduced a new series of facial and massage treatments especially for men. These include the Golfer’s Tonic, the Laird’s Remedy and the Clansman.
Like Gleneagles, both Turnberry Hotel in Ayrshire and the St. Andrews Bay Hotel in Fife are golfing Meccas. Once this kind of hotel offered spa and beauty treatments as distractions for the missus while her man perfected his swing. Growing interest in natural ways to combat stress and holistic therapies mean that these hotels have transformed themselves into pampering palaces where people now go as much for the quality of the spa and its treatments as for the thrill of playing golf on championship courses.

The things that go on in Turnberry Hotel’s luxurious spa would turn Jack Nicklaus and Colin Montgomerie green with envy. The spa here has what must be one of the most dramatic settings in the world. Lounging by the lagoon-style pool you look out over manicured lawns onto the picture postcard view of Ailsa Craig rising out of the sea. It’s a view that will be familiar to any golf aficionado as the British Open is regularly played on the Turnberry course. Turnberry Spa offers a choice of day programmes and over 40 different types of face and body treatments from sport massage to the Jet Lag Reviver – the ideal solution for jet-set stress. The E’spa range of treatments – which blends healing therapies from around the world with top-of-the-range products and is used by many of the top international spas – was actually developed at Turnberry. A particular speciality here is the Purifying and Detoxifying Programme. It begins with a therapeutic underwater massage with oils in a multi-jet bath and is followed by body-brushing and a detoxifying wrap using essences of oil and mineral sea salts. All I can say is that it gives new meaning to the following combination of words – ‘skin’, ‘soft’ and ‘baby’s bottom’.

It’s not hard to see why Turnberry has become a very popular destination for small groups celebrating a special occasion who book a spa day visit programme and combine it with a couple of nights at the hotel for a real four-star treat.
On the opposite side of the country is the St. Andrews Spa at the St. Andrews Bay Hotel in Fife, a brand-new golf resort hotel which is the only European outpost of the exclusive Chateau Elan group of luxury hotels and resorts. Here the principle that big is good has been strictly adhered to and the hotel is extremely spacious with international/American standards of comfort and service. There are two purpose-built golf courses designed by top golfers Gene Sarazin, Bruce Devlin and Sam Torrance. These are obviously a big attraction for visitors from abroad who can play golf at St. Andrews, the undisputed home of golf, without all the palaver of trying to play on any of the town’s famous courses. The spa is chic and minimalist in style and offers a complete range of holistic face and body treatments. The signature treatment is the heavenly Japanese Silk Booster Facial which uses Elemis Aromapure products and seductive Eastern massage techniques to gently restore the glow to weary winter skin. Or you can combine this treatment with a Well-Being Massage in the two hour long Absolute Spa Ritual for a complete out of body experience. Spa visitors on a weekend or day visit also enjoy the use of a full-size swimming pool with Jacuzzi, steam and sauna rooms and a new high tech gymnasium.

You don’t have to go to the palaces to get first class pampering. There are also a number of stylish city spas that are well worth a visit. Trust Glasgow to come up with one of the best – Oshis at the super cool boutique hotel, Langs. A step away from Sauchiehall Street, Oshis is a glamourous retreat where, even if you pop in for a manicure, you are made to feel that you could stay all day if you wanted. In reality many people choose a package of treatments from a selection that includes reiki, reflexology, thalassotherapies, shiatsu and a wide range of facials and beauty treatments. Men come to Oshis as often as women perhaps because the style of the place is distinctly non-girlie. Think Japanese, polished granite, wooden floors and neutral colours, not pink. My therapist, Lisa with the healing hands, gave me the signature Oshi Senaka treatment, a deep massage with oils followed by an application of paraffin wax and hot towels which is perfect for aching backs and sore necks. After a cup of herbal tea and a plate of excellent sushi from the Oshi Restaurant’s fusion-style menu, I floated out into the bustle of Glasgow on a cloud.

In much the same way that health and fitness have become a lifestyle thing, pampering treatments are increasingly more than just an occasional treat but rather part of a regular programme of exercise, healthy eating and sensible living that makes you look and feel good. And there’s no shortage of places where you can book yourself an hour or so of instant revitalisation. A Touch of Zen in Edinburgh’s New Town specialises in acupressure massage and shiatsu treatments with particular attention paid to relieving tension in the head, neck and shoulders, classic problem areas for those who spend the day in front of computers. Across the city centre in Brunstfield Place near the King’s Theatre is another Zen, this time an accredited Aveda spa offering a full range of body and face treatments. The Custom Facial with gorgeous smelling Aveda products is one of the best I’ve ever had. In Glasgow a session with professional beauty therapists like Julie Ross who specialises in fantastic facials or Joan Short, the La Prairie expert, is a must-have when you’re planning that big night out.

One thing I learned during my research into Scotland’s top pampering places is that all the best ones, city or countryside, big or small, funky or super luxury have two things in common. The first is that there is never any sense of urgency during treatments, no feeling that a dozen people are lined up outside the door waiting their turn. Time seems to pass unnoticed which makes for a deep sense of tranquillity and the feeling that you are being genuinely cared for. The other sign of an exceptional pampering place is that the staff are not only experts in the gentle art of pampering but also genuinely knowledgeable about what’s best for you. And the best thing of all is that, wherever you are in Scotland, you’ll never be far from a chill out zone where you’ll be able to relax in the capable hands of someone who knows exactly how to deal with all your little aches and pains.

PAMPERING PALACES
All these offer Day Visit packages with pricesstarting from around £110. Weekend breaks and longer stays can be combined with a programme of spatreatments. Massagesand facials start from around £30

ONE SPA
The Sheraton Grand Hotel, Edinburgh
+44 (0) 131 229 9131

THE SPA
Gleneagles Hotel
+44 (0) 1764 662231

ST. ANDREWS SPA
St. Andrews Bay Hotel
+44 (0) 1334 837000

TURNBERRY HOTEL AND SPA
+44 (0) 1655 331000

CAMERON HOUSE HOTEL
Loch Lomond
+44 (0) 13899 755565

OSHIS SPA
Langs Hotel, Killermont Street, Glasgow
+44 (0) 141 333 5701

DALHOUSIE CASTLE & SPA
Nr Edinburgh
+44 (0) 1875 820 153

INVERAR LODGE
Nr Aberfeldy Perthshire
+44 (0) 1887 877206

THE BELVEDERE INN
Isle of Arran
+44 (0) 1770 302 397

ESSENTIAL LUXURY
Individual treatments start at around £20. Treatment packages are often available.

A TOUCH OF ZEN
7 Dundonald Street,Edinburgh
+44 (0) 131 557 5159

ZEN
9 Bruntsfield Place,Edinburgh
+44 (0) 131 477 3535

THE REMEDY ROOM
Diamond Street, Aberdeen
+44 (0) 1224 621 3000

LINDA GILLON
Glasgow +44 (0) 141 427 1282

JULIE ROSS
Fantastic facials
Glasgow+44 (0) 141 575 3243

JOAN SHORT
La Prairie expert
Glasgow+44 (0) 141 427 3112