Spa Holidays


17
Apr 13

Celebrity Hotel Review: The Peninsula Shanghai

By the time I reached The Peninsula’s revolving door, I had spent nearly three weeks jumping in and out of ferociously driven cabs, had checked in and out of nine different hotels, had whirled round some twenty-odd restaurants and bars, had sipped cocktails till dawn in a nightclub boasting its own shark tank and had scouted and shopped the entire length of Nanjing Road (and then some). Burn out was dangerously close.

But I wasn’t going to let this 24/7 365-city beat me and was sure that a couple of nights at The Peninsula would be just the reviver I needed. Although, I’d never stayed at this hotel before, I have been deeply and madly in love with The Peninsula Hong Kong for a long long time. When I was a kid I used to wander through its glorious high-ceilinged lobby listening to the silver clinking and wishing I could squeeze in amongst the glamorous ladies taking afternoon tea; in my twenties I knocked back cocktails with friends at Felix; and as a grown-up (ahem) I love nothing better than a day luxuriating at what must surely be one of the finest spas in the world. So, its Shanghai sibling had a rather a lot to live up to. I checked in expecting nothing short of perfection.

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The Peninsula Shanghai

Lucky Stars: The Peninsula keeps its famous client cards clasped very close to its chest but Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Jacky Chan, Michelle Yeoh and a host of high-profile expat footballers like Nicola Anelka and Didier Drogba are a few of the big names that have been spotted here. 

 

The Lowdown

…And perfection it was. I’m sorry if this post sends you rushing for the vomit bucket, but I am going to gush. Everything from The Peninsula’s position on one of the loveliest corners in Shanghai (staring down the Bund, backing onto the former British Consulate gardens and overlooking the buzzy Huangpu River with the space-age skyline of Pudong glittering across the water) to the hand-carved soap dishes in the bathrooms had me in raptures. Walking into the hotel’s light-filled lobby was like stepping into Somerset Maugham novel – with stylish cerulean green walls, voluptuous velvet chairs, tiered chandeliers and vivid flower displays. I immediately starting speaking in a clipped accent and looked for a small boy to fan me. I was at home – or rather, a wonderful fantasy version of home.

Peninsula Shanghai

Deluxe River Suite at The Peninsula Shanghai. Swoon.

Better still, our room turned out to be a Deluxe River Suite, perched on the corner of the building boasting an astounding view of the city through its gracefully large windows. I hoovered it up with my eyes – window-side dining table, inches thick Chinese rugs, artworks, ceramics, little lacquer boxes filled with petite fours. Naturally, I played it cool while the reception manager was with us but the minute he left I literally leapt, skipped, twirled and squealed my way around all 1100 palatial square feet. There was a bedroom with a bed so soft and cosy it was like lying on a bundle of baby seals (I would imagine), a dressing room with a built-in electronic nail dryer and a cool little housekeeping box where you could deposit washing, for it to magically appear a few hours later without ever having had to endure the inconvenience of speaking to an actual person. The bathroom too was impressive with his ‘n’ hers sinks, a TV in the wall above the jumbo tub and tons of delicious DAVI amenities. As I swanned back into the living room, my husband gave me one of those approving marrying-a-travel-writer-paid-off looks as he sunk into the sapphire blue sofa by the fireplace. I felt more rested already.

Peninsula Shanghai251411Dressing room image

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Highlights

I knew I had to visit to the spa from the minute I saw this picture of the pool. I mean, come on, just look at it – what’s not to love? And, I have to say, it was even more beautiful in the flesh, all sunlight and terraces, squishy sofas and scented air. I spent my first morning here enjoying an amazing private yoga session with Kasia, the spa manager and all-round lovely person, and can now completely understand why celebrities and the super-rich fly their personal trainers around the world with them. That level of encouragement is incredibly motivating and thoroughly addictive. Topped off with a blissful Peninsula signature treatment involving ESPA perfumed oils and an otherworldly level of pressure and I was ready to take on the world again, never mind just Shanghai.

Peninsula Shanghai

Pool at The Peninsula Shanghai

Dining at The Peninsula was equally as memorable. At Sir Elly’s, the flagship restaurant, plate after beautifully presented plate of absolute deliciousness was served up with panache. Each one so perfectly balanced that instead of feeling bloated and sleepy halfway through, which I know from lots of important research can often happen with tasting menus, we worked our way through every bite and still found space to squeeze in some post-dinner cocktails at the rooftop bar. But then again, how could we resist this?

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Sir Elly’s: A rooftop bar worthy of any bucket list

Checking out was of course a heartbreaking experience. I really wish I could find some niggle to counterbalance my review but I’ve tried and I can’t. It was perfection from start to finish. The hotel is gorgeous, the food is sublime, the staff are intuitive to the point of being mind-readers, and the spa alone is worth travelling to Shanghai for. If you want to do this most magnificent of cities in style, The Peninsula is the place to be.

I stayed as a guest of The Peninsula, however, I also stayed in eleven other hotels in the city and this was my top pick. My views, as always are 100% my own.

GO THERE

The Peninsula Shanghai, +86 21 2327 2888; www.peninsula.com; Doubles from £270.

Finnair has daily flights to Shanghai from both Manchester and Heathrow via Helsinki. The below return fares include taxes, service and booking fees starting from:

Manchester – Shanghai Business class: £1855.36 Economy class: £542.36

London – Shanghai Business class: £1869.37 Economy class: £556.37

Tickets can be booked at www.finnair.co.uk or 0870 2414411.  For more information please see www.finnair.co.uk For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Hong Kong in China.  Finnair also fly to Chongqing and begin flights to Xi’an, China in June 2013.

Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand plus Hanoi, Vietnam beginning in June 2013.

 


26
Jan 12

Time out at the Titanic Spa

Eager to keep-up with my new keep-fit philosophy to eat blueberry pancakes, learn to not humiliate myself at Zumba, and to spa as often as possible, I decided to keep my January motivation going with a bit of guilt-free pampering – much better than calorie-counting and carrot sticks. Sadly, I don’t have the fabulous Canyon Ranch on my doorstep but what I do have, less than an hour away from me, tucked away on the edge of the Pennines in the pretty little mill town of Huddersfield, is one of the UK’s leading eco-friendly retreats, The Titanic Spa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon at arrival at the handsome old mill, the elegant lobby was brimming with well-to-do ladies swanning around in cosy chocolate-coloured bathrobes. Happily, and much to the relief of my spa-shy husband, there were a few men bobbing about too, hairy legs unashamedly on show. I had a quick nose to see if I could spot any celebrities – the cast of Corrie and North-West WAGs are known to regularly stop by – but today it seems to be mostly couples and mother and daughter teams cashing in on their Christmas presents. After quickly checking-in to our massive apartment (which could easily accommodate up to eight people), we threw on our bathrobes and rushed down to the soak up the spa facilities before our treatments. There was much to choose from but we opted to start our spa journey with a swim in the salt-regulated pool, filled from a natural spring a hundred metres below the building.

 

Post-swim, cobwebs blown away and once again bedecked in our superbly-soft bathrobes, we slipped over to the other side of the spa for our treatments. Unlike the pool area which is bursting with natural light, the treatment area is a serene sanctuary of subdued lighting, squishy seating areas and luxuriant rooms. The Titanic’s environmentally-friendly stance means that they only use skincare companies that share a similar ethos; Decleor, Elemis and Carita all make the cut, but we opted for to try the 100% natural and organic Pinks Boutique range. Now, I don’t want to cause any unnecessary envy but the treatments were wonderful. We were greeted by two genuinely warm, friendly and as it turned out extremely talented therapists who led us to the VIP suite. Here we blissed out for an hour, me with a heavenly facial that combined the perfect amount of head, neck and shoulder massage with aromatic face creams and a mask, and hubby with a massage of such skill that he slid off the table like a ribbon at the end of the session.

 

That would have been enough for the most slavish of sybarites but it seemed even more delicious spa treats lay in wait. So after a quick break over some champagne and chocolates it was time to tackle the Titanic’s signature Heat and Ice Experience. Here, we melted any lingering stresses as we moved between the penetrating heat of the Crystal steam room to the cooling Experience Shower, on to the Herbal Infusion hammam to a shriek-inducing cool down under an ice-cold bucket of water. Brrr… On we went to the sauna, saunarium, and aromatherapy room via the chilled plunge pool (which I wasn’t brave enough for but my part-penguin husband loved) to end our day in the Egyptian Mud Chamber.

 

 

We drew mud love hearts on each other (not really)

 

Stepping into our private hammam we were presented with what looked to be a bowl of ice-cream scoops and told to apply the various organic muds to our bodies. Each “scoop” worked on a different area with a white moisturising face mud, a clay-coloured body mud and a black exfoliating scrub mud for the legs. So there we were, in a steaming room, stripped bare, and rubbing sweet-smelling sludge on each – not your average Monday afternoon. After we had gotten over the hilarity of the situation, we did manage to relaxed into our intense twenty minute steam session. Whoa! it was hot (not in that way) and just when we thought we couldn’t take much more we were saved from collapsing in a naked muddy heap by a tropical rain shower bursting from the ceiling. Sweet relief and I have to say, I don’t think my skin has ever been left so soft following a treatment.

 

 

 

 

All that was left to do was change into some clothes and stop by the Titanic bistro. This was my one and only niggle, as after enjoying a flawless spa day it was a real shame that the food just didn’t live up to the same high standards. The menu items may well be all natural, organic and locally-sourced, with consideration given to vegetarians and vegans, but unfortunately it was also rather uninspired and lacking in flavour. The dining area itself is pleasant enough but it’s probably not a good idea to have an open show kitchen when microwaving is your main mode of culinary operations.

 

Apart from that one let down though, the Titanic Spa is fabulous and I would highly recommend it. The staff are as good as you would find in any five-star London Grande Dame, the spa and treatments exquisite and the apartments comfortable and relaxing.

 

 

 Titanic Spa, Huddersfield: Tel 0845 410 3333; www.titanicspa.com ; Overnight Spa packages available for £109pp


16
Jan 12

Detoxing Celebrity-style at the Canyon Ranch Miami

 It would be fair to say that after three back-to-back trips in less than a month, followed by a Christmas and New Year feasting frenzy, I could now happily weigh-in alongside a team of Russian shot-putters and am a prime candidate for gout, in fact if I carry on at this rate I will have no feet by February. So, something has to be done and I’ve come to the shocking conclusion that I am going to have to eat less and move more. And where better to start this radical new regime than at the Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, Hollywood’s favourite wellness retreat.

Now, I do love a trip to the spa but I’ve never really felt the urge to use my holiday time to detox. It just doesn’t sound much … fun really, but with a guest list that includes Shakira, Eva Longoria, Terri Hatcher, January Jones, as well as Jason Statham and Gerard Butler (spas aren’t just for the ladies any more!), the Canyon Ranch promised to be more than your average health spa. There may be 230 classes a week, resident doctors, nutritionist and physiotherapists, and a lofty keep-fit philosophy but there are also lashings and lashings of luxury and a fair amount of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival, I was pleased to see that the lobby was definitely more Kenzo than Tenko, showcasing original Art Deco features of the original Carillon Hotel alongside the upscale elegant designs of New York architect David Rockwell. The rooms too were plush, inviting and surprisingly large – even by American standards – each with vast living rooms and kitchens, spacious spa-style bathrooms and broad balconies overlooking the ocean.

So far, so good. And after a good night’s sleep in my jumbo bed I’m up and at ‘em. The Canyon Ranch does have a reputation for taking a serious approach to health and fitness though so I fully expected warm cabbage-water and wheatgrass for breakfast but no, instead – and much to my delight – I’m presented with a plentiful plate of organic blueberry pancakes, coming in at less than 300 calories, including the syrup! So this is how those celebs manage to stay so skinnylicious! Here’s the recipe if you want to try it out yourself (you really should). And if you love this recipe as much as I do, you can find more here

Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit
Ingredients
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1/4-1/2 cup 2% milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup berries or chopped fruit  (Blueberries and bananas work well in this recipe.)
12 tablespoons pure maple syrup Instructions1. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a medium bowl combine remaining wet ingredients and mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until smooth.
2. Lightly coat a griddle or large sauté pan with canola oil. Place on burner over medium heat until hot. Portion approximately 3 tablespoons batter on griddle and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon berries or chopped fruit. Cover fruit with 1 additional tablespoon batter and cook until bubbles form. Flip and cook other side to golden brown.
3. Serve 3 pancakes topped with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.Serving Information
Makes 6 (3-pancake) servings, each containing approximately: 365 calories, 70 gm. carbohydrate, 6 gm. fat, 54 mg.cholesterol, 10 gm. protein, 469 mg. sodium, 4 gm. fibre.

Loving the idea that eating healthily could taste so good (this Canyon Ranch even allows alcohol, unlike its sister resorts in Tuscon and Lenox, but, of course, here the cocktails are organic, the beer biodynamic and the red wine green) I’m now convinced the keep-fit side of things will be a breeze too.

 

 

 

 

 

I bypassed the enormous indoor rock climbing wall, the spectacular state-of-the-art gym overlooking the ocean, and the four swimming pools and instead opted for my first ever Zumba class. Zumba was invented in Miami and claims to be an easy-to-follow, Latin inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness party. Sounds fun right? I thought so. I like a party and, although the only time I really dance is on nights-out when copious amounts of alcohol seem only to serve to enhance my natural dancing ability, I felt sure I could hold my own. Not so. My first ever Zumba turned out to be a somewhat humiliating experience as within moments I came to the sudden, stark and sober realisation that – I can’t dance! While the rest of the class, including a couple of nip-tucked octogenarians, pranced around the room in a series of highly-coordinated hip-shaking movements, I found myself flailing about like a mad jellyfish, facing the wrong way (more than once) and gasping for air like a guppy. Strangely though, I loved it and by the end of the sessions I was caught up in the feverish good fun of it all and happily ran around the room high-fiving strangers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was only one thing to remedy this sudden outburst of American-like enthusiasm and that was to head to the spa for some calm downtime. A 70,000 sq.ft shimmering, mosaic-covered sanctuary awaited me. Two floors of gently-lit sumptuous rooms, tropical “experiential” showers, pools of healing waters, thermal cabins, soaking tubs, laconiums, and an igloo (yes, really) made for a fabulous A-list experience. The massage too (just about) lived up to its $240 price tag with a hundred minutes of pounding, pressing and pulling inspired by ancient techniques used on Thai warriors.

Needless to say, as I enter into 2012 I believe that these celebrities have got the right idea and from now on I will be stuffing myself with pancakes, embarrassing myself at Zumba and all-day spa-ing wherever possible. Who’s with me?

GO THERE

Canyon Ranch Hotel and Spa, Miami Beach: Tel 305-514-7000; http://www.canyonranch.com/miamibeach/; From $400

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