(Bloomberg) -- The hotel scene in the UK is getting increasingly competitive: Two billion-dollar hotels, Raffles London at the OWO and the Peninsula London, opened within weeks in September. Both are luxury brands that got their start in Asia and whose room rates start above £1,000 ($1,250) nightly.
Alongside those buzzy new openings are increasingly opulent spa and wellness facilities that are part of a $105 billion business, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
In visiting the most exciting new openings in London and in the surrounding countryside, what I discover is far from the standard massage tables with soothing music and fluffy robes. I find new partnerships with fitness experts like Harry Jameson, who trains FTSE 100 chief executive officers and Hollywood actors and who even helped former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recover from Covid-19.
Hotels are also teaming up with stylists who do hair for the likes of Naomi Campbell, offering guests blow-dries so they can walk out of the salon looking ready for the runway. The food menus are conceived by such acclaimed chefs as Skye Gyngell and Jason Atherton.
Here are the best new spas I’ve visited this year, including one located where one of Britain’s most notorious modern scandals commenced.
The Peninsula, London
Where: Belgravia, LondonBest for: luxurious treatments in serene surroundings
This hotel cost more than £1 billion to build, with no expense spared for its Peter Marino-designed spa, which opened in December. A showpiece 25-meter swimming pool has classical music piped through underwater speakers so swimmers won’t miss a beat. The steam room and showers have walls made from opulent honey onyx. Fresh, cold-pressed fruit juices are offered to help patrons cool down after treatment in large, softly lit, wood-paneled rooms complete with private, Japanese heated toilets.
If you want to leave the spa looking red-carpet ready, hair appointments are available with stylist Errol Douglas, whose clients include Campbell and Diana Ross. Still, the best thing about visiting the Peninsula was just how kind the staff members were: From the moment I entered from the freezing London street, they offered fresh ginger tea and hot towels to warm me up and calm me down. Service is next-level attentive.
Raffles London at the OWO
Where: London’s historic WestminsterBest for: Wellness in one of London’s most storied buildings
The subterranean basement of the Old War Office now houses one of the most glamorous spas in London. The 27,000-square-foot area covers four floors, with specialized treatments from French beauty brand Guerlain, a first in the city. The 20-meter pool even has buttons next to the loungers to call for butler service.
In my visit, I meet the aforementioned Harry Jameson, CEO of Pillar Wellbeing, which has an outpost inside the hotel spa. Pillar offers fitness classes alongside data-based wellness programs that track your progress and yoga classes overlooking the pool. Chef Jason Atherton of Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social is culinary director, with a menu that includes things like gut-friendly yogurts and bright green salads. Jameson says it’s important to offer healthy food that people actually want to eat.
The private shower spaces have shampoos and body products from British perfumer Azzi Glasser, with a signature scent of bergamot, neroli and sage made exclusively for the hotel. It’s called 1906, after the year that tthe Old War Office opened.
Where: BerkshireBest for: Relaxing in the shade of one of Britain’s grandest homes
Cliveden House is a neoclassical stunner, a Grade 1-listed stately home-turned-luxury hotel. (Previous owners include the Astor family.) Its spa is where the Profumo Affair originated. (In 1961, then-Secretary of War John Profumo met 19-year-old Christine Keeler at an exclusive party by the pool, and their affair would end up bringing down the British government.)
The spa has plenty to offer modern guests besides storied history. On a recent visit, I treat myself to the Cliveden Warm Oil massage, then go for a swim in the pool in the morning quiet, feeling as if I have the whole place to myself. Meghan Markle famously stayed here the night before her wedding to Prince Harry, and I get it. The place makes me feel like a princess, too.
The Bothy by Wildsmith at Heckfield Place
Where: HampshireBest for: Countryside glamour
This retreat in England’s pastoral countryside opened in the spring, and I half expected to see Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy strolling the mist-covered grounds. Hampshire is Austenland, after all, and red-brick Heckfield Place could be the setting for the next BBC period adaptation.
The spa’s pool has a tall glass window that offers views of the fields, as well as an outdoor hydrotherapy pool on a terrace next to some grand oaks. Guests are to decompress from the hectic pace of modern life, so treatments last longer than the typical hour offered by most hotels. The signature “Wildsmith Time” clocks in at 135 minutes and includes massage, foot reflex therapy and craniosacral holds to relieve compression in the head and neck.
There are no clocks in this place, and you must stash your phone at the reception desk. It works: I eventually stop thinking about my email inbox and the million things I have to do later. That said, I could have posted some really stunning snapshots of the lavender plants in the garden or the food from Australian chef Skye Gyngell, of celebrated London restaurant Spring. But perhaps I’m the problem and should spend more time here.
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