Louise Harrold roadtests the brand new urban retreat set in the 16th-century former vaults of Bristol Harbour Hotel
A spa review cannot be considered a chore by any stretch of the imagination but (and excuse any sounds of entitlement here) there comes a point where if you have partaken in spa days previously, they can all start to feel a little…. samey. They can feel all the more so when in a hotel spa; sometimes these spaces are a bit of an afterthought and busier in terms of foot traffic than the hotel lobby itself.
Time spent at the recently opened Harbour Hotel spa on Corn Street, however, is an altogether different affair. I was excited about the invitation, as I had visited previously when the spa was still very much in the construction stage and although there had been enthusiastic projections voiced for each of the underground spaces, it was a hard one to envisage.
Cut to one afternoon last week and I am guided by the hotel concierge to the steps leading down underground to the spa. As I descend I immediately lose sense of where exactly I am (this will be a recurring theme once we get to the treatments) and am greeted by the glow of flickering candlelight and my therapist, with robe and slippers in outstretched arms.
The treatments I am to review come under the ‘Ocean Spa Package’; at £185 this is one of the pricier packages on offer, though there is a range of individual treatments that can be booked on their own, from £45. But sometimes the full whammy is precisely what’s required, and once I am ensconced in fluffy spa attire, I am led to the treatment room where the afternoon will begin.
My therapist first takes me through a questionnaire about any health conditions. While this is happening I receive one of the first parts of the package – a foot massage. Usually I find these to be a bit of a faff and something-of-nothing, but this one is disconcertingly effective and I find myself relaxing even while being asked about any skin concerns I may have (“Many”, I want to wail).
Questions answered and feet pink and soft from the soak, it is time to de-robe (gracefully) and hop on to the treatment table (not so gracefully). I am going to be on said table for a little over two hours and while that seems a tad excessive to a very fidgety person such as myself, I soon come to realise all sense of time will soon be lost.
The first element of the treatment involves a skin brush, used – quite forcibly – all over the body to ‘wake’ the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Next I am given a full body polish with a seaweed product to eliminate pesky toxins, and afterwards, a mandarin and orange scrub which not only smells divine but leaves my skin so buffed that I surreptitiously run a finger over my limbs every time the therapist’s back is turned.
I could quite easily be satisfied at this point, but on we move to the next part of the treatment; a traditional Swedish massage. Having never had one of these before, I am most intrigued by the process and afterwards, utterly convinced by it. Using massage oil, the therapist begins work on my muscles, and while no limb is left out, the main focus of her attention is my neck, shoulders and the entirety of my usually knotted back. Using her weight to apply pressure, her knuckles and wrists go to work to alleviate any muscular tension, even easing some aches and pains I seemingly did not know I had.
Here the next point of course would be a scalp massage which I feel comfortable enough to politely decline – instead opting to have 10 minutes of lying in solitude, and honestly not recalling a time that I felt more relaxed.
When the therapist returns, we move on to the concluding part of the treatment – the personalised facial – and it is here that the inevitable finally happens and I fall asleep. From what I remember before this happened, the facial was excellent. Using an array of products that complemented my skin type, we had cleansed, we had scrubbed and we had just got to the massage when I suddenly became conscious of what I hope was a soft and delicate snore (are they ever though?) and aware that, with only two of us in the room, it had most definitely come from me. I need not have worried; discretion is key to a good therapist, and I think perhaps a snore can be considered a compliment in these situations.
Either way, the experience was coming to an end, and I was left alone to gather my thoughts, and some dignity. Waiting until my therapist left the room, I did that quick examination in the mirror that we all do, and was greeted by the unmistakable glow of someone who has been thoroughly indulged…