Barajas International Airport, Madrid, Terminal 4, Elysium Spa

Jun 1, 2007
2007 / June 2007

I´m closetothecheck-incounters on the concourse of Terminal 4 at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, wearing nothing but a pair of paper undies. It could be a bizarre dream, but this is real. I can hear the bustle of passengers and luggage carts all around me. I can’t see them, and, more importantly, they can’t see me. I am safely cloistered in one of the treatment cabins of the Elysium Spa.

In addition to my clothes, I have cast off the usual worries of an impending journey. My flight is due to board in 90 minutes — plenty of time for an hour-long massage. Maria, the masseuse, heralds her return with a discreet knock on the door. I lie down on my back on the treatment bed, with a towel draped across my skimpily attired nether regions.

Maria surveys me, then shakes her head and taps my watch. “Nada,” she says. Nothing. I remove my watch. There goes the last vestige of the harassed traveler. I shut my eyes and the airport drifts away.

There are two Elysium Spas in Terminal 4: this one, and another airside, in the satellite terminal. The airside spa, which is located within a few steps of the transatlantic departure gates, offers a luxurious plunge pool as well as treatment rooms and a personalized jetlag program.

“For that,” said Gabriel Saez Irigoyen, CEO of Elysium’s parent company, Ingesport, which runs the spas in association with NH Hotels, “we compile individual data about the client — where they’re going, when they’re going, and for how long. Then we design a comprehensive anti-jetlag plan for them, including a timetablefor sleeping and eating. Sometimes we even take them to the plane wearing a mask — we practically carry them on board asleep.”

Irigoyen told me this during a visit to the NH Eurobuilding Hotel in Madrid’s business district. The hotel hosts one of the company’s five spas. In addition to the two at the airport, there are others in the resort of Marbella and at the up-market golf complex of Sotogrande, near Gibraltar. The Eurobuilding spa is nearing the end of an expensive renovation that will add three new treatment rooms and a new reception area to the already outstanding facilities.

“Making the changes hasn’t been easy,” Irigoyen explained as we toured the spa. “This hotel is 30 years old and is full of concrete pillars that are essential for the structure.”

A nifty design solution: Within the spa, the pillars have been given sensual curves and are decorated with colored tiles. It’s an instantly soothing environment, seemingly far removed from the surrounding hustle of Spain’s dynamic capital city.

The hotel is situated a block from the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, home of the legendary soccer club, Real Madrid. For the galacticos — the team’s handful of superstar players including, until recently, David Beckham — the Elysium Spa offers a convenient retreat. This really is an exclusive venue. Besides the hotel guests, the spa has only 1,000 members, mainly drawn from Madrid’s sporting, business and social elite.

The facilities are state-of-the-art. The gym features the most advanced fitness machines in the world, each of which can be programmed with data specific to the individual user. The running machines come complete with TVs and air-conditioning. Each day, hotel guests can opt to participate in a regular schedule of fitness classes.

On the deck adjacent to the magnificent pool (which looks truly spectacular after dark with its subdued lighting) is a rooftop area that Irigoyen referred to as “the only beach in Madrid.” Here, in plain view of the city high-rises, you can sprawl out on a patch of soft sand, don your iPod, close your eyes and imagine Mediterranean waves lapping at your feet. Close by, for the more energetic, are several paddle tennis courts.

The Elysium Spa is just one of the innovations that have been adopted by the NH Hotels Group. Several hotels in the chain have opened chillout rooms under the brand name “Nhube,” a play on the word nube, Spanish for “cloud,” where guests enjoy drinks and snacks, surf the Internet and relax in a comfortable environment.

Back in the airport, I really don’t know where I am. Thirty minutes into my massage, with soothing music playing softly in the room to mask the sounds of the concourse, I am so relaxed I’m almost unconscious.
“Turn please,” says Maria. Drowsily disoriented, I comply. Thankfully, the paper undies survive the maneuver intact and I retain my modesty. Beginning at my feet, Maria irons out any remaining tension in my legs, back and shoulders.

This is a business traveler’s dream come true.

“We believe that when passengers find out about the spa treatments we are offering, they will go out of their way to travel via Madrid,” I remember Irigoyen saying during our meeting at the Eurobuilding Hotel. “Soon we will offer online booking at our Web site (www.elysium.es), so you will be able to arrange your spa appointment before you leave home.”

By the time Maria sets to work onmy temples, I am practically comatose. Every ounce of stress has left me.

“Okay,” she says finally, but all too soon. “Is finish.”

Left to my own devices, I abandon the paper undies, take a quick shower, and dress in my traveling clothes. I return to the airport concourse in a dreamlike state. This terminal is among the world’s longest. To reach my gate I must walk half its length. I progress serenely, calmly, divorced from my surroundings.

I am happily oblivious to the funny looks I attract due to the scent of massage oil wafting in my wake.

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