We were nearing the end of our two weeks in Scotland, which included stays at grand old manor houses, a week on board the Hebridean Princess in the Western Isles, and Michelin-starred dining in Edinburgh. About the only Scottish luxury we had not indulged in was a spa. Our hotel in Glasgow, Blythswood Square, seemed the right place to fill in that blank.
We’d added Glasgow to the itinerary to see the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and chose a hotel five minutes’ walk from the Willow Tea Rooms and Glasgow School of Art, both designed by this architect credited with beginning the Art Nouveau movement. Location, we discovered, wasn’t the hotel’s only charm.
This being cheeky Glasgow, we were not surprised the hotel in its recent remake completely eschewed the cliché Balmoral style and that nary a tartan nor stag antler chandelier was in sight. Instead, the fine marble and oak lobby and public areas feature stylish Moderne furnishings with playful touches — former elevator shafts beside the grand staircase transformed into cozy nooks upholstered in cherry-red velour. It nods to Scottish fiber arts with Harris Tweed in the décor.
On the afternoon of our spa appointments, we returned in time to shower in our room, large and stylish in black and white with dark purple upholstery and bronze silk pillows. Above the headboard of our king-sized bed hung a photo of the start of the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally, which began at the hotel’s front door. The building then housed the Automobile Club of Scotland, whose memorabilia and photos we found throughout the hotel. Donning the soft, cushy robes in our closet, we took the elevator directly to the two-level spa, below the lobby.
Like the hotel, the spa, which covers an area of 10,000 square feet, is understated — coolly and comfortably Glasgow. The large lounge with deep chairs for relaxing, subdued music and low lighting gave a sense of privileged intimacy. Instead of sinking into lounge chairs, we splashed for a few minutes in the relaxation pools before our therapists escorted us to treatment rooms. We could have prepared ourselves with the three-hour Thermal Experience — a do-it-yourself hot/ cold/wet/dry journey from a 140-degree laconium through a sauna, an ice fountain and a steam room — but the pools served us fine and took less time away from the city’s attractions.
Because this has been acclaimed as Britain’s best new spa, I knew we shouldn’t wait until we checked in at the hotel to reserve our times. So weeks before we left for Scotland, we shopped through the enticing list of massages (foot, hand, head, full-body), facials, scrubs, wraps and other treatments.
We narrowed the several dozen options to facials and massages, our respective favorite spa indulgences. Even so, we still had at least six to choose from, all using organic ingredients. Facials included, among others, ilā Rainforest Renewal, Elemis Tri-Enzyme or Pro-Collagen; and the range of massages was even wider.
But we both wanted our experiences to have a sense of place, just as we had chosen treatments using grape seeds in wine country and maple sugar in Vermont. Before checking the menu, we tried to think of what Scotland’s signature locavore spa experience would offer: maybe a facial in butter toffee and a body scrub with steel-cut Scottish oats — or shortbread crumbs, my husband suggested.
What we found was an entire menu of ishga treatments, developed on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and based on hand-harvested Scottish seaweed. Rich in vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants that make up its natural nutrients, seaweed has been used for centuries for its healing and therapeutic value and ability to firm and hydrate all skin types. “Useful for repairing and protecting the skin from environmental damage,” it promised. Perfect for my facial.
A seaweed body wrap, scrubs that exfoliate with Hebridean sea salt and a bath in fresh seaweed were other options; but my husband spotted the ishga Hot Stone Massage, a full-body massage incorporating heated basalt stones, seaweed-based oil, lavender and juniper. What could be more iconic to Scotland than native stones and seaweed from the Western Isles?
As my skin soaked up the soothing nutrients and oils like a desiccated sponge, I realized I couldn’t have made a better choice for my travel-weary skin after two weeks of abuse by sun, wind and salt spray on the Hebridean Princess deck; of a sun-drenched day kayaking at Isle of Eriska; and the buffeting of sharp winds in Edinburgh.
The gentle rhythms of creams; scrubs; warm, moist cloths; and massage were not so different from other facials, but these marine algae ingredients seemed to have been especially designed by Neptune himself just to make my face happy. As each layer of skin luxuriated in turn, so did my neck and shoulder muscles as the aches and stiffness from abuse by luggage and an electronics-heavy shoulder bag were gently massaged away. I drifted in and out of dreams of warm beaches and bagpipes for what could have been minutes or hours.
In fact, I was so relaxed and detached from my real world of notebooks and keyboards, it wasn’t until I’d boarded the plane to London the next morning I realized I couldn’t remember the name of the smiling, soft-spoken woman who had given me this new face.
Meanwhile, my husband found his own Scottish nirvana, his camera-weary neck and shoulders being massaged with warm stones worn smooth by the tides on some cove beach in the Hebrides. We compared our respective dreamy experiences afterward over tea in the Salon, a lovely space above the lobby overlooking the 19th-century shipping barons’ mansions around Blythswood Square through an almost solid wall of high windows.
The spa has a café, but I’m sorry, spa food is not on my tea-time menu in the land of cream scones and the world’s best butter shortbread.
Relaxing companionably on a sofa, we ordered a plate of Scottish artisanal cheeses with oatcakes and a cream tea, which featured freshly baked apple and sultana scones served with whole strawberry preserves and Devonshire clotted cream. My skin felt so heavenly I was sure people around us were murmuring, “Look at that gray-haired man holding hands with a 20-year-old!”
The Spa at Blythswood Square
11 Blythswood Square
Glasgow, G2 4AD Scotland
tel 44 141 240 1622
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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