Good spas trigger the senses and then gently lull them to a place of bliss. Visual, auditory and olfactory cues exist to transport you to someplace beyond the normal realm (often to a vaguely pan-Asian atmosphere regardless of your actual geographic location). But I’m a native New Yorker, so the first cue to the spa at the Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf — its name, East River Spa — made me think of Brooklyn. Or Roosevelt Island, maybe.
Fortunately, the river in question here was the Thames, and the hotel — and spa — take full visual advantage of its east London Thames-side location. After checking in at the spa’s main desk on the hotel’s second level and exchanging my clothes for a cozy robe, I was shown to the relaxation room, which has a whole lot of view. A curving wall of glass looks out over the courtyard and river and across to the lights of the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome).
A series of mosaic-tile-covered hammam beds — sort of like lounge chairs made of stone, but more comfortable — were arranged facing the windows. I chose the one closest to the buffet server which housed tea and fruit, helped myself, and settled in to peacefully lounge and sip while awaiting my masseuse.
The spa offers a wide range of treatments — “therapies,” in today’s lingo. I could have had my lips smoothed, my bust lifted, my body exfoliated or wrapped and slimmed; I even could have bathed like Cleopatra in mud and steam and brought a friend to share the tub. But I’d spent 24 hours in transit and was tired and achy, so what my heart desired was a massage.
It was a business day, so I’d booked a 60-minute massage (90-minute Ayurvedic massage rituals and hot stone massages were also available), which brought the choices down to Swedish or aromatic. My therapist seemed a little disappointed that I wanted a Swedish massage rather than the gentler aromatic kind, but did a perfectly good job working out all my kinks and knots and smoothing away my tense muscles.
That’s one reason, I suppose, that my memories of the spa are mostly visual and tactile. I’m sure there was music playing, but it wasn’t jangling temple bells nor anything outlandishly New Age, just a gentle background rhythm. Plus, the unscented massage oil I requested didn’t leave a strong olfactory impression.
If my choice of massage guaranteed that it wasn’t sensually memorable, the rest of the spa facilities made up for it in terms of impact. After the massage I went to the shower area, which certainly knocked my socks off (or would have, if I wasn’t in my spa slippers).
The “wet spa,” as they call it, allows a “heat experience” that does a lot more than just rinse off the massage oil. As I entered the long, large room, to my right were several semicircular shower stalls, each with several options for shower type — including cold or warm rain, mist, storm, needle and tropical waterfall. Behind me was the unscented steam room, ahead of me the sauna, and on the wall across from the showers was an attractive ice-chips fountain, perfect for cooling down the sauna heat.
Drying off with big, fluffy, white towels, I felt clean, smooth and rosy. But I wasn’t done yet. Last stop: back to the hammam room.
If I’d felt relaxed in this room before my massage, I was melting into the bed (in a good way) afterward. A towel placed over the bed’s tiles made it more comfy, there was a little pillow for my head, and once I was settled, my massage therapist reappeared with a cup of herbal tea and a mango sorbet (included in the price of the service). Each hammam has an individual reading lamp, but I chose to just luxuriate in the view and the peaceful ambience.
All too soon, life intruded: time to get to work. My only complaint, and it’s a teensy one, is that getting from the r elaxation room back to the locker room requires passing the front desk and the product display cases set in the spa-lobby wall; several Asian businessmen politely admired the products as I traipsed past them in my robe and slippers.
What made it easier to leave was the knowledge that, as a hotel guest, I could return to use the relaxation room free of charge at any time and even order room service there. As it turned out, I only managed a few minutes in the evening to see the nighttime view of the lights across the river; a few fully dressed guests were happily enjoying cocktails.
I heard them toast, “Salut,” and I thought that if there ever were a venue in which saying “to your health” was appropriate, this was certainly it.
EAST RIVER SPA
Radisson Edwardian Hotel
New Providence Wharf
5 Fairmont Ave.
London E14 9PQ England
tel 44 20 8820 8123
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