Budapest, Hungary, Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, Royal Spa

Apr 1, 2007
2007 / April 2007

At the Royal Spa in the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal in Budapest, I did something I don’t normally do: I booked two treatments back to back. The first was a foot massage. The second was the spa’s signature Deep Blue massage.

Laer that afternoon, in the small, minimally furnished treatment room, Vanda set the diffused ceiling lights to blue for relaxation and went to work on my feet. I’m not one for pedicures (sorry Vanda), but I appreciate a good foot massage because it can loosen the tension of the entire body. This was a good foot massage, done with lightly scented eucalyptus cream and traveling as far north as my hips.

Vanda worked the reflexology points on the balls of my feet, the arches and between the toes. After a while — I’ll admit I lost track of the time — she transitioned to “sculpting” oil and began the long, swirling strokes of the Deep Blue massage on my arms, legs and back. Because the massage is intended for relaxation, muscle penetration is minimal. (If you want man-handling, there’s a deep tissue massage on the spa menu.)

Patiently, Vanda worked her way to my shoulders, where she was about to encounter the knots I carry like a badge of honor; the way a former high school jock shows off his knee surgery scar. In my mind, the knots in my muscles resemble the ones tied at the bottom of the climbing ropes in my elementary school gym, and they have confounded massage therapists the world over.

Vanda would not be thwarted. After testing my shoulders with relaxing strokes, she did what a well-trained massage therapist should do: She changed course to address the problem at hand. She probed the points around my neck and shoulders that should, when manipulated properly, work like buttons to release blocked energy and loosen my muscles. She was tenacious and she achieved stellar results: At dinner that evening, I could turn my head to the left and to the right — without pain.

There’s something comforting about putting yourself in the hands of a spa therapist in a country with a long history of spa culture. Budapest is world-famous for its public baths, such as the St. Gellért and Széchenyi baths where healing mineral waters rise from underground springs. It’s interesting to note, there was a public bath on the site of the Royal Spa 10 years before the first Hotel Royal opened.

The original hotel on Erzsébet Boulevard on the Pest side of Budapest was built for the 1896 Budapest Millennium celebration, as were many of the city’s elegant structures, including the Museum of Applied Arts, Palace of Arts and Heroes Square. The hotel thrived during that golden age in the late 19th century, suffered during World War II and the Soviet occupation of the 1950s, was almost entirely destroyed by fire then rebuilt in modern fashion in the 1960s, and closed — seemingly for good — in 1991.

Yet the hotel whose fortunes had ebbed and flowed with those of the city for nearly a century rose again as Budapest took an early lead among cities of Central Europe in welcoming foreign business investment. Corinthia Hotels bought it, resurrected its original facade and part of its grand central staircase — the only parts of the original hotel that could be salvaged — and rebuilt the rest. It opened as the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal in 2002, the largest five-star hotel in Budapest, with 440 guestrooms. A separate wing of extended-stay apartments opened in early 2006 and, after an estimated $5.25 million renovation, the Royal Spa opened a few months later. Hunky pop singer Ricky Martin was the first to swim in its pool when he was a guest during the spa’s preliminary soft opening.

The Royal Spa is operated under a contract with the French firm Algotherm. The entire spa staff is Hungarian, hired, as Spa Manager Marianna Heurtel explained, for their technical skills and their ability to adapt to an individual client’s needs and preferences. Although Algotherm has protocols for its treatments, therapists must also know when to deviate from the script — as Vanda did.

Like the décor in the rest of the hotel, the spa design is a hybrid. There’s a bit of a Roman bath feeling in the mosaic floors and wall tiles, but there’s also a monastic influence in the arched doorways and stained glass windows (illuminated by artificial light since the two-level spa is located below ground). The total effect invites contemplation, albeit from the comfort of a gel bed or a teak lounge chair in a poolside relaxation area that’s close enough to hear the water gurgling, but hidden from the swimmers and the Jacuzzi bathers.

There are two saunas and a steam room, all co-ed. Next to them is an ice machine, where you can grab a handful to crush against your hot skin before you step into the unusual “tropical” shower that sprays varying streams of hot and cold scented water to mimic tropical rain.

Dry treatment rooms, for massage and facials, have painted walls and wood trim. Wet rooms, used for the Vichy shower and other water-based treatments, have sand-colored tiles on the walls. One treatment room is designed for couples with side-byside massage tables.

Not surprisingly, massages and facials are the two most requested treatments at the Royal Spa. Heurtel said, however, that when guests ask her for a recommendation she steers them toward the spa’s signature Absolute AlgoSpa treatment. The 75-minute process includes a body scrub, wrap and massage, but the piéce de résistance is deep relaxation in a womblike, warm, dry water-filled bed.

“It’s the treatment that people don’t know about, but when they try it they love it,” she said.

For information, visit http://www.corinthiahotels.com

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