In Brussels, Avenue Louise is arguably the most posh address in the city; and the Conrad Hotel on Avenue Louise is arguably the most posh hotel in the city. Not only is it home away from home for visiting bigwigs, it’s a magnet for status-conscious locals who frequent the hotel’s Café Wiltcher’s for lunch, dinner and especially Sunday brunch, and who work out and spa — because if you’re dining regularly at Café Wiltcher’s you have to work out and spa — at the Aspria Avenue Louise Institut de Bien-Être in the hotel.
Located on three subterranean levels, the spa is cool and modern without a discernable style. The fitness center, which opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, fills up quickly after office hours, and the dreamy blue pool one level below it attracts a goodly number of lap swimmers. This being Belgium —chocolate capital of the world — the spa’s street entrance faces Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier, one of the best in the city, although the “beautiful people” entering and leaving the club on a pleasant weekday evening didn’t seem to grasp that irony.
Because I was a Conrad Hotel guest, I entered the spa on the hotel side, down a private elevator with exclusive keycard access. There is a strong members-only feeling here and the reception desk staff very carefully checked my treatment reservation to be perfectly sure that I belonged.
Admittedly, I’d never pass for a fashionable local or even for one of the hotel’s many Eurocrat guests. Nevertheless, I made it past the velvet rope — or in this case, electronic gate — and into the women’s changing room where I had to insert a €2 coin to release the key from my locker. (The coin was returned when I was finished, but I still found the system odd in such an exclusive establishment.)
Arriving early left me time to use the sauna and to relax beside the pool — there’s also a whirlpool and steam room, both coed — before I embarked on a 30-minute massage followed by a 30-minute mini-facial.
Because the massage was brief, the therapist concentrated on the areas I requested — my back and shoulders —using Aromatherapy Associates oil designed to improve circulation. She did just as I asked, and when she was finished I regretted that I didn’t have more time to spend on the table. The treatment room was simple, comfortable and larger than many I’ve seen, and the ambient music was soothing.
Lightheaded, but in a very nice way, I made my way to the facialist’s room. This one was smaller than the massage treatment room, yet somehow less cozy and definitely more clinical. My inability to speak French and the facialist’s tentative command of English meant that we spent our time almost entirely in silence. She set to work with Decléor cleansing milk, scrub, serum and mask, then left me to relax for 10 minutes while the mask set — long enough to let my mind wander toward sleep before her soft knock at the door brought me back to reality.
After my facial, I reclaimed my cushioned lounge chair beside the pool and let the massage sink in, listening to the water rippling and gazing up through the windows of the fitness center at the young executive types lifting weights and pumping away on the elliptical trainers. There was just a little too much preening going on for me to take them seriously. (Did that guy with the shaved head really need to gaze into the mirror so intently while he did his bicep curls?) Then I reminded myself that despite the fact that this spa and fitness center are located in a hotel they are still, primarily, part of a big-city health club. That’s why, in addition to workout areas and treatment rooms, the Aspria Avenue Louise Institut de Bien-Être has as its centerpiece a lounge area where stylish folks, some in street clothes and some in workout gear, meet up for drinks and snacks.
Which is not to say that spa treatments are an afterthought here. They’re done professionally and with care by well-trained therapists. And more im portantly in these days of can-you-top-this treatments, the spa doesn’t offer more than it can handle well. Thus, you’ll find a fine selection of massages, a healthy handful of body and facial treatments using Decléor, Aromatherapy Associates and Temple Spa products, a few treatments geared for men or for mothers-to-be and a complement of manicures and pedicures. You won’t find anything weird or wacky; not even a chocolate body wrap (as if Belgians would waste their good chocolate on such things!).
London-based Aspria operates several spas and health clubs: three in Brussels and one each in Berlin and Hamburg. The Avenue Louise location opened in 2005 and the newest addition to the facility is an EasyPlay golf simulator that replicates course conditions on some 50 international courses. It can be used solo for a fee of €25 (about $34) or with a coach for €60 (about $80). Clubs are provided.
If there’s a downside here it’s the fact that, even though the spa and fitness center are on the premises, guests of the pricey Conrad Hotel Brussels must pay a €25 day fee to use all the amenities, including the pool, sauna, steam room and exercise equipment. Or maybe that’s a small price to pay to be among the beautiful people.
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