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Pleasure before pain

Charlotte Metcalf follows a relaxing facial with a punishing massage

20 January 2010

12:00 AM

20 January 2010

12:00 AM

Being marooned in drifts of picturesque Cotswold snow was delightful — for 36 hours. Then it became an irksome obstacle in the way of New Year resolutions when I was trying to head for London in order to tackle my various post-Christmas stress disorders with a couple of new spa treatments.

By the time my Mini made it up the hill out of our village, my face was red and chapped from days of building snowmen with the children followed by sweltering evenings next to the fire. I went straight to the spa at Sofitel St James for a facial. The hotel is housed in a grand listed building that once belonged to Lloyds Bank. Two years ago Sofitel acquired the Bank of Nigeria next door and transformed it into a spa that opened in July and has already won several awards, including the Condé Nast Johansens Award for Best British Spa. Cleverly, the original ornate ceilings, curving staircases, marble walls and teak trimmings have been carefully preserved.

There is a welcoming drawing room with a long table. Here guests can have a manicure or pedicure and a martini. It’s where I discussed my ‘preferences’ with the ‘Spa Butler’; each treatment is individually designed. The spa is the first in Britain to sell Cinque Mondes skin products and the idea is that you have a choice of five moods. I was shown a colour chart and asked to respond to my favourite of the five. Given that we were in the bleak midwinter, I went for a hot, spicy-looking red, corresponding to a Moroccan fragrance based on orange-blossom, which was used to scent my treatment room. Housed in what used to be the bank manager’s office, it still had the curved, teak door with frosted glass panels. I climbed onto a bed and under a plump, snowy-white duvet and inhaled. I was so blissfully comfortable and the facial so heavenly that I fell asleep. By the time I wafted out into the slush, I felt so relaxed and was so confident of my radiant glow that I smiled all the way up Haymarket.

So, that was the carrot, now for the stick. Garry Trainer is a New Zealander, dubbed by the Times as ‘the man behind the stars’ backs’. Clients include Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Paul McCartney, George Michael, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Emma Thompson and Coldplay. Most recently, he’s been touring with Depeche Mode. Now, for the first time, he is working from Mayfair’s Browns Hotel spa.

The spa itself is not a grand statement like Sofitel’s but is efficient enough, housed down a prettily lit basement corridor. Garry’s ‘Stressbusting 1,000-Mile Service’ involves massage to ease the muscles, followed by acupuncture for the nervous system and osteopathy for the skeleton. Garry is still seeking a name for his new and unique combination technique. ‘I want it to incorporate the idea that it involves three elements and that it’s a massive pick-me-up. Tri-agra is what I’ve come up with so far,’ he says with a grin.

The massage was so powerful that I felt occasionally nauseous and the acupuncture made my teeth chatter. Garry diagnosed two twisted vertebrae and a shortened left leg before he manoeuvred my neck with a sickening click. It may not have been exactly pleasant but afterwards I felt light-headed and, when I looked in the mirror, my eyes had not looked so bright since before Christmas. I went on to an excellent wintry lunch of devilled lambs’ kidneys and sautéed cauliflower in The Albemarle, the hotel’s elegant dining room. Though euphoric, I was wondering whether Garry’s treatment had given me mild brain damage, as I couldn’t remember the names of any of the famous artists whose work adorns the restaurant’s panelled walls. Last night I slept like a baby and today I am already noticing that I feel more energetic, though I am not confident I have recovered all my mental faculties. But to hell with my intellectual abilities — soft of skin and straight of spine, I feel ready for all that 2010 can throw at me. As my mother used to say, a person of substance needs backbone.

Sofitel St James
Tel: 0207 747 2200
So Rejuvenating Facial Treatment £105 for 60 minutes

Tel: 0207 518 4009
Stressbusting 1,000-Mile Service with Garry Trainer, £180 for 60 minutes, £215 for 90 minutes

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