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Guide to Style - Winter 2011

Hands-on experiences

Massage, the universal language

12 November 2011

11:00 AM

12 November 2011

11:00 AM

I love a good massage. Not the sort of rug’n’tug advertised in top-shelf magazines or Soho phone boxes — although folk say such encounters do have their place — but a bona-fide, sweet-smelling, stress-busting pummelling from someone who knows what they’re about.

The trouble is that although women might be used to such self-indulgent pampering (I know, I know, only when they’re not multitasking as CEOs and mothers of six), we chaps find it a bit unnerving. I mean, isn’t it a bit odd, gaily shedding your kit and hopping onto a bed in front of a woman — and it is usually a woman — you’ve only just met (and paid)? And what of the etiquette? Do you make light conversation or allow the masseuse to manhandle you in silence? Do you strip down to the buff or keep your boxers on? Do you tip or not? And what if the unthinkable happens and you get turned on? Or worse, what if it’s a masseur and he makes a lunge?

The above anxieties notwithstanding, I adore a top-notch manipulation and, in a smug sort of way, I even regard myself as something of an expert.

Recent highlights include two cracking sessions in South Africa — at the absurdly luxurious Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat in the Cederberg Mountains and equally swish Singita Boulders in Kruger National Park; being smothered in runny honey and wrapped in cling-film at Les Sources de Caudalie in Bordeaux (not strictly speaking a massage, but bizarrely enjoyable nonetheless); a day at a Japanese hot spring or onsen — again not a true massage, but wonderfully calming and worth it just to see Japanese men gravely bowing to each other, despite being completely starkers — and a soothing hour in New Zealand’s Waiheke Island with Jana, a lovely Czech émigrée, who gave rub-downs to supplement her living as an accountant.

Rub-down rundown

And here, for what it’s worth, are Jonathan Ray’s all-time top ten massages…

• Best neck massage
Suffering from irregular but savage headaches, I resorted to acupuncture. Prince-among-men Adrian Stoddart gave me several sessions under the needle and then one day massaged my neck. He kneaded away then twisted it left, right, left, right, crack! My headaches were gone. Decades-old eczema was gone too.
Southfields Clinic 020 8874 4125

• Best massage chez moi
The Belvedere Private Room (now adapted as the Belvedere Sensory Journey serving a Bloody Mary breakfast) came to my house with barman, croupier and masseuse. ‘The best time of my life,’ sighed my chum Mark, as he headed for his massage, red-faced and flush with poker chips. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.’ • 0207 245 4233

• Best beer massage
I had a dreamily soothing, all-over hop pistil massage at Hof Weissbad in the Swiss canton of Appenzell, after which I was plied with ice-cold lager from the nearby Locher Brewery. After some headily aromatic, cannabis-like Hanfblüte, or hemp beer, I felt absolutely no pain.

• Best stones massage
A sublime 75-minute La Stone massage from the enchanting Jess at the Treatment Rooms in my home town of Brighton. Arriving stressed and grumpy, I left walking on air, thanks to Jess’s dextrous use of hot basalt and cold marble stones and plenty of essential oil of bergamot and grapefruit.

• Best London massage
The Metropolitan Hotel’s COMO Shambhala Urban Escape is utter heaven. Masseuse Nobue spent 90 minutes massaging me from the soles of my feet to the tips of my fingers and the top of my balding pate. Bliss! Even eyebrows and ear lobes got a working over. So zonked was I afterwards I couldn’t for the life of me remember my locker’s security code.

• Best waterside massage
With not one but two spas, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is therapy central. I had the signature hot stone massage in a hut set on stilts over the ocean, lying on my front and gazing through the glass floor at the brightly-coloured fish playing on the coral reef below. Sigh…

• Best subterranean massage
If only because of its unlikely location, this makes the top ten. Set in the caves beneath a former fortified farm, Spa Aveda at five-star Masseria Torre Coccaro in Puglia is a quirky spot. Great massage though, and a superb Negroni in the bar afterwards.

• Best mountain massage
The Palace Hotel in Gstaad is a swanky place and no mistake, and its spa and hammam first rate. I was there not for winter skiing but for summer hiking and found no better way of ending a sweaty day in the mountains than with a Classic Massage followed by a dip in the outside Jacuzzi.

• Best male massage
The Buckstaff is the last remaining operational bathhouse in Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and its 1912 equipment and interiors remain unchanged. I sweated out an appalling hangover in one of the ancient steam rooms before being given a severe once-over by a formidable and unforgiving former American footballer. I left battered and bruised but completely hangover-free.

• Best-ever massage
The spa on the 36th floor of Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental is my runaway winner. After a warm plunge pool, with astonishing views through floor-to-ceiling windows of the twinkling, neon-lit city below, heart-stoppingly beautiful Satomi gave me an exfoliating Azuki bean body scrub, followed by an unbeatable patchouli oil massage. Two hours passed in a flash, with only my snores breaking the spell.

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