Boston is a typical American city: full of life and full of busy people. Set to rescue them is The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, a true escape in the urban jungle
New Englanders have a lot to stress about: long winters, bad drivers, the Red Sox. We’re overworked and overbooked, and, OK, sometimes we get a little grouchy. If ever there was a town in need of a good rub down, Boston is it.
A treatment room in The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston
In the heart of Boston’s stylish Back Bay neighbourhood, the new Mandarin Oriental, Boston – the fifth Mandarin Oriental hotel in the US – is already a sanctuary; a welcome respite from the chattering flood of shoppers on Newbury and Boylston Streets. But the grand Spa, a 1,500sqm space devoted to decompression, truly makes it possible to forget about the hustle and bustle on the city sidewalks below and lose yourself in, well, yourself.
Boston is a compact but populated metropolis, with about 600,000 people packed into 41 square miles of land. Like so many of Europe’s prettiest cities – London, Paris, Florence – the city is bisected by a river. And, like in Europe, monuments to history abound. Within walking distance of Mandarin Oriental, Boston, is the Public Garden, a National Historic Landmark dotted with oak and elm trees, while the nearby Boston Public Library, founded in 1848 as the first municipal library in the US, boasts rare works that include the original music score to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and John Adams’ private collection. It is the city’s rich history that makes Boston such an exciting and fulfilling place to live, work, and visit: what is remarkable about The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, is that it has managed to honour this heritage while also providing guests with an ultra-modern, thoroughly holistic, escape.
The Spa provides an ultra-modern, holistic escape
The Spa is tucked away in a quiet wing on the fourth floor of the hotel and is designed by Boston-born interior designer Frank Nicholson, whose aim it was to bring natural textures indoors. Bamboo and slate flooring reflect The Spa’s eco-friendly aesthetic, while African Anegre hardwood and exotic varieties of stone weave in reminders of the extraordinary and create a sense of the luxurious. Nine treatment areas, some with private showers, each offer natural light but, blissfully, not natural sound; all traces of the beeps and blares of traffic vanish once the elevator doors shut. A serene hydrotherapy room houses a colour-therapy tub, a body-scrub table, and a Vichy shower; two specialty areas include the extraordinary Mandarin Suite, a 65sqm space equipped with a private vitality tub, stone sauna, two treatment tables, and a day-bed for lounging. And, lest something be forgotten, The Spa also has a fitness centre with state-of-the-art equipment and a personal Kinesis Wall. It is nothing short of an oasis.
The Crystal Steam Room incorporates sound and light therapy
A warm welcome in The Spa reception
Upon arrival into the warmly lit reception area, guests are greeted with the customarily impeccable Mandarin Oriental service: a friendly ‘hello’, an invitation to relax on the plush sofa, a cup of tea and hot towel. City shoes are promptly whisked away in the Asian tradition of leaving the world behind, and roomy spa slippers appear in their place. ‘The beginning of the guest experience is essential,’ says Director of Spa, Sharon Holtz. ‘We aim to create a warm welcome that allows the guest to make the transition from the day-to-day and be more introspective.’
One thing guests should know about the locker room at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental: don’t call it a locker room. It is a lounge and, quite frankly, an event, complete with extensive heat and wet facilities. The Crystal Steam Room employs sound and light therapy, a heated vitality pool, ice fountains and warm stone benches. ‘Experience’ showers feature four light and sound water-therapy options: Tropical Rain simulates the large, warm drops of a South American rainforest; Arctic Chill sends out a cooling, refreshing mist. Guests are encouraged to arrive 45 minutes early to have enough time to enjoy the heat and wet facilities, and are invited to stay on afterwards.
Holtz arrived in Boston nine months before the opening to recruit and train therapists. Eleven therapists come from around New England and were hired on the basis of their customer-service skills and quality of touch and technique. They endured seven weeks of intensive training before The Spa opened in October 2008. Holtz herself came to Boston after two years in Miami, where she opened The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Miami. Her aim in Boston is to help harried guests lead more balanced and wellness-focused lives. ‘We want to help improve the quality of life,’ she says, which includes educating clients on how to incorporate different wellness elements learned at The Spa into their daily lives. ‘Little things can make a big difference.’
The Spa Café serves tasty, healthy fare in a bistro setting
The extensive Spa menu includes everything you would expect – manicure, pedicure, Swedish massage – as well as many extras, all of which seek to combine ancient healing arts with modern methodologies. As with all Mandarin Oriental spas, guests are encouraged to book a Time Ritual, a customised block of time. It’s about learning to experience solitude, revel in the act of just being there, and more effectively and thoroughly unwind. For those who prefer to book by treatment, however, the many à la carte offerings include five types of massage, three types of body wrap, six facials and a slate of specialised treatments for mothers-to-be.
The exclusive Triple Vitality treatment reflects the hotel’s heritage and healing traditions of the Orient
For two treatments unique to The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, Holtz drew inspiration from her surroundings. The New England Retreat, a 110-minute stress-busting scrub and massage, uses native ingredients – including calendula, St John’s Wort, and marshmallow – to battle tension, eye-strain, and work-related complaints such as ‘Blackberry hand’. The Commonwealth Comforter, a 110-minute skin replenishing and hydrating exfoliation, massage and facial, was inspired in part by Holtz’s first day at work in January 2008, which saw eight inches of snow. Each element of the treatment does a number on urban-induced anxiety.
Another treatment exclusive to Boston, the Triple Vitality treatment – a fusion of shiatsu and Tui Na massage techniques that work to restore a sense of physical and emotional strength – reflects the hotel’s heritage and draws inspiration from the healing traditions of the Orient.
For my own treatment, the Commonwealth Comforter, I was led into a serene room by my therapist, Lana. The experience began with the signature foot ritual, a Mandarin Oriental custom of greeting guests with a foot bath and massage. After that, Lana began with a full-body exfoliation using a coffee and frankincense scrub; nearly two hours later, she ended with a lymphatic drainage facial massage.
I will admit that I’m your typical Bostonian: on the go, quick to react, (and, yes, a terrible driver, but that’s besides the point). It’s rare that I can relax in the middle of the day, especially when deadlines loom, as they did on that particular occasion. And yet, about 10 minutes in to the massage portion of my treatment, I woke with a start: shocked, first, by the sound of my own snoring and second by the realisation that I had actually fallen asleep. If only Lana would stop by my house every night before bedtime, I might permanently banish the harried Bostonian in me. And that would be a good thing.