Deep within the hotel, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona offers a tranquil retreat in the heart of the Catalan city. And its holistic treatments will leave even the most frazzled ready to face the world
Nicknamed the Great Enchantress by the Australian historian and art critic Robert Hughes, it is little surprise that Barcelona was chosen as the location for a luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel. Flanked by the whimsical buildings of modernisme masters Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, which stand cheek by jowl with luxury labels Chanel, Jimmy Choo and Prada, it occupies a suitably glamorous section of the city’s premier shopping street, Passeig de Gràcia.
The Fifties building was originally the headquarters of the Banco Hispano Americano. It reopened as a hotel in 2009, its utilitarian architectural style completely transformed by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola, who re-imagined it in eye-popping splendour. She added a striking white cut-out screen around the central atrium where the trading floor had once been; turned a stock of safe deposit boxes into the darkly sleek, über-sexy Banker’s Bar; painted gold leaf into the hotel’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Moments, headed by Raül Balam and his illustrious mother Carme Ruscalleda (who has six Michelin stars to her name); and masterminded a basement spa in the bank’s old vaults, taking you into a fantasy, underwater world that helps you escape the pressures of modern life.
Down in the lift you go to The Spa, emerging into a soothing, square reception where elephant-grey carpets feel like moss underfoot and deep, milk-chocolate-toned leather sofas are framed by a large smoky mirror in a nod to the city’s golden years – the Belle Epoque. Oriental music floats from hidden speakers and combines with the soft, recorded whoosh of waves and a breeze. As you snuggle into your seat, smiling staff glide by, speaking in dulcet tones as they take your coat and shoes. A tray appears with a hot towel, a delicate Japanese bowl of ginger tea (to kick-start the detox process), and a single gerbera bloom in tangerine. I’m already feeling pretty Zen. If I hadn’t been looking forward to a pre-treatment dip in the pool so much, I could have curled up and had a snooze.
The first stop on this journey into bliss is the sophisticated changing rooms, where you will find the softest silk-edged robe, well-lit dressing tables and comfortable armchairs, and generous amounts of products for post-treatment preening. A swim is essential, however, for there is something quite ethereal about The Spa’s jade-green pool. Exactly 12 metres long, deliciously warm and lit by tubes of light that beam out like stars between elegant lengths of charcoal-coloured granite, it is the loveliest place to wallow. A savvy timing schedule means that chances are, if you arrive an hour before your treatment, you will have the pool to yourself.
The pre- and post-treatment relaxation room
I complete 20 laps before resting in the steam room, where ergonomic beds of iridescent teal tiles hug your body into a rapturous state. The soft aquamarine glow and the heady aromas of Mediterranean herbs help me drift into a sweet reverie of imagining myself as a cosmopolitan mermaid floating in an underwater grotto. I am only awoken from these delightful daydreams when my therapist gently raps on the door.
Mandarin Oriental’s Eastern heritage means the therapies it offers are drawn from ancient techniques combined with local culture and contemporary treatments. The Barcelona Spring – an indulgent two hours and 20 minutes – uses indigenous Spanish ingredients like wild mint and sage, while the Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio by Bastien Gonzalez (beloved by celebrities), with its high-performance products, is where hands and feet become shiny and new. To promote holistic wellbeing, the treatments are personalised to your needs. My desire is to melt away any aches and up my energy levels.
The Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio by Bastien Gonzalez
The Spa has eight treatment rooms including two suites for couples, but first I sit in the relaxation room, known here as a ‘spiritual cocoon’, where beds are swathed in smooth, tweed-like fabrics and enclosed within Urquiola’s trademark chainmail curtains to give privacy within an open space. My therapist discusses the treatment as I sip water to ensure my hydration levels are up. Then we move to a tranquil treatment room, where I lie on a massage table topped with soft fluffy towels that make me feel as if I’m floating on clouds, ready for the deep-tissue massage and detoxifying lymphatic drainage, a treatment based on the signature Bamboo Massage – one hour and 20 minutes of bliss.
My essential oils, developed by award-winning Aromatherapy Associates, are mixed together and I’m encouraged to breathe deeply from the blend chosen for me: lemon grass, cardamom and black pepper (to clear congestion), before the bowl is set on the floor a few feet below my head; the same oils are used for the massage. As the minutes pass, the heated, natural bamboo my therapist uses starts to roll away the kinks in my muscles. My limbs are so relaxed I feel as if I might levitate.
The winter damage to my skin is treated with a Linda Meredith Haute Couture Facial, which, lasting one hour and 15 minutes, feels delightfully decadent. A skin lamp traces problem areas of oil and dryness, which is followed by the application of Micro Glycolic serums to deep-cleanse and prepare the complexion. The head, neck and shoulder massage ensures I am completely relaxed for the facial’s oxygen treatment, which feels as if you are having your face vacuumed, although in a not unpleasant way, before you emerge with the skin of a baby.
The final touch is back in the ‘spiritual cocoon’. I sip lemon-grass tea and nibble on dried pineapple while my therapist gives me a personalised prescription for the products I need to keep myself tip-top, plus a couple of recommended body treatments for an extra boost.
When I emerge from the changing rooms I feel calm, cleansed and rejuvenated, almost as if I have had an entire body transplant. To celebrate, I order a late lunch of grilled sea bream with wok vegetables and a glass of local Xarel-lo white in the contemporary atrium of the hotel’s glamorous Blanc Brasserie. By the time I glide down the carpeted hallway back onto the street, I am ready to strut my stuff with the chic, cosmopolitan Catalans. Indeed, the term Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona doesn’t do it justice. It’s a two-week holiday condensed into a couple of hours.