A calming sanctuary where Eastern traditions instil a sense of place, The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei is a retreat from the city, with luxurious treatments that draw on the natural elements of Taiwan’s island nation
Aficionados of Mandarin Oriental Spas will be familiar with the Group's carefully honed concept: a wellness-driven approach that balances the best of the East and West. Ancient techniques and traditions of age-old therapies are derived from the former, coupled with the compassion and intuition of Asian therapists, while the scientific research, efficacy and corrective results are brought to bear from the latter. The combination is award-winning and distinctive, creating a delightful spa experience that engages each of the five senses while instilling a sense of physical and mental wellbeing.
This harmony between the two worlds is ideally suited to one of Mandarin Oriental's newest Asian hotels, Mandarin Oriental, Taipei. The property embraces the multifaceted personality of the vibrant metropolis that it calls home with a sumptuous design and a dizzying array of dining venues and leisure pursuits. It comes as no surprise that the destination shone in Condé Nast Traveler's 2015 Hot List. Fittingly, its sybaritic Spa is a genuine highlight, occupying two floors at levels five and six to form the largest, most comprehensive wellness retreat in the city.
Mandarin Oriental, Taipei's swimming pool
As a regular visitor of world-class spas, my first impression of the 3,500-square-metre sanctuary does not disappoint. With a contemporary aesthetic, refined decor and residential feel, the reception instantly sets the right tone, reducing my stress levels by a notch or two as I take in the welcoming smiles of the staff and the relaxing instrumental of Oriental Wisdom (Mandarin Oriental's curated collection of spa music), while absorbing the gently fragranced air. Five signature aroma blends, formulated from natural ingredients to reflect the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water, are infused throughout the space.
As I briefly wait for my therapist, I sip a refreshing cup of oolong tea. I feel pleased that four of my five senses have been stimulated upon arrival and I'm looking forward to the caring touch to come.
It is worth allowing time ahead of a booked appointment to luxuriate in the heat and water experiences, which help to soften and warm your body in preparation for a therapy and allow you to unwind. At The Spa, the facilities comprise experience showers, a crystal steam room, dry sauna, ice fountain and ergonomic relaxation loungers. Surrounded by luxurious white and grey veined marble, the vitality pool, heated to temperatures of up to 35°C, is an absolute must if you're looking to revive weary legs and ease joint and muscle pain, undoing the shoulder and back tension that is so often caused by hours spent in front of a computer screen.
The Spa also features a tranquil Tea Lounge, resplendent in hues of green and gold, where visitors can enjoy a selection of natural and organic teas, juices and light snacks. As for the 12 stylish treatment rooms, they include four luxury Couple's Suites and two VIP Double Suites.
The precious Taiwanese sea salt is renowned for its exfoliating and purifying benefits
Privacy and space are important features of Mandarin Oriental Spas and my consultation takes place in my own suite, where I change and discuss my wellbeing with my therapist. Consultations provide a useful background prior to a therapy, allowing it to be adapted to any individual concerns about your skin, body and general health.
Conveyed with clarity, The Spa's menu offers signature therapies, body massages, scrubs, wraps and beauty treatments. As a first-time visitor to Taiwan, however, I'm seeking a therapy that will speak of this island nation and is unique to this destination. I'm therefore attracted to the choice of innovative and restorative 'journeys'.
Of the journeys that tap into Asian culture, I'm especially drawn to Prospering Lotus. It references Buddhist and Hindu philosophies to focus on the three most significant levels of energy in the body: Jing essence, Chi vitality and Shen spirit. But I choose a unique therapy named Formosa, which lasts more than two and a half hours. The original name for Taiwan, Formosa means 'beautiful island', and the treatment's ingredients include indigenous pearl powder, apparently favoured by queens and princesses in ancient times for its anti-ageing and nourishing properties, and Tainan Qigu flower of salt. I'm told that this precious southern Taiwanese sea salt is extracted only at sunset, in small amounts, and is renowned for its exfoliating and purifying benefits.
After a cleansing foot ritual, I'm invited to make myself comfortable on a generously proportioned treatment bed, with adjustments made to my position, the lighting and temperature. The aforementioned pearl powder and flower of salt form the basis of a polish that is liberally applied to exfoliate my body. Next comes a layering mask of cooling white volcanic mud with aloe vera to hydrate and remineralise my skin. It leaves me feeling silken and smooth – and ready to drift off.
A VIP Double Suite, which comes with a private vitality pool, steam showers and a lounge area
For the next hour, I have an incredible full body massage with warm essential oils. It follows a harmonious rhythm, and I admit I have trouble staying awake. The expert fusion of butterfly massage techniques releases knots and stiffness from every inch of my body, while my therapist instinctively concentrates on my 'problem' shoulders.
I come to as the experience draws to a close with another Taiwanese therapy – a gentle scalp and face scraping using Hualien jade. The legendary dark jade is soothingly rubbed along my scalp to improve circulation and enhance my peaceful state of mind. So by the time I am sipping tea again at the end of my treatment, my natural equilibrium is restored. And as I step out of the Tea Lounge, armed with some simple lifestyle tips from my therapist, I'm feeling rejuvenated and better informed.
Although I am tempted to try one of the classes in the Yoga Studio, I finish my visit with a dip in the hotel's 20-metre-long swimming pool. It is rare to find a year-round outdoor pool in Taiwan's capital of this size and of such a secluded nature. But it is all part of the serene and wonderful urban escape that is The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei.