Saturday October 6, 2012
An oasis of bliss
Review by REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
For head to toe pampering, head to the newly opened, award-winning Espa at Singapore’s Resort World Sentosa.
SPAS are a dime a dozen these days but authentic hammams?
Resorts World Sentosa – Singapore’s integrated resort that is home to the Universal Studios theme park, Maritime Experiential Museum and six hotels – has scored a first with the opening of Espa in July, complete with a Turkish bathhouse experience as one aspect of its treatments.
Founded in 1993 by Susan Harmsworth and available in 55 countries, Espa’s holistic approach to spa treatments has won it many accolades and awards. It offers a top to toe experience comprising a comprehensive menu of body treatments, facials, massages, a nail studio, a gym and a meditation room.
At 10,000sqm in size and with 24 treatment rooms and a range of treatments, the luxury spa at Resorts World is one of the biggest in the region and is the brand’s flagship outlet in Asia.
Space has been cleverly utilised to house the spa. Attention is paid to detail and the spa grounds are dotted with spacious pre- and post-treatment relaxation areas where guests can sit to contemplate and meditate. These include the sleep zone and a social relaxation lounge with views of the relaxation pool, vitality pools, onsen-inspired pools (Japanese hot springs, with the water temperature maintained at 40°C) and pavilions set in tropical gardens.
“We created an oasis within a bustling and lively island environment,” says Laura Vallati, general manager at Espa at Resorts World, during a recent media visit. “Our focus is ‘bringing the outdoors in’ through landscaped outdoor journeys and views of lush, tropical forestry, combined with beautifully designed private and social spaces inside the spa.”
The latest trend in Singapore is to hold bachelorette and small-group parties in spas and Espa is fast becoming a popular venue for these events. Its crystal steam room, for instance, is big enough to hold a party. Chocolate and gold mosaics shimmer in here. Amethyst crystals have also been placed, as they are believed to exude balancing energies.
The hammam offers the age-old Turkish ritual of cleansing and purification in traditional heated bathhouses. All the black soap and oil used in the treatment, and the marbled flooring, are imported from Turkey.
“We wanted to recreate the hammams from the time of the Ottoman Empire. The only thing we don’t have is a big man to scrub you down! Instead, we have gracious females who provide a nurturing, loving ritual.
“Hammams cleanse, exfoliate and detox your skin so I would encourage clients to experience it at least a once a month,” says Vallati.
Guests are advised to arrive an hour before treatments to calm their minds, and stay an hour afterwards to collect their senses to obtain a better therapeutic effect.
Our media group was treated to a hammam indulgence session beginning withthe pre-hammam welcome lounge where guests, according to Vallati, can “sit and chat, like they did in ancient Roman baths.”
The hammam comprises a large, airy chamber with a domed ceiling, a full-sized scrub plinth, oversized rain showers and a steam room with ergonomically designed benches.
Therapist Janice Lim greets me and takes note of my concerns. My only request: please be gentle because I hate scrubs! Due to my sensitive skin, scrubs tend to leave me with bruises and even torn skin sometimes.
Although some masochistic clients like to be scrubbed with force, Lim assures me she will be tender, though her eyes tell me that I won’t get the authentic hammam experience if she were to just skim the surface. Espa products are also mostly natural and hypoallergenic, she adds.
With that, I’m led to the chamber. Lim starts by washing my hair and giving me a scalp treatment before asking me to lie facedown on the plinth. She applies black olive soap with eucalyptus and, using a Kese mitt, begins to scrub gently.
“Is the pressure ok or do you want me to back off a little?” asks Lim.
It’s just nice, I respond thankfully.
Once the scrub is over, she washes me down with buckets of warm poured ever so gently, from head to toe. A fellow journalist beside me is splashed rather harshly by her therapist, though. (Guests can opt to have private hammam sessions if modesty is an issue.)
Next up is the foam massage using argan soap oil. Initially, I’m tickled as the foam trickles all over but when Lim starts the massage, I calm down. She proceeds to the scalp massage – and that feels very good. Once the foam is washed off, she applies the nourishing marine mud mask all over my body and sends me off to the steam room for 10 minutes.
With a cool towel covering my eyes and a comfy bench beneath me, I nod off and have visions of flying to another planet.... All that scrubbing must have left me a little drained because the 10-minute steam seems like 30 seconds when Lim comes to get me.
Again, she rinses me off, getting the mud off from every nook and cranny of my body. I’m in bliss and think of Cleopatra and her milk baths ... darn, I was born in the wrong era!
While this is the ultimate pampering, the wastage of water is a cause of concern. But Valatti later points out that the shower is regulated to save water.
I emerge squeaky clean and smooth just in time for masseuse Valerie Lim to escort me to my massage session. Not only does she have strong hands, she is well-versed in anatomy and is able to identify tension spots immediately. She concentrates on the area around my scapula, using her palms and elbows, and I felt the soreness melting away slowly.
Vallati explains, “Our therapists are selected based on their experience and they’ve all been in the field between seven and 20 years. They also undergo a 10-week intensive training course before starting work. So, really, we have the best players in the industry! Why would you want go anywhere else?”
I am then ushered into the sleep zone overlooking the gardens and am quite happy to drift off to sleep. If you’d rather not sleep, though, you have a choice of sitting by the reflection pool to gather your thoughts before you head out to the rat race again.
To cap our experience, we are led to high tea at The Tangerine Spa Café. Food here is cooked using the slow method with low temperatures to preserve the vitamins in the mostly organic ingredients.
Joining us is Harmsworth, creator and chief executive officer of Espa, who has been in the business for over 40 years. She has been instrumental in defining the concept of the modern spa and the trend for holistic treatments and natural products.
“The reason I created Espa was because I couldn’t find the type of treatments I could see people needed. The most important element is the therapist. Those days, Asians didn’t mind having massages under the trees or by the roadside. It was ok because the girls were gracious but now, standards have gone up and expectations are higher, just like anywhere else. People are well-travelled and they know what they want,” she says.
The “E” in Espa stands for “education” and the company is well known as a leader in this field, training spa teams to the very highest standards.
Harmsworth adds, “The therapists must understand contraindications. Before, they had gracious hands, etc, but didn’t understand the science of the body so we had to teach them health issues. We constantly try to elevate their knowledge level.”
Harmsworth was in talks for seven years with Resorts World and had to make a pitch to the Singapore Government before the spa finally materialised.
“We had to choose a site that was green and close to water because there are already city centre spas. To cater to the culture, we have separate sex rooms so a woman can be there and not see a man. There are also high-profile celebrities who walk in,” she reveals.
While she admits that the hammam has been an expensive installation, she says that, “There’s a sophisticated twist to it and Asians love it. Look at you ... you’re glowing after emerging from it!”