The Spa Spy blog

Licence to Chill

As a Spa Spy, I should feel quite at home in Pimlico's Dolphin Square. Its salubrious past is littered with agents from both sides of the Iron Curtain, as well as Maxwell Knight, the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s M. The Art Deco residences that form one end of the square have also housed various Prime Ministers, government officials, and Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, infamous for their involvement in the Profumo Affair.

Today I am undercover, posing as a local lady-who-spas, investigating a newly launched Lava Shell treatment at The Spa in Dolphin Square.

My mission leads me through an arched gateway leading to the gardens that supply the spa with fresh herbs for its treatment oils. There’s a modern glass building revealing the tempting clear, blue pool of the fitness centre. A large door leads down into a secret subterranean world of Moorish decadence.

I am booked in under a code name for a Warmth of the Sands Relax Lava Shells treatment (45 mins £55, 85 mins £90). After all the beatings I’ve taken lately for the job (being whipped with bamboo sticks, tree branches and tied up in Thai knots), I feel I deserve something indulgent.

I instantly feel at home in this spa. The Moroccan theme is done with stylish charm. It’s dark and atmospheric, with flickering candles and perforated lamps scattering golden flecks of light, then suddenly there’s this lovely little light courtyard with sunlight pouring onto mosaic chairs and tables, transporting me to the Riads of Marrakech. I feel I should be wearing diaphanous veils and channelling Mata Hari.

I change into a brown robe and flip-flops, then wait in the exotic deep relaxation room, where my therapist Grace comes to fetch me. After going over my consultation form, Grace explains the treatment. Traditional lava shells are large, pink tiger clam shells recycled from the Philippines, filed until smooth and sealed together. The ones we are using today by Shared Beauty Secrets are fashioned from porcelain. How decadent! A sachet rather like a tea bag containing minerals is placed inside the shell, then an activator (saline solution) is added which generates the intense heat. For the Warmth of the Sands Rescue treatment, there are cooling Glacial Shells to reduce inflammation.

I lie face up on the extremely comfortable massage bed, which Grace adjusts until I am warm and comfortable. She begins by vigorously cleaning my feet and then rubs La Sultane de Saba Orange Blossom Oil on each of my arms. She places a lava shell in my hands, so I can feel the warmth ooze across my palms and wrists. She then takes the shells and works one arm at a time.

The lava shells are used more fluently and creatively than in most of the hot stone treatments I’ve had, and the heat is retained for up to an hour, so there’s no interruption to the flow of the treatment. Grace holds a hot shell in each palm and makes long sweeping strokes, followed by smaller, more focused circling. The shells feel deliciously smooth and warm on my oiled skin. She turns the shells and uses the edges to work on my knots. One spot makes me flinch and Grace apologises and lightens the pressure. She presses the shells into the curve of my neck and shoulders and the warmth spills over my tension.

Covering the top half of my body, she moves to my legs, one at a time, beginning my pressing a hot shell into my instep which feels wonderfully comforting. Moving up my leg, she works the shells over my ankles and makes small circular movements around my calves. Sometimes she uses two shells to make opposite circling movements. It is blissful and I start to drift off.

Time to move onto my front, and she does the same with the backs of my legs before moving onto my back, which by now I am really looking forward to. Saving the best until last: and I am not disappointed. Grace uses two shells and pulls them along my spine, working on the knots around my shoulder blades before rewarding them with large, deep flowing sweeps that send me off into a state of orange blossom scented bliss.

At the end, Grace invites me to turn around and raises the bed so that I am comfortable. She then leaves me to re-robe, brings me a water and takes me to whichever relaxation area I fancy (there are three: the café/courtyard, thermal beds and the deep relax room). By now I’m addicted to the warmth and want to prolong it, so I choose to recline on one of the heated stone loungers near the thermal suite, which houses the traditional rasul, hammam and salt infused steam room. After a moment draped on my slab listing to the swirling music, I feel as though I am melting on a warm beach, waiting for James Bond to emerge from the water and whisk me off for a rasul...

Moments later, I am brought a silver tray of herbal tea and a bowl of fleshy Medjool dates. Now I really do feel like a Moroccan Queen. Mission to chill accomplished.