Janet Street Porter’s response to the opening of the glamorous Grace Belgravia – a health, wellbeing and lifestyle club exclusively for women – was “where’s the bar?”.
In my day, Private Members Clubs were all about hobnobbing with the rich and famous after hours, ordering posh snacks and overpriced drinks and doing a bit of blurry celeb spotting, then discovering your eye-watering bar tab in your coat pocket the next morning. Before that they were gentlemen only retreats, all high backed armchairs and tumblers of whiskey.
These days, exclusive enclaves for the hoi polloi are embracing the trend for wellness and health. Now you can sauna with the rich and famous, celeb spotting through the mist of aromatherapy infused steam instead of booze.
In a recent survey by Mintel, 30 per cent of stressed out workers said they use alcohol to relax, while 29 per cent said they use exercise as an outlet. The good news is that exercise is far more popular than alcohol among younger workers. Like a lot of my fellow debauchers, I care more about my health and lifestyle these days and would prefer to make amends for my early years in style. But which VIP wellness facility to join… Hmm.
Join me as we go through the keyhole of our favourite exclusive members spas.
London’s only health, wellbeing and lifestyle members club exclusively for women occupies 11,500 square foot of elegant and beautifully designed space in the heart of Belgravia, with a restaurant (the website says there is a bar, albeit illustrated with green smoothies), gym, wellbeing centre and spa. The Acqua Calda Spa has a light-flooded café offering nutritionally designed meals, a hammam, herbal sauna and Vichy shower. There’s a sumptuous relaxation space lined with silver birch trees, so you can dream you are in an enchanted forest rather than the city, while the changing rooms are adorned with antique mirrors and driftwood lockers. Facials and body treatments use Natura Bisse and QMS Medicosmetics. Membership ranges from £1,370 to £4,500 per anum plus joining fee. You don’t have to be a member to book appointments in their wellbeing clinic. www.gracebelgravia.com
Babington and Shoreditch House
Soho House in London was founded in 1995 as a home away from home for creatives and literary legends. One of my early haunts, the focus remains on hedonism rather than health, but the group who own Soho House also opened Shoreditch House and Babington House in Somerset, both of which have lovely Cowshed Spas. My memories of Shoreditch House do involve the stunning rooftop swimming pool (mainly avoiding falling into it after one too many mojitos), but I have never been to Babington, a rustic rural retreat for media sorts, where I have a sense I would feel utterly at home.
The Spa is behind the louche country house, and is separated into Cowshed Active and Cowshed Relax. Enjoy mud soaks, massages and facials surrounded by rustic chic, or splash out in the swimming pool, the outdoor pool, steam, sauna and aroma rooms. There’s a fitness studio, gym, a cricket pitch, tennis courts, a lake and walled garden, as well as a library, cinema and yes, a bar. Local House membership is £950 (£600 for under 27s, £200 for children) and Every House £1400 (£800 under 27, £500 children), which means you can use the Soho House bars and spas all over the world, from New York to Berlin. www.babingtonhouse.co.uk
The South Kensington Club
The SKC is set in Francis Bacon’s former home near South Ken tube. I was lucky enough to visit this exclusive townhouse for the superrich when invited to use their rather adventurous and highly unusual spa. There’s a Russian Banya (a hot steam-sauna where you can, if you wish, be whipped with birch leaves by a semi-naked Russian), a delightful hammam, a saltwater watsu pool and a lovely gym, while the changing rooms are stocked with fabulous [comfort zone] products. There’s an extensive treatment menu that ranges from normal massages and facials to more unusual healing sessions and specialist therapies. But the beating heart of the SKC is the Voyagers Club, led by Christine Franco, the first woman to reach the South Pole. There’s also a lifestyle concierge and a tea sommelier. Membership is £3,900 per year with a £1,000 joining fee. www.southkensingtonclub.com
The Club and Akasha Spa at Café Royal
The two separate memberships in the same building, 68 Regents Street, would just about cover all my needs – I can indulge my social soul in the first floor Original Diner’s Club, hobnobbing with the likes of Stephen Fry, Amelia Fox and Daisy Lowe. Then pop down for some spiritual wellbeing at the lovely Akasha Spa in the basement (read my recent review here). There’s an 18 metre lap pool, a watsu pool for tailored treatments and guided meditation, a deep Jacuzzi, hammam, sauna, gym, café, six treatment rooms, and pre- and post treatment relaxation rooms. Joining fee is £2,000 and annual membership costs £4,500. www.hotelcaferoyal.com
Espa Life at Corinthia
The ultimate exclusive inner city health club and spa, I've always thought ESPA Life at the Corinthia has a James Bond feel about it. When I called to enquire about membership, a Miss Moneypenny type politely informed me that she didn't give prices over the phone, but would be happy to set up a meeting where we could discuss the details (something in her tone suggested if I had to enquire, I probably couldn't afford it). One of my colleagues has been and describes a scene of plush luxurience: white marble foors and white leather sofas, beautiful sculptures and dramatic lighting. It feels, she says, very exclusive. There are two types of membership, one 'Body' and the other 'Spirit', both offering exclusive deals and lifestyle journeys. A team of naturopaths, acupuncurists, Chinese Medicine practitioners, personal trainers, and spa professionals will tailor your Lifestyle Programme for you. There's also a Daniel Galvin Movie Make-over Studio. www.espalifeatcorinthia.com