New dad Mike MacEacheran gets an MOT at Glasgow’s stylishly tweedy Spa at Blythswood Square.
A Tunnock’s Teacake’s throw from the doorways and decorative lines of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, the Blythswood Square Hotel certainly keeps good company.
The Georgian townhouse, one of the most sought-after addresses in the city, was once home to the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. Here, men with bristling, empire-era moustaches started the fabled Monte Carlo. Today coupés and convertibles are parked out the front, making the most of that rare Glasgow phenomenon -- a sunny day.
Like many urban hotels in Scotland, there’s a splash of Highland whimsy inside -- prints of models in tweed suits, romantic heather glens and sport cars – but for the most part the style is pure 1930s glamour. The ground-level restaurant, with Manhattan booths and chrome bar, could only have been thought up by a steak and whisky connoisseur, while the basement-level spa’s main entrance is secreted around a street corner, as if posing as a members-only speakeasy.
To the Batcave…
From stark Glasgow street to dimly-lit sanctuary, the journey into the spa begins at a dark wood reception, Ishga boutique and café, all cosseted behind a Highland veil of clinking, string-tied pebbles. The lighting is thistle purple and tartan red, while the execution and welcome is note perfect. The message is this: the daily grind of Glasgow may be outside, but you’re being transported farther north, away from the stresses of urban life.
Past the lounge, a cocoon of muscular Harris Tweed chairs spotlit under Moroccan lamps, the corridor slinks by the treatment rooms to a pre- and post-relaxation bunker. One floor down, beside the changing rooms, you’ll find two relaxation hydro pools and five heated thermal rooms, including a suite for crystal hydrotherapy.
This is where the spa’s Batcave credentials really spring to life. Choose from a laconium (for dry sweating), a glass-fronted aromatherapy saunarium (for a calorie-light sauna), or tepidarium (for cooking like an over-baked Roman Emperor). Flit between moods and temperatures at the Finnish wooden sauna, ice fountain and experience showers.
Having recently become a first-time father - a seismic lifestyle change characterised by shadowy pillows beneath my eyes, crow’s feet temples and a general “what day is it?” malaise - my Ishga Men’s Stress Reliever Massage (£87) and Ishga Facial (£87) really couldn’t have come at a better time. Kim, my pixyish therapist, agreed. While new mothers should rightly take all the glory, I, too, deserved a little polish.
With hands as soft as butter, Kim began with a seaweed-rich Isgha Hebridean Sea Salt and Oil Scrub, massaging my toes in a soapy foot-bath. Isgha sustainably harvests its seaweed from the Hebrides, and it felt as fresh and raw as if the therapist had transported me onto a Harris beach.
Next, I unrobed and flopped onto the massage table. The soundtrack, a lilting mix of haunting piano, Gaelic melodies and folk arpeggios, left me in no doubt: this was Scotland.
Kim began working my lower back and legs, using Ishga Invigorating Body Oil. At first, she used subtle, circular motions, moving onto a deeper rhythm, her hands moving like ripples, persuading my less-than-supple midriff and arms to do exactly as they were told. Usually, the scent of juniper and berry would make me think of a post-massage gin at the upstairs bar. Instead, I began to drift off –- an aging Peter Pan with one eye on the second star to the right.
The gears shifted as Kim moved onto my facial, using an Ishga Men’s Exfoliating Face Wash to leave my face primped and polished like a well-buffed sports car. Her fingers flowed over my skin, gently moisturising and toning my stubbly cheeks and chin with Ishga Men’s Beard and Shave Oil.
The final luxury was a slather of cooling, seaweed-enriched Ishga Men’s Marine Cream, rubbed gingerly into my forehead and left to tingle across the arch of my nose. More unbuttoned than I’d been in months, I felt as though time had paused, almost at a standstill. The treatment was a mixture of severe bliss, punctuated by moments of sheer escapism.
At the end of my near-two hours of pampering, Kim giggled as I told her the spa fitted like an Armani suit. I walked in feeling like Alex Salmond, and would leave like Gerard Butler -- just without the six pack. Saying my goodbyes, I dressed, smiled, and strutted out into the sunshine and back into fatherhood.
What to eat
The choices are two-fold: to eat finger food and gastropub fare in the cafe lounge next to the spa, or treat it like a business expense and reserve a table in the upstairs restaurant for a ribeye steak and bottle of red. It’s up to you to decide which is the wiser choice.
I’ll take the highlights…
The Isgha products, which kept their fresh-from-the beach, seashore smell right through the next morning.
The exceptionally-friendly and chatty staff, from the therapist and receptionist, to the tartan-trews wearing bellhop on the hotel’s front steps.
You take the low
The claustrophobic pre-treatment room, which when busy felt more like a holding cell.
Is this spa man enough?
Some spas – whether justifiably or not – are specifically tailored for female guests. The Spa at Blythswood isn’t one of those. With a modern emphasis on a 360-degree approach to wellness, you’ll find an equal number of ruddy-faced Glaswegian men padding around in white bath-gowns as you will the fairer sex.