YOU probably aren’t aware of it – but Scotland now has the only spa being run by the French cosmetic and perfume giant Guerlain.
The new spa, part of the £24million refurbishment of the Caledonian Hotel – now part of the Waldorf Astoria group – welcomed its first clients two weeks ago and is coming to life slowly in what is known as a “soft” launch.
The beauty editors haven’t even been in yet – but The Caledonian invited the consumer pages in to have a sneak preview – to try out one of the signature Guerlain facials and a special massage with a Scottish theme.
Hotel guests can access the spa and the health club from the hotel – but for outside clients the entrance is hidden in a corner of a carpark – at the corner of what used to be the station yard of this railway hotel.
But once inside, the Guerlain spa has a distinctly Parisian feel, inspired by the cosmetic giant’s original beauty rooms, opened in the Champs Elysees in 1939. There are antiqued mirrors on the wall and glass cases full of highly decorated perfume bottles. The centrepiece is a metal floral light fitting, with hundreds of hanging metal flowers.
By the entrance is also a row of mysterious metal upside down bowls which contain different sorts of fragrance.
Therapist Catriona MacLeod asks me if I want to feel relaxed or envigorated and whether I prefer heavy sultry perfumes or lighter floral ones. I sniff a couple and go for relaxed and floral – which will be the perfumes used as part of my massage.
After changing into an enormous fluffy gown, I’m led through to a sumptous relaxation room, a mini suite hung with thick silk metallic curtains where I recline on a modern chaise longue and sip coffee while my massage therapist Jennifer Fulton gets the room ready.
The treatment rooms are white and candle lit, with new age music playing. But there are touches of luxury here as well, with striped silver wallpaper, thick curtains over the entrance and a treatment table covered not in towels, but in something like a huge white fluffy duvet.
The massage starts with a fragranced foot bath and massage then its on to the table for a blissful hour-and-a-half of stroking rubbing and smoothing. Guerlain always planned to offer a massage known as Caledonian Chic – but the massage teachers who came from Paris to train the staff encouraged them to design a signature massage of their own – based on their favourite techniqes. The result was a massage sequence which takes its inspiration from Scottish history and culture.
“We all love doing the Caledonian Chic massage because we all helped put it together,” says Jennifer Fulton. “I could do them back-to-back I enjoy it so much.”
She tells me one of the movements is based on the Saltire flag – a criss crossing of the hands in which the masseur uses their forearms to give an all encompassing sweep.
“It feels like you’ve got hundreds of hands on you at once,” she laughs.
Then there is the tartan – a gentle criss-crossing movement. The volcanic mass of Castle Rock, which lies opposite the hotel entrance inspired its own sequence based around a volcano which builds up and then erupts along the spine. There is even Scottish rain – a gentle cooling movement of tiny strokes.
After all this I’m warm, tingling and feel like I might float. I manage to glide off to the relaxation room and lie down while the room is prepared for the facial.
Spa manager Michelle Hargie, who has worked in beauty and in hotels, tells me she hopes the spa will become the go-to place for luxury facials.
As well as using Guerlain fragrance and skincare products the treatments also incorporate signature facial massage techniques developed in Paris in the 1930s, including facial gymnastics – a pulsating massage designed to strengthen the face muscles.
Although the spa adjoins the hotel healthclub it is clear the emphais is on beauty.
The healthclub has not yet fully reopened but it is clear it has been designed as a quick stop for fitness rather than a place for lying around.
There is a pocket-sized pool with wonderful Castle views and two well-equipped fitness rooms – one of which will soon open as a 24-hour gym for hotel guests.
There is a marked absence of loungers – Hargie says the hotel spa is deliberately swerving away from the day-spa market, which has become afflicted by its popularity with hen parties. Spa clients will be able to use the healthclub but the idea is to run half-day packages rather than encourage people to stay all day.
“We are an urban spa – rather than a day spa,” says Hargie. “What I want is if somebody says, ‘I’m in Edinburgh. I need a really good facial’. then people will say you have to come here.”
Judging by the glossy brochure they are certainly aiming for the luxury market.
Among the packages on offer is a two-and-a-half hour anti-aging facial, a three-and-a-half hour pre-post natal treatment and a seven-and-a-half hour bridal pampering package.
There is also a menu of Caledonian Cures, designed for hotel guests who have time to take a series of treatments.
I’ve been booked in for the Complete Guerlain facial. And it certainly is complete – it includes a foot bath, foot massage, light steam, shoulder massage, face mask and cooling cleansing with a set of kabuki brushes.
At one point my hands are submerged in plastic gloves full of warm paraffin which sets and is squeezed off, leaving them miraculously soft. It’s not normally part of the Complete Facial, but Jennifer Fulton finishes her marathon treatment session with a demonstration of facial gymastics – a series of pulsating massage movements unique to Guerlain spas and said to exercise and tone the muscles of the face.
It’s all wonderfully relaxing – and my skin feels relaxed and thoroughly moisturised.
And thanks to the signature scent I picked out at the start of the treatment I’m able to waft out clouds of perfume for the rest of the day.
Thank you Guerlain.