Saturday, 11 May 2013

Spa Review: L'Escale Orientale, Paris

An 'escale' in French is essentially a stopover, or perhaps a stage in a journey (a French online trip planner requiring you to take regional express train A followed by metro lines 6 and 12 and then a short walk, for instance, would tell you that your journey has 4 'escales'). It's therefore both significant and appropriate, then, that Parisian spa L'Escale Orientale chooses to use this word in its name. Located in one of the busiest parts of the French capital, near what is perhaps the city's biggest shopping district as well as the second busiest railway station in Europe, it's housed within a small courtyard that truly provides an oasis of calm and quiet away from the chaotic streets.

Specialising in hammam - the water treatment popular in places like Morocco and Turkey - L'Escale Orientale ensures that your treatment takes place in comfort and style, as well as allowing you to benefit from the latest technology. Their hammam treatment areas are essentially full-body capsules that you lie in while essentially completely stark naked (although I'm sure that if you wanted to wear your own swimming costume instead of the paper thong that they offer you, they would oblige), and that faithfully replicate the traditional Islamic hammam experience. Fans allow hot dry air to circulate over your body before gentle steam is introduced. After this, water jets provide strong massage from above and below your body, as well as from the sides of the capsule. Before the 30-minute experience commences, the spa staff check that the temperature of the water is to your liking before switching the capsule on (although they only seem to speak French there, so be aware of this before booking - which, by the way, you can only do by telephone).

Wearing makeup is not to be recommended, and while of course you may tie up your hair, this is unlikely to stop it from getting wet. None of this, of course, stops the hammam from being a fully satisfying and unusual experience: after treatment from the water jets you feel completely invigorated, and the gently changing coloured lights in the room and soft décor adds to the relaxation factor.

Continuing in the Oriental hammam tradition is the full body exfoliation and massage. The exfoliation takes place in the same hammam pod, with the assistant using an exfoliation glove to slough away dead skin cells from your entire body. This has the desired effect of making you feel smooth and glowing before your massage. Prior to the massage, you are given a new paper thong, plus a paper bathrobe, to put on - and in typical French style, this leaves little to the imagination. You are then led to a room decorated in dark pink and brown, which is dimly lit and where relaxing music plays. A five-minute massage is given while you are wrapped in a towel to ensure that you are fully dry after the hammam and exfoliation routine, and then a 15-minute massage using warm oils ensues. Finally, excess oil is soaked up through another 5-minute massage with the towel (although those who are new to massages with oil should be warned that it can still be a good idea to wear older clothes, or clothes that you care about less, to wear afterwards). The spa staff are skilful in the art of massage and have an appropriately firm touch to see off knots or aches. However, they did not ask about any back conditions that could be affected by the massage, so come prepared to tell them about this in advance.

At the end of the massage, you may be invited to have a quiet cup of sweet green tea in the reception area, where plush banquettes abound for moments of further relaxation and contemplation. Having been given this trio of treatments as a Smartbox gift from my inlaws, I have no idea how much was paid for the treatment (especially as the particular box I was given is no longer available), but can estimate from the Smartbox website that the price was between €35 and €75. I suspect, however, that according to the list of treatments on the L'Escale Orientale website, what I had was closest to their Essaouira Escale Classique, which consists of a hammam, exfoliation, and a 30-minute massage with perfumed massage oil and comes to €95 (or €175 for a pair of you, which makes €88 each). So it could be suggested that you get a better deal through the Smartbox even with that two-person discount. However, my excellent experience and the not-too-bank-breaking price means that I would definitely consider returning and perhaps even gifting the experience to others. After all, these precious moments of physical and mental calm are perhaps indeed priceless.

94 rue St-Lazare, 75009 Paris
00 33 1 48 78 20 69 

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