When staying in a top-class hotel for a weekend in one of Europe's most vibrant capitals, what could complete the experience more than a treatment in the hotel spa? Our stay at the Sofitel Chain Bridge Hotel in Budapest (soon to be reviewed on sister blog The Flying Ferret) provided luxury at virtually all levels thanks to the uber-comfortable beds, friendly staff, vast breakfast options, and health and wellbeing facilities. The hotel provides free access to a serene swimming pool and well-equipped gym to all guests, as well as the use of two sauna cubicles (warning: watch out for naked Germans). This is further complemented by the services for which you can pay, which comprise massages, facials and more.
I was lucky enough to be able to receive a treatment on the day of arrival, despite telephoning for the appointment just a few hours before the available slot. Staff speak good English and specifically ask you to arrive ten minutes before the appointed time - not just to ensure efficiency but also to allow you to enjoy tea with honey and lemon (which is brought to you by spa staff on an elegant wicker tray) in the relaxing reception area prior to your treatment. This is a simple yet luxurious touch that costs little; all spas should be offering this.
The theme of elegance and politesse was reinforced by the beauty therapist introducing herself by name and offering a handshake before leading me through to the manicure and pedicure area, which is just off the pool area, next to the gymnasium. An array of nail colours and finishes are available, and you are given plenty of time to choose (in my case, while my feet had time to soak in a warm foot bath). This diversity continues in the choice of treatments itself, which caters for all budgets (my pedicure was a modest €34, but there were plenty of even cheaper as well as more expensive options) and needs (you could have a specifically medicalised pedicure, for example, if required). Unusually, despite the fact that several high-profile brands are used by the spa (namely Sothys and OPI), the sale of these products is not pushed at all, leading to an ultimately no-pressure approach, which is refreshing compared to many other spas, who often seem to make the sale of these products their main goal.
Unfortunately, it appears that no Sothys products were used during my treatment, as when asked about the exfoliants, creams and so on that were being used on my feet, I was only told that they were not by Sothys. The jars and bottles were also kept under a cloth, which can lead you to believe that the products used are merely cheap concoctions. As well as brand name-dropping to sell products, in a way spas do need to mention the names of the products being used and show the customer the packaging: rather like tasting a fine wine, we need to be sure that we are getting a high-quality, genuine article (who wants to order a Château Lafite only to find that it was just cheap plonk knocked up in a farmer's shed?).
However, this was slightly made up for by the fact that the beauty therapist gave me many other useful tips to treat the recurrently hard skin on my feet: as well as recommending steroid creams (which can normally be prescribed by a doctor), she also talked about good old-fashioned home cures, such as Epsom salts. Equally, she was diligent in making my feet look less lizard-like and more baby-soft, taking plenty of time and care. While more drying time for the varnish would have been better (using an air dryer, for example), the rest of the process was just as meticulous: after soaking my feet, they were dried, scraped, exfoliated and moisturised before nails were cut and filed, cuticles were trimmed, and coats of polish applied.
My only other bugbear was with the atmosphere of the treatment room: dim lighting is surely customary, and yet I had standard wattage throughout my pedicure. Soothing background music is also always better than silence. However, these are small criticisms that can be easily rectified, and in the end I was happy not only with the final result but also with the time and care taken for the price paid (€34 is not much for a pedicure in a five-star hotel, given that this is a standard high-street price across much of Europe). The Sofitel brand's reputation was therefore safely upheld, and I would be more than happy to use the chain's facilities again. Now to maintain my feet's new-found baby-softness before my next chance to have a pedicure in December...
Sofitel Chain Bridge, 1051 Budapest, Széchenyi tér 2, Hungary