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Posts from the ‘Spas’ Category

Inside the Capella hotel on Sentosa Island, Singapore

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The Capella Singapore, Sentosa

Of all the islands in all the world they had to meet on mine. Or at least my ex island – until a few months ago I was a resident of Sentosa, the islet off Singapore, connected to the “mainland” by road bridge. I was in proud possession of the coveted card that allowed me to pass fuss free through the toll booths that mark Sentosa’s entrance.

When we first moved to Singapore we thought fellow expats were misguided to live on manufactured sounding Sentosa. If Singapore itself has a touch of The Truman Show about it then Sentosa seemed to represent that writ large. But we quickly came to realise that the relentlessly humid climate of The Lion City made a coastal apartment with sea vistas and a swimming pool an attractive proposition.

Yes it was “living in the bubble” but we enjoyed our breezy evening walks around the island, sundowners on the balcony and dinner any night of the week overlooking the marina. It was like being on holiday all year round.

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Capella hotel with Sentosa golf courses and Singapore skyline

While your first glimpse of Sentosa as you cross the bridge is the fairytale towers of Shrek’s castle within Universal Studios, and the island’s toll booth gateway announces that you are entering The State of Fun in giant glittering letters, that’s not the whole story. Taxi drivers would often delight in telling me that Sentosa meant Island of Death (and it certainly has a bloody past including pirates and Japanese soldiers). But they would equally be likely to tell me how when they were children the area was a jungle where monkeys abounded. The monkeys are a rarity now but peacocks roam free – and have right of way when they veer into the road.

Locals also like to tell you “It’s so far away, lah!” (It’s fifteen minutes door to door in a taxi to the Central Business District) but most take their kids to Universal Studios and the impressive SEA Aquarium as well as the man made beaches. Further east, the casino and the vast hotels feeding off it are aimed at the mainland Chinese and visiting South East Asians (Singaporeans have to pay for entry in a bid to discourage gambling). It’s also the venue for Joel Robuchon’s two restaurants – one of which has three Michelin stars (although don’t get too excited about that in Singapore. In fact Robuchon has announced the close of his restaurants at the end of this month). The west side of the island is more residential encompassing two golf courses and Sentosa Cove, home to some of Singapore’s most exclusive addresses, backing on to waterways, as well as a marina and yacht club.

 

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The Capella hotel sits in splendid isolation on the island on a slight elevation and in its own leafy grounds. The remarkable colonial era entrance, all white columns and terracotta tiles, was part of a British army base in the 1880s and now houses the reception and lobby as well as a library.  These original heritage buildings segue into a stunning, Norman Foster designed, resort. The curvaceous modern building leads down to tiered terraces culminating in the infinity pool, arguably one of the most scenic in the world. Bob’s Bar is a popular spot for al fresco drinking overlooking the pool and the South China Sea beyond. The hotel’s Auriga spa is the best in Singapore in my experience. As well as the excellent treatments there are heat and water rooms to enjoy before hand.

Capella treatment room

Treatment room at the Auriga Spa, Capella

We’ve spent a wedding anniversary staycation (a popular pastime in Singapore) in one of the garden bungalows complete with private terrace and plunge pool. For a sea view you’ll need to book a regular room or suite in the main hotel building but for even more lavish seclusion there are several three bedroomed “contemporary manors” and  two presidential suites – both occupy standalone colonial villas and all the manors have private swimming pools.

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Contemporary Manor, Capella Singapore

Peacocks roam free at the Capella resort too. Any world leader with cavalcades be warned: they are particularly attracted to black cars and have been known to attack their reflections in them.

The Best Mani Pedi in Singapore

In Singapore, with the year round hot and humid weather, feet and hands are on show a good deal of the time. It stands to reason then that manicures and pedicures have become essential maintenance for men as well as women. But not all mani pedis are created equal. Luckily the ultimate hands and feet grooming treatment is available here – at the St Regis hotel.

Bastien Gonzalez pedicure

Bastion Gonzalez’s tricks of the pedicure trade

The concept: Bastien Gonzalez tends to the talons of supermodels and celebrities (though he’s far too discreet to name names) so as you’d expect his isn’t any old run of the mill mani pedi. Following a skiing accident Gonzalez trained as a podiatrist and studied how the feet effect the entire body, earning him the moniker of foot virtuoso. He’s more concerned with the health of your feet and nails than applying the latest limited edition colour.

Where to find him: Originally flitting between Paris, London and New York to see clients, he now has studios in exclusive locations around the world (mainly five star hotels in financial cities and luxury resorts) where handpicked podiatrists personally trained by him put the Bastien Gonzalez principles into practice. In Singapore, that’s Steve Desobeau at the St Regis hotel’s Remede Spa.

Why the treatment’s different: For a start the tools used look more suitable for the dentists and the doctors than a beauty salon – with good reason: they are actual dentist drills and surgeon’s scalpels chosen by Gonzalez. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t hurt a bit. “A mani pedi should be completely painless,” says Steve Desobeau. “The nail is dead and the skin we remove is dead so you shouldn’t feel anything.”

And the treatment is dry – no soaking hands or feet in water beforehand. That way the podiatrist is in total control and never removes too much. Nails are smoothed and cleaned and dead skin around the fingernails removed with a diamond dust drill while hard skin on the feet is nixed with a scalpel. Cuticles are never removed, a la most beauty salons, as they are essential to the health of the nail.

To paint or not to paint: Bastien’s method is not to use polish (though he will apply laqueur if asked). Instead he buffs and shines the nails with a chamoix leather and a crushed pearl cream. The result is shiny nails that gleam with health.

“I don’t tell people not to wear nail polish but I tell them to see it like make up,” says Desobeau. “You wouldn’t wear make up for a month so don’t keep your nail polish on that long.” He advocates taking polish off after three days and allowing a 24 hours breather before re applying.

The experience: From looking at my feet Desobeau, a former professional footballer who like his mentor trained as a podiatrist after a sports injury, deduced that on my left foot I walk more on the back than the front. He ventured that I might experience pain in my knee as a result (I do). He then gave me a strong massage on the soles of the feet and calves to help address this (the manicure includes a firm hand and arm massage too)using a  hydrating but light cream. The treatment is finished off with a liberal dousing of talcum powder – “invisible socks” says Desobeau, and essential for the Singapore climate.

The verdict: I leave with neat, natural looking nails and super soft soles but most unexpectedly, feel like I’m walking on air.

Upkeep: Don’t assume you’ll need to go back every week or even month. “A good pedicure should last three months, a manicure one month,” says Desobeau. But every treatment is different depending on each person and how their feet and nails respond.

The last word: No feet are too gnarly for the Bastien Gonzalez approach. In fact, Desobeau says he finds the worst cases the most interesting. “I like to take feet that no one would want to touch and turn them into feet someone would like to kiss.” Vote with your feet and go see him.

[UPDATE Steve Desobeau is now at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore, Bastien Gonzalez’s studio continues to open at the St Regis.]

The details: Pedi:Mani: Cure Studio by Bastien Gonzalez:

Spa Remede, St Regis, Singapore. Tel: 65 6506 6896

www.stregissingapore.com/bastiengonzalez

 

A Tantalising Time at the Capella

The Capella hotel, Singapore

Before I left London I had become mildly obsessed with fake tan. A new generation of self tanning treatments that promised non-orangey, non-streaky results coupled with a new awareness of the damage sunbathing can do to the skin meant that most women I knew were hitting the (fake tan) bottle. When I moved to Asia, it became evident that looking suntanned wasn’t so big among the Hong Kongers or Singaporeans in fact it was positively spurned. Slowly I began to embrace having pale skin too.

Recently though, following a trip back to London where everyone looked so golden limbed, I’ve been hankering after a tan again. And with the super strength of the rays here in Singapore a self tan seemed the way to go. Healthier still is the idea of a self tan from The Organic Pharmacy which rather than using chemicals is based on a 100 per cent natural ingredient derived from sugar beet. Auriga at the Capella hotel on Sentosa, which offers The Organic Pharmacy treatments and products, is one of my favourite spas in Singapore so I was pleased to see they’ve introduced the self tan. (Tip: If you do book a session here be sure to go a good half hour early so you can enjoy the heat and water rooms.)

Entrance to the Auriga Spa at the Capella Entrance to the Auriga Spa at the Capella

My friendly therapist explained the process to me – no oils on the skin beforehand, no showers afterwards for eight hours. As such she removed my make up with a non-oil based cleanser. She then used expert, massage strokes to first apply an exfoliator (green coffee which as well as sloughing off deadline skin tackles cellulite – bonus!). After a shower, the self tan cream was similarly expertly applied. I was asked how deep I wanted the tan to which I replied fairly light but you can go as dark as you like.

After a few minutes I noticed something: there was no strange chemical smell you normally associate with self tan lotions. Instead the aroma was more like an exotic massage oil. Better still, the cream took only one minute to dry and there was no feeling of stickiness or greasiness (a bug bear of mine).

I was told the tan would develop in three hours but after one I could already see a healthy glow. The next morning I woke with a lovely golden tan. If I’m being picky it was a bit patchy around the soles of the feet but that anyone would notice and had a faint fake tan, chemical smell but that disappeared the next day.

I was happy with the “natural” honey shade, not too dark for my colouring, just as I’d asked. The therapist told me the tan should last week, starting to fade after three days. I’m on day four and that seems spot on. I’m not sure my diary or my bank balance would allow me to go every week for a top up (although you can also buy a bottle to apply at home) but I would definitely return before a party or holiday.

[This piece was originally published in 2014]

Aman Shanghai to open in January

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Aman Resorts’ fourth hotel in China, named Amanyangyun after the ancient Chinese phrase Yang Yun meaning “the nurturing of clouds” and will open on January 8th 2018.

This “renovation like no other” has been a ten year plus project to save and transplant endangered ancient trees and historic buildings from the flood planes of Jiangxi.

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Some 50 Ming and Qing Dynasty houses have been preserved and reconstructed by master craftsman in their new home just outside Shanghai. And traditional Chinese architects have added new buildings to blend with the historic structures.

Antique Villa

Pool Deck

Pool Deck

10,000 camphor trees have also made the 800 kilometre journey, overseen by expert botanists. They’ve been replanted in native soil and face the same direction as they had previously. Three years later they are said to be flourishing.

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As well as the historic houses which are now four bedroomed villas with pools, there are newly built one bedroom club suites designed by Kerry Hill Associates the architect behind Aman Tokyo.

Club Suite

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Amanyangung also features several dining options, a Club Lounge, banqueting hall and of course a spa – set to be one of the biggest in the Aman collection.

[A version of this story was originally posted in February 2017]

Dining Terrace

Dining Terrace

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http://www.aman.com

Amanbagh: a Rajasthani Retreat

Pool and main building at night

Deep in the Rajasthani countryside Amanbagh is the perfect antidote to energetic Jaipur.  The former royal hunting ground turned exclusive retreat is part of the elite Aman resorts. As we draw near the landscape becomes rockier and the road bumpier until we reach the ancient walled grounds of Amanbagh. Within are palm, mango and fig trees and a camel trots down the driveway ahead of us. “He is Babu, our in house camel,” explains our driver. Lucky old Babu being an Aman camel I can’t help but think.

Although Amanbagh is 21st century built it’s classic fairytale India in its design: all romantic domes and archways, colonnades and courtyards, in pink marble and sandstone. Our room is a Pool Pavilion, a standalone villa with its own private swimming pool. We spend most of our time in the terraced garden and are joined variously by families of monkeys and colourful butterflies and birds that swoop over the pool.

Main pathways

Pool pavilion pool

Some guests come to Amanbagh for safari trips to the nearby Sariska Tiger Reserve (further afield Ranthambore may be more well known but Sariska is less crowded and has a high rate of tiger sightings); others book in for the four to 21 day Ayurvedic programmes. And there are easily doable day trips to lesser visited sites such as the temples of Neelkanth, serene Somsagar Lake (good for picnics or meditation) and the abandoned city of Bhangarh where you are more likely to encounter monkeys and peacocks than other tourists. As such it makes for a special place for a yoga session. But one of the unique, unforgettable experiences of Amanbagh is simply to witness rural Rajasthani life around you.

One evening we joined aarti at the local roadside temple where devout locals banged drums, rang bells and chanted to herald the last hour of prayer. Another night we joined The Cow Dust Tour, so named after the Indian phrase for the time of day when the cows are lead home, stirring up dust as they go.

Ajabgarh fort

Just before dusk we head out in an open topped jeep and pass a smattering of chhatri, a hillside fort and temple (once connected by tunnel) and a “haunted” village. In the golden light we pass camel and carts and goats being herded. Long, loopy tailed langur monkeys regard us from stone walls and smaller macaque monkeys crouch overhead in the trees. There’s an abundance of peacocks and it’s easy to see why this area is a bird watchers’ paradise even though at the time of our visit many have already migrated.

Women in brightly coloured safaris and headscarves of orange, yellow and purple farm the fields for wheat or okra, the former impressively balanced on their heads in huge parcels and the latter a local speciality that later we see being sold in the village centres. As we drive through tiny enclaves small children run out waving and calling “goodbye!” to us and we are invited in for chai several times.

Dining Terrace

That evening we sample both okra and goat on the Amanbagh’s superb pan Indian menu. We eschew the pleasant air conditioned dining room each meal for the terrace, overlooking the fabulous swimming pool and serenaded every night by traditional musicians. There are also opportunities for private dining on the lantern lit roof terrace or more intrepid locations in the surrounding countryside.

Experiences Chhatri dinner

As with all Amans there’s a calming energy about the resort that’s hard to leave. And of course the spa is fantastic (the suites are particularly stunning). As well as ayurvedic treatments, following a consultation with a traditional Indian medicine doctor, there’s a range of body treatments on offer such as the Maharaja or Maharani massage which I opt for. The masseuse applied just the right amount of firm pressure to sort out my back tension and I emerged feeling as if I was walking taller.

Spa

And if you haven’t had your fill of shopping by the time you reach Amanbagh, the boutique here has a tight, expert edit from some of Jaipur’s finest including The Gem Palace and Kashmir Loom. This being Aman they promise to fetch more from Jaipur if you wish.

https://www.aman.com/resorts/amanbagh

 

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