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Spa Business
2021 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Aire Ancient Baths, London

First person

Aire Ancient Baths, London

Aire Ancient Baths has unveiled its first UK outpost in London, Megan Whitby dipped in to check out the new spa

The baths offer seven hydrotherapy pools, for up to 14 bathers at one time photo: Aire Ancient Baths
Aire offers a variety of post-bath treatments photo: Aire Ancient Baths
Aire evokes the classic tradition of thermal baths, along with a modern touch photo: Aire Ancient Baths
The London baths are located in the former house of author JM Barrie photo: Aire Ancient Baths

Since ancient times, public bathing has been an integral social and cultural unifier – bringing the powerful benefits of hydrotherapy to the masses.

Drawing on this notion, Aire Ancient Baths launched its first bathing facility in Seville, Spain in 2000, taking inspiration from the best of Greek, Roman and Ottoman traditions. Today, it has a portfolio of eight urban locations in the US, Copenhagen and Spain and has just opened in London, UK.

First impressions
Entering Aire Ancient Baths London I’m welcomed with the comforting smell of orange blossom – a signature component of all Aire experiences – and face-masked staff greet me with elastic wristbands indicating my spa package and bathing duration.

Aire’s traditional blueprint is evident as the spa is set within a restored historical building that reimagines the classic tradition of thermal baths in a contemporary fashion.

The London experience has a unique charm and is housed in the restored 18th-century townhouse home of celebrated author JM Barrie who penned the childhood classic, Peter Pan.

Following the pandemic, the industry has been keenly monitoring interest in spas and staff proudly reveal Aire London has been fully booked since launch day. During my visit, only eight bathers are allowed during a 120-minute slot, which I’m pleased to hear after feeling uneasy about crowded spaces. Since then, restrictions have lifted and 14 bathers are now allowed.

Down in sleek, grey and uncluttered locker rooms I shower and put on my costume and a pair of bathing socks (as politely instructed), before being escorted through a dark wooden door and down a candle-lit staircase to the softly-lit subterranean bathing area. The spa’s heat and orange blossom fragrance wash over me as I’m given a brief tour of the facilities.

Hydrotherapy hideaways
The labyrinth-like, compact facility houses seven hydrotherapy pools, a steamroom and a relaxation room.

It’s been restored with original features such as deep red vaulted brick ceilings with intricate details and these are cleverly juxtaposed by smooth pale marble and dark wooden furniture, illuminated by glowing candles and softly lit pools. Part of the spa’s design remit was to transport guests back to the simplicity and tone of the bathing experiences of antiquity and it does just this.

All visits are sold in packages consisting of a 90-minute free roam of the baths, with the option of treatments afterwards. I begin my thermal journey in the tepidarium pool (36˚C) as recommended by the spa team to help my body prepare for contrast bathing. On first impressions, the lack of daylight, controlled numbers and abundance of private nooks makes for a soothing introduction, as it helps you switch off and disconnect.

I make my way to a marble peppermint-scented steamroom, then the vaporium, and its bracing in-built frigidarium (10˚C) and progress into the balneum, aka the Bath of a Thousand Jets – which is surprisingly even more vigorous than the name suggests!

The treatment
Next I’m booked in for a 120-minute bathing experience incorporating a 30-minute massage for £150 (US$207, €176). My therapist, Roxanne, begins by removing my socks and proceeds to work through knots in my back with sweetly-scented almond oil, while adding some invigorating assisted stretching. She’s extremely attentive, checking I’m comfortable and that the pressure is just right.

After treatment, she places warmed socks back onto my feet – a pleasant finale. Personally, the treatment journey feels a little rushed with no post-treatment advice or water, instead I’m politely sent to get changed so I can restart my bathing experience.

Feeling relaxed, I re-acclimatise with the tepidarium and then visit the caldarium pool (40˚C) which is like stepping into a vast hot bath. The caldarium is the hottest pool on offer and is complete with a glass covered archway separating it from Aire’s vinotherapy room. Stacked with vintage-style emerald green wine bottles, this is where guest can soak in a wine bath for 30 minutes as part of the 180-minute Wine Bath Experience costing £450 (US$627, €528).

I make my way to the relaxation room, comforted by fragrant tea. The room has a soothing ambience, but would benefit from loungers or seating.

Finally, I head to Aire’s salt-water flotarium where the pool’s high salt concentration enables total weightlessness. The room is enhanced with a shower alcove with salt granules to exfoliate and reinvigorate yourself afterwards.

Just as I think to myself that I could float for hours, a delicate bell chime tells me it’s the end of my session. When I emerge from the underground baths, my skin has a dewy glow, my mind is calmer and my upper back feels relaxed. It takes my eyes and body a few seconds to adjust to daylight and the bustle of modern London. I feel I’ve been transported – either that or perhaps this is how it feels to have travelled back in time.

Megan Whitby is assistant editor of Spa Business magazine | [email protected]

Originally published in Spa Business 2021 issue 3

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