Exfoliation at the Bvlgari Hotel Milan

Bvlgari HotelAs part of my recent Detox program, I upped the ante on my regime by including a body exfoliation at the luxurious Bvlgari Hotel when I was last visiting Milan. Located in one of the nicest parts of the city, the Bvlgari Hotel overlooks beautiful botanical gardens and is reputed to be the most exclusive hotel in the city.  I visited it on a quiet Sunday afternoon and observed many elegant guests in the lobby and adjoining spa. I chose my treatment carefully from the extensive spa menu and settled on the creme dela mer inspired ‘La mer signature body treatment with exfoliation’ to apparently ‘renew, relax and restore’ my body.  I don’t normally use the La mer range of products, but with a diamond component, I was happily anticipating beautiful shimmery skin by the end of my treatment.

Bvlgari Hotel MilanI was brought to the changing rooms by a friendly member of staff and instructed to wait by the poolside. I changed into a light blue fluffy bathrobe but found to my horror that I had been given an extremely snug fitting robe which meant crossing my legs by the edge of the pool was out of the question. So I lay as discreetly as possible on one of the loungers and had time to take in the curious stream of Italian male bathers taking lazy selfies of themselves in the Jacuzzi.

Bvlgari HotelFinally my nice therapist arrived and escorted me to my treatment which began with a ping of a tuning fork. My body was first carefully covered with a scrub which was applied with aromatic oils from head to toe. Once this was completed competently, I had to shuffle my way across the corridor to the changing rooms for a rinsing shower and then return for the second part of my treatment, almost colliding in the corridor to yet another male bather. My preference would have been to have had a shower in the privacy of the treatment room, but alas such design plans had clearly not been factored into the layout of the Bvlgari Hotel spa.
Bvlgari SpaLeaving this inconvenience aside, I must say that the massage was very good and I sailed away to La-La land between the soft rhythmic strokes right up into my scalp as part of the treatment. For the first time in my spa memories, magnets were applied to my feet and hands to apparently help with aligning my mind. I was a bit skeptical that anything within this galaxy would be able to calm my mind, but I did genuinely feel very relaxed and floaty.  The treatment ended with a final twang of the tuning fork in my ear signalling that it was time to peel myself off the treatment table and go back to reality.  I was offered a selection of dried fruits, herbal teas and cereal as part of my spa aperatif, but I opted instead to make my way back through the quiet streets of Milan and unwind for the evening.


Enjoying the new spa at Ashford Castle

By Natalie McGuinness, guest writer for Unwind and let go.

The spa at Ashford Castle was reviewed by The Irish Times shortly before I visited, so my anticipation levels were raised based on the glowing feedback. The spa is a cleverly designed glass annex like an orangery for cultivating beauty and relaxation, tucked away in the west of Ireland. My first visit to the Spa was for an emergency file and paint.

Ashford CastleOn entering the Spa you can see the nail area straight ahead with reception on your right. I was warmly welcomed and offered a choice of a refreshing lemon or cucumber infused water. The treatment room has large wooden thrones set into the wall. The thrones have matching wooden tables covered with a fluffy towel for hand treatments – unusually there was no palm rest or direct lighting on the table. The recessed thrones are clever as they provide privacy and they also have ingenious inserts into the wall to hold your water or other small belongings. It is very on brand with Ashford Castle, but I’m not convinced how comfortable the chairs are for a full hour manicure. I was starting to wriggle with discomfort after 25 minutes.

Ashford castle spaThe therapist was charming. She was friendly, but not too friendly, and worked hard to prep my poor nails before painting with gorgeous essie. This extra effort was certainly not part of the treatment, but much appreciated. Sadly, the nail varnish I picked proved to be a bit too popular! Half-way through the treatment the therapist struggled to scrap the gloopy bottom of the bottle. As a result the coverage was a little uneven and it was hard to get precise edges. The gap between my cuticles and the polish was wide enough to warrant a tannoy announcement. Despite the gap the shine was lovely and my nails appeared really glossy when finished. Afterwards I was shown to the relaxation area, which faces east to the river. It is a lovely calm space filled with delicious homemade treats like granola and sponge squares. I won’t embarrass myself by admitting how many I ate. For healthy people with will power there are nuts, protein balls, apples and more water. I didn’t see any hot beverage options which was surprising given the low temperatures outside, but these might have been available on request. The only small thing letting down an otherwise lovely relaxation area was a lack of magazines. Perhaps this was to encourage Zen, but one of my treats is flicking through a magazine and Golfers Digest just didn’t fit the brief. Overall it was a lovely experience for such a minor treatment, but next time I will pick a less popular colour.

Ashford Castle - checking outDay two I returned to the Spa for an Elemis facial. As I was checking out of Ashford Castle after the treatment I went down in my robe, with my bags. The changing room isn’t really designed for much usage or luggage. There are two short rows of anorexic lockers, which only have enough room for a robe and a pair of shoes. Alternatively, you can drop the rest of your luggage to reception. Some of the lockers and seating are located directly in front of the door to reception, which can result in some guests getting a room with a view! The two shower rooms and loos are surprisingly spacious compared with the changing area and the room is well stocked with cotton wool, shower caps and Elemis products.

I was brought to the stunning pool area to complete my pre-treatment form. You could happilyspend your entire day in this room watching the clouds or looking at the exquisite designs and sculptures on the wall, while listening to the lap of the water. The pool is really only for dipping and has a number of seats and jets, so not an option for swimmers. It is deliciously child free in the afternoon. Dragging myself away from my pool side lounger I went for a quick steam to enhance my impending facial. The steam room is almost as stunning as the pool area. Hewn from stone with a wonderful full length window, balcony and fountain sink it was a real immersion experience.

Ashford Castle Spa
It was such a wonderful experience that I almost missed my appointment time so do find some way to track time (no clocks or timers that I could see) or ask someone to come and get you. Again my Therapist was lovely and I was shown to a large double sized treatment room. Due to my notoriously indecisive nature combined with a wide choice it was a difficult to select one facial. Also, there was no reference guide or price list in the room and with a 30% difference in facial prices this could prove a costly selection. We eventually settled on one of the nourishing vitamin facials and I hopped up on the heated bed. On a cold day this was a glorious treat. The Therapist was superb and adapted the treatment to my needs and kindly offered a hand instead of a head massage. She also adapted two of the facials I struggled to choose between, which was excellent client service. Each stage of the treatment was explained and I was guided through the phases so I was completely comfortable and relaxed. The only missing element was that of smell – normally scented oils are used in the room or during the facial and I think this is a missed opportunity, both in the treatments and throughout the spa. It is only a small point, but the sense of smell has a powerful impact on mood and state. Afterwards I had the choice between the pool or relaxation rooms and I opted for the pool room for a short rest before leaving the spa in full bloom.

[Natalie is a late arrival to the world of beauty and spa treatments, but they are now an essential part of her battle against time and gravity].

Tips on Long Haul Travel

By Joanie Bergin, guest writer for Unwind and let go

Tips on Long Haul Travel

Over the years I have traveled long haul extensively for both business and pleasure. The most important thing I have learnt from various trips around the globe is to be kind to people you meet along the way. I cannot convey how wonderful and unexpected things can happen when you either offer help to someone or offer a friendly smile. No matter what your mood is when you start your journey or even the booking process, my tried and tested tip is to always be polite and show goodwill to the airline staff, airport staff and other passengers. A thank you or a smile to even the cleaners in the bathrooms brighten their days when so many people can be dismissive. Believe me the goodwill comes back in terms of better seats, upgrades or a nicer meal from the first or business cabin and higher quality snacks. I still remember the time my flight was cancelled and rather than staying overnight in Frankfurt I asked to be routed via Hong Kong, met a friend for coffee and chat and got home to my Malaysian apartment 10 hours before my rescheduled flight was due to land. Trust me, kindness works every time!

Tips on Long Haul Travel

In the air, I am cautious to limit myself to one or two glasses of alcohol, preferably champagne or wine on a long flight, and re hydrate with a Diorlyte sachet mid-flight or at meal time. Whatever class you are flying in for business or pleasure, on long haul and short, staying hydrated is key; drink plenty of water or tomato juice. Passengers get grumpy when dehydrated. The Diorlyte seems to help keep water in your system longer and also helps remove the horrible headache feeling after a long flight – with or without alcohol. A Vick’s nasal inhaler also clears your head and makes it easier to breathe through your nose too. On a long haul flight in my carry on I always have a change of clothes, a pashmina or a fleece and in my washbags some moisturiser, and Origins Clear Head Mint Shampoo, as it really helps to wake you up after a long flight, either in transit or at your final destination.

What to wear? The eternal question! When flying I always wear smart but comfortable clothes, as it always helps if they are choosing people to upgrade. Regardless of flying class I tend to change into long cotton yoga trousers once on board (a long flight) to be comfortable, whether curled up in the front row of economy, which when travelling without my four children is for me almost as good as business class!

Who to fly with? Here’s my top tip. My company, like most businesses is careful on travel budgets, but fortunately flights over 8 hours are in Premium Economy or Business class. A couple of years ago I needed to fly from Malaysia to Washington DC for 5 days, a door to door journey of almost 21 hours. As I was obliged to fly premium economy, I was lucky to find that Etihad were launching a new route from Abu Dhabi to Washington DC with discounted business class fares. I had always avoided going through the Middle East, but wow, I had the best flights in Business class that I have ever experienced. Their discounted fare, introduced me to a world of A la carte dining (meals at your choice of eating time, not the airlines), excellent food – in fact the best scrambled egg I have ever eaten, cosy blankets, comforting soup and the unrivaled Six Sense’s Spas in their lounges with free treatments. When I arrived in the US I was able to do a full week of work without the usual exhaustion of a long journey. The economics of flying in business meant that I did not waste any company time on fatigue. I had also done the same trip in Business with Singapore Airlines, Thai, and Korean and in Premium Economy with Thai, but good food and rest on the Etihad plane did make a difference. You can get as comfortable as you can in economy but if you are not served something decent it is hard to rest properly. No other airline offers such comforts or good quality food in their lounges or in the air. Other airlines ”largest seats”, “Hygge night lights and on-board chefs”, “luxury, branded amenity kits” do not match the flying re-imagined by Etihad.

Finally flying should be as stress free as possible and it should also be time out. A chance for some ‘me-time’, to drift through the clouds and chill out. Approaching any flight with a positive outlook and a carefully considered plan, makes all the difference – believe me!

Joanie Bergin imagines herself (when not working or cooking for her husband and 4 children, or 6 if you include their Golden Retriever and Sourdough) to be constructive travel critic. She is really passionate about baking and cooking and is a self professed vanilla snob.