East Meets Best

The new spa at the Peninsula Hong Kong lives up to the hotel’s high standards

By: Andréa R. Vaucher

During its 78-year reign as the grande dame of Asian hospitality, the Peninsula Hong Kong has had to adjust to changing times.

On Christmas night in 1941, when the surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese was signed in room 336, the hotel was renamed the Toa until the occupation ended four years later.

In 1991, when the Hong Kong Art Museum went up directly across Salisbury Road, obscuring the hotel’s dramatic harbor and skyline views, the owners added a 30-storey tower behind the original structure. This afforded even better vistas from the 130 new guestrooms and the sumptuous Roman pool on the eighth floor.

The addition also incorporated the first helipad in the city and Felix, a rooftop restaurant and bar designed by Philippe Starck.

The Pen’s latest nod to the trends of the time is a destination spa. The Peninsula Spa by E’Spa is a 12,000-square-foot oasis of indulgance. The “East meets West” tone of the spa is set by the juxtaposition of bamboo design elements with sleek travertine and granite architectural touches in the reception area. A chic black-clad spa attendant led me to the changing area using only gestures not because she didn’t speak English, she did to maintain the spa’s hushed ambiance.

Cloaked in a yellow Frette robe, I padded into the private spa elevator, which is illuminated by a “breathing wall” designed by New York video artist Monika Bravo. The digital artwork was commissioned to “transition the guest from urban intensity to surreal calm.”

In the spa’s Asia Tea Lounge, another wordless attendant handed me a steaming elixir, actually a cup of tea.

Then it was into the Thermal Suite, possibly the most sumptuous of its kind, with heated slate floors and Bisazza glass mosaic tile walls. The suite’s piece de la resistance is its staggering view of Victoria Harbor and the dazzling Hong Kong skyline. I could have sat in the jasmine-scented sauna for hours, ogling masterpieces by “star-chitects” like I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli and Norman Foster, which flaunted their glamour like supermodels strutting down the runway.

But the circular steam room beckoned. In the center of the domed hamman-style enclosure obviously emitting positive energy I was in dire need of was the largest piece of rose crystal I had ever seen.

Between dry and wet heat, I doused myself in the snail-shaped aromatherapy shower, under a red-hued rain forest downpour or a purple-hazed refreshing mist.

E’Spa encourages clients to tailor their treatments to their needs within a block of time. Since all treatment rooms six of which have the same spectacular view as the sauna are equipped with products for every treatment and your therapist can perform them all, you never leave the sumptuous treatment bed.

Since I was determined not to let jet lag impinge on my short trip, I opted for an anti-jet lag massage combined with a skin brightener facial. (At least I’d look good, I reasoned.) My therapist, a wisp of a woman, had strong hands and knew exactly where the knots were. She was an excellent advertisement for E’Spa’s 10-week holistic training course, which takes fully certified, experienced therapists and turns them into spa superstars.

“Asian spas were getting gimmicky,” said Peninsula general manager Ian Coughlan. “We wanted a spa that was an oasis from the craziness of the city. We wanted to be about luxury and spoiling.”

E’Spa gave them what they were looking for.

“They were extremely technically driven about the facility,” said Coughlan.

This meant no noisy facial machines and all telephones stashed in a soundproof room. Guests can even plug in their iPod and enjoy their own music in the treatment rooms.

I was perplexed, though, not to see an Asian specialty like reflexology on the treatment menu, especially since hot-stone massages to me, the biggest gimmick of them all were featured.

Luckily for me, the Russian therapist who gave me an immunity-boosting deep-tissue massage before my flight home, knew reflexology and, since I could tailor my own treatment, she performed some. And she was much better than the therapist at the reflexology joint I had found in town.

Part of the Peninsula’s program to offer a wellness component to their boomer guests (average guest age is 46) extends to the food and beverage offerings as well. Executive chef Florin Trento has devised many delicious “naturally Peninsula” menu items using organic ingredients. The hotel is also making an effort to support local sustainable farming.

As in the spa, though, the hotel menu won’t be sacrificing luxury for gimmicks. This is, after all, the Peninsula.

“You can get an antioxidant shake,” explained Coughlan, “but also champagne and caviar.”


E’Spa has designed several signature body treatments for the hotel that will introduce your clients to Oriental and Ayurvedic treatments and ease them past the stress and fatigue of long-haul travel.

These two-hour Peninsula Ceremonies which include a ginger foot buff, salt and oil scrub, hot-stone chakra balancing and massage, body mask and wrap, acupressure facial massage and a head massage are priced at approximately $260. During an in-depth consultation, the therapist determines the client’s body type, emotional state and needs and chooses the essential oils and lotions accordingly.

For the ultimate in pampering, four-hour treatments which address jet lag and detoxification and will allow your clients to tackle their Asian holiday or business voyage at the top of their game run approximately $512.