Taking a Break

Shanghai’s spas offer respite in the 24/7 city

By: Gary Bowerman

I am lying face down on a four-poster bed in the Love Nest. And it’s great. My 2½-hour Heaven Can Wait foot, head and full-body aromatherapy massage has just finished, and I am relaxing with the lights down low, some soft music, incense and a soothing cup of green tea. Around me, the cream and rich mauve decor is dressed with divine Southeast Asian artifacts and wooden furnishings. Shanghai’s frenetic pace of life seems, frankly, light years away.

Located in Shanghai’s former French Concession, Dragonfly is one of Shanghai’s most popular urban day spas, offering “five-star treatments at three-star prices.” As well as a broad menu of Japanese Shiatsu, Oriental head and foot, Chinese and aromatherapy massages, Dragonfly also sells its own beauty and health products and has a dedicated nail spa. Less than four years after opening, Dragonfly now has six beautifully designed spas across Shanghai, and this year will expand into Beijing and Europe.

Such is the growth of health and wellness in China’s largest city. While massage has a long tradition in China, specialist spas are relatively new, and they are proliferating fast across the city.

Some of the finest spas are to be found in Shanghai’s five-star hotels. The skyscraping exterior of the pyramid-capped JW Marriott Hotel on People’s Square does not immediately suggest luxurious pampering. The sixth-floor Mandara Spa, however, proves the fallibility of such preconceptions. The name says it all: Mandara refers to an ancient Sanskrit myth about the quest to discover the precious elixir of immortality and eternal youth.

Even a movie set designer would struggle to recreate the ambience of the Banyan Tree Spa at the Westin Hotel, just a stone’s throw from Shanghai’s famous riverside Bund. In the lobby bar downstairs, businessmen were cutting deals over cocktails. Yet, as soon as I walked into the spa’s lobby, meditation, not negotiation, was the only thing on my mind.

Until 2005, the Westin spa was Banyan Tree’s only outlet in mainland China. The 13 treatment rooms dreamily fuse the five Chinese elements of earth (balance), gold (purification), water (relaxation), wood (renewal) and fire (vitality) into the lavish interior, complemented by an irresistible range of treatments. And there’s more to come. Banyan Tree’s affiliate brand, Angsara Spa, is due to open in Shanghai later this year.

Opened in late 2005 at the new Regent Shanghai, L’Institut de Guerlain spa is the Paris-based skincare and fragrance company’s first wellness center in China. The stunning creme and blonde-wood interior is decidedly European, and natural lighting enhances the sense of space and serenity.

Especially imported adjustable massage beds from the United States and the only two Vichy shower water massage units in Shanghai make it a serious luxe player. Every treatment begins with a 15-minute herbal footbath and a choice of fragrances for the massage. Deep tissue, shiatsu and reflexology massages are available, together with a full range of facial and beauty treatments. For the ultimate pampering experience, clients should try the all-day Sublime Deluxe mix of hydrotherapies, body, facial, hand and foot therapies ($660).

Across the Huangpu River in the Pudong district, the Shangri-La opened its first mainland branch of its popular Chi Spa brand in late 2005. Unashamedly luxe, the design, restorative treatments and standards of service at Chi Spa are based around the Chinese philosophy that for everything negative there is a positive balance an energy known as chi. The free flow of chi within the body is essential to maintain good health. The Himalayan decor, sensual lighting, Tibetan furnishings and traditional Chinese medicine-influenced treatments represent pampering of the highest order.

For clients seeking a more affordable way to kick back in Shanghai, Green Massage’s elegant decor, relaxing atmosphere and excellent range of massage treatments are complemented by a downtown location. Close to the pulsing Xintiandi district, I enjoyed a calming early evening aromatherapy massage. Then, with the harmony of mind and body recalibrated and some money still burning a hole in my pocket, I headed across the street to Xintiandi for some serious Shanghai retox treatment a cold Tsingtao beer and a plate of dumplings.

The Details

Banyan Tree
3/F, Westin Hotel
Bund Center
88 Henan Zhong Lu

6/f, Shangri-La Hotel, 33 Fucheng Lu, Pudong

206 Xinle Lu
(near Fuimin Lu)

Green Massage
58 Taicang Lu
(behind Huaihai Park)

L’Institut de Guerlain
26/F, The Regent Shanghai, 1116 Yan’an Xi Lu
(near Fanyu Lu)

Mandara Spa
6/F, JW Marriott Hotel, 399 Nanjing
Xi Lu

Advise clients to arrive early to spa appointments to take advantage of the facilities.