Stressed-out urbanites can dip a toe in the spa

A little pampering can work wonders, and it is on offer in a city near you; Debbie Hyams says you do not have to find a rural retreat to relax.
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The Independent Culture
In France and the United States they think nothing of packing themselves off to a spa for the day. New York's famous Bliss Spa has a three-month waiting list, while the Elizabeth Arden Red Door's appointment book is full to the brim. But when it comes to pampering, the British put indulging in beauty therapies way down at the bottom of the list of priorities. It seems that we would rather spend our leisure time shopping in Marks & Spencer than at a spa destressing.

One of the reasons for spurning spas might have been the sheer lack of them, or the time and expense involved in travelling to the depths of the country for overnight stays. But now there is a new variety - the urban spa, which makes a little pampering available to stressed out city- dwellers for whom time is at a premium. Their aim, as Anna Doyle of the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon in London points out, "is to create an environment where you can totally switch off".

Top-to-toe treatments - anything from a leg wax or facial to a hydrotherapy bath in a spa-style environment - is what really makes the difference between urban spas and a visit to your local beauty salon. And you will not be left hanging around. They pride themselves on efficient but personalised service. Then there are all the little luxuries like fluffy towelling robes to slip into before your treatment, shower facilities with beauty products on tap, and even complimentary make-up. Nothing is too much trouble - you just have to ask.

Urban Spa Guide

Aveda's Urban Retreat and Concept Salon: London 0171 201 8610; Leeds 0113 244 0212. Open: Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat: 8am-7pm, Sun: 12pm-6pm.

On offer: Wide range of Ayuvedic beauty treatments using Aveda products, favourite of supermodels and celebrities.

Booking: Usually a week in advance, but longer for some of the lengthier treatments.

Atmosphere: Bustling - the noise comes from the hair salon - but peaceful once you are tucked away in the quiet of the treatment room.

Service: Excellent.

Added extras: A cup of comfort tea to put you in the mood for your top treatment.

Top treatment: The essential facial, pounds 70, is one and three-quarter hours of sheer bliss, including scalp massage, or try the express facial, pounds 38.

Selfridges Spa, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London WI: 0171 318 3389. Open: Mon/Tue/Wed: 10am-7pm, Thurs/Fri: 10am-8pm, Sat: 9.30am-7.00pm, Sun 12-6pm.

On offer: Women-only spa and beauty treatments and special packages.

Booking: Three weeks in advance. Atmosphere: Mini spa haven set well away from busy shoppers. Service: Staff are friendly but professional. Added extras: Use of steam, sauna and showers, plus a well- stocked if slightly cramped changing-room and rest area.

Top treatment: Full aromatherapy massage, pounds 38. Ninety minutes totally tailored to your specific needs. Or the underwater massage, pounds 30 - deep massage to help relieve tension.

FirstFirst floor, John Lewis, Oxford Street, London WI. Estee Lauder Skincare Centre John Lewis, Oxford Street, London WI: 0171 629 7711 ext 4546. Open: Mon-Sat 9.30am-6.00pm Thurs 9.30am-8.00pm.

On offer: Beauty treatments using Estee Lauder products. Booking: A week ahead.

Atmosphere: A bit clinical.

Service: Very good.

Added extras: Use of the showers, plus complimentary make-up after your treatment.

Top treatment: Re-nutriv firming lift facial treatment, pounds 65 - a total boost for dry skin that is showing signs of ageing.

Elizabeth Arden Red Door Hair & Beauty Spa, 29 Davies Street, London Wl: 0171 629 4488; plus spas opening in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle by next year. Open: Mon- Sat 9am-6pm Wed/ Thurs 9am-8pm.

On offer: Spa and beauty treatments for plus special day packages. Booking: A week in advance.

Atmosphere: Luxury spa style. Service: Excellent. Minimal waiting time and lots of attention.

Added extras: Complimentary tea, coffee, water and fruit.

Top Treatment: Oxygenating marine facial treatments, pounds 65, using special blends of oils and sea elements to replenish skin.

Berkeley Health Club and Spa. The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1: 0171 201 1699. Open; Mon-Fri: 9am-9pm, Sat: 9am-6pm, Sun: 10am-6pm. On offer: Complete range of treatments for men and women using Christian Dior products (there are separate spa areas for men and women). Booking: Three-four days in advance, but call in case of cancellations. Atmosphere: Calming, quiet and clinical.

Service: Excellent, nothing is too much trouble.

Added extras: Use of showers, sauna and steam room, plus complimentary Evian water and juices.

Top Treatment: Christian Dior Anti Stress Facial, pounds 40 - a must for stressed out skins.

The Dorchester Spa, The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London: 0171 629 8888. Open: Mon-Fri: 8am-9pm, Sat: 8am-8.15pm, Sun: 9.00am-8.15pm. On offer: Complete spa range of treatments for men and women using Thalgo or Espa products. (Separate spa areas for men and women). Booking: Two to three days ahead. Atmosphere: Instant tranquil spa land. Trickling water and whiffs of aromatherapy oils relax you in seconds.

Service: Undivided attention - nothing is too much trouble.

Added extras: Use of sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi, complimentary drinks. They will even arrange for your clothes to be pressed.

Top treatment: The famous Eve Lom facial, pounds 95 for which there is a three- month waiting list so book well in advance.

The Sanctuary, 12 Floral Street, London WC2: 0171 420 5151. Open: Mon/Tue/Sat/Sun: 10am-6pm.

On offer: Women-only spa day packages pounds 49.50 or evening packages pounds 29.50 (6-10pm), also individual treatments without use of facilities. Booking: Two weeks in advance. Atmosphere: Tropical spa paradise complete with palm trees.

Service: Efficient, but be prepared to hang on for ages when booking. Added extras: Use of swimming pool with swing, exercise pool, whirlpool, meditation suite with massage chairs, sauna and steam room. Top treatment: The Sanctuary's ultimate aromatherapy experience, pounds 62.00 - a one-and-a-half-hour massage incorporating rose petals, temple bells and candlelight for pure and utter relaxation.

Harrods Beauty Spa, Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1: 0171 584 8881. Open: Mon/Tues/Sat: 10am-6pm, Wed/Thurs/Fri: 10am-7pm. On offer: Full range of beauty and spa treatments, plus special day packages. Booking: As far in advance as possible, but try calling for cancellation appointments.

Atmosphere: Traditional. The spa is huge - it is the largest in Europe.

Service: Discreet.

Added extras: Nothing with one-off treatments, but champagne lunch with some packages.

Top treatment: Collagen replacement treatment for lips, from pounds 250. In-Store Specials

Department stores are incorporating special in-store treatment rooms for beautifying while you shop Check out the Espa counters at Liberty or Harvey Nichols in London for an express treatment in one of their treatment rooms. Try their aromatherapy luxury back, face and scalp treatment for around pounds 30, which helps soothe cricked necks caused by mobile phone over- use. Call the Espa hot line on 01252741600 for more details.

Out of Town Spas

You do not have to be a Londoner to benefit from spa treats. The Sanctuary has opened mini-spas within David Lloyd Clubs nationwide at Sidcup, Kent, 0181 308 1456; Stevenage, Hertfordshire, 01438 351 400; Cheadle Cheshire, 0161 428 5889; Moortown, Leeds, 0113 237 0913; and Newlands, Milton Keynes, 01908 392182. Health Farms

Those offering special spa day packages include: Champneys Health Resort Wiggington, Tring, 0144 291111; Henlow Grange Health Farm, Henlow, Bedfordshire, 01462811111; and Ragdale Hall, near Melton Mowbray, 01664 434831.