R&R at Riverside

Spa Review: Riverside Day Spa – Durban, South Africa

The best spas in the world all have something in common: They succeed in effortlessly making time stand still.

I was looking for such an experience when I stepped through the softly-swishing glass doors of the Riverside Spa in Durban. Nestled on a hill overlooking the Umgeni River, the spa is coupled to the well-known Riverside Hotel, belonging to the notable Three Cities Hotel Group.

My senses were immediately invoked by the calming sounds of soft music, and the clean open spaces of the reception area.

Having dreamed of visiting the islands of French Polynesia ever since…well…ever since I could dream; I had made sure to book the spa’s “Polynesian Experience” from their spa journeys menu.

After a brief check-in at the reception, I was escorted to the spa’s common room. I absolutely loved the décor of this space – rich royal blues and stately greys in plush velvets. The room was adorned with white orchids in large silver pots, which drew to attention the white of the wall decorations against the pale blue paint.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa  Riverside Day Spa

Large windows let in an abundance of light and paid due justice to the sweeping views over the city’s famed greenery, the commanding Umgeni river, and the majestic image of the new stadium that has forever changed Durban’s skyline.

After quickly trading my ‘street’ clothes for the velour (yes, it was winter!) bathrobe in the small but beautifully appointed change room (decorated with calla lilies); I was ushered to the lower floor to enjoy the spa facilities.

  Riverside Day Spa

I leapt almost immediately from the shower into the ‘heated’ pool, expecting to indulge in the warm water –but alas; it was simply not heated enough. In fact, it was actually cold! Very disappointing. I thawed out in the sauna, before enjoying a quick session in the steam room (for the sake of a complete review, of course!)

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

I found the spa’s facilities basic, but adequate. It’s worthwhile noting that the scheduling of reservations is attempted in such a manner to ensure that guests may enjoy private time in the facilities area. As the space is quite small, this was highly appreciated.

Upon returning to the serene common room, I finally met my therapist. I took an instant liking to her bubbly personality as we proceeded to the treatment room. It was much larger than expected, with not one, but two beds, and a grand jet spa bath in the corner.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I got comfortable, she talked me through the list of treatments in my Polynesian Experience package, and the exceptional Thalgo products she’d be employing.

The first stop on the incredible journey was the island of Taha’a. Producing 80% of French Polynesia’s vanilla, the island is aptly known as ‘Vanilla Island’. My day spa experience began with a luxurious marine salt and vanilla full-body scrub. The room filled with these delicious aromas as my skin was buffed and exfoliated to perfection. Completely attuned to my silent preferences, she lingered over the foot scrub, adding a marvelous, impromptu foot massage to the mix.

I was eager for the next stop on my journey – a visit to the tiny island of Manihi. The coral atoll, famous for its pearl farms, inspired the soothing aromatherapy spa bath with essential oils and luxurious bath pearls. My lovely therapist set up the bath exactly as I liked – piping hot. She lit a scented candle, and with a scattering of rose petals, she was gone.

Riverside Day Spa

Riverside Day Spa

As I lay soaking in the fragrant hot water, I was able to enjoy the panoramic vistas over the city.

Riverside Day Spa

View from the bath

Time lost all meaning and the rushed pace of everyday life ground to a complete halt.

Riverside Day Spa

I emerged, rejuvenated from the bath, and enjoyed a wonderfully-presented cup of green tea before being carried off to the next idyllic destination on my Polynesian journey; the incredible island of Bora Bora.

Famed for its beauty the world over, the island is surrounded by stunning turquoise waters and powdery soft, white sand. Accordingly, the massage that followed was a slow, powerful massage using warm sand pouches and Monoi oil to deeply relax and loosen the muscles.

I had never encountered a massage that employed sand pouches before, and I quite enjoyed the experience. My therapist hit all the right spots, saving the best for last: a brief, but deeply gratifying scalp massage. I dozed off at various times during the hour long full-body massage – such was its excellence.

The fourth, and sadly final, stop on my journey was the island of Raiatea. Regarded by the Polynesian people as a sacred marae of their ancestors, my concluding treatment entailed a radiant rub in sacred oil. Sweet-scented, with a glowing shine, the rich oil left my skin pampered and deeply nourished. The word ‘Raiatea’ loosely translates to ‘Bright Sky’… apt to describe the mega shine of my skin as I left the secluded confines of my treatment room.

I dined in the common room, and lunch consisted of a crumbed hake fillet served with veggies. It went down exceptionally well with a glass of chilled champagne.

Riverside Day SpaRiverside Day Spa

What I loved:

  • The décor – extremely serene and luxurious, it invoked a sense of calm, and made me feel relaxed and pampered… exactly as a spa should!
  • Orchids and Calla lilies (my absolute favorite flower) adorned each room, and added to the glamorous feel of the spa.
  • The massage: heavenly!

What I didn’t love: 

  • Apart from the cold ‘heated’ pool, I really have no complaints.

I will most certainly be heading back to Riverside spa for a day of pampering when I’m back in Durban!

Riverside Day Spa

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience was paid for by Riverside Day Spa. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Riga-rous Design

Spa Review: Espa Riga – Riga, Latvia

The Espa brand has cemented its image as one of the world’s leading spa creators, and Espa Riga is no exception to that standard. Condé Nast Traveller awarded Espa Riga the prestigious first place in the Condé Nast Traveller Reader’s Spa Awards for Favorite Overseas Day Spa in 2012.

So when an opportunity for a business trip to the Latvian capital arrived, my hand was frantically waving in the air. (I’m a very diligent employee).

I am not a fan of the Radisson Hotel group, having had some dodgy experiences in the past, but chose to stay at the Radisson Blu Latvija for convenient access to the spa (Espa Riga is situated on the hotel’s premises, but also has a separate street entrance for non-hotel guests).

I had booked a day spa package that included full use of all the heat and water experiences (vitality pool, saunas, steam rooms), a back massage, a facial, a scalp massage and hand treatment with paraffin gloves. The package also included a 2 course meal at the Spa Café.

I had booked my treatments to commence at 10am, so promptly at 8am; I arrived to enjoy 2 pre-treatment hours in the spa’s renowned facilities. Upon checking in, I was offered a tour of the 6 floors. I had read that spa’s décor had been inspired by the opposing elements “Fire and Water”, and this theme surely came through in the details. No detail was spared on the exquisite interior.

Extravagant Spiral Staircase, Espa Riga

Extravagant Spiral Staircase (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

The entire 6 floors were focused around an eye-popping spiral staircase of black mosaic. The experience showers were painted in flamboyant, deep, shimmering greens and purples. The lavish water wall and opposing fireplace added even more drama. I must say, the art nouveau concept, and the extravagant design aspects were breathtaking.

Experience showers, Espa Riga

Experience showers

After the tour, I was given a luxurious cream bathrobe and a pair of Espa slippers, and was shown to the changing rooms on the 3rd floor.

I was happy to note that the sleek designs and lavish nature extended to the changing areas. I quickly showered (using the luscious Espa bath products provided) and headed for the indoor swimming pool. The water was so warm! I enjoyed a few laps before I tried the 1st floor steam room. For the next hour or so I alternated between the saunas, steam rooms and lap pool.

Indoor Vitalty Pool, Espa Riga

Indoor Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I was advised to wait for my therapist in the relaxation area on the 6th floor five minutes before my treatments were to begin, so I made my way up there with enough time to enjoy the outdoor vitality pool. I must admit, this was my favorite of all the ‘heat and water’ experiences. It was a very cold morning, and the incredibly warm water condensed into the icy air generating puffs of steam clouds that created an eerie, yet mysterious setting. At this point, I couldn’t see how it could get any better; I was loving every moment of luxury in these stunning surroundings.

Outdoor Vitality Pool, espa Riga

Outdoor Vitality Pool (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

After my swim I helped myself to a serving of green tea whilst I gazed at the impressive granite fireplace. I still had plenty of time so I knew I had to check out the Rondello sauna. To be fair, the sauna was incredibly beautiful and featured an amber glass skylight, but really, it was just a sauna.

1st Floor steam room, espa Riga

1st Floor steam room (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

I took a walk around the 6th floor and noticed the individual steam ‘pods’ – what a perfect idea for those seeking some solitude. At that point, since I had finished my ‘touring’ I made my way to the female relaxation room to await my therapist. I reclined into one of the incredibly comfortable loungers plugged in my iPod, and almost dozed off!

Individual steam 'pods' Espa Riga

Individual steam ‘pods’

My therapist arrived promptly at 5 minutes to ten. I was escorted to the therapy room, which was decorated in opulent deep purple. She asked me some standard questions, and gave me the privacy to undress and get comfortable. We began by choosing the scents and oils I preferred, and commenced with the back massage.

I was expecting a heavenly experience, just by observing the standards I’d already become accustomed to at Espa Riga. But in the interest of being totally honest, it was not the best massage I’d ever received. Not by far. I asked for more pressure several times, but eventually gave up.

It was over pretty quickly, thankfully, and we then moved on to the head massage. Now, this, I loved. Just the right amount of pressure, and she hit all the right spots. I closed my eyes and enjoyed every moment. Before I knew it, she was waking me up from a relaxed sleep.

Espa Riga Shop

Products (photo source: http://www.espariga.com)

We paused a little after the head massage as the therapist undertook a basic skin analysis in order to determine which products to employ for my facial. Cool cotton swabs were placed on my eyes, and before she started, she placed each of my hands inside a hot paraffin glove. The gloves were heated to perfection and my hands loved the treat. With both hands snuggled inside their piping hot cocoons, she commenced my facial. The products were very luxurious, and felt rich and velvety against my skin. I enjoyed the rhythmic strokes she utilized at each step of the cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing process. The effects were immediately noticeable, and my skin felt smooth and polished.

After the facial, she removed the paraffin gloves and gave me a brief but gratifying hand massage. Before I knew it, my session had come to an end. I was given some time to slip back into my robe before the therapist returned with a product card. She ticked all the products that she used during my treatment session, and a few others that she thought would suit my needs. Of course, I was advised that each of these products were available for purchase at the Espa Riga shop. It was an obvious sales pitch, but it was not executed in a way that made me feel pressured to purchase anything.

Fireplace, 6th Floor Espa Riga

Fireplace, 6th Floor

When I was ready to leave the lush purple treatment room, I was escorted to the 5th floor relaxation area. This area is off-limits to general spa users, and only accessible to people actually receiving spa treatments. The room was darkened and lined with the same ergonomic recliners as the one before. Before I got comfortable, I helped myself to another green tea, and plate of nuts and dried fruit.

Relaxation Room Espa Riga

Relaxation Room on 6th Floor

It was perfectly quiet and I lay there totally relaxed for a few minutes before in barged 2 very loud women, badgering on about the massages they had just received. My solitude being broken, I retreated to the change room where I took a lengthy shower, washed and dried my hair, and even styled it using the ceramic straighteners available in the changing area. I returned the slippers and bathrobe, asking the attendant if the robes were for sale. I was interested in purchasing one, as they were extremely soft and comfortable. Unfortunately the robes are not available for purchase, which I found strange, as the shop sold every Espa product you could dream of, and more.

I made my way to the 2nd floor where the Espa Café is located. This floor also houses a fitness studio and the nail bars. The design feel of the spa extended even to the café, and the avant-garde décor included rich black tables and purple leather booths.

My two-course meal commenced with the pumpkin and sweetcorn soup, served with hunks of fresh, warm bread. I love pumpkin soup, and wouldn’t have thought I would have had the best pumpkin soup at a spa café! I chose fish for my main course, which consisted of a cod fillet served on a bed of shaved potato slices and tomato purée. I enjoyed both courses immensely. While the portions were on the tiny side (think minimalistic i.e. large white spaces on the plate with creative brush strokes of sauce), the presentation of the dishes was immaculate and the food was very tasty. I can deal with tiny portions if at least it’s not pretentious. I rounded off the satisfying meal with a strawberry smoothie.

Spa cafe Espa Riga

Delicous pumkin soup

And so concluded my day at the Espa Riga. What did I think of it? Well, I loved the feeling of luxury that enveloped me as soon as I stepped through the glass entrance doors. I felt like royalty as I enjoyed the various heat and water experiences. I will never forget that feeling of being surrounding by condensing clouds on that freezing morning in the outdoor rooftop pool while I floated, cocooned in the warm water.

While my massage, the focal point of my days’ treatments left a lot to be desired, the feeling of opulence that Espa Riga provided transcended that disappointment.

Would I go back? Most definitely!

NB: Due to the low level of lighting inside Espa Riga, the picture quality may be affected. For this reason, and due the fact that I enjoy providing images for all my reviews, I have supplemented my own photos with a few official photographs from http://www.espa.com.
Disclaimer: No part of this spa experience (travel, accommodation or otherwise) was paid for by Espa Riga. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.