The Grand in York lives up to its name. This is a hotel that is on a scale that is positively monumental. It was not, in fact, built as a hotel but as the headquarters of the North East Railway. And if you go down into the spa (more of this later) on the lower ground floor you’ll find yourself in the original vaults with their studded iron doors that used to store the railway barons’ millions.
This is a building meant to impress: Edwardian, Grade II listed and money no object. The walls, even on the inside are getting on for two feet thick. There are lofty ceilings, wide archways, a mighty staircase that ascends through five floors. It is located just inside the walls of the ancient city, a stone’s throw from the Minster and surrounded by York’s graceful Georgian architecture and the medieval quarter of the Shambles, now all bijou shops and restaurants.
Like Bath, and for much the same reasons, York is a city whose main business is tourism. It’s easy to see why and it has a charm that is palpable. As a result, it does draw the crowds and – a word to the wise – it’s probably better to avoid weekends when you’re likely to find the streets beset with marauding stag and hen parties. If it’s Georgian elegance you’re after go mid-week.
Back in the Grand, my room – suite, really – has the same generous rooms and high ceilings as the public rooms. The bathroom is stocked with lovely Molton Brown products, there are fluffy robes and slippers, an espresso machine and a turn-down service. This is, as they’re proud to point out, the only 5* hotel in Yorkshire. This follows through to the restaurant, Hudson’s (3AA rosettes and named after George Hudson aka the Railway King). The menu doesn’t offer a clue to the level of cooking here which is very good indeed. Chef Craig Atchinson is very keen on seasonality and sourcing local specialities and displays not just flair but a sense of fun. I chose a starter called “Winter Vegetables” that was a masterpiece of both presentation and flavour. It continued like this all the way through – the most delicate halibut, toothsome rhubarb. The menu is short but, boy, is it perfectly formed.
So, back to that spa. This is not a destination spa. It’s a spa that’s in a great destination. And it’s definitely worth a visit while you’re in York. There’s a small hydro-spa with pool, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna. But here, it’s the treatments that are very special. All of the products are E’Spa, so you can expect the purest ingredients and piercingly sweet scents to fill the air.
I started off with the hip and thigh treatment which, I was told by Sarah, my therapist, would stimulate the lymphatic system to reduce cellulite and fluid retention. Now, Sarah is the kind of expert therapist you rarely find. She talks you through how the products work, the science and the biology. She inspects your skin closely to diagnose and then prescribe what it needs. And she knows what she’s talking about. She ran the spa on the QEII (onboard clients included Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter), after which she taught the science, theory and practice of beauty for 14 years.
So this treatment was all about lymphatic drainage and stimulating the circulation. There was deep massage for the blood circulation and light massage for the lymphatic. The deep massage stimulates blood flow, bringing oxygen to help with cell growth and repair, while the lighter lymphatic massage encourages the lymph system (which collects waste, bacteria and toxins) to filter and cleanse itself.
Before all this began, the deeply cleansing oils of cypress and juniper were placed in a bowl under the massage table and Sarah told me to take three deep inhalations. Even breathing in these oils stimulates the system and, when later they are applied during the massage, it takes just seven seconds for them to start to react with the skin. The treatment began, though, with skin brushing and then a combination of marine algae and rock salt were used as a scrub to be removed with iced mitts. (Alternating hot and cold is another way of stimulating the lymphatic as well as the immune system.) Then came a lovely massage with the cypress and juniper oils and a foot massage to stimulate pressure points that also help in the detoxifying process.
After this it was time for my facial. I’d already tried out a variety of essential oils to see which ones I was drawn to on the day – on the basis that your sense of smell will guide you to what you need at a particular time: rose, jasmine, rose geranium, lavender – it’s hard to make a choice but I plump for rose and lavender. Before we begin Sarah applies E’Spa’s pink hair and scalp mud all over my hair and will come back to massage more in later. Now this is guaranteed to make you look a real mess in the short term but, once it’s washed off, it is equally guaranteed to give you soft, glossy hair, seemingly freed of the build-up of every product, pollution, second-hand cigarette smoke – you name it. It is, in short, on my list of top miracle products.
The facial itself begins with Hydrating Cleansing Milk, followed by Balancing Herbal Spafresh (sprayed on toner) and Refining Skin Polish (exfoliator). All E’Spa with the lovely smells you’d expect and a light feel. Eyes have their own cleanser. Then, just to be sure, there’s the Optimal Skin ProCleanser – I now officially have very clean skin. After this there are serums and masks, moisturisers and oils, and above all a wonderful facial massage. Sarah has chosen all of the ingredients to specifically target my skin’s problem areas and afterwards I’m extremely pleased with the results. Not only does my skin feel very soft and hydrated, any unevenness of tone has disappeared and I am glowing! To be honest, I’m no longer sure which of the seven listed facials I had – I think Sarah simply looked at my skin and decided what was needed, taking elements from each or any as appropriate. This is one case where trusting the experts pays off.
The Grand Hotel & Spa, York. Tel: 01904 380 050. For more information, including details of their ‘I Love Sundays’ and Millionaire’s Spa packages, visit www.thegrandyork.co.uk.