It’s up there with spiders, mice and heights, my fear of fake tan. Dabbling with a bottle of St Tropez in my bathroom a couple of years ago resulted in me having to wear trousers for four days during a heatwave. Despite following the rules – thou shalt exfoliate and moisturise thoroughly – it just never seems to have the desired effect. Consequently, given the choice between orange streaks and uniform paleness, I tend to opt for the latter.
Or at least I did until my first trip to Ibiza approached. The prospect of baring ghostly white limbs beside all those bronzed Spaniards, and the yacht set with their year-round St Barts glow, was too painful. Even the usually pasty friend I was travelling with had just spent a month in Indonesia (what a cheat).
It was time to take preventative action, if only for fear of blinding someone on the beach. But given the aforementioned phobia of ending up tangoed, it needed to be something gentle. The Bulgari Spa’s new ESPA treatment sounded like just the ticket, promising a ‘Naturally Radiant Summer Body’ with a gradual tanning product and expert application. If I’m going to take the plunge, I reasoned, it may as well be at one of London’s swankiest spas.
And so I descended to this spacious urban sanctuary below Knightsbridge, a quiet and labyrinthine place of onyx, Vicenza stone and Italian glass mosaics. Bypassing an enticing looking 25m pool (one of capital’s largest), I changed into a fluffy, dark grey robe and slippers in the locker rooms before being guided to the treatment room by my therapist for a consultation, where she explained what the hour-long experience would entail, reassuring me with the magic words ‘natural’ and ‘not orange’.
It began with a full body polish. A satisfyingly thick, grainy exfoliating scrub with an uplifting spearmint scent was paired with natural body brushing, the quick, light strokes boosting circulation and sloughing away dead skin. Lying on a therapy table with fluffy warm towels draped over me, it seemed I was unexpectedly getting a massage as well as a summer glow – somehow I’d envisaged standing up, as with a spray tan, but this was far more relaxing and indulgent.
I was then guided to the treatment room’s rainfall shower to wash off the exfoliator – more luscious smelling ESPA lotions – and returned to my supine position so the main event. ESPA’s new Gradual Tan is apparently formulated to naturally work with your skin’s biochemistry to help gradually develop colour. All I could tell, as the therapist massaged it in and I lay there with my eye mask on, was that it smelled far more pleasant than other self-tanning products; a combination of Ylang Ylang, Rosewood and Jasmine essential oils instead of the telltale biscuit smell that screams ‘I’ve faked it’.
Once my relaxing hour was up, I was instructed to leave the tan to develop for at least four hours before showering, and given a large tube of Naturally Radiant Tan to apply daily at home (there’s also the option of booking a 10-week course of sessions if you prefer not to DIY) until I reached my ideal colour. This softly-softly business won’t be for everyone, and it requires a bit of forward planning if you want to get optimally bronzed for a specific holiday or event, but tan-phobics like myself will be glad to notch their way up the Pantone scale from Bright White to something around Amber Gold rather than jumping straight to Leather Brown.
Two days later, I hit the beach with soft, smooth skin (thanks to the essential oils) and a respectable golden glow, only a tiny bit of patchiness at the top of the thighs. It might not quite have said ‘I spent all winter in St Barts’ but thankfully it didn’t shout ‘past six months in a London office’, either.
The ‘Naturally Radiant Summer Body’ is priced at £150 (Monday – Thursday) and includes a complimentary ESPA Natural Tan product. To book contact +44 (0)20 7151 1055 or visit www.bulgarihotels.com.