Chinese medicine has long been a feature of the London scene, with its many well-established acupuncturists and herbal practitioners, so the city has long been ripe for a spa specialising in serious Oriental therapies.
The Chuan Spa opposite the iconic BBC building on Portland Place is a logical pioneer in the field, being part of the Langham Hotel, whose owners are based in Hong Kong.
Chuan is far more than a pampering parlour offering shiatsu and similar services; its aim is serious healing, under the leadership of Dr. Ke, a prominent consultatnt in Chinese medicine. It must be down to his training that the traditional massage I received from a thoroughly British therapist was one of the most different and profound I have ever experienced. The aim was to encourage the flow of Qi (pronounced chee) – the body’s essential energy – by stimulating meridian points through deep tissue manipulation, after ascertaining that I was most influenced by wood (vs. say fire or air) as an essential element.
Acupuncture is also practised at Chuan, along with moxibustion, which invokes the burning of a Chinese herb, to strengthen the blood and clear the energy flow, cupping to relieve pain, stone therapy to balance Yin and Yang energies, and full-scale consultations with Oriental doctors. On the spa side, respected Babor and Thalgo products are used, as well as signature scrubs of herbal salt and “muddy elements” wraps priced at an eye-watering £195 per session. For this kind of money you can also enjoy a 90-minute “Anti-Stress Cocoon”, a Personal Retreat lasting 2 1/2 hours and even “Eternity”(well, 3 1/4 hours of it, for a whopping £345). These specials are various combinations of face and body treatments for those in search of a serious treat; such deep pockets are not required for the £90, one-hour traditional Chinese massage.
The spa feels distinctly Chinese on entry, thanks to the Chippendale-style wooden screens surrounding the relaxation room, where tea is served in little Oriental pots . However the basement gym, large swimming pool and salt sauna, all available to the public on a day pass or membership basis, strike a thoroughly western note. They are a little less impressive – the gym huge but rather over-heated, the salt sauna a long way from any discernible cold plunge, if there is one. But as these are American and Scandinavian inventions respectively, it’s not logical to expect Chinese owners to do gyms and saunas with the same attention to authentic detail they pay to the ancient therapies of their home continent.