By Rachel Will
Article photos by Dimas Anggakara, gallery photos by ESPA
My preference in spas is in the same vein as restaurants I like: independent, locally sourced, and brimming with personality. My favorite spa is no exception—it is located in a repurposed home in a quaint suburban neighborhood, run by a doting husband and wife team.
So prior to my review of ESPA at Resorts World Sentosa, I had some trepidation about the experience. ESPA is a multinational spa company that has enjoyed an absurd amount of growth since its 1993 conception. British national Susan Harmsworth founded the chain after working most of her career as a fashion and beauty writer and ESPA has grown from one location to more than 350 in a scant 20 years.
ESPA is located on Singapore’s evergreen Sentosa Island. About a 25-minute trip by taxi from Changi Airport, Sentosa’s mostly commercial attractions include a Universal Studios theme park, Hard Rock Hotel, and the world’s largest aquarium.
Dubbed a “destination spa”, ESPA boasts a 10,000-square-meter facility and is the largest spa in the city-state. Equarius Hotel is kitty-corner to the venue, allowing pampered guests a brief walk over in their robes and slippers to the lobby. Despite the island’s kid-friendly and sometimes frenetic tourism venues, the spa and hotel are surprising tranquil.
ESPA has recently launched Singapore’s first lifestyle retreat packages, allowing guests to create a multiday itinerary with accommodations at Equarius Hotel or a local “staycation” at the day spa.
Each itinerary is centered on four themes: fit for life, weight loss, intro to detox, and de-stress. Naturally, I chose the weight-loss option because it seemed like the best fodder for writing. Body-slimming algae wraps? A regimented diet while in treatment? My curiosity was piqued.
After submitting ESPA’s rigorous four-page previsit questionnaire it seemed my wellness therapist (or a computer glitch) had other plans for me, as I received a “de-stress” itinerary instead.
Prior to the start of my day’s pampering, I booked a vinyasa flow yoga class through the spa’s activity schedule. The spa was quiet before its 9 a.m. opening and I wandered the deserted grounds looking for the studio. As though conjured to appear, one of the smiling spa managers greeted me by name and brought me upstairs to a glass-encased octagon with a 360-degree view of the property.
I was in heaven practicing pranayama breathing when my instructor arrived. We wasted no time getting into downward dog and flowing through some yoga mainstays. Despite the extreme air conditioning I began to sweat profusely thus beginning my detox for the day.
Following a health-conscious breakfast in my room at Equarius Hotel, I walked back to ESPA for my 30-minute consultation with a wellness therapist. It was the same smiling gentleman who escorted me to yoga that morning, so I was immediately comfortable.
We diligently reviewed each of the previsit questions and he paused at my listed stress level. Speaking with the intimacy of a friend, and the professionalism of a therapist, he asked about my responses and provided me with insights that I still echo in my mind today.
When it came to my sleep schedule, he recommended exercises for relaxation and mind-calming techniques. Though the session lasted less than any of my spa treatments, it has continued to guide my approach to wellness and, incidentally, de-stressing.
Next on the itinerary was a one-hour signature massage. I was brought to a maze of changing rooms, showers, bathrooms, post-treatment rooms, and finally to my personal locker.
American architect Michael Graves’ firm collaborated with Singaporean DP Architects to achieve the tropical tranquility of ESPA. The space smacks of contemporary colonial luxury with dark wood plantation shutters and lazy ceiling fans throughout. Natural elements from bamboo ceilings to drift wood features reflect the verdant surroundings.
Along with the spa’s signature white robe, I was given a funny pair of black androgynous underwear for the treatment. With my own book in hand I headed to the tea lounge where my therapist would meet me shortly. The tea lounge is a sight in itself with modern leather furniture, natural lighting, and round chairs facing a Japanese-style Onsen rock pool. GI-tract friendly ginger tea and herb-infused water are available for guests to sip while they wait for their treatment to begin.
My therapist soon retrieved me and took me to a private treatment room. The session began by allowing me to choose my massage oils. Kneeling before me she rubbed two of ESPA’s wholly natural line of products on my arm and allowed a sniff test to determine my treatment. Following a close competition, I blindly chose the lemongrass-infused detox product over the geranium body firming oil.
My 60-minute massage (US$160) was arguably one of the best I have ever had. ESPA offers a selection of six massage therapies to choose from including Balinese and aromatherapy. Your massage is also tailored to your retreat goals, so techniques for weight loss or de-stress are employed in-treatment. My therapist was hypersensitive to my consultation needs, allowing me to pinpoint zones down to the lymph node and dutifully refrained from pressure on my lower back.
I asked her about her training following the session and she noted that she has been a therapist for more than 20 years in Singapore. Further, prior to the launch of ESPA, all therapists received an additional 10 weeks of training to align their practice with ESPA’s global standards. It was well noted.
Between treatments I waded around the hot and cold vitality pools attached to the spa. The pools are surrounded by tropical plants and rainforest, making it not only cloaked in greenery for privacy, but a lush aesthetic experience as well.
I then enjoyed lunch at Tangerine Spa Café, inclusive with ESPA’s retreat package. After asking an attendant about appropriate attire she said guests were welcome to wear robes in the restaurant. To my private amusement my threads were just slightly underdressed compared to the two businessmen also having lunch.
Although I recognize Tangerine’s menu aims to complete the holistic wellness goals of the spa, I was not terribly impressed with the cuisine concept by celebrity chefs Sam and Forest Leong. There is something to be desired following a meal there, whether it be larger portions or a greater range of flavor.
My last treatment of the day was a 45-minute facial (personalized 60-minute facial at US$180) by an equally expert and sensitive therapist. She allowed me to choose my products during an impromptu consultation about my skin and products I use.
I have to admit the session was so relaxing that I drifted into sleep for part of the treatment, but I still relish in the memory of the gentle face massage and delicate products used. She even performed extractions, which are no one’s favorite experience of the treatment, but her soft, swift movements barely registered.
Following my treatment I headed to the relaxation lounge with a view of the spa’s koi-filled lake and bungalow treatment rooms. The overall experience of the retreat relaxed me more than I knew I needed and has planted ideas for improving my lifestyle for the future.
Contemplating the utter luxury that I experienced that day in the lounge, I sipped water and read, eventually drifting back to sleep once more.
8 Sentosa Gateway; 65/65779977; rwsentosa.com; doubles from US$500
The one day package detailed in this story starts at US$620
Please see our related video tour of ESPA at Resorts World Sentosa