One fine half-day at Grace Belgravia

My first impression of Grace Belgravia, which I visited shortly after it opened four years ago, was mixed to say the least. I was whizzed through it in about ten minutes flat. Staff was morose, apart from the sunny & welcoming gym trainers. Best of all,  I wasn’t even offered a glass of water. But my recent half-day visit more than made up for initial shortcomings. Talk about a place transformed!

Grace Belgravia was masterminded by businesswoman Kate Percival, who started to re-evaluate a lot of things when she turned 50. Instead of doing something indulgent for herself, she set out to create a peaceful oasis that brought together health, wellbeing, beauty, fitness, nutrition and many other things under one spaciously airy roof. The result of her team’s labours is a place where women are able to nurture themselves, enjoy stillness, as well as have informative conversations. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Kate on the day of my visit and while you can feel blades of steel underneath her beautifully controlled exterior, she is an inspiring woman, who brings women of different ages together under one roof and gives them a calm space to do things that not only matter to them, but make them feel good, both inside and out. You can workout, see a variety of specialists, including doctors, making sure your health is where you want it to be, attend events, pamper yourself, read a book, while drinking a smoothie, or have lunch with a girlfriend or dinner your other half – it offers all this and more.

On the day of my visit I was still feeling somewhat fragile, after weathering a flu-like cold on my feet the week before, doing my usual rounds of work, school runs and after-school activities. My energy was low and I craved peaceful comfort. I arrived at a discreet black door, was buzzed in, climbed a curved staircase and was met by Grace’s receptionist. She gave me a form to fill in (it took three pen changes, but we got there swiftly in the end) and a rubber-like bracelet to wear, which would allow me to move effortlessly from one zone of the club to another. After filling in the form, I was shown around (with calm charm & plenty of useful tips) and was left to my own devices in the quite changing room, where a spacious locker was allocated to me for the duration of my stay.

I changed into my fitness gear and went into the gym, where two male instructors were already guiding their clients through the paces. I was starting my day with an hour-long reformer pilates session with Georgia, alongside two other Grace members. I have done pilates on many occasions, but have to admit it was my first session on the reformer, so it looked a little daunting. Georgia, slim, calm & pretty, quickly explained the process and off we went. When you work on the reformer it might not seem more difficult than a regular pilates practise, but I promise you WILL feel the effect later! It does work more extensively on your muscles, yet you feel quite serene while doing it. The gym in Grace is divided into three separate areas/rooms – you have treadmills with the amenities in one, the gym in another, where you also have an area designated for reformer pilates and a studio, where you can do a variety of classes. The room where I was working out has utility decor, with metal panels on the walls and the ceiling, creating a fairly neutral environment where the focus is easily achieved and nothing distracts you. Well, other people working out with a gym instructor one-to-one might – I tend to talk with my gym instructors when working out and I don’t whisper, so others might find loud-voiced sirens like me distracting. Having said that, there is a nicely communal feel to the gym space, when you do your own thing, but can allow your eye and mind to wonder to someone doing something else. My class went by quickly and yet we managed to work the whole body without feeling exhausted and I left the class with a gentle smile on my face.

I had about twenty minutes before my treatment and took time to ‘nose’ around the changing room and beauty area, before changing into a bathrobe and walking into the waiting area next to the treatment room, inhaling the soothing smell of eucalyptus emitted from the sauna. I was about to have an hour and fifteen minute long treatment called The Capri Leg School®. Grace Belgravia exclussively partnered with Capri Beauty Farm & SPA in the UK & launched it in their treatment room in November 2016. I have heard about it, but was about to experience it for the first time, which always makes me doubly curious. The treatment was created by the world’s leg expert Professor Francesco Canonaco, bringing together science, research and pampering, in order to help women affected by circulatory problems. The origin of this problem can be medical, age-related, due to pregnancy (especially in latter stages, when you start feeling heavy, bloated & possibly retaining more fluid than usual) or due to a strong adoration of high-heeled shoes. What it promises is ‘noticeable reduction in the appearance of veins and capillaries, prevention and reduction of cellulite and a considerable effect against water retention, as the treatment stimulates your tissue oxygenation and boosts your metabolism’.

My therapist on the day was Elodie, a young & softly spoken French woman, who put me at ease with her calm demeanour within minutes. The treatment room, with its dimmed lights instantly creates a calm environment, with the subtle music, combining bells & cymbals, only enhancing the nurturing aspect of the treatment – take note ladies with too buzzy minds! There is a treatment bed, a sink and an interesting long steel tube hanging over you – a targeted multiple shower head to be more precise, the meaning of which became apparent later. Elodie explained the concept of the treatment and its stages (we actually switched between French and English, which was great for me, as if we didn’t talk, by the end of the treatment I would have been contendetdly asleep) and we got down to business. You strip down, only keeping your unglamorous paper knickers on, lie on the treatment bed, with your upper body covered in the warm towel and Elodie applies a warm mud mask all over your legs and butt, warning that within minutes the warming sensation will give way to the cooling one. In actual fact it feels not unlike the iciness you might feel in the winter, but without the discomfort. As the mask gets to work, Elodie gives a gentle lymphatic drainage massage on the decollate, arms and then abs – her technique and use of pressure points is so refined, you start feeling relaxed within minutes and the speedy effect might take you by a pleasant surprise, especially if you feel tired, overwhelmed or stressed. After Elodie was done, she asked me to get up, set the shower at a right temperature and asked me to wash the mask off. It takes a little bit of time, as the mask itself is quite thick, but as it is washed away, you notice how much softer your skin is – and you aren’t even half-way through the treatment!

After I towel-dry myself Elodie warns me that the bandages that she is about to apply to my legs will be cold and boy, aren’t they icy! As you feel like half-a-mummy, Elodie works her magic on the head. It is so good and so relaxing, that even freezing bandages stop distracting me and as she progresses, the bandages warm up a little too. By the time Elodie finishes with massaging my head and starts taking the bandages off, I know deep inside that it is the best head massage I have ever had in London – no small feat, as I am fussy. My head is relaxed and I feel clear-headed and care-free – if that isn’t a magic touch, I don’t know what is!

The next stage requires skill from the therapist and nothing from you – the multiple-showerheads I mentioned above are turned on and you are being showered with warm water, as Elodie moves it left-to-right and back again, which is followed by her massaging your legs upwards with ice cubs. It’s the most unusual and soothing sensation and as warm and cold are alternated, I end up feeling like I am on a Caribbean islands, having my treatment, as the gentle rain is pummelling the roof. The soothing cocoon isn’t interrupted when ice cubs start gliding on your skin, akin to the scene in the ‘9 1/2 weeks’, but without the erotic context. The effect of hydrotherapy is rejuvenating on your body, but your head continues to relax, letting go of the worries, plans or any thoughts. Time stands still, as you savour the sensations and the pampering. After six or seven rounds, Eldie switches the water off and starts massaging your legs with cold marble stones, that retain the cold well and glide easily over your skin. The process is alternated with a hot targeted shower that gently sways over you and then the treatment is all but over. Elodie towel dries your skin and applies eucalyptus spearmint cream, which makes your lower body feel as light, as a feather. This reinvigorating effect continued for several hours, even when I dashed from meeting to meeting later in the day, cooked dinner & put kids to bed at night. I also noticed that my head felt much clearer, as if I had a good night’s sleep in the clear mountain air. My slight reservations about my cold coming back, because my legs have been subjected to iciness also proved unfounded – if anything, I ended up feeling more energised & somewhat less fragile the next day.

As I emerged from the treatment, floating on cloud nine, I changed into my clothes and went into the parlour-like area to gather my thoughts and apply some make-up. It clearly was designed by a woman for a woman, with soft, but good lighting, making for easy make-up application, hairdryers and various essentials at the tips of your fingers. All this makes your ‘me-time’ even more special, as little touches make a big difference and you appreciate it when someone clearly took the time to think of the practical aspects of making you comfortable. Another thing that I found quite impressive is the fact that Grace Belgravia team members are entitled to a free weekly gym session, as well as GP check-ups, as part of their employment benefits. It speaks volumes of the business when it invests in the long-term well-being of its team.

Feeling ready to face the world, I floated to the dining area and had the most delicious barley and mushroom risotto for lunch – not too big, not too small – just a perfect plate of delicious food. It is almost like a meditative practise of enjoying every mouthful and dreaming of having a chef cooking dishes like that for you in the privacy of your own home – well, a girl can eat and dream, can’t she?

Time is precious and many women feel guilty about allocating any time to themselves, away from family and work, and yet it is so central to our wellbeing, both inside and out. We need to nurture ourselves and a treatment like Capri Leg School® makes you not only cherish that time, but actually tops up your positive energy reserve and makes you run on it for days.

Let’s be honest, when we book ourselves in for a beauty treatment, whatever it might be, we look forward to that time to ourselves, yet often leave disappointed. Well, while this treatment costs £220, it truly is worth it and I am already dreaming of another 75 minutes in that magic bubble of calm and care that helped sustain me energetically for days after and made my legs look & feel better. And thank you team Grace Belgravia for a very memorable experience under your attentive care!

For more information about membership, treatments and events at Grace Belgravia, please click here

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