Down winding streets of London’s Embankment, sat behind The Strand, the unassuming doorway into AIRE Ancient Baths is hard to find, but the magical aqueous underworld that awaits you is well worth the brief game of hide and seek.
I love a thermal spa. There’s something so soothing about swirling around in the hot water – even a five-minute dip can mollify the soul. Now there’s no need to jet off to Bath or Budapest for such delights, as there is a new haven of serenity right in the heart of London.
AIRE Ancient Baths have seven locations in international cities spanning Seville, New York, Barcelona, and beyond. The spas reinterpret the ancient ritual of thermal bathing – that originated in the Greek and Roman Empires – for today’s wellness arena. Their eighth outpost has just opened in London, a stone’s throw from buzzy Covent Garden.
I was one of the first to visit this brown-stoned oasis, on a rainy Sunday afternoon during their opening week. It was pretty blissful.
THE PACKING EDIT
AIRE is renowned for restoring beautiful historic buildings to house its spas, and the new London outpost is located in the Adelphi building: an eighteenth-century neoclassical creation, once the home of J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. By working with the original architecture, AIRE have created a 1,300m2 space of serenity: you’d never know that theatres and bustling restaurants are just metres away.
The spa comprises a series of hot and cold water baths to be enjoyed at your own pace. The Caldarium is a hot bath of 40ºC, whilst the Tepidarium is a vast warm bath of 36ºC – I could have swirled around in it for hours. Balneum is an invigorating jacuzzi bath and the Vaporium steam room – with a clarifying eucalyptus scent – is particularly mind-stilling. There are two plunge pools if you dare: the Frigidarium cold baths are a shiver-inducing 14ºC and 10ºC respectively. The Flotarium is by far the most impressive: a warm, salt-water bath designed to mimic the density of the Red Sea. Simply float and let go, it’s very magical. Plus, the beautiful relaxation zones peppered around are great for recharging with lots of water and a revitalising herbal tea.
Nothing ruins the tranquility of a thermal spa experience quite like being shoulder-to-shoulder with another patron, which is why AIRE is such a gem. Visitor numbers are capped at around 20 guests for optimum relaxation. AIRE truly is a multi-sensory journey. It’s dimly lit with candles to highlight the original brickwork and the impossibly blue waters. Speaking of the candles, the whole spa has a transporting orange blossom scent, which proved a huge hit (at least three people enquired about it during my visit). The mood is very meditative, silence is interspersed with low, relaxing music which you can hear through the underwater speakers too. I could have floated around for eternity, and when the second chime rang – a wordless indicator that the session was over – I was utterly in another world.
The true jewel in the crown is The Wine Ritual – because who doesn’t want to literally bathe in a vat of wine. In this three-hour experience, guests are submerged in an antioxidant-rich formulation made of Spanish tempranillo grapes, in a rather grand 17th-century Venetian well bath. After this is a 60-minute full-body exfoliating massage with grape-seed oil, for full body and mind relaxation. The experience concludes with a glass of wine, just in case you haven’t had enough.
Whilst all experiences centre around the beautiful water, guests wanting to add something extra to their visit can opt for a treatment in one of the eight treatment rooms. Full-body massages are beautifully invigorating, lasting between 30 and 75 minutes. I had a signature Super Restorative Massage. Opting for a lavender essential oil, my therapist gently pummelled my legs, arms, and back for 60 heavenly minutes before I drifted back to the water below.
CF Top Tip
Make sure to try the Frigidariums (even though its hard at first). The contrast of the ice-cold water with the warmer baths and Vaporium are a key part of the experience and very beneficial. It’s particularly invigorating after the steam room.