It's now late June and I've only just got round to blogging this visit to the Lowry Hotel's spa... which is perhaps a measure of how underwhelmed I was by this experience. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't terribly good either.
I am, perhaps, being a bit unfair. Maybe my expectations of the Lowry had been built up too much by comments like that of Manchester Confidential, which calls it “arguably the finest hotel in the North West” (admittedly in the middle of the blurb for a special dining offer at the Lowry's River Restaurant), and by the the fact that it is a rather lovely building in a great location and with a pretty high reputation.
So, as usual I was there on a special offer deal – again from Manchester Confidential, and consisting of £80 for a full body massage and a full hour-long facial – ie £40 each for two treatments which would normally have been upwards of £60 each, plus use of the spa facilities.
Aaah yes, the spa facilities. The Lowry website claims to offer the “ultimate world of luxury and relaxation” in an “innovative urban spa.” The site's description then lists the facilities as a gym, relaxation rooms, saunas and “Complimentary hot and cold drinks, daily newspapers and magazines.” This isn't striking me as a description of an 'ultimate world...' blahdy-blah, and it wasn't. It was a couple of rooms (admittedly quite pleasant ones with good views) filled with big squishy floor cushions, beanbags and loungers and with a range of mags (the two which spring to mind being a Cheshire set lifestyle one and the stunningly smug and fatuous Intelligent Life from the Economist group. If that represents intelligent life, the heaven help us all, we are scientifically, culturally and economically truly shafted. But I digress.)
The saunas were very small and very hot. If anyone else had been there it would have been quite unnervingly intimate. Fortunately I was alone, so I didn't have to brush naked knees with any strangers, and no-one got to see how quickly I turned purple and had to head for a cool shower.
I was pretty glad to see my therapist turn up soon after, as I could have got quite bored in that relaxation room without a nice sauna to distract me. And after the usual little legal-arse-covering form and chat, it was into the massage. Which was, to be frank, quite odd. Whether I'm with a serious therapeutic massage professional like Jutika at Bodywise or Flora at Neal's Yard, or just having a standard pleasant spa massage, I'm used to people employing a range of techniques – strokes, pressure points, effleurage etc etc – to achieve different results on various parts of the body. Here, however, with the exception of a bit of effleurage at the end, we had one setting – Rub. Hard. The effect of this was a reasonably effective if not entirely enjoyable massage on the arms, legs and lower back. But then she found my knotty, impregnably tensed-up upper and back and shoulders, and commenced a weird, even harder rubbing which felt like she was just trying to scrub away the knots – as if finding them one by one and just rubbing away at them with her thumbs would make them go away. No use of elbows or forearms, no pressure points or long, restful strokes. Just a determined rubbing, as if her thumbs were an eraser and the knots in my muscles were offensive pencil markings. Weird. My muscles certainly felt looser afterwards, but the following day I felt really quite bruised, which is something one often gets warned about after massages but which I've never actually experienced before.
Then came the facial. I can't remember ever having had a spa facial. I got a facial in the treatment rooms at the Clarins counter in Debenhams once, years ago, mainly because it was only fifteen quid and you then got a £15 voucher for Clarins products, which seemed like a pretty good deal. So I don't have a lot to compare my Lowry one against, but again it was a rather mixed experience. I think I explained fairly clearly that although my skin is quite oily, it's also getting on a bit and if you treat it like teenaged greasy skin it promptly dries up into delicate, painful flakiness. Despite this (and despite this being advertised as a 'skin-specific facial' using Elemis products) I got the distinct feeling that I was getting the standard oily-skin treatment, which at some points felt pretty astringent and harsh. The hardier bits of my face came out of the experience looking glowing and rejuvenated, but the delicate patches round my chin were red and felt raw for a good couple of days after.
Having finished writing this up, it all looks pretty negative. I don't think I felt quite so hostile when I walked out of the Lowry – perhaps because the doorman was so lovely and smiley and assiduous in clearing my way of anything that might impede my cripple progress. But if I'd forked out full whack for any of this experience I'd have been well hacked off, and I shall remember in future that the Radisson is still top of my list for Manchester city centre hotel spas.