hammam chez smartbox

by bellab

Have any of you heard of Smartbox? No, me either. Until recently that is when their PR emailed me to ask if I’d like to trial a spa treatment at Casa Spa in London to celebrate the launch of their Zen & Spa gift experience box (£59.95 http://www.smartbox.com). It’s a bit like a Redletterday except these are in conjunction with Time Out who endorse all of the venues they work with, a feature not to be sniffed at I thought. I ummed and ahhed after reading some hit and miss reviews of the spa on Tripadvisor but I had nothing else on that day and they do a traditional hammam which brought back fond memories of a weekend in Marrakech with my sisters, so I thought what the hell…

First a little bit on the treatment and spa. Yes, it was a little no frills and the situation on the St John’s Wood end of Edgware road isn’t exactly a renowned pampering spot, that said, the staff were wonderfully friendly and plied me with mint tea and baklava before I could even take my coat of. The treatment itself just made me crack up. There’s a tiny shared curtained-off changing room where you’re deposited to put on your swimming costume, then you walk through a communal area with daybeds to a small steam room. How small? I don’t know. I could only see about 2ft in front of me. My ‘therapist’ and I do use the term loosely, was a jolly Algerian woman who soaped me up in Moroccan black soap and rubbed me down vigorously with the requisite scrubby mit (or boxer short glove as my younger sister calls them post-Morocco), all the while chatting away merrily to me and a fellow spa goer. Afterwards we were led to showers to rinse off (they seemed nice and clean though again, it was dark as a mine down there) before treating us to more mint tea and a nifty session of reflexology. Sophisticated it was not. But sometimes I like a back to basics treatment with a bit of personality. I reasoned Casa must be one of the more rustic venues on Time Out’s list.

Secondly, the Zen & Spa gift box. For £59.95 it seems like a good deal to me. It comes with a thick booklet of participating venues, some much more salubrious than Casa for those with a lower luxury threshold, and the choice and range of activities (shiatsu massage, perfume workshop, hair colour) really allows for the recipient to choose something they actually want. Also there are no ‘off’ periods with this gift. So long as the spa or salon has space you can book in like a normal customer and be confident you won’t be given a ‘quicky’ Groupon experience because you paid a discount price.

* holiday snap courtesy of thearabesque.tumblr.com