A journey of relaxation in a candlelit historical oasis
It’s Monday morning and I’m floating in a warm salt bath surrounded by flickering candlelight and tall rustic archways under London’s ancient streets. I really am in heaven! Next, it’s time for a hot stream and some cold therapy in the plunge pool, set to 10C, before a full body massage and glass of fizz. I’ve had worse Monday mornings.
Luxury spas are my ultimate indulgence, there is nothing better than some uninterrupted ‘me time’, so when I heard that AIRE were opening their first London baths, a stone's throw from Covent Garden I couldn’t wait to visit. Inspired by the ancient tradition of Roman baths, AIRE Ancient Baths London reimagines the classic pastime of soaking in thermal waters, but with a twist. Already found in New York, Chicago, Copenhagen and Spain (where there are four outposts – in Seville, two in Barcelona and Almeria), AIRE’s approach is all about updating the concept of ‘water for wellness’ for a modern audience, marrying age-old traditions within cutting-edge spaces.
As soon as we stepped through the doors of AIRE we were transported into another world. I was taken aback with how beautifully the 18th-century neoclassical building had been restored. I remember thinking how hard it would be to capture in words just how visually stunning the surroundings were and how I suddenly left normal life outside, I had a complete feeling of calm.
Located at 2-3 Robert Street, the property is located within London’s ‘Adelphi’ area, a spot which is the legacy of the 18th century’s most renowned architect siblings, the Adam brothers. Famed for their elegant, neoclassical influenced projects, which were inspired by the Grand Tour travels of Robert Adam, their work came to define this riverside area in central London. As time went on, 2-3 Robert Street eventually became the home of Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie, best remembered as writer of Peter Pan (check out the first edition in the lobby area).
Instead of the usual pastel-hued palette found in most spas, the décor here is unexpected. This is all about capturing a ‘faded grandeur’ of a bygone past, with stripped-back walls left unfinished, worn-torn books used as decoration and bare floorboards underfoot. It’s an eclectic and glamorous mix, more in the style of a boho country house than a typical day spa, with brown leather chesterfield sofas juxtaposed against aged terracotta pots, wooden chests adorned with lanterns and French linen armchairs sat next to large pillar candles. Talking of which, there are hundreds of candles everywhere, glimmering away and casting an elegant glow over every space.
After checking in we enjoyed some warm tea in the library, before we were taken down to the changing rooms and very importantly asked to switch off our phones. AIRE spaces are temples dedicated to mind and body relaxation, where time does not exist, something that always takes a little bit of getting used to. Once in our robes (and funny little black slipper shoes) we were taken down to the labyrinth of turquoise pools framed by Roman-style arches and brickwork - it was really stunning. The wellness ritual, inspired by Roman bathing, is designed to soothe the body and mind by exposure to different water temperatures. We were advised to start the tepidarium (36C) before moving to the caldarium or hot water bath (40C). As we chatted and relaxed, candles flicked around us and zen-inducing tunes played from under the water. Even though we had no idea what the time was, I just didn’t want it to go too quickly. I could have stayed here all day. After the vaporium (steam room), which was probably one of the best steam rooms I have ever been in, we woke our bodies up with a quick dip in the frigidarium (14C). We then enjoyed the balneum (jet pool), and then probably my favourite, the body scrub and float in the flotarium, a salt bath.
We had a full body massage booked, but there was no worry about time. When the masseur was ready for us, we were found bobbing around in the salt bath and asked to make our way upstairs. We had booked a ‘Couples Escape’, so both enjoyed a massage in the same room which was perfect on my aching back muscles. On returning to the baths we were offered a glass of fizz and chocolate truffles which we enjoyed in one of the relaxation areas before heading back into the steam room.
After a good two hours of enjoying this dimly lit urban oasis under London streets it was sadly time to leave. The changing rooms have anything needed to head back out into the world. AIRE is a new approach for the city’s urban spa world and a totally different concept from anything else you might have experienced before. What I do know is that I want to experience it again and again and again!