Inspired by historic Roman bathing rituals, Aire Ancient Baths brings candle-lit hydrotherapy to central London. Lotte Jeffs reports
It’s really the moment before you take the plunge that matters. The millisecond when you decide yes, you can do it and then venture the first step into the ice cold water. There’s no feeling quite like it, especially after ten minutes in a sauna. Your skin tingles, your heart leaps in your chest and every cell in your body seems to wake up with a jolt.
To be so suddenly alive makes you realise how much of your day you spend in a kind of screen-induced stupor. That’s what I enjoyed most about the few hours I spent at the Aire Ancient Baths near London’s Embankment, connecting with my body in a way, especially post-lockdown, I haven’t done for a very long time.
It is quite a feat to make a new spa look so, well, old, but the Aire Ancient Baths concept is all about working with historic properties to create a space reminiscent of Greek and Roman bathing rituals. In London its home is an 18th-century townhouse, a short walk from Embankment station, where the author of Peter Pan, JM Barrie lived.The architects highlighted original features such as ceiling roses, cornices, and brick vaulted ceilings but it’s the darkness, the silence, the scent of orange blossom and the flickering glow of candles that makes you really feel you’ve stumbled into an authentic ancient bathing site.Aire’s exclusive formula is tried and tested in its six existing locations around the world. The company launched 20 years ago with its first Aire Ancient Baths in Seville. Then followed Barcelona, Almeria, New York, Vallromanes and Chicago – each one unique and inspired by the cultural and historical environment of the location. Toronto is scheduled to open in 2023.
In London, you enter through an inauspicious doorway. After checking in and agreeing to keep your phone in your locker, you’re led down into the relaxing depths by one of the charming but not obsequious staff members.They waft around dressed in black and speaking quietly into earpieces to keep track of each group of guests. The number of people per session is limited to ensure a sense of privacy and tranquillity.
Moving through the several pools I was barely aware of anyone else’s presence. I was shown around by someone whose manner was so calm I instantly felt my shoulders sink down from their usual place near my ears and my breath become longer and deeper. As my eyes adjusted to the low light, I was assured someone would find me when it was time for my full body massage.I began by acclimatising in the warm pool (36 degrees), then it felt like the right time for a sauna followed by a dip in the ice pool (10 degrees), then back out and into the hot pool (40 degrees). I repeated this until I felt I’d reached a warrior level of resilience (my longest ice dip was a mere 40 seconds so I’m not exactly Wim Hoff, but I impressed myself nonetheless).
I exfoliated with salt and was bobbing around in the flotarium (a salt water pool with the same density as the dead sea), when I was called for my massage. The place is run with such quiet efficiency, it’s clear you are in excellent hands.
Afterwards I enjoyed the well-known ancient Roman ritual of a small glass of Prosecco and some chocolate truffles and finished off my time at the baths in the “pool of 1,000 jets”.The changing rooms are well equipped with L’Occitane products and when checking in online before visiting you are asked if you identify as male, female or non-binary, which is a concession more gyms and spas should offer their guests.
Although the main locker area is communal, there are individual changing rooms with a shower and bathroom facilities for any guest who would prefer to change in a private space.
As I emerged, blinking into the sunlight of a late summer afternoon, I felt rejuvenated in a way a “regular” spa experience simply can’t replicate. Next time I visit I’m intrigued to try the Couples Wine Bath experience which includes a private red wine soak in a historical tub, and a red wine grape seed massage. For up to date prices and a menu of signature experiences and “couples specials” visit beaire.com.