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Non-domestic bliss

The Sanctuary Spa: central London’s solution to the day at home you never get.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Politics

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One feature of our uptight times is that we seem to find relaxing peculiarly taxing. From joining a gym to choosing a holiday destination to going for a walk, more and more pastimes seem to be not indulgences, so much as virtuous activities – being good for your health, good for the rural economy of holiday destinations, good for the environment, and all that.

Meanwhile, domestic life is exhausting. As life-at-work is widely accepted to imitate The Office, the search for meaningful activity goes extra-curricular. From part-time study to blogging, jogging and volunteering, the pressure is on for people to Make Something of their leisure time. It’s worse if you have kids, of course – as playtime becomes passé, planning structured, semi-educational, adult-involved activities takes up increasing amounts of adults’ time.

Getting away from the non-domestic pressures of domesticity takes effort and money, and holidays come but once a year. That’s probably why London’s women flock to The Sanctuary in Covent Garden, where they can pay upwards of £60 per day (£40 in the evening) to pretend to be in bed.

The Sanctuary women-only ‘Day Spa’ is a strange kind of place. It could be a harem, except that women shuffle around in terry-towelling robes and slippers, devoid of make-up and self-consciousness; it could be a lesbian colony, except that, as the publicity points out, ‘contrary to popular belief, 80 percent of women now wear swimsuits/bikinis’; it could be a children’s swimming-pool complex, except that instead of chutes and wave machines there are jacuzzis, saunas and there is a single wooden swing over a pool decked out like a beach holiday resort.

What The Sanctuary definitely is not is a health club – and nor does it pretend to be. Yes, you can swim and sauna and drink fruit juice; yes, you can pay for a mind-boggling range of alternative health-type ‘treatments’, from a collagen facial to an algae envelopment to a Chardonnay organic wrap – if that happens to be your cup of camomile.

But crucially, you can drink, eat cake, and smoke (albeit on a secluded balcony that requires a trip through the changing room and a knack with foil disposable ashtrays). Presumably, it’s the absence of pretence that accounts for its appeal.

Because let’s face it, leisure time is not supposed to make you healthy, wealthy or worthy. It’s supposed to be about relaxing or having some fun. The Sanctuary has cleverly tapped into a paradox – that relaxation today seems to mean getting away from the pressures of leisure time, and even from each other. Apparently, 65 percent of Sanctuary gift vouchers are sold to men, to give as presents to their womenfolk – the gift of a day without me, perhaps? And while some gaggles of girls giggle over their champagne brunches, many of the women there during my visit were on their own, with a book. All extremely pleasant when you’re there – if rather odd when you come to describe it on paper.

From the swimming pools to the steam rooms, from the massage chairs to the big fish floating about in the Koi Carp Lounge, the place has an other-worldly air of relaxation and luxury. But once you’ve tried all that, there’s not a lot that you actually can do at The Sanctuary that you couldn’t try at home – and it’s kind of strange that you need to go out into central London to sit around in dressing gowns under fleecy blankets, reading books and pretending you’re in bed.

But so what? Somehow, a day’s doing nothing in your home town has become a gift with a price-tag attached – and from the ongoing popularity of the place, it seems like a price that London’s women are only too happy to pay.

For more information, see The Sanctuary website

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Topics Politics

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