The Retreat at Inspira Santa Marta Hotel, lisbon

Does feng shui impact the spa experience? Sarah Barrell heads to The Retreat, at Lisbon's Inspira Santa Marta Hotel to find out

By Sarah Barrell
Published 29 Jun 2016, 12:09 BST

Does feng shui impact the spa experience? Sarah Barrell heads to The Retreat, at Lisbon's Inspira Santa Marta Hotel to find out

Beyond the carefully restored 18th-century facade of this Lisbon boutique hotel, you'll find a radical and roomy reinterpretation of four buildings. This vast, open-plan space, home to the hotel's bar, reception and restaurant, comes with cool contemporary design — plenty of reclaimed wood, granite and glass, offset by bold, retro soft furnishings — unified by a soaring atrium, sliced through with a dramatic staircase. At the top of this staircase to seemingly nowhere, you'll find a discreet door to the spa. The five elements of Chinese philosophy feng shui (water, earth, wood, fire and metal) inform the design here, and in the rest of the hotel, plus guests can request a room that reflects their birth sign.

Inspira has a rigorous eco policy. Noted for its work in environmental and social responsibility, it was shortlisted in National Geographic's 2015 Legacy Awards, in the Earth Changers category. Its restaurant aims to keep as close to a ‘zero-kilometre' food policy as possible, offers a wide range of gluten-free items (rare in Portugal), and filters/bottles its own water. From spa to bar, the hotel's whole team is involved in monitoring energy systems, supply chain and support for local and global community projects. The net result of all this: it won Best Sustainable Hotel in Portugal in the 2013/14 International Hotel Awards.

So far, so worthy-sounding, but there's nothing hair shirt about this spa. Like the lobby, it's a generous space — touted as the largest in Lisbon, although spas are rather thin on the ground in the Portuguese capital. Managed by Ritualspa, The Retreat has six individual and double rooms for treatments and beauty therapies, plus a wellness area (quite stuffy and oddly cramped, given the space they have to play with), plus a tearoom for post-treatment relaxation. Key features include Vichy water and colour therapies and Elemis is the product of choice. Guests also have access to a well-equipped gym.

Eschewing the signature hot stone treatment, I went for a 25-minute localised massage, followed by a facial, served by an impressive retinue of Elemis products. The former was deeply relaxing, the therapist (Julia) taking a no-fuss, confident approach that pleased this massage naysayer. The facial was perhaps the best I've ever experienced and included a truly meditative head massage. The visible evidence of several days' travelling, over-indulging and a lack of sleep all but vanished under a battery of pro collagen anti-aging potions and lotions, leaving skin plumped, de-lined and glowing.


Don't miss: Take your health and fitness regime beyond the spa, with the hotel's new ‘guided jog' city sightseeing tour, led by local runners. Be warned: Lisbon is hilly. From €55 (£42)pp, for a one-/two-hour tour, including a 30-minute Recovery Physical Therapy massage in the spa.

How to do it: From €139 (£106) per room, per night (room only) including free access to the wellness centre, wi-fi, online multilingual news service, and in-room tea, coffee, filtered water, bathrobes, slippers and toiletries. The spa is open to non-hotel residents, and treatments start from €40 (£30).


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