April 13, 2011

Luxe Life: Bamboo Bliss at the Mandarin Oriental Washington

The Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC has long been hailed as one of the area's best spas. Offering the world-class Mandarin name behind it, the treatments offered at this Southwest Waterfront hotel are among the city's most coveted ... and most expensive. When the opportunity came several weeks ago to sample one of the spas signature treatments, a 60-minute bamboo massage, this spa lover jumped on it.

The treatment began with a traditional shoe exchange, where I traded my workout kicks for rubber spa slippers, presented to me on a tray. A calming glass of cherry-infused tea began the relaxation process while I filled out an intake form about my allergies and medical history. Afterwards, I was escorted into the spacious locker area, which offers keypad entry lockers, two large rain showers, and a wide array of toiletries, plus fluffy bath robes. If you're visiting the spa, be sure to leave ample time to experience the hot and cold water experiences before your treatment - and pack a bathing suit you're on the modest side.

The spa offers a large crystal steam room, heated whirlpool, experiential shower and ice station in addition to a spacious relaxation area with dim lighting, personal headphone stations and a self-serve tea and water station. Don't miss the cryrstal steam room, similar to the popular hammam setup. It offers a number of amethyst crystals throughout the room and warm stone benches to relax and stretch out on.

Between hot experiences, rub your legs and arms down with fresh chipped ice dispensed from a small pour spout in one area of the hydrotherapy room.

Benita, my therapist, greeted me in the relaxation lounge before my bamboo massage and asked me about any specific areas of pressure. In the treatment room, we selected an invigorating citrus blend of essential oils for my massage. She explained that the bamboo treatment, conducted with a warmed smooth bamboo stick, was most similar to a hot stone massage. The length and width of the bamboo was only an "additional too in her arsenal" and allowed her to massage with different and deeper strokes than she might ordinarily be able to achieve.

As I relaxed on the table, I could beel the stress in my neck and shoulders melting away as she worked the bamboo over tight knots in the muscles, completing each section with a thorough deep tissue massage. This treatment isn't for the types that want a light, stroking therapy - it penetrates deeply into muscles to get out kinks and tension, but wasn't painful or uncomfortable at all. As can be expected at a Mandarin Oriental property, the massage was skillful and incredibly relaxing.

The hour passed in slow, leisurely bliss as my therapist occassionally asked if the pressure was too firm or too light. I appreciated her questions, which hit the Goldilocks-approved point of "just enough," not too much or too little. I emerged an hour later, rested, refreshed, and decidedly less tense, opting to relax for a few minutes in the darkened relaxation lounge before re-entering the real world and the rest of my day.

While the treatments at the Mandarin don't come cheap (many treatments are over $200), they're performed by some of the region's most skilled therapists and the overall facilities are among the area's finest. If you're in the mood for a true day of pampering, consider booking the signature Time Ritual treatments. Instead of reserving a specific treatment, you'll book a length of time at the spa, and, upon check-in, will discuss a specific treatment combination of masage, facial and body treatments with your therapist.

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