SpaWatch: Akasha Spa, Amsterdam
By Mary Alice Kellogg
There’s water, water everywhere in Amsterdam, and SpaWatcher has decided not to experience them by jumping in a canal, even though the city’s postcard-worthy waterways are celebrating their 400th anniversary this year. SpaWatcher wants something a bit … warmer.
And I found it at the hottest place in Amsterdam. Opened in 2012, the 129-room Conservatorium Hotel has become the most buzzworthy hostelry in town, a favorite of celebrities and gourmands. Set in a former music conservatory dating from 1900 – and preserving all architecture, Art Nouveau hallway tiles and terrazzo floors – the Conservatorium spearheaded the city’s regeneration of the formerly derelict Museumplein district. Right across the street from the newly-renovated Stedelijk and Van Gogh museums and a wooden shoe’s throw from the recently reopened Rijksmuseum, the hotel was transformed by Milan architect/designer Piero Lissoni into a spectacular 21st century oasis, where sleek modernist rooms open off perfectly-restored Art Nouveau hallways.
I could wax rhapshodic about resident chef Schilo van Coevorden’s take on locally-sourced “New Dutch” cuisine (not an oxymoron), and the globally-savvy mixologists behind the shakers at The Lounge bar, but after hectic business meetings, total immersion in every art museum within reach, and a backstory including a significant family death and impending divorce, SpaWatcher needed more than mere pampering: I needed comfort.
Happily, I didn’t need to go far. The hotel’s 1000-square-meter Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre was right downstairs … and a world removed from bustle. Themed to the four elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water, the design is sleek Italian cool rather than spa-blah, and has a high-profile local private membership in addition to hotel guests.
With Water I hit paydirt. Full disclosure: they had me at Watsu, perhaps my favorite spa treatment in the Universe. Created in Northern California in the 60s, Watsu is basically Shiatsu massage done in body-temperature water (welcome back to the womb!). Dedicated Watsu pools are expensive and difficult to find in even the finest city spas. Yes, I have been to every Watsu pool I can find, outside, inside, globally – including an ill-advised experiment on the Queen Mary2. But Akasha’s Watsu pool was Nirvana, the mother lode, Mecca, Heaven… Well, I liked it.
A floor-to-ceiling waterfall wall splashed discreetly into an expansive square pool of the perfect temperature. Slatted wood sliding doors insured privacy. But all Watsu fanatics out there – you know who you are – know that the 45-minute treatment is only as good as the therapist who guides you through the water, stretches your limbs, rocks you, cradles you, makes you feel as if you are weightless, flying, safe. Without nose or eyes going underwater, for those who wonder (and no water in your submerged ears, too).
Enter Jamila. I can say with all confidence that if every world leader could experience Watsu with her in Amsterdam there would be peace in our time. Watsu is a stretching modality, yes, but it is also a spiritual one. The massage Alpha state is a given, but, depending on your life at the moment, Watsu can calm, enlighten, turn your attitude around, energize, tranquilize, strengthen … and, in my case this particular trip, heal fallout from some major life blows.
Such experiences are what SpaWatch and going to a spa is all about. You discover something new to try, a safe place to land, an unexpected kindness to take with you. Every time is new, if you’re open. Thanks to Jamila and Watsu, I found it once again by … floating.
Mary Alice Kellogg, a New York-based writer and editor, is a recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Consumer Reporting. A contributor to many national publications, including Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, she has reported from 120 countries and five of the seven seas to date… and counting.Visit MaryAlicekellogg.com