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Family Travel Ink
Wales Watching: A Haven of Marine Inspired Pleasure in Cardiff Bay
When I chose the St. David’s Hotel & Spa as home base for a conference in Cardiff, Wales’s capital city, I pictured old and historic. Creaky floors, mullioned windows, afternoons by the fire sipping brandy. After all, wasn’t St. David—monk, abbot, and finally, bishop—the country’s beloved patron saint? His mother was reputedly the niece of King Arthur, his father a Welsh prince. Picture St. Patrick with daffodils and leeks instead of shamrocks and sheep. No wonder that I envisioned a Monty Pythonesque Tudor-like building, the attached spa a few Jacuzzi tubs tucked in under the eaves.
What a surprise then to arrive at the soaring glass front of the hotel and discover a new five-star property resembling a sleek ship setting out to sea. Yes, the smiling doorman was dressed in a kilt. The room robes and slippers sported Wales’s feisty red dragon, the oldest flag symbol in the world. And there certainly was the promise of brandy in the hotel bar. But the tall windowed lobby stretched upward like futuristic ship’s decks. The stylish hotel rooms were decorated in sparse yet soothing décor, each bedroom opening onto a balcony with a ship’s rail overlooking Cardiff Bay. To top it all off, a steel-and-fiberglass fish-like creature seemed to be jumping over the hotel like a cheerful dolphin leaping the waves.
The on-site ultra-modern Spa took this nautical theme even further. As we entered, we could hear the sounds of falling and rushing water. The 15-metre indoor swimming pool, permanently moored on the rocks of Cardiff’s multi-million dollar Docklands expansion (modeled on Boston and Baltimore), offered a floor-to-ceiling view of pale sunlight bathing the shore. The exercise pool and whirlpool, fitted with massage jets, underwater recliners and overhead waterfalls, bubbled and frothed and foamed with saltwater.
We stepped over floor mats decorated with waves, found life buoys on the walls (not that we needed rescuing here), peered into treatment rooms through porthole windows and discovered a women’s only relaxation room with teak deck chairs that begged for a round-the-world cruise. (The men had their own room nearby.) And everywhere you turned, that restful sea view. My conference buddy and I looked at each other like kids in a candy store. We were definitely going to intersperse our working sessions with time-outs in this seawater pleasure palace. Without delay, we changed into our bathing suits for a pre-dinner swim.
The St. David’s Hotel & Spa, the latest in Sir Rocco Forte’s celebrity collection of luxury hotels, is not technically a Thalassotherapy spa (Thalassa meaning “sea” in Greek). Water is not directly pumped in from the Bristol Channel. “You wouldn’t want that water,” said our guide. But the water is so infused with sea plant extracts and warmed to such a temperature that the body’s toxins are drawn out and replaced with invigorating enzymes and minerals. A stimulating Jet Blitz improves circulation, a detoxifying Algae Wrap balances, a Hydrotherapy bath with underwater multi-jet massage restores and invigorates.
Even the colours mimicked the open sea. Deep blues, pale aquas and luminescent turquoises of the ocean contrasted against the rosy pink lighting that encircled the room and glowed like a sunset. In the sauna, tiny pinpoints of light twinkled like stars. And on the walls, details such as fish mosaics or bare bottom tiles. “Aren’t they fun?” said our guide. “We love to have cheeky bums around the place.” Just so long as mine didn’t appear in public I thought as I unwrapped my towel! Lying on my back in the pool, the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, I truly floated in an ocean environment under a nighttime sky.
If this windowed water world was the oceangoing vessel, then the treatment rooms were the cozy staterooms down below. And I was more than ready for my Regenerating facial and Holistic Stressbuster body brushing. Spreading warmed blue wavy towels out on the bed, Lindsay offered me a choice of E’SPA aromatherapy products that blended healthful ingredients gathered from around the world: patchouli (an East Indian mint), watercress, Mexican cactus, Green Tea, myrrh and plankton among others. It was a disarming array. I asked her to choose and luxuriated in the smell of each—a hydrating cleansing milk made of rose geranium and camomile oils for my face followed by a splash of lavender, tea tree, rosemary and peppermint; watercress and apricot kernel to be rubbed into my scalp; calendula and sweet almond oil for my skin. I felt like a floral bouquet about to burst with scent. But as soft music played and Lindsay massaged my entire being, I drifted off to sleep on the wavy blue towels.
Although many spa-goers come for day treatments such as the Stress Recovery Day (even one for pregnant moms), many stay overnight on special spa packages that include spa bedrooms equipped with mineral water, fruit and CDs and special spa cuisine. New treatments added since my visit include the Balinese Synchronised Massage where two therapists working on your body in perfect rhythm and timing. There are plans for a jetty and a marine walkway and water sports in the Bay.
Back in Canada, I discovered that it was not so strange for St. David to have lent his name to this marine sanctuary. Often called David the Water Drinker, he loved watercress and water was important to him. In fact, he would often preach standing in a lake up to his neck in cold water. Luckily, we don’t have to follow his example. Today, the environment is warm and Welsh and wonderful. And I can’t wait to return for a thoroughly modern water fix immersion.
For More Info:
The St. David’s Hotel & Spa
Cardiff CF 10 5SD Wales
Spa Web: www.thestdavidshotel.com
Wales is a wonderful country to explore. In Cardiff, you’ll find the world-class National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff Castle, St. David’s Hall where the renowned Welsh choirs perform, and an active clubbing scene, home to the Manic Street Preachers among other bands (great if you’re bringing a teenager along). Summer festivals include the Festival of Literature, Music and Opera held in September and October and the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in July (biennially). Nearby is the sprawling and mystical 14th-Century Caerphilly Castle, the living history Museum of Welsh Life and superb hiking in the Brecon Beacons hills.
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