VIENNA: Vendome Spa at the Radisson SAS Palais Hotel
by Aaron Dalton
THE SPA: Vendome Spa at the Radisson SAS Palais Hotel, Vienna
LOCATION: Located right on the prestigious Ringstrasse that encircles the central part of the Austrian capital city of Vienna, the Radisson SAS Palais Hotel and its Vendome Spa radiate a sense of refined elegance and ease. Across the street, in the leafy Stadtpark, a golden statue of waltz king Johann Strauss II stands posed with violin beneath a marble arch.
ENVIRONMENT: The Vendome spa spreads over at least two floors with the flotation center and relaxation room being on the lower flower and the treatment rooms on the upper floor. The decor is muted and neutral, with polished wooden floors and earth tones that are neither particularly traditional nor excessively modern. In short, the decor is designed to provide a simple, calming backdrop that allows guests to focus on the treatments themselves.
THE EXPERIENCE: The main selling point that drew me to the Vendome Spa was its flotation center. I was counting on an hour of floating sensory deprivation to ease away the aches and pains of an eight-hour flight. I assumed my wife and I might be able to share one of the 7-square meter oyster-shell shaped baths. But perhaps knowing that we two might each need a little space after our forced co-habitation on the airplane, the Vendome Spa wisely suggested that we each have a private bath. After removing our clothes and changing into robes in the strictly functional locker rooms, we made our way downstairs into the bathing area where our attendant explained in good English how the baths worked.
Each bath stood in its own tiled room, also equipped with toilet and shower. The entire system was highly automated. The attendant would set the system in motion from outside the room. Then, while we showered, the baths would fill with 35.5 degree Celsius (95.9 degree Farenheit) enriched with magnesium from the Dead Sea. We would have something like five minutes to shower while the baths filled, following which we were expected to soak in the baths for roughly the next hour. The lights would go off and we could either lie in the darkness (recommended) or illuminate the room with candles that were placed strategically at the side of the baths.
It all worked just as the attendant had promised, but the experience was not without its quirks. Although the salt water was more buoyant than normal water, anyone who usually has trouble floating on his or her own may also have trouble floating in the Vendome bath. For example, my feet must have bits of lead in them because when I try to float in a regular pool, they always sink until I am pointing vertical and then they drag me downward. Since the Vendome bath was only a couple of feet deep, my feet couldn’t quite maneuver me into the vertical position, but they did their best by sinking to the bottom of the plastic oyster shell. I tried to support my feet with the help of a couple plastic inflatable pillows found next to the tub, but my feet kept slipping off the pillow and into the water.
That said, the experience was honestly quite nice. The classical music I had chosen played soothingly in the background and the candles I had selected to light despite the darkness recommendation flickered comfortingly alongside the tub. The spa’s promotional materials promise that the flotation experience will make you feel “totally weightless” and “stimulate the production of ‘feel-good’ hormones (endorphins), strengthen your immune system and regulate your autonomic nervous system.” I can’t speak for my autonomic nervous system and we know that my feet certainly didn’t feel weightless, but I did walk out of the flotation chamber feeling happy and my immune system was apparently bolstered enough to keep me healthy through the nonstop weeks of travel that followed.
After a brief rest in a dimly-lit relaxation lounge scattered with couches where I sipped some cold water and munched a crisp apple, I moved on to my next treatment. The Vendome offers a wide range of massage treatments – hot stone, lymphatic drainage, shiatsu, for instance - but I choose the Singing Bowl Therapy. I'd never seen the treatment on a spa menu before and didn’t know when I might have the chance to try it again.
Singing Bowl lives up to promise.
The Vendome website explained that "singing bowls," also known as "Himalayan bowls," are musical instruments that have been used in Buddhist meditation for many centuries. More recently, the bowls have been used in sound massage, yoga and other purposes. When the bowl is used in a massage treatment, it is hit, struck or rubbed with a mallet to produce a harmonic sound that not only relaxes the recipient but also travels through the body as a vibration, breaking down energy blockades, improving chakra and producing ‘inner lucidity’. It was also suggested that the singing bowls would be particularly good at easing joint pains.
Darned if the singing bowl didn’t perform even better than promised. I had gone to Vienna to hear music – opera and classical – but my first musical experience was lying on the floor in a darkened Vendome treatment room while my therapist placed these metal bowls strategically on my body and hit them in sequence. I felt as if I were becoming a musical instrument, a sort of living xylophone. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I did almost feel that I achieved a sort of higher state as the vibrations and tones of the singing bowls traveled through my body and let me travel with them through the air. I could feel as if I were sort of floating above my body in a light cloud of sound.
When the treatment was over, my therapist padded softly out of the room without saying goodbye, perhaps not wishing to disturb my reverie. Since apparently no one else immediately needed the room, I was left to lie there for a few minutes and come down gently back into my body. Back in the relaxation lounge, I found my wife thoroughly refreshed (she’d been napping while I’d been listening to the singing bowls) and we made our way back into the streets of Vienna to continue on our journey.
SIGNATURE TREATMENTS: The Flotation bath with Dead Sea minerals, Singing Bowl therapy, Facials and body treatments using JUVENA skin care products.
COST: A 60-minute massage is 78 Euro ($105, CAN $112). A special 1-hour flotation treatment and ½-hour massage costs only 99 Euro for a limited time. One hour of flotation treatment alone usually costs 88 Euro. (Editor’s note: Please note that prices reflect the time of our writer’s visit. Please check with the property to confirm prices before you go.)
ACCOMMODATION: Though it is considered a business hotel and hosts a number of meetings, the Radisson SAS is certainly excellently situated for leisure travelers and supremely comfortable. It manages to be luxurious without being stuffy and its historic buildings are suffused with light and charm.
WHERE TO EAT: In the Vendome Spa itself, the options are basic – fruit, water and tea. In the hotel, there are tantalizing options including the pastries on display all day at the Palais Café and the seafood specialties at the hotel’s main restaurant, Le Siècle.
BEYOND THE SPA: In the relaxation area of the spa there is a small sauna. Guests staying at the Radissons SAS Palais Hotel have access to a John Harris Fitness Center on the 8th floor with its own sauna, solarium and sunbathing terrace with views across the rooftops of Vienna.
WORDS TO THE WISE: Put a waterproof bandage over any scrapes or scratches before trying the flotation treatment (otherwise the salt water will sting).
Aaron Dalton is a professional writer (www.imaginationwins.com) and photographer
(www.daltonpix.com) based in New York City. He has previously covered spa travel for publications including Asiaspa, Travel Weekly and AAA Horizons.