Dior Institut at the Plaza Athenée

Dior Institute

Last winter I tested a handful of Paris spas. At first, I was on the quest to eliminate a black head that was more stubborn than your average teen. Once that was taken care of, I still had a slew of appointments to honor, and it being a cold, grey winter, I was thrilled to oblige! And this being the first grey, rainy day of La Rentrée, it seems like the perfect moment to cozy up to some luxurious memories.

Plaza Athenée

Next on my list was the Dior Institute at the Plaza Athenée. The Plaza is the only place left in Paris that still intimidates me, it is so terribly chic. Dior is, well, DIOR, and Dior on the avenue Montaigne inside the Plaza Athenée is the quintessence of Paris. I was delighted for the adventure!

But I was also working full-time at an agency in the center of Paris and my appointment was for lunch time.  I showed up at the office that morning a bit more dressed than any of my co-workers. At the stroke of noon, I headed out the door, dove into the metro and I was off with the delicious feeling that I was leading some kind of a double life.

The top hatted doorman saw me in and the concierge pointed the way. What exactly about this place intimidates me? Surely not the friendly staff! Downstairs, an elegantly (Dior) suited hostess showed me to the changing room with its hammam and large shower and invited me to join her in the rest area when I was ready.

The rest area. I am probably not the best person to be testing spas because I am so happy about getting a treatment, that I am not the most critical critic. The little extras are what matter to me, things like all those pools I’ve been enjoying, lovely spaces and tempting treats. There was no pool, but the rest area is a true haven, with Dior designed lounges where you sit and unwind as they bring you a tea and platter of healthy gourmet treats; dried fruits with fresh dates and the best little muffin I’ve ever had. I may have been purring at this point and the treatment had nut yet begun!

My appointment was for a facial. Another elegant woman came to get me in the rest area. The esthetician. She examined my skin and pointed out that its quite dry and rather sensitive, then went to work almost like a medical professional. I was in good hands, that much was certain and the facial ended with an extra bonus of a light make-over, for additional pampering and to ensure I’d be ready to return to the office. It wasn’t easy to tear myself away from this sumptuous spa where I really felt like a princess in a palace, but it was lovely having this little secret under my smile as I returned to work for the day.

+ The undeniable luxury, welcome snacks and total professionalism //  – No pool

Facials starting at 180€

Nuxe spa

I had been to three spas now, and I still had that charming black head just left of center on the tip of the nose. It was turning out to be as stubborn as I was. This week, I decided to see an expert for the face at the day spa by Nuxe.

Nuxe has been in Paris for a long time, but it was only in 1989 that Aliza Jabès purchased the company and started modernizing it for today’s woman; a girl with a career and kids who runs around the city in her heels and deserves a true blend of Nature and lUXE; NUXE.

I arrived late, sweating and stressed, tumbling out of a taxi at the top of the rue de Montorgueil,  a bustling pedestrian street with food vendors and shoppers filling the space, the Carrera marble paving stones the only hint of luxury.

I barged into the shop announcing my arrival and my apologies in my silly accent and the women greeted me calmly, with a forgiving smile. I was immediately put at ease. But I had an appointment in a spa and this was a shop. I was sure I’d made some kind of blunder. I hadn’t, for hidden beyond the tiny boutique is a full-blown spa on several levels.

It’s a beautiful space, and I was tempted to dive into their small Watsui massage pool, but instead I was led outside, next door beyond an nostalgically Parisian gate, into a stone paved courtyard and up some steps to sliding glass doors that opened on to another world. A large Bedouin style tent graced the hall, as if I’d crossed oceans to another continent. Flying even further East, we headed downstairs to the vaulted basement that was fitted with an inspiring zen décor. There were no changing rooms. Your spacious treatment room has everything you need, including a heated bed.  It was perfect.

I lay myself down, trusting the assured hands of my esthetician who immediately set to work, again telling me that I have excessively dry, sensitive skin.  Half way through the treatment I remembered to tell about the reason for my visit. Mr Black. I explained how three professionals before her had been unable to get it to budge.  “Ah, bon?” she shrugged nonchalantly, “Its gone.”

I was shocked. I’d never even felt her digging in. Then I was thrilled. It was gone (I spent the next few days reveling in the feeling of its absence) and I was to happy I could here church bells ringing out the joyful news throughout my body. The treatment ended with a scalp massage so divine it put me to sleep and before I knew it I was upstairs sipping a tea, my face clean at last.

Treatments start at 80€

NUXE Spa – 32, 34 rue Montorgueil
, 1er – 01 42 36 65 65

Shangri-Là Spa oh, la, la!!!

Back to spa talk here. And still on the quest to get rid of that nasty blemish. Fortune was going my way when I received an invitation to sample the spa at the exquisite, the luxurious, the sumptuous Shangri-Là Hotel. Perched on a small hill near the Place d’Ièna in a no-man’s land between the Trocadero and the Palais de Tokyo, the Shangri-Là is a bit off the beaten luxury hotel path, which makes it feel all the more unique and extraordinary.

Past the imposing gates, the smiling valet and up the curved stone steps to the front door there is a welcoming committee to greet you at the door, ensuring you feel at ease immediately and that you don’t get lost. I was so overwhelmed by the splendor of this opulent mansion, that I am not sure how I got from the entrance to the spa.

As is my habit, I confirmed in advance that I could show up early and take advantage of their gorgeous, greco-roman tiled, blue tinted swimming pool with a wall glass wall to the outside. The answer was a thrilling yes. So I went into the locker room, stripped down and dove in, enjoying 40 minutes of lap time. The esthetician came down at one point and offered to post-pone my appointment long enough for me to really enjoy my swim, snack on an apple and really dry off before she came back to get me. A truly couture service!

The treatment room is lovely, like a large living room with everything you need to skip the locker room if you’re not using the pool. My esthetician joined me for a brief chat over tea, discussing which treatment would be best for me. The Shangri-Là uses the exclusive Carita brand of French cosmetics available only in spas, offering high tech beauty with a special emphasis on anti-aging solutions. They have a special, patented facial that does not include a vapor shower and would not help me out with my blackhead, so I opted for a relaxing massage with essential oils instead. It was lovely. The oils were the perfect texture and the esthetician used plenty of pressure, just as I had requested during my interview. She had listened to me which happens less often than you’d think in the luxury world where staff can sometimes work on auto-pilot assuming that they know better than you. This was not the case at the Shangri-La, where the impeccable facilities and attentive service made me forget my imperfection, if only for a day curled up on a lounge chair by the pool.

Treatments start at 90€ a 40 minute treatment with pool access is 250€

+ The gorgeous setting, stunning pool and super accommodating staff.//  – The steep price if you want to use the pool when coming for a treatment.

Shangri-La – 10 Avenue d’Iéna, 16e – 01 53 67 19 98




Les Cent Ciels

Still on my quest to find the best spas in Paris I decided to make up for the hammam I’d missed out on at the St James Albany After the Rain Spa by going for the real deal, a traditional hammam. I have a respectable hammam habit, but I’ve been suffering from something of a Goldilocks syndrome with Paris hammams. This one was too funky, this one too trendy, this one without a soul. I was looking for something just right.

And I found it at Les Cent Ciels en Boulogne. Getting out of the metro on a freezing cold winter night, I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea as I cross the bridge over the peripherique and started looking for the number 45. A welcoming light was the sign that I was on the right path. I push opened the impressively large wooden door and the warm terra cotta walls, with a candlelit stairway assured me that I had arrived.

A smiling hostess confirmed my reservation and took me on a brief tour. I had traveled to the Middle East by metro; oriental carpets lined the floors and the dressing rooms were in authentic wood with pierced tin lights over head, bathing the room in dramatic light.  Following a souk-like labyrinth led us to a small pool where they have aqua-biking courses mid-week and then we turned into the generously large hammam with tiled walls and benches, a fountain in the middle of the room, devoid of water, but bathed in candlelight. It was the perfect room for a group of girls to go and sit and chat, languishing in the heat.

In the corner, there is a second, domed hammam, barely visible through the thick mist of humidity and too hot for a long stay. I lay myself down on one of the heated benches, letting it all soak into the very marrow of my bones, as the city dirt came to the surface.

My masseur arrived and we headed into another domes room in a corner; the exfoliation room where she scrubbed away all the toxins that had been sitting there on the surface and prepped for a massage. We headed upstairs where she really got to work, rubbing and pulling and folding argan oil into every pore. It was delightfully invigorating and it felt like I was there for hours before it was over and I was invited to follow her to the rest room with deep oriental couches and a satisfying mint tea, so that I felt sweet inside and out before heading back out the door to brave the harsh winter elements.

Visits start at 40€ with treatments up to 220€

+ The warm ambience, clean, space and charming smiles.//  – Better with a friend

Les Cent Ciels – 45 bis ave Edouard Vaillant – Boulogne – 0146200701


Flowers for BabetteA few months ago I was walking up the street and I spotted Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu making a film. Not much later, I saw the film on the silver screen, as part of the celebration for the 150 years of the Bon Marche. Its fun to watch and Catherine truly is the ultimate icon, but at one point she says,

“I don’t like Parisiennes. They’re not nice…. too stressed out. Non, I don’t like Parisiennes.”

Just steps from the Bon Marche, where Catherine makes this bold statement, there is a provençal haven reserved almost exclusively for women. With a chalky blue tiled floor, cornflower walls, dried hydrangias in large vases and old pharmacy bottles on the shelves, stepping into Graine de Beauté feels like stepping out of Paris and back in time.

Translating to “the beauty mark” this salon, specializing in 100% natural hair colors blended specifically for each client, is full of chic Parisiennes; playwrights, business women, full time moms, actresses, politicians all sit quietly side by side. No one is yapping away on their cellphones, or disturbing their neighbor as we each savour the peaceful moment, serenely sipping tea that arrives in an iron Japanese tea pot, happy to de-stress.

Martine comes to work in a black fitted top and an elegant pencil skirt, looking stunning as she prepares to mix magic on to your hair. The whole operation is run by Babette, the very definition of elegance, a trim woman with rich, black hair, who glides between clients, answering the phone and grabbing the occasional handful of raw almonds or hazelnuts from the two jars that stand near the entrance.

The reason that no one takes out their cellphones is Babette. Like a strict school teacher, she is able to make it clear this will not be tolerated before the question is even asked. She dispenses more than beauty advice; she reads scalps and gives valuable life lessons as she guides women to look their very best and take care of themselves from the inside out. Her clients adore her.

A few weeks ago Babette was diagnosed with cancer. She has had the lump removed and the prognosis is good. As she recuperates it is clear how very much her clients and employees are under her spell. The staff is working double time so they can satisfy her clients, while customers offer to blow dry their own hair, and even more exceptionally, walk out of the salon with wet hair.

Seeing a Parisienne on the streets with wet hair is about as common as seeing a teen without a cellphone. Nobody asks these women to chip in and not everyone is willing to head out to the office with frizz in their future, but seeing everyone take the initiative yesterday made me wish Mlle Deneuve would pop in and see just how very wonderful Parisiennes can be.

Graine de Beauté / 60 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6e / 0145 44 25 13

Man-y Pedi

A letter home, just weeks after moving to Paris…

Email Subject: Sex with strangers.

Well girls, I have finally found the Parisian woman’s secret to sexual satisfaction (didn’t take me long, did it?).

Lisa (yes, you, princesse) asked me to ship home some Darphin products, so I made it a special errand to walk the half block from our flat to their spa and discovered that this would be an ok place for a much needed pedicure to tame those funky alien callouses you all saw at the beach. Darphin is nothing like any of the 700 vietnamese owned and operated mani-pedi salons in Noe Valley. No risk of vainly trying to drown into the foot bath as a handful of hard working women laugh at my monster feet in a language I can’t understand. I’d be a tough horned rhino in an elegant spa, but I was desperate and made an appointment.

I have had a pedicure in Paris once before, and it was at a training school. The experience taught me that pedicures over here are generally given in a private room and that it is predominantly a clinical event involving a series of scalpels and a really cool power tool.  No nail polish.

I showed up at my appointment and was immediately greeted by one of the better looking members of the French male genre, my new podiatrist. You know, the shaggy, intellectual looking kind that so melts my butter. He welcomed me with a warm handshake, a smile in his chocolate eyes. Something was clearly wrong; Parisian men do not smile broadly at strangers, it is not in the culture. I must have had spinach between my teeth…

(c) Maurice Sendak My feet pre-pedi

We proceeded upstairs to a cosy little chamber which was decorated in prissy rose-bud and aqua tones and smelled of something floral. Relaxing music could be heard and I started to unwind just as humiliation struck. I was asked to remove my shoes and show my very ugly feet to this very male presence. He wanted to know  exactly what is wrong with my paws. As if it isn’t obvious. I change shoe sizes after a proper pedicure! The torture ended and the treatment began.

Imagine; you are lying down, completely relaxed in a plush spa recliner. Your surroundings are pleasant, very private and intimate as someone gently tends to your feet with large, warm hands, treating each toe and the spaces between with their undivided attention.  MMMMMmm delicious.

The treatment was finally over, when Monsieur Foot warned that my skin was quite dry and advised a regular application of lotion and would I mind if he applied some immediately.  That was fine with me, and so began one of the more innocently erotic foot messages of my life.  MMMMMmmm sinful.  I melted on the spot.

This, of course, would not be considered sex in the strictly Clintonian view of the act, but I came out of that room trembling.  I then had to descend the stairs and pay for services rendered which added a surreal validation to my feelings of having just hired a gigolo. I paid quickly, unable to make eye contact with the next patient and scuttled out of the store to brace myself against the sturdy coolness of a nearby wall before being able to walk home. Ok, I am exaggerating slightly. I stayed in the shop long enough to make an appointment for the podiatrist’s next visit to the spa in two weeks time before scuttling anywhere. Sinful pleasures.

Cheers to you all and much love, S


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