The Six Senses Spa, a Thailand-based brand with locations in such paradisiacal locations as The Dominican Republic, Macau and Maldives, finds its Spanish outpost in a setting more urban—but no less awe-inspiring—than usual: the 43rd floor of the luxe Hotel Arts Barcelona. Inside the bi-level spa, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and offers sweeping city views, therapists take a wellness-oriented approach, affording clients a personalized touch with an emphasis on inner and outer cleansing.
As for the eponymous sixth sense? The company has pictorialized its mission on a six-dot pyramid symbol: Its foundation is formed by the three primary senses (sight, sound and touch); the second stage appeals to taste and smell; and the apex of the model symbolizes the singular sensory experience of a Six Senses Spa.
According to the service menu, the pyramid is a “visual testimonial to the belief that the spa experience may only be achieved once all five senses have been nurtured.” Stirred to fully immerse my own senses, I traveled to Barcelona to find out firsthand how such a far-reaching vision is carried out. —Tracy Morin
Perhaps the most unique element of Barcelona’s Six Senses Spa is its wealth of outdoor spaces. Al fresco, unisex relaxation areas flank each side of the interior lounge (which itself houses separate sides—one kept dark and housing two beds, another with facing couches and a window overlooking the sea), so even daylong-package-buying guests needn’t shun daylight for hours. These balconies are ideal for taking in the cool air from the sea or simply sunning in lounge chairs; I found this setting my favorite spot in the spa (though the wet room, with its small Jacuzzi, showers, sauna and steam room, also boasted magnificent views).
The steam room, as well as all treatment rooms, incorporate chromatherapy; a network of tiny light fixtures embedded into walls display washes of a range of hues, all infused with distinct healing energies. This is one way in which the experience can be tailored to each guest, says spa director Montse Escobedo. “We choose the colors for each room depending on the client’s mood,” she explains. “If she’s stressed out, we’ll use blue; if she lacks energy, we’ll use orange. The colors are changed according to the outlook of the client and the treatment she receives.”
Low-key yet upscale, Six Senses offers tasteful Spanish-language magazines juxtaposed with art books in its relaxation area; I thumbed through a Dali tome while awaiting my therapist, which reinforced the spa’s exotic Spanish setting, and relaxed me (much more than perusing the latest gossip mags would have done!). Once inside the treatment room and ready to receive the Hot Stone Chocolate Massage (50 min./$220), my therapist, Christina, inquired about my preferred pressure and areas of concentration, and my comfort level with the room’s music and temperature levels. Ultimately, she tailored the experience to my exact specifications, right down to the song selection.
The spa accommodates the second tier of senses via unique beverage choices and a dedication to using local ingredients—even growing its own healing herbs and plants. Upon check-in, I received hot tea made with fresh ginger (which lent a stimulating spiciness), served in a metal-handled shot glass. And, my transporting Hot Stone Chocolate Massage—during which aromas of cocoa wafted throughout the room, thanks to massage oil infused with chocolate from nearby Catalonia—was topped off with a Hot Dark Chocolate Lush “elixir” ($9). This drink was crafted with organic dark chocolate and panela (an unrefined whole-cane sugar), and served with nickel-size nuggets of dark chocolate.
On Six Senses’ outdoor balconies, guests can check out some of the potted plants that are used in services, including aloe vera, rosemary and lavender. In fact, the spa’s recently introduced treatment series, SLOW LIFE—“sustainable, local, organic, wellness, learning, inspiring, fun experiences”—is centered upon this use of indigenous ingredients, and ensures that loyal Six Senses Spa-hoppers will experience distinct spa journeys at each location. The SLOW LIFE Lavender Massage (80 min./$252), for example, utilizes oils infused with herbs grown on-site. “We’ve always used local herbs, fruits and vegetables in our treatments,” says Escobedo, “but it’s more interesting now that they’re growing here, where guests can see them.”
Escobedo says that the demand for organic and local was far lower when the spa opened in 2005, but that now, with the general population more concerned about what goes in and onto their bodies, Six Senses’ original values are helping the spa stand out. Even the prepackaged product lines that are retailed and used in treatments are organic and natural, reinforcing the spa’s commitment to wellness. Escobedo also notes the popularity of the spa’s meditation, personal fitness, yoga and Pilates offerings. “Many guests begin their spa experiences with yoga or meditation on the outdoor terrace, or downstairs by the pool overlooking the sea, thereby cleansing the mind and setting the stage for a truly transformative experience.”
A doting staff, unique location and one-of-a-kind service menu go a long way toward attracting guests, but it’s the pronounced focus on health that makes this spa a veritable one-stop shop for clients. Six Senses employs a wellness consultant, who designs personalized detoxification programs for guests, whether they’re in town for a weekend or are devoted locals (many of whom sign up for seven-, 14- and 21-day cleanses).
These programs, says Escobedo, have soared in popularity since the spa’s opening. “Our clients want to take care of themselves, and the organic and detox focus has been really popular,” she notes. “We offer a Detox Massage [50/80 min./$253] with natural algae that guests love. And in the retail section, whenever clients see the word ‘organic,’ they want to try and buy those products—they’re viewed as safer.”
My full tour of the facilities revealed a spa compactly built over two floors but without a cramped feeling, thanks in part to the expansive panoramic views. The spa experience began, as recommended by staff, in the wet area, where I flitted from sauna to steam room to tub; afterward, I was delighted to find a water extraction machine in the well-maintained, spacious vanity area to help remove excess water from my bathing suit—genius! Meanwhile, a changing room in the neutral-toned locker area provided desired privacy. And after being treated, I left feeling Zen and completely rejuvenated. (Christina was immensely skilled and personable, and had an intuitive way of finding the kinks in my back and then gently kneading them until my entire body was blissfully knot-free.)
This attention to detail and customization are qualities that are instilled into the entire staff, says Escobedo. Some employees arrive fully trained, having relocated from other Six Senses locations, and others are selected through a battery of interviews and testing. Once hired, each staff member enjoys one of each type of treatment to become familiar with the offerings, and in slower seasons is invited to try more, ultimately making staff recommendations more meaningful for guests.
Complementing the international influence at the spa (including several treatments that are inspired by Thai and Indian techniques) is a diverse staff representing a range of nations including Thailand, Sweden and Uruguay. Escobedo keeps her employees focused and team-oriented via an open-door policy when it comes to concerns and questions, and by hosting regular get-togethers at which each staff member is encouraged to bring a dish from her homeland, encouraging connection on a personal level.
Though a regular stream of guests would seem a given based on this spa’s hotel location, Escobedo saw a significant downturn in appointments starting around the time the financial crisis hit the United States. This encouraged her to reach out to locals. In 2008, a new public relations team helped the spa enact special promotions for holidays; a monthly newsletter featuring health tips and a “Know Our Team” page; a robust mailing list; newspaper and magazine advertisements; and an active Facebook presence—all of which helped the spa gain significant local appreciation. Escobedo says that boosting the percentage of local clients is a primary team goal at the moment but that, given the daily sights of smiling clients and positive reviews, she’s optimistic about Six Senses’ future.
“The views, excellent therapists, personalization and ecological perspective make the difference for us,” she says. “Between our wellness programs, the wet rooms, chromatherapy and top-notch services, we ensure that every guest leaves our spa having had a beautiful experience.”
Average service price: 165€ (about $215 USD)
Size: 850 square meters
Facilities: 8 treatment rooms for massages, facials, manicures and pedicures; wet lounge; his-and-hers locker rooms; outdoor relaxation lounges; indoor lounge
No. of employees: 25
Most popular treatments: Jet Lag Revival Massage (50 min./$213; 80 min./$256); Chocolate Hot Stone Massage; Thai Vitality (80 min./$336)
Product lines: Amala, Aromatherapy Associates, Six Senses
Average client visits per month: 400 to 700
Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, Mississippi.
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