By Heba Elkayal
The words “90-minute deep tissue massage” sounded like a lullaby sung by the receptionist when I called to book a massage for the aches and strains in my back, shoulders and feet after two weeks of travel.
Carrying overweight bags, the experience of cramped sardine-class five-hour flights, 10 hour work days on my feet in heels, and the ankle strains from walking up hill on steep cobblestones in Tunis left me with a strained arch in my right foot and a sore back. Could a massage help to heal damage?
The Kempinski Spa has been open for about four months at the Garden City Corniche location, steadily attracting plenty of buzz. Egyptians are unpredictable: they’ll pay good money for luxury treatments when you least expect it and spas in Egypt are getting increasingly popular. High-end and mid-range spas offering Thai, Swedish, hot stone massages and other treatments get more interesting as spas tap into sourcing local organic soaps and oils for treatments.
At Kempinski, my experience was good save for a few faults in the spa’s facilities: the changing areas are small and tight, making the steam room claustrophobic while the Jacuzzi is impractical, too small for the jets to be strong enough to work on your shoulders. Also, the spa is slightly overheated and it was humid to stay in there for too long after I finished my treatment.
Upon arrival, I was ushered in and given a locker to store my clothes and bag. Slippers, water and a beautifully thick cotton robe in beige with blue piping were placed in my locker. I fiddled with the tricky lock, got changed and looked around.
There were other guests at the spa, Australians who had just arrived to Egypt and were staying at the hotel. I asked my neighbor how her treatment went. “Very nice,” she replied. A good sign that I hope bodes well for Egypt’s tourism industry. Could we ever one day perhaps be a spa destination with all the outlets popping up around Cairo and at seaside resorts?
As I walked through the spa’s long (and narrow) hallways to my own treatment room, I noticed several others were closed and busy. Some of the spa’s facilities are mixed such as the relaxation lounge, and though I didn’t notice anybody, the idea was slightly uncomfortable for someone used to the city’s segregated spas.
My treatment was in the only empty room at the time, the couple’s therapy room: the largest most spacious area in the entire spa. Two treatment beds, a double his and her’s sink, a Jacuzzi littered with rose petals, a steam room, toilet stall, and couch under dim lighting could be enjoyed by a couple if booked for a minimum of two hours. I imagine many marriages on the brink could be saved in this very room.
Kori, my therapist, took charge and started her magic. A little hard at first, she read shortly afterwards what I needed: extra attention to my ankles and the balls of my feet. That knot around my right knee tense from all the hours spent driving in Cairo.
Kori kept apologizing and I mumbled appreciation as her fingers, freakishly strong for such a tiny woman, kneaded away. Moving between different muscle areas, Kori would break the massage by focusing on acupuncture pressure points, and heat would emanate from her hands on command as she’d warm the muscles.
Whereas other spas concentrate their efforts on offering guests various treatments — Balinese, Thai massage, etc. — the Kempinski spa focuses on offering what they term “seasonal treatments.”
My deep tissue massage, explained Christina Arana, the spa’s manager, was tailored, as are all treatments, according to the seasonal climate, to combat problem points of the moment. A foot mask and oils were used to combat the dehydration of a dry winter. For spring, my 90-minute massage would include detoxifying treatments that would include a facial and dry brushing of the body to increase lymphatic flow to remove toxins.
Arana is well aware of Cairo’s taxing effect on inhabitants during summer: “The environment is hot, with a lot of pollution, so all of that heightens your level of stress and awareness, you sweat a lot more, you’re on edge more.”
Summer treatments include the use of cold stones and Swedish style massages to “help balance an increased body temperature,” says Arana. Autumn treatments focus on bringing heightened summer energy levels down to settle one into the more dormant phases of winter.
“We limit the amounts of treatments because they’re so specific to the season,” she adds. “We try to target certain areas which allows guest to pinpoint certain parts and make it easier for them to navigate the menu.”
What’s the cost for this bodily pleasure? The spa offers wax, manicure and pedicure treatments that start at LE 150, but treatments can cost up to LE 1,800 with an additional 10 percent tax and 12 percent service charge per person for the couples’ treatment in the spa suite.
The costly couples’ treatment is a 3.5 hour package that includes a foot bath, extra head massage, body scrub, massage and full use of the spa suite’s facilities. For an additional LE 600, you can book the suite for an extra hour. My massage was a steep LE 750 ++, hard to justify on a regular basis, though Kori’s handiwork was incredible.
Perhaps a wise investment would be the spa’s robe: thick, plush and locally sourced. The spa’s linens were the best I’ve seen in this city. The robe could be yours for LE 480 ++, of course.
Kempinski Nile Hotel Spa
12 Ahmed Ragheb St.,
Garden City, Cairo
Tel: (02) 2798 0000
Treatments are tailored according to the seasonal climate. (Photos courtesy of the Kempinski Nile Hotel)