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Elegance exemplified
The Leela Palace, Udaipur and the ESPA Spa within its walls are the last word in luxury

The city of Udaipur is so compellingly beautiful that it has been given names like ‘The Venice of India’, ‘The City of Romance’ and ‘The City of Lakes’. With the Aravalli range protectively surrounding it and the many lakes strewn across its landscape, Udaipur’s beauty is picturesque. All the way from the airport to the hotel, as I was driven through the city’s roads, I drank in the sights and sounds of heritage. The city captivated me with its old architecture, its limpid lakes and Rajasthani-style paintings along the walls of narrow streets among other things. But the best was yet to come…

Enter the elegant

 We arrived at Udaipur’s famous Lake Pichola and were greeted by the wondrous sights of the Hotel Leela Palace across the water, the famous Jag Mandir at the centre of the lake and the city palaces surrounding it. The hotel is a short boat ride away and it is a lovely way to experience one of the city’s many lakes. Once across the lake and over the jetty, you begin to savour the regality Rajasthan is so famous for. Welcomed with the traditional tilak, a petal shower, and a refreshing drink, I was ushered into my room which opened to a breathtaking view of the Lake Pichola and the fortresses of the city, a reminder of the city’s importance in Rajput history.

For the love of Leela

The Leela Palace Hotel, Udaipur may be only four years old, but it has become one of the most popular luxury hotels in the city. Built in palatial proportions, the influence of regal Mewar architecture is evident in the hotel. With intricate marble work, graceful arches, stone carvings and a yellow sandstone-like finish, the Leela Palace comes very close to offering an authentic ‘royal’ experience to its guests.

The spacious rooms have the best of facilities and are adorned with specially-commissioned art and artisan crafts inspired by the cultural heritage of Rajasthan. The exquisite fabrics and cushions are richly embroidered with regally inspired designs and the dark wood furniture has handcrafted Tarkashi work – a popular Rajasthani art form. The room decor also includes hand carved marble lotuses and elephants in silver, along with vibrant paintings of puppets in colourful traditional costumes depicting characters from traditional fables and historical tales, painted by local artists. Thekri, a traditional Mewari art form which involves the use of intricately chiselled mirrors on plaster, is the predominant theme of the palace’s interiors.

But it’s not just the grand décor of the hotel that makes it royal. The hotel staff, dressed in traditional Rajput-style uniforms, their ever gracious demeanour and flawless hospitality adds up to the special Leela experience. The man spearheading this endeavour is Graham Grant, the General Manager of the hotel. With his extensive experience in the arena of hospitality, he is able to offer his guests the best in luxury with a taste of tradition.  

The hotel boasts of the largest pool in Udaipur, a state-of-the-art gymnasium with Technogym equipment, a bar, several dining areas, meeting rooms & banquets, a boutique and the ESPA.

Escape to ESPA

ESPA is one of the world’s most luxurious and respected spa brands and they could not have found a better place to debut in India than The Leela Palace, Udaipur. Since they opened in 2009, the other Leela properties at Delhi and Chennai have followed suit. Presently, there are three ESPA spas, including Udaipur, while the other Leela spas at the Mumbai and Bangalore use ESPA products.

However, the ESPA spa at The Leela Palace, Udaipur remains the most spectacular one, given that it is India’s first  tented spa. Spread over almost 35,000 sq. feet of lovely landscaped gardens, the spa (and the rest of the property) has been designed by renowned architect, Bill Bensley. Bensley is often called the ‘King of exotic luxury resorts’ and has designed some of the most acclaimed properties in the world. The interiors were done by Jeffrey Wilkes of LTW design and Madhu Nair. Nair is the Director – Design and Operations, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, and takes keen interest in all spa-related activities. It was her vision to launch the country’s first luxury tented spa that offers the “soul of India” infused with the traditional vibrance of Rajasthan along with world class service.

Assembling the spa’s famous tents, was an architectural challenge and took several weeks. Spa Manager, Dr. Abhishek Jain, tells me the tent tops, which are built of a special flexible and waterproof material, were specially arranged. On the inside, the canopies are covered with curtain fabric with beautiful thekri mirror work on them. One feels like the kings of yore who once set up tents in the desert for royal entertainment.

Shades of splendor

The ESPA spa is divided into two wings – the Lake and the Haveli spa.

As the name suggests, the tents in the Lake spa section offer a view of the Lake Pichola. It includes one Couples suite and two Royal Palace Spa suites with a private plunge pool. This section of the spa is suited for and preferred mostly by couples. This is also ideal for those with plenty of time to indulge. The Lake spa exudes opulence the moment you enter its reception area, which is furnished with plush gold leather sofas, an ornate chandelier and an ESPA product stand at the centre of the room. After consultation, a client is led through winding garden paths to the tent of their choice. Each tent has a bespoke design with elements from traditional Rajasthani arts and crafts. Clients can enjoy treatments here in utter luxury and privacy. The only element that this setup cannot offer is an attached steam facility for safety reasons.

The Haveli spa offers luxurious treatments in an entirely different kind of setting. A historic Purohit house has been respectfully renovated to accommodate the spa. This offsite building was acquired to give patrons a completely authentic setting for a spa experience. Walking over its checkered marble floors, looking at its latticed windows and archways, one indeed feels transported back to the royal era. The reception area is a long hall on the first floor of this heritage building with a lot of informal seating spaces. This section of the spa has five single treatment tents, a common plunge pool and a common relaxation area. It also has an aroma Amethyst steam room and a finishing suite where basic hair and mani-pedi services are offered. A little ‘off’ the property, it is preferred for people seeking express rejuvenation and non-resident spa patrons.

The peak season for the spa is between November to March, which coincides with the peak occupancy times at the hotel, because most of the clients are hotel guests. Annually speaking, ESPA sees 10-15% of the hotel’s guests visiting the spa. This is the high tourist season for Udaipur as well. In this season, the spa sees a maximum of foreign guests, while the reverse is true for the off season. But whatever the nationality of the guests, the spa sees a very high conversion rate. It is hardly surprising because once a guest is offered a tour of the spa’s beautiful precincts, it is hard to say no.

Treated to luxury

 The typical spa journey here starts with a Guest being welcomed with a warm or a cold towel, depending on the climate. He/she is then presented with a consultation card and a warm cup of herbal tea. The designated spa therapist then leads the client to the treatment room, where a welcome foot cleansing ritual is carried out (for all Signature Ayurvedic treatments and Holistic Treatments). In case of an aroma therapy treatment, a sensory test is carried out to let the client choose what aroma his or her body craves. After the treatment, the client is led to the post treatment relaxation area. For those who like to end their treatment in style, the spa also offers destination dining options on the spa terrace with magnificent views of the lake and the forts (at an extra charge).

The ESPA Spa at the Leela Palace, Udaipur offers some of the most decadent treatments, such as the ‘Royal Princesses of Rajasthan’ and, the ‘Royal Knights of Rajasthan’ ceremonies that can last up to four hours. Such a ceremony includes a Salt and Oil Scrub, an Aromatherapy Massage, a Facial with Regenerating and Firming Eye Treatment, and a Conditioning Hair and Scalp Treatment, in the case of women.

Other signature treatments include Ayurvedic Abhyanga and Dosha Specifici Inspired Massage & Wrap in the Ayurveda category and the ESPA Holistic Hot Stone Treatment in the Holistic category. The spa menu is rather extensive and offers many other regular therapies.

All body and face oils used for treatments at the spa are 100% natural ESPA products, known the world over for their luxuriousness. The UK-based brand is popular with clients. Of ESPA’s vast product range, the unique Pink Hair & Scalp Mud and the Men’s Shave Mud are the most sought after.

Staff and training

As a brand that places high importance on education, The Leela is the first hotel group to introduce a ‘Train the Trainer’ program. All staff is trained by ESPA’s trainers from the UK, with one lead trainer situated at each spa to ensure that the impeccable spa standards are consistently maintained.  Comprehensive annual trainings last 2-3 weeks and need-based refresher courses are organized and overseen every 6 months by ESPA-trained trainers. The spa currently has nine therapists, categorized as junior therapist, therapist and senior therapist. They also have one Yoga instructor on board. All new candidates have to undertake a course at the Corporate Spa Training Academy at the Leela in Mumbai. A minimum of two years’ experience is desirable for all new recruits, preferably with credentials from CIBTAC and/or, CIDESCO. Recruitment takes place mostly through referrals and no hiring agency is involved.

Spa manager, Dr. Jain proudly tells me,” The Leela (spa) has become a preferred employer of choice over the years because of its work environment, competitive compensation and rigorous training and development programs.”

I can see the reason for his pride once I experience a most relaxing treatment by one of his therapists.

 

ESPA, etched

The Leela Palace, Udaipur offers plenty of reasons to fall in love with it, and the grand ESPA spa is the greatest of them all. Unique in architecture and treatment protocols, the spa offers luxury that’s fit for the kings. ESPA’s spa culture blends in seamlessly with The Leela Palace’s warm hospitality and together, they offer a guest a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

SPA STATISTICS

 Name of the spa: ESPA at The Leela Palace, Udaipur

Address/contact: Lake Pichola, Udaipur, Rajasthan-313001, Phone: 0294-670 1234

Spa director: NA

Spa manager: Dr. Abhishek Jain

Spa area: 8 treatment rooms – 10,000 sq. ft.

Spa team (no. of staff): 23 (including Gym Instructors)

Spa facilities: 8 spa tents, including three couples treatment rooms and five single rooms, Yoga studio and Finishing Studio, private and common plunge pools, aroma steam room, and relaxation areas

Spa timings: 9am to 9pm

Awards: Best Luxury Resort Spa in Asia by World Luxury Spa awards, 2013, 2012 and 2011; Most Luxurious Spa in India by Pevonia Asia Spa India Awards 2010; Conde Nast Traveller Awards, runner up – Favourite Hotel Spa in India, 2012 and 2011.

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