Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bliss in the City: My First Spa Visit

(Full disclosure: The owner of La Nueva Casa is a friend of mine; we were classmates in high school. We wound up reconnecting via social networking, and that was where I heard that she was going to be managing a spa.)

Yes, you read that subject heading correctly. Although I had been the recipient of therapeutic/relaxing massages, and while I like nothing better than to zone out blissfully while a skilled person paints my nails, I'd never been inside any sort of spa-like thing before.

It was a fortuitous thing, then, to hear of La Nueva Casa, a day spa and cafe located rather near my home, and that a high school friend of mine was managing it.

Now, the first thing you need to know about this new haven in the city is its rather odd location. It's situated right along a busy roadway - Regalado Avenue in Fairview, Quezon City. The cafe section overlooks the rush of vehicular traffic, and the spa section is secluded behind that, muting the noise considerably.

For its soft opening, the spa is initially offering one of its signature treatments, Hilot Maharlika. (This translates loosely to "Noble's Massage".) It's touted as a relaxing combination of several massage techniques, such as chakra manipulation, gliding strokes, and Thai stretching.

The left picture is a view of the spa's front desk; the right one shows robes and slippers stacked on one of the massage beds. (Photos from La Nueva Casa.)

So, being a total newbie to spa-ing, I asked for, and got, a walkthrough for the process:

- Sign in at the front desk. At La Nueva Casa, that includes a complimentary cup of salabat, a traditional soothing ginger infusion. Fill out the little health questionnaire they'll give you; if you have high blood pressure, make sure to let them know. After signing in, you'll receive a locker key, a towel, bath soap and shampoo, spa clothes (a robe and a pair of shorts), and slippers.
- Go into the changing area and get undressed (yes, strip everything off). Luggage and street clothes go into the assigned locker. Take a shower, dry off, and change into the spa clothes.
- Proceed into the massage room assigned to you. Your assigned masseuse will provide you with a choice of oils for the Hilot Maharlika; I picked the Relaxing blend. Take off the robe and lie face down on the bed, and let the masseuse do her work. Don't forget to let her know how much pressure she can apply during the massage. It's not supposed to hurt.

It had been a *long* time since I'd last had a massage and my body had amassed a truly impressive set of aches and pains, particularly around my neck and shoulders. I was really looking forward to seeing if these could be dealt with.

Hilot Maharlika means the masseuse alternates a series of pressing, gliding, and striking strokes over the skin and the muscles beneath, then finishes off with stretching exercises.

After a little initial discomfort, I began to relax under her ministrations, enough to actually start drifting partway into sleep. All I had to do was lie down or turn around as needed so the masseuse could do her work. The massage includes the legs, back, tummy, and head, so it's really a pleasurable full-body experience. After the hour-and-a-half of massage I felt weightless - and with all the aches gone, completely refreshed.

It is an insane-making sort of beautiful bliss to suddenly have all the pain that has become as another organ taken away from you.

If you get the Hilot Maharlika package, you can order a meal after the massage; ask the front desk for choices. I picked a snack of suman, which is a sort of rice cake. For their take on this popular Philippine food, La Casa Nueva offers it with a really nice chocolate dip, plus the traditional sugar on the side. The suman is served with coffee or tea.

While I had a most excellent relaxation experience I did have a few quibbles with the place:
1. The music was the same old bossa nova that everyone here in the city is playing when they think they want a calm ambience. I would recommend nature sounds, or classical (not movie soundtracks) piano.
2. The location is, as stated above, odd. The best way to reach La Casa Nueva is by car - but there's not much of a parking lot. Commuting there is likewise tricky.
3. The spa needs a bigger sign to tell people what it is. After the first time I visited La Casa Nueva, before the spa had opened, the driver of the cab I got into asked me if it was a bar. And the owner said they had also been mistaken for a beer garden. (They don't serve any alcohol at all.)

The Hilot Maharlika package costs PHP550, but you can get a privilege card when you sign in at the front desk, and so I paid PHP495 for my first spa experience.

All things considered, I had a great time and I will definitely go back to try their other packages when they become available. I hope they do well.

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