GB Spa Named Greece’s Best Hotel Spa for 2021

Athens’ Grande Bretagne Spa was named Greece’s best hotel spa 2021 at the 7th World Spa Awards 2021, an international event that celebrates and rewards excellence in the spa and wellness industry.

Like entering another dimension, one where the lavish décor and top-notch pampering expertise is truly unparalleled, the GB Spa is by far Athens’ best (and one of the most expensive!).

Insights Greece - GB Spa Named Greece’s Best Hotel Spa for 2021
GB Spa Indoor pool

Guests are encouraged to relish the essence of the spa (‘salute per aqua’ or health by water) experience by connecting to the water element first – starting with a leisurely dip in the ozone-rich pool with curative thick sea salt and following that with an excellent choice of around five steam rooms, such as the Herbal Suite, where you can meditatively inhale the essences of Greek organic herbs like thyme, oregano, and lavender, or the Amethystos Grotto, where the walls are covered in a mosaic of amethyst stones and the steam is infused with pure eucalyptus oils.

Insights Greece - GB Spa Named Greece’s Best Hotel Spa for 2021
Ice fountain

Outside the steam rooms are showers with six different settings, from Tropical Rain to Summer Shower, as well as two marble foot baths with hydromassage. ESPA products are used in all treatments, such as high-tech facials and massages, among which are deeply restorative, two-hour-long Ayurvedic rituals, the hot-stone Balinese massage, salt scrubs, and slimming, detoxifying or soothing body wraps.

For instant beautification, the  Spa Manager recommends the Signature GB facial, Prickly Pear Luxury Facial inspired by the 15th-century Japanese Kobido lifting massage.

A: Hotel Grande Bretagne, Vasileos Georgiou A 1, Syntagma Square 

Opening Hours: 11 am to 8 pm (Monday to Sunday) 

Glyfada’s Healing Salt Cave

I live in the centre of Athens, and regardless of how much Lykavvitos’ greenery replenishes my spirit when gazing out at it every day, the air (and sound) pollution is an accumulative problem.

Insights Greece - Glyfada's Healing Salt Cave
A range of massages available

With autumn in the air, I’ve been fantasising about a holiday near the mountains, but my commitments are keeping me firmly rooted in urban existentialism. When I nagged a friend about this she suggested I try halotherapy in southern Athens. Does that entail becoming a saint and getting my own wreath of golden light? I asked. Not really. Halotherapy, a Greek-origin word based on the words halo or ialo for salt, and also known as salt therapy, involves sitting in a space made up completely of kinetically activated dry salt. The salt is usually mined from Poland and Kashmir, India from a depth of 350 metres underground, as well as from the Dead Sea. Apparently, just 45 minutes in a salt cave equates to three days of frolicking in a seaside paradise; health benefits include an uplifting disposition, detoxification of the respiratory system (the negative ions in salt have antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antibacterial qualities) and the regulation of the nervous and immune systems. 

Insights Greece - Glyfada's Healing Salt Cave
Yoga classes at the salt cave

Seeking a good dose of physical-emotional seasoning I visited the Salt Cave in Glyfada to experience it for myself. I’m not one to skimp on therapeutic, hands-on treatment, especially when it comes at very reasonable prices, so I also booked a massage to boost the benefits. The manager informed me that many come here to just sit and breathe, while some come to meditate and attend popular yoga classes. Once a week, sound baths (with gongs and singing bowls) take place, and independent therapists periodically book the space for their own healing workshops. 

The womb-like ‘cave’ is a room in which the ceiling, floors and walls are all completely covered in tons of salt, with a tranquillising soft pink-orange light glowing through. There are two fountains that create humidity (around 50-60%) and the temperature is at 22 degrees C, which feels neutral in winter and refreshing in summer. A skilled massage therapist helped me stretch and ‘open’ my tightly-wound body with a mix of traditional Thai massage and deep-muscle oil massage, followed by a facial that sent me into a deep sleep. I woke up feeling deeply renewed and was breathing more deeply, as lately. All the products she used included salt combined with oils, herbs and flowers with sweet aromas that enhanced the floaty feeling I walked out with. She told me that salt isn’t just detoxifying for the skin (and beneficial for conditions like eczema and psoriasis) but also makes it softer and soothes inflammations because it is so rich in minerals. Most people come here to relieve stress, although some people with more chronic conditions like insomnia, depression, digestive issues or a weak immune system have found that coming here has alleviated their symptoms. 

I’ll be honest, as I approached the Salt Cave, located in Glyfada, I wasn’t sure what to expect; but I found the experience refreshing, unique (and it is the only one of its kind in Greece) and therapeutic, and recommend it – unless you suffer from kidney problems, are allergic to iodine or are undergoing chemotherapy. The service was friendly and I felt the benefits for at least a few days. This will definitely be on my stuck-in-the-city list of weird and wonderful places to go.

Visit the Glyfatha Salt Cave here. 

Athens Relaxation Treat: Cocoon Urban Spa

Whether you’re in Athens for a day or forever, it’s great to know there’s a place such as Cocoon Urban Spa where you can receive top-quality therapies for face and body, either as a one-off treat or as a course of treatments that bring results. 

As someone who has been passionately interested in holistic wellness for decades, I was among the very first to visit Cocoon Urban Spa when it opened 20 years ago. In my post-lockdown slump, I headed over there to try some renewing and reviving therapies that could facilitate the process of returning to the land of the living. 

First, I stopped for a chat with Maria Poulada, the co-owner of the spa who together with her sister has led it to develop and evolve into a truly fantastic place of holistic wellness for Athenians and visitors alike.

Getting to Know Cocoon Urban Spa: Q & A with Maria Poulada

How has the wellness scene in Greece changed since you first opened 20 years ago?

It has broadened and multiplied, which is great. However, more and more schools and Yoga Teacher Training programs are churning out “therapists” and unfortunately, during my recruiting efforts, I’ve seen that the quality has dropped significantly, and inexperienced teachers and masseuses are being absorbed by the market and lowering the standard. 

Where do your therapists train?

Most of our therapists are very skilled and have studied Natural Health Science. It’s one of the oldest and most respected schools in Attica. I usually ask the teachers from that school to recommend grads for me and it’s worked out great.

Who are your customers?

Cocoon Urban Spa has a wide range of customers, from people who come for a profound life-change (to decrease chronic stress or pain, improve sleep, etc.) and visit us on a regular basis and then there are people who come once a year to treat themselves on their birthdays or to give a gift. I think we are the only place in the city that offers a truly holistic wellness approach, passive and dynamic therapy, encompassing treatments, yoga, acupuncture, and homeopathy.

What would you recommend as The Ultimate treatment for post-lockdown stress?

It’s a bit subjective. Some would say it’s the Shirodhara or any classic massage. For me, personally, it’s Yoga. The Hatsumomo is a terrific overall detox treatment and if you couple it with a deep cleansing facial or a Renewing Facial, you’ll look and feel brand new! The CBD oil massage is deeply relaxing and works well for anxiety-related stress.

What kind of products do you use for treatments?

We’ve remained very old-school, sticking to our philosophy of hands-on therapy and natural products. It’s vital to use the highest-quality products for massages and facials. We’ve been using Decleor and Jurlique for ages because they’re natural, organic, and biodynamic. Also, the quality is terrific. You relax just by smelling them and the results are fantastic.

My Own Experience: Tried & Tested!

I tried the CBD Oil Massage and the vitamin C Facial, in that order. I arrived stressed out from work, life, and a year+ of lockdown inertia and was ready to surrender to the hands of the spa’s skilled therapists. I was not disappointed. The CBD Oil Massage is a head-to-toe therapy using an ingredient that has become widely lauded for its effects in reducing anxiety and muscular pain. The therapist used strong yet caring strokes to ease away my blocks and gracefully accepted my invitation to converse about the therapy itself and various other personal questions regarding my body’s health. I was impressed not only by the fantastically relaxing experience but also by her depth of knowledge and charm. 

Next, was the Vitamin C Facial, which involves a face cleansing (with Murad products, not hands or a machine) and a reviving massage that help a strong dose of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to leave the skin glowing because it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, accelerating healing and removing fine lines to reveal skin freshness, brightness, plumpness, and shine. Again, the aesthetician kindly explained the entire process to me and offered me extra tips for my skin type and beauty routine. 

I certainly left Cocoon Urban Spa feeling as dreamy and relaxed as I’d hoped, with skin that glowed for days and has improved in texture ever since. 

NOTE: Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my swimsuit along, so I missed out on the chance to enjoy the sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi, but there’s always the next time!

Cocoon Urban Spa

Images by Olga Tzimou