The traditional Roman bath was not only a place for bathing, but also a place for meeting people, exchanging ideas, reading books from the library, dining and discussing the big issues in life. How fitting, then, the Porchester Spa is adjoint to the 1920’s style events venue, Porchester Hall, as well as the Paddington Library, and the West London Buddhist Centre. Yes, it is a bit of a mix, but that’s London!
The spa and the library were added to the main hall building in late 1920’s, and the art-deco style is maintained in the spa building even today. When it comes to the decorations, the facilities and the general ambiance of the Porchester Spa, the key to having a good experience is to manage your expectations before going there.
This is not a luxurious, high-end spa with fluffy towels and pampering toiletries. There are no private changing rooms, no white, marble flooring, no zen music in the background. It’s not a place for “Queen for a day” hen-do parties, and you can’t sip on a bubbly as you watch the sparkling lights of the pools.
The Porchester Spa is something else. It’s unique and it’s got character. But you have to adapt to it, rather than expecting the spa to adapt to your wishes. Once you get into the flow and the spirit of this place, then the real fun begins.
The spa opens up to a large resting hall surrounded by tall walls, long chairs and lockers. (Bring a 20p coin for the locker!) Along one wall there are 3 cabins to get changed, and a mirror with some hair dryers. And the large space in the middle of the hall opens to the stairs that take you down to a cold plunge pool. The hall is dimly lit, but well equipped with reading lights next to each chair for a healthy reading time. It is generally quiet and peaceful. You can fall asleep staring at the tall ceiling and the massive green plants that hang down from the ceiling tiles.
Following the same stairs that take you to the cold plunge pool, you enter the bathing area. Now, be prepared to see old pipes all along the ceiling, worn out shower cabins and cold, colour faded floor tiles. There is also not much clear instruction on where to go, so you have to be ready to explore and look behind uncanny doors. There is a Turkish bath here, which as a Turkish woman, I didn’t find it completely deserves that label. In fact, the Turkish bath was the only place I didn’t feel like using.
Adjacent to the Turkish bath, there are hot rooms, the Laconium and the Calidarium. Laconium is like a sauna, a dry hot room. One can spend 10-15 minutes here to acclimatise the body and get used to the heat. Calidarium, is similarly hot but more moist. There are benches and long chairs for you to lay down here. This is the part of the whole spa which has the most vintage feeling, so I found myself wondering what year I’m in, before I could relax. But soon the heat and the atmosphere really got under my skin, and I almost didn’t want to leave my spot in the Calidarium.
There is also a massive steam room, with quite good steam, I have to admit. This was better than most of the steam baths I’ve seen in modern or luxurious places.
Then, past the showers near the steam room, you’ll come to a quite nice sauna. The sauna room is spacious, with three seating levels, and it’s HOT. Now, this is quite special, because most people in England are not used to being in such hot saunas. I’m not sure if the heat is always so high, but when I was there, it was 95 degrees celsius. Enough to get me ready to jump into the cold pool in about 10 minutes.
The heat of the sauna makes up for the fact that the cold plunge pool is a bit of a walk from the sauna area. But that’s okay. The pool itself is quite big, and the rounds back and forth in that pool will give you the cold shock you deserve!
I spent about 3 hours here, going back and forth the Calidarium, the sauna, the cold pool and the hall upstairs. I haven’t tried the food on-site, but this is available if one’s hungry. I heard that the treatments are also very good here, like massage or body scrub, but I haven’t tried those either. If you are visiting, I recommend to visit with a treatment, as the price to use the spa is included in that.
What I loved ultimately about the Porchester Spa is it’s unique ambiance that is quite hard to get anywhere else. Try it once and see if this is for you. Plus, it is so much cheaper than any other spa you may visit in London.
Good to know
- Bring a swimming suit. On women’s only day, what you wear (or not wear!) is up to you.
- Walk-ins possible. But treatments should be booked in advance.
- Two towels are provided, but bring your own flip-flops. And a water bottle to refill. No cups are available.
- Price: $$$$$