London is arguably one of the world’s greatest cities, but living and working here, Londoners can become blind to its rare brilliance. Precious gems like Trafalgar Square, Parliament, The London Eye, The Mall (etc), are casually tarred with the ‘tourist’ brush, and avoided for fear of disrupting ‘the daily mission’. It’s a superfast-paced city in which to work and live… but it doesn’t have to be that way! In what is the first ever staycation Active Escape review to feature on FitnessOnToast.com, I recently spent 3 cosy days inside the walls of the palatial Corinthia Hotel London investigating something genuinely innovative; the Brain Power Experience. It’s been designed in conjunction with the hotel’s Neuroscientist in Residence, and was totally transformative for me! It worked, and conclusively proved the hypothesis that you can enjoy an exceptional and differentiated wellness break whilst at home in this frenetic city, emerging revived and fired up! Click more to see what your own restorative well-being program could involve…
We shot this astounding view (above) from the terrace of The Corinthia Hotel London, which opened in mid-2011 after a c.£300m renovation to shed its former Ministry of Defence clothes. For the past 3 months, the hotel has hosted Dr. Tara Swart PhD (neuroscientist, medical doctor and Senior Lecturer at MIT) as director of its Neuroscientist in Residence program. In my intrepid travels, I’ve not encountered any hotel group enlisting such a specialist, but at once I understand why they’ve done it. It’s a brave, avant-garde step for the hospitality industry, and whilst the press releases speak of ‘boosting brain power’, I can attest to it having meaningfully enhanced my sense of wellbeing, my tranquility, my body’s energy and my mental focus after just a 2-night stay.
This is partly thanks to the program, but also the property itself. This hotel basically bisects Trafalgar Square and Embankment – both frantically stressful parts of the City – but you wouldn’t know that you’re within 500 miles of the nearest ‘Nelson’s Column’! The Corinthia is a tranquil bolt hole right under your very nose, commanding what is perhaps London’s most majestic view over the River Thames, thanks to its inimitable location. The hotel is both low-key and high-end; familiar faces pepper the guest roster, as the hotel has become somewhat of an unofficial default for movie premiers and press junket interviews.
The clean lines of the décor throughout indicates an uncompromising approach to the finish, which is incredibly well invested, instilling the sense that you’re on solid, reassuringly opulent foundations. That sensation culminates in the centerpiece Crystal Moon Lounge; a spacious, triple-height atrium at the heart of the hotel, with a show-stopping chandelier composed of 1001 Baccarat crystal spheres, arranged in a sphere…
I was here to undertake a customized edit of the Brain Power Residential Package, which is a program is designed by Dr. Tara Swart PhD to promote optimal i) Sleep, ii) Nutrition, iii) Hydration and iv) Exercise; these are all the crucial pillars of a healthy lifestyle on which my blog majors, so it connected with me from the outset. The ‘extra mile’ is the way the hotel has neatly packaged up these components with their luxurious deft and created something which beautifully walks the line between lavish indulgence and health-retreat. To my mind, for £618, you’re investing in your well-being, benefitting from the academic depth of PhD-level research, and pressing the ‘restart’ button to emerge invigorated.
So let’s tackle these 4 elements (nutrition, hydration, sleep and exercise) one by one, to see how the Corinthia has paid homage to this credo.
- The theory is that since our brains make use of >25% of everything we eat, dietary input is linked to cerebral output.
- It’s reassuring to see plenty of nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocado, quinoa, and grains, as this is essentially my favored diet (which features heavily in my book Fit In 3), which has been rubber-stamped by one of the leading scientific minds in her field.
- The dedicated Brain Power Menu has been curated as a collaboration between Dr. Swart and the Corinthia’s Executive Chef Adriano Cavagnini to use ingredients which can help to optimize mental function. Here is the quinoa porridge dish from the breakfast menu (along with some delicious examples of the non-Brain Power offering)…
- For the lunch/dinner menu, pictured below, I sampled every dish that my pescatarian credentials permitted, and was broadly struck by the excellence of execution. Often, where health-driven conceptual menus are involved, a dish might sound great on paper but seriously underwhelm on the plate – not at all the case here, with precision translation from the page, imaginatively brought to life. What’s on offer?
- Starter: Beetroot & Kale Salad, Carrots, Quinoa, Parmesan Crisps and Raspberry dressing… delicious!
- Starter: Organic Salmon with Green Mango Carpaccio, Blueberries, Toasted Almonds and Lemon Compote. This is a standout show-stopper. Exceptional depth of flavor.
- Starter: Carrot with Turmeric Cream, Barley, Flax Seeds and Black Olives
- Main: Green Tea Veal Fillet Paillard with Spinach, Puy Lentils, Cocoa and Black Pepper Sauce
- Main: Roasted Squash with Wild Rice, Steamed Asparagus, and Red Pepper Oil
- Dessert: Mango and Chia Seed Pudding with Yoghurt, Fresh Mango, and Raspberries
- Dessert: Avocado Chiffon Cake with Manjari Chocolate Mousse and Cherries
- Dessert: Coconut Tapioca with Papaya and Lemon Balm
- Optimal hydration is the single most underappreciated wellbeing tip I offer to personal training clients, and is something I’ve written about on my blog time and again. Water is the one and only liquid that fills you up, beautifies, can prove unexpectedly satisfying, and boasts a guilt-free 0 calories. Beyond the skin-deep though, it delivers oxygen to the muscles so that they can perform when you’re training, keeps the joints supple, restores energy levels, quashes hunger pangs, purifies the blood, helps the kidneys do their filtration job, and even takes the nutrients in your food on a journey through your digestive system! It is the very eau de vie, or aquavit (our Swedish equivalent!). I aim for 2 liters of bottled water a day, sipped at regular intervals, to stay topped up throughout!
- Dr Swart’s work draws upon research into the body’s water balance, and the brain’s sensitivity to it. She concludes that even a minor 1-3% change in hydration levels can impair physical, motor and cognitive performance, so the program she’s designed focuses on optimal hydration.
- For a little more fun, there are also Mocktails – non-alcoholic cocktails served up in their dramatic bar spaces by accredited mixologists: The Serotonin Sling (pictured below, with blackberry garnish) includes blackberries, blueberries, date syrup, coconut water and almond milk. Also, the Mox-ytocin includes Green Tea, Date Syrup, Mint Leaf, Lemon Juice and blackberries.
- ‘Survival of the most rested’ is how I like to think of it! Sleep is the ultimate repair workshop, where musculoskeletal renovation happens, immune health is replenished and mental alertness is restored. The ‘right amount’ of sleep will differ from person to person, but being stuck in the catch-22 of feeling perennially tired is not what I consider to be ‘wellbeing’. I’ve always believed 7 hours a night to be the minimum, and I like to give myself every chance for a quality night’s rest. Ensure the room isn’t too hot or cold, that there isn’t too much ambient light pollution, avoid screens for an hour before bed, resist caffeine after 13:00 that day, take a warm bath before sleep, and use lavender scent to lightly perfume the pillow.
- Dr Swart’s view is that 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night is essential to allow the brain’s waste-clearance system to go to work. A disruption in that process, she concludes, can impair IQ by 5-8% the following day, and an interrupted red-eye flight can devastate the IQ the following day!
- To that end, the Corinthia rooms include excellent touches which I found perfect for the cause. Blackout blinds, snuggly bed socks, mattresses which regulate body temperature, a specially designed lavender pillow spray, as well as fluffy towels and heated floors in the bathrooms. These touches make a huge difference and enabled me to enjoy some seriously restorative sleep.
4) TRAINING AND SPA
- Spending a day at a spa is not simply a hedonistic indulgence for the wanton pleasure-seeker; it has legitimate therapeutic effects which can make all the difference to a burned-out, run-down Londoner. The mood can be lifted by endorphin, dopamine and serotonin release, and it can promote regeneration and healing, muscular relaxation as well as invigorating & energizing, and expunging toxins in your body through the cycles of sweating and re-hydration. Plus it’s likely to make you sleep like a baby later that night!
- Espa Life is the Corinthia’s in-house mega-spa set over 3,300 square meters and 4 floors. Cavernous, yet always intimate, it’s an impossibly relaxing experience, blending Chanel-inspired monochrome aesthetics with a suite of spa innovations, from hot-stone ‘anatomical loungers’ to effervescent ‘vitality pools’ and regenerative ‘sleep pods’, to a glass sauna with no perceptible walls, sleek lines and fibre-optics. This is the best spa I’ve visited in this country.
- Scent is a big factor too; energizing citrus and tranquil lavender is piped throughout the various rooms via the air conditioning ducts.
- I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed two exceptional treatments from Angel, the Spa Treatment manager. He is magical, and professionally accredited in a wide range of both scientific and holistic therapies. He administered the most exquisite sports massage I have ever received (and I am quite picky, being trained myself!), as well as leading me through a transportive, mindful session of Yoga Nidra, in which my mind achieved a transcendent state of conscious relaxation; I am somewhat of a cynic regarding many things ‘spiritual’ and prefer empirical evidence, but I was amazed at the effect from this fascinating practice on my body! I have never felt sensations like it, and implore you to try it for yourself, with an open mind or otherwise!
- I also had a training session with the in-house PT team at the vast gym, which is bigger and better equipped than many commercial gyms in London. As it happens, there’s going to be a total refit of the gym, swapping out the current machines for an all-new lineup of Technogym’s top-end gear; that’s excellent news, as I can personally vouch for this kit, having visited their Italian factory & HQ a few years back, and been overwhelmed by the artistry involved in it! In the meantime, I made full use of the evaluative practices on-site to ascertain as much data as possible, and help work on my form with professional supervision – always a priority for me!
So two days later, after not really stepping foot outside of the hotel (other than onto the entrancing terrace of the Royal Suite during a little tour of the upper floors!), I exited the hotel with new vitality in my step. The hotel is world-class and has a unique aesthetic and feel, which in itself, will help you to revitalize. It’s difficult to say whether I “boosted my brain power” but during the stay, anecdotally, I had some extremely productive and clear thoughts about how I wanted to tackle the coming few months, and started mapping things out with clarity and lucidity. It’s not possible to say it was purely thanks to the Serotonin Sling, but I’m sure there was some causality there…
I WAS WEARING:
Sportswear: Monreal London SS17