Luxurious? Sure. But Jerusalem Waldorf’s French spa could rub some the wrong way

Treatments in closed space include products from beauty company Guerlain, and heated massage beds that could be a tad too hot to handle

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Heated water and cushy daybeds at the Jerusalem Waldorf's Guerlain spa (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)
Heated water and cushy daybeds at the Jerusalem Waldorf's Guerlain spa (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

It took nearly eight years for Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the city’s most expensive hotel, to open its own treatment center, constructed over the course of the pandemic and opened late last year.

But while the luxury hotel is touting its inhouse spa as the height of pampering, the enclosed, underground setting and overheated massage beds may not have been worth the wait.

Named Guerlain for the luxury French beauty and wellness company that oversees the Waldorf Jerusalem facility and several other Waldorf spas worldwide, the hotel’s spa was looking to distinguish itself from the neighboring hotel spas, including Mamilla’s Akasha and the Inbal’s house spa.

“We looked for a brand that would fit the luxury of Waldorf,” said Waldorf manager Avner On. “Guerlain was in some of the European Waldorfs, so we decided to go with that, as the most luxurious hotel in Israel.”

The Waldorf Jerusalem is housed in the historic, 1920s-era former Palace Hotel building, purchased for $20 million in 2005 by the Canadian Reichmann family  and renovated at a reported cost of $150 million before opening in 2014.

The hotel also has a residential wing with 30 apartments — one 500-square meter apartment was purchased by Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin for NIS 40 million — along with 226 rooms and Jerusalem’s largest ballroom. But until recently, it did not offer its own set of treatment services.

“The spa wasn’t finished before the hotel opened, for all kinds of reasons,” said On.

The cushy daybeds at the indoor pool, part of the spa area at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

One reason may have been the series of owners over the course of Waldorf Jerusalem’s history.

While Waldorf Astoria is operated by the Hilton Hotel chain, the Jerusalem hotel’s services, facilities and design were reportedly at the whim of the personal tastes of the Reichmann family patriarch, the first Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem owner, investor Paul Reichmann, who died at age 83 in October 2013.

His five heirs, some of whom live in ultra-Orthodox environs of Jerusalem’s Shaarei Hesed neighborhood, sold it in 2017 for $130 million to French-Jewish businessperson Michel Ohayon, owner of the Versailles Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Construction on the spa began in 2019, and was then delayed by the pandemic, said On.

When it finally opened in late 2021, the ground-floor spa included a heated pool with two hammams and a dry sauna, a workout room and nine treatment rooms, including three that can accommodate a couple.

The luxurious fittings of the Guerlain Spa include 10,000-euro German Gharieni massage beds, four-digit thread count sheets and the full array of Guerlain oils and creams. Guests are asked to sniff and choose one of several Guerlain scents for their treatments, each headier than the last.

That said, while the heated massage beds were gloriously comfortable during a recent complimentary deep tissue treatment, they felt uncomfortably warm at times.

There was also a claustrophobic feeling in the closed environs of the windowless, underground post-massage relaxation room.

Ditto for the spa lobby, which is furnished with deep, comfortable couches, along with drinks and snacks for those awaiting their treatments, but has a closed, somewhat stifling feel.

Neighboring luxury hotels have also struggled to find solutions for spa space in tight urban corners. Mamilla’s indoor pool is located on the hotel’s lower floors, although its Akasha Spa is located on an upper floor of the nearby sister hotel David Citadel.

The Guerlain spa name entails oversight, said On, with surprise spot checks by the French company, whose staff members check up on the treatments and protocols every six months.

The Waldorf treatments are pricey, with a traditional Swedish massage costing NIS 490 ($140), compared with NIS 450 ($128) at Akasha and NIS 420 ($120) at the Inbal.

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