Par excellence

Isabelle Gobbo, spa director at Le Bristol Paris, discuses spa philosophy, staffing policy and the art of excelling 

WORDS NORA ELIAS

“We wanted to create something very true, very authentic and very much in the French style. I was inspired by the Le Bristol feeling, the Le Bristol soul,” says Isabelle Gobbo, director of the spa at landmark hotel Le Bristol Paris, part of the boutique Oetker Collection of five-star hotels, which also includes Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in France, Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Germany and The Lanesborough in London, among others. Gobbo joined Le Bristol four years ago to, she explains, “rebrand the spa and find a new concept”. 

The eight-treatment room spa boasts a sleek and understated design, characterised by natural colours of white, beige and brown, the use of wood and simple, clean lines. The concept behind the spa is, Gobbo says, rooted in the European heritage of the hotel, and the collection.

“We wanted to be very European and to do something that reflected France and Europe, which is why we have teamed up with European brands.” The main brand at the spa is Switzerland’s La Prairie, a partnership Gobbo explains fits perfectly because “it really reflects the luxury of Le Bristol, and because they share our philosophy of excellence – based on luxurious treatments and product and treatment efficiency.” 

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The spa also works with UK brands Aromatherapy Associates and The Organic Pharmacy, and with Russian brand Russie Blanche, for the Russian treatments on the menu. “We wanted to team up with European brands and really showcase their European know-how, rather than partnering with American or Asian brands, for example,” Gobbo continues.

“We wanted to be different to our competitors.” While she points out that “the quality and the uniqueness of the brands is of course the most important aspect,” she adds that “we are very happy that no other spa in Paris is teaming up with La Prairie and The Organic Pharmacy. That sets us apart.” 

Outdoor effect 
The spa at Le Bristol includes a well-manicured garden, created very much in the classic French style. Located in the inner courtyard of the hotel, the garden includes rosebushes, among other greenery, and several of the treatment rooms have garden views. Gobbo explains that it was important to incorporate this feature, unusual for a city centre hotel, into the design of the spa. 

“Having this garden, ‘a la Française,’ is a very important point for Le Bristol, so we wanted to build a spa with treatment rooms that overlook the beautiful garden and terraces,” she says. “It’s unusual to have a spa that is on the first floor – not in the basement – with daylight coming in and overlooking the garden. That’s very rare in Paris.”

It was, Gobbo adds, also key for the spa to blend in seamlessly with the overall Le Bristol philosophy. “The branding of the spa was created to really suit the rest of the hotel, not to be a separate entity that does not quite fit within the property.” 

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The Russian room 

One of the features that sets the spa at Le Bristol apart from its competitors at other high-end Paris spas is the Russian room, and the Russian treatments on the menu. The banya room, built as part of the £118 million (€150m) refurbishment of Le Bristol in 2011, is equipped with a heated marble table, a Vichy shower and a private steam room.

Gobbo says the spa opted to add the Russian room and treatments to its offering because “I wanted to find something different and I think banya treatments are both fun and healthy. They’re a real experience and the combination of hot and cold therapies fortifies the body’s natural defences and boosts the immune system”. 

The Russian treatments include the Banya Detox Wrap, incorporating birch, green tea and Siberian ginseng; the Vodka Body Scrub, using vodka, lime, sesame seed and ocean salt; and the Venik Treatment, which incorporates a steam bath and the use of venik – bundles of birch branches – to increase circulation.

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A new treatment, the two-and-a-half-hour Russian Banya Ritual, was also introduced last year. The indulgent ritual comprises a steam room session, a body exfoliation, a foam massage, a venik treatment, a honey body wrap and the use of crushed ice to boost circulation. 

The banya treatments were not, Gobbo says, launched to cater to the spa’s Russian clientele. In fact, she continues, “these treatments are primarily for our Parisian clientele and they’re not exactly as they are in Russia, it’s more that they are inspired by banya.”

It was, she says, necessary to soften the treatments, which in their original format “can be a little bit rough,” to suit the clientele of a five-star Paris hotel. “It’s more gentle here, I don’t think our bodies are quite prepared for the real, real experience,” she says with a laugh. “But you do get a glimpse of what you would experience in Russia.” 

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Selection criteria 

The spa employs two therapists, Vera and Peter, who specialise in the Russian treatments, and Gobbo explains that it was important to her to find staff with the right background for this offering. “I wanted it to be authentic, so the therapists I have are from Russia and the Balkans, I didn’t want French therapists who have never even set foot in a banya,” she says.

And if the Russian massage I had with Peter, quite possibly the best massage I have ever had, is anything to go by – this decision has certainly paid off. Selecting the right therapist for the right treatment and the right client is, Goddo says, integral to the spa philosophy at Le Bristol.

“I don’t need all the therapists to be able to do all the treatments. What I do need are therapists who perform the treatments that he or she does really well,” she comments. “So instead of all therapists carrying out all treatments, but not doing it very well, I have employees who are expert in certain treatments and really invest themselves in those treatments.” 

Customisation is key at the spa, beginning as early as during the booking process. “We really inquire when we take reservations and try to find out what the guest’s expectations and needs are,” Gobbo says.

“We need to do that so we can choose the right therapist for them. I would rather refuse the client than [give them the wrong therapist] because if you disappoint a client, then I don’t think you will see him or her again.” 

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Route to recruitment 

The recruitment process when a new therapist is hired is, Gobbo explains, a careful one, with emphasis placed on attitude and personality. “We give particular attention to the personal qualities of the candidate.

We like [our staff] to have warmth, that’s very important, as is humility, reliability, enthusiasm for the job and a friendly personality,” she says. “That’s very important for the team spirit, and these are not only qualities that we search for in the spa, but in the entire hotel.” 

Finding staff that possess as many as possible, if not all, of these qualities is, Gobbo adds, not an easy task. “It’s difficult to find a good therapist because you have to find someone who likes people, likes the job and likes ongoing training and who tries to outperform themselves every day. You need staff that don’t take their skills for granted, that want to develop.”

While finding the right employees might be challenging it is, Gobbo continues, absolutely essential. “Those that come to Le Bristol to work have to have the shoulders for it, because it’s a lot of pressure. We are in a palace; our standards are set, very, very high and our clients are very demanding,” she says. “It’s difficult to find people that can take this pressure, and can excel on a daily basis.”

Gobbo is nevertheless very pleased with the team she has assembled at the spa. “We have been lucky enough to find some very talented staff and we have a great team here at Le Bristol. We only wish to have stars in the spa, people you won’t meet in other spas.” 

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Aid aims 

Gobbo explains that the Le Bristol client base is “50% Parisian,” with many visiting the spa “once or twice a week”. However, natural for a spa in a five-star hotel in one of the most visited cities in the world, it also has a high percentage of international clients. “Our international clients mainly come from the US and Europe, but also from China, Japan, Hong Kong and [to a lesser extent] from the Middle East,” she says. 

In terms of what the future holds for the spa, Gobbo says that with the spa menu last updated just a few months ago, “I will wait another few months before introducing any new concepts.” Something she would like to focus on in 2015 is extending the spa’s commitment to charity work and the environment.

“I think it’s important for a spa to be aware of its surroundings,” she comments. The spa already works with a number of charities and organisations, including the annual Téléthon TV fundraising event, held in support of those suffering from muscular dystrophy, and Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) in the US. 

Additionally, 10% of proceeds from sales of Aromatherapy Associates’ Inner Strength Bath & Shower Oil, sold in the spa and used in its Inner Strength Ritual, go to the Defence Against Cancer Foundation.

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“We are involved with quite a few charities already, but I would like us to do more,” Gobbo says. She adds that she also hopes to place increased emphasis on green initiatives in 2015. The spa has already taken some steps in this area: the underwear clients use during treatments is made of biodegradable bamboo and the spa is equipped with LED lights throughout. 

“Environmental consciousness is important for hotels in general: we generate so much waste and there is so much laundry, so if each department can do its bit when it comes to being environmentally friendly, that can really make a difference,” Gobbo says. “We are looking into being more involved in green initiatives this year, and increasing our partnerships with brands and associations that promote this philosophy.” 

The spa at Le Bristol Paris
Size: 800sq m
Treatment rooms: 8
Facilities: sauna, steam room, banya room with private steam room facilities, garden, swimming pool, fitness centre
Brands: La Prairie, Aromatherapy Associates, Russie Blanche, The Organic Pharmacy
Staff: 15, including therapists, beauticians, receptionists, makeup artists and a hair stylist