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We Discover Why the A-List Love Being Whacked with Branches and Doused in Icy Water


Being whacked with branches, braving hot and cold extremes, and being scrubbed with honey, salt and leaves isn’t your typical spa experience. But Banya No.1 isn’t your typical spa, as we find out.

Everybody from Kate Moss and Justin Bieber to Emilia Clarke and Liv Tyler have been flocking to the London bathhouse and wellness spa to experience its authentic, Russian Banya, Perenie and wellness treatments. And after our exhilarating, three-hour experience, we can see why.

We head to Banya No.1’s Chiswick branch - listed as TripAdvisor's top London spa. We change into our bikinis (clothing is optional on single sex days) and are given snazzy felt hats - as well as making everybody look like adorable, semi-naked woodland sprites, these will stop us from overheating during the Banya sessions.

Banya hat

We are shown to our private booth in the cosy relaxation area, where a pot of Linden, thyme, mint and chamomile tea and a jug of lemon water await us.

And over the next few hours, we bounce between our booth - glugging back litres of water we’ve sweated out - to the steam room, freezing bucket showers, icy plunge pool and therapists occasionally take us off to hit us with eucalyptus, scrub us or bring us delicious, healthy dishes.

The experience is based on the thermal cycle of Hot-Cold-Rest-Repeat.



We start by acclimatising ourselves to Banya, an intense steam room experience, which detoxes and boosts circulation.

My jolly, Latvian therapist spreads my towel on the top seat where it’s at its hottest, and instructs me to lie on my front with my feet in the air, while he creates superheated steam in the 700°C brick furnace.

Initially, I am not sure I will last 15 minutes, while my nostrils melt in the heat, but I relax into it and feel wonderfully serene by the end. The snazzy hats make a huge difference.

woman in steam room

The serenity is short-lived, when I exit the steam room and the therapist instructs me to stand beneath a mounted oak bucket, where he pulls a rope for a torrent of icy water to cascade over me from a great height, like snow on a sizzling frying pan.

I dodge it slightly, so he insists on a second bucket. This might be the first time I’ve shrieked during a spa experience.

bucket shower

I’m then instructed to submerge my entire head and body into a 7°C plunge pool, which I embrace with the enthusiasm of a cat and a bath.

plunge pool

In a turn of events more shocking than the temperature change, I feel absolutely amazing afterwards; almost euphoric.

Apparently, the sudden change of temperature is hugely beneficial to the body – toxins are released, and a feeling of relief and tingling lightness follows.



While I sip my tea, my masseuse approaches the table, wearing black gloves, a felt hat and brandishing fistfuls of birch, oak and eucalyptus twigs.

He leads me over to the steam room for my Parenie session, where I lie face down on a wooden bench in the steam room, with my face in a pile of cooling, wet leaves. 

He douses the leaves in water, which heats them up, and then proceeds to massage, stroke and gently pummel my back and legs with them.

4 handed parenie

His arms are a blur, but it doesn’t hurt - its main aim is to move heat to different parts of your body with the leaves, like a wonderful, alternative massage, which boosts circulation, releases stress and tension.

It smells amazing and the essential oils released by the leaves are said to prevent skin aging, while the steam (parenie) helps the skin absorb them and relieves muscle tension.

He does the same to my front and then I sit up with outstretched arms, while he pummels my arms and chest... which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever write.

parenie feet

My mind isn't sure what just happened, but my body feels like it’s had a brilliant, hour-long massage, and it’s only been 10 minutes.

Then it’s back to the ice buckets and plunge pools, which I get better at each time and enjoy the feeling afterwards, fizzing with adrenaline and endorphins in the relaxation area.

The stalwarts who have iced ourselves a few times, now share smug grins in the sauna, whenever the silence is broken by a scream from a newbie beneath the bucket outside.

Siberian Body Wash

Siberian body wash

Another masseuse takes me for a Siberian Body Wash, where I lie on a heated stone in a private room, like a sacrifical offering.

Using a bundle (venik) of wonderfully fragrant birch leaves, he performs a traditional, full-body exfoliating scrub with silky Tar Soap foam, massaging my muscles with the leaves.  

The treatment removes dead cells for the skin to breath, cleans pores and stimulates blood circulation. My skin is like silk afterwards.

Honey and Salt Scrub

honey and salt scrub

After a few more rounds of heat, ice and tea, it’s back to the heated stone for a full-body Honey and Salt Scrub.

I smell like a delicious cake, as the masseuse exfoliates with the salt - a natural detoxifier, which absorbs toxins and removes dead skin cells - and honey, which moisturises and nourishes it with vitamins and minerals.

My blood is now fizzing like Champagne and my skin has entered its soft, baby’s bum era.

Relaxation and Food

Banya No.1 food

We learn that the relaxation element is as important as the treatments. So we end our session back in our comfy booth womb, which has its own button to request treats from the menu.

There’s everything from Champagne, to shots of Beluga Vodka with Premium Ossetra Caviar, or beer and prawns.

beetroot soup and dumplings

The offering is largely healthy and traditional Russian dishes, like homemade Kvass (a delicious, fermented honey and rye bread drink) pickles, cured fish, meats and salads.

My package comes with a selection of traditional dishes, from dumplings filled with mushroom and mashed potato, to the most heavenly beetroot, garlic, onion and butterbean soup with sour cream, which I immediately Google recipes for, to recreate at home. 

honey tea

As I get dressed, the womens' changing room is like the girl’s loo on a night out, full of giddy, friendly strangers, high on the experience, and excitedly discussing it - quite the opposite of the toe-gazing silence after the usual whale song spa massage.

And that sums up what’s so brilliant about this wonderfully eccentric spa - you leave feeling supercharged, full of stories, and drunk from all of the sensory extremes.

Banya No.1, 404-406 Chiswick High Road, Chiswick, London W4 5TF. We had the Full Experience Spa Offer, which is £157 pp off-peak and £185 pp regular price.

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