Reopening its elegant doors following a multi-million euro refurbishment project last year, the Athenaeum Spa has formed an integral part of Attard’s luxurious Corinthia Palace since its inception in the mid-1960s . However, as General Manager Adrian Attard reveals, it wasn’t always the haven of tranquillity many have come to associate it with today.
Describing those early days, Adrian explains that the Athenaeum was primarily a fitness centre, at a time before the concept of spas had really entered the market. Then, in the late 1980s, Corinthia was the innovator on the island, opening the first dedicated spa experience within a hotel. The facility would go on to be refurbished in 1993, with Athenaeum Spa continuing operation until recently, with some minor refurbishments and touch-ups.
Then, some three and a half years ago, Adrian reveals that the team began to look at business opportunities aimed at enhancing the Corinthia Palace as the foremost luxury destination in Malta. “Of course, the Palace is not a ‘normal’ hotel, by the beach, in Malta. It is a very special property in the heart of the island, surrounded by gardens, and so it is really focused on a different market segment and customer profile to the rest of the island,” he explains.
Along with its location and a strong food and beverage offering, the Athenaeum Spa forms a special part of making the hotel a sought-after destination. “We wanted to create another reason to engage with the Corinthia Palace. And the spa was the most natural way for us to do it,” Adrian says, citing the hotel’s history as a spa resort, affirming that there is a very strong market for spa travel.
“We believed that there is a business purpose for creating a very special destination, a spa where the focus is on lifestyle – on well-being, self-care, and giving yourself time to ‘find yourself’ – and therefore planned the investment and the development of the spa,” he continues, revealing that they are already seeing the fruits of their labour.
And, as you walk through the elegant new facility, it’s not difficult to see why.
Boasting seven treatment rooms and a Vitality Suite – a private area where one can enjoy several facilities that include a steam room – it also houses Swiss showers, a therapy pool with bubble beds, hydro treatments and a sauna. But Adrian’s personal favourites are the marble heated beds, he reveals, “these are slabs of marble on which you can lounge, that reach a certain temperature to loosen the muscles and eliminate stress out of your body without you knowing that it is even happening!”
The space is also complemented by a garden with an external paddle pool, sun loungers and a lounging area, in which you can spend time individually, as a small group or as a couple, to enjoy quality time to look after yourself and really unwind.
“In this modern and fast-paced world that we live in, we are seeing that many of our guests are looking for an escape, a reason to sit and think, and to enjoy time on their own to find peace. The Athenaeum Spa has that purpose very much in mind,” he maintains.
Speaking of the design of the space, Adrian affirms that as a company, Corinthia owns a number of hotels with fantastic spas, each having its own identity. For the Athenaeum, the team wanted to do something different.
“We are in the heart of the Mediterranean and the sun plays a role in our lives – it has the ability to heal, the ability to bring wellness, and give a boost. When you come to Malta, you want to engage with the sun – you want to feel it and see it, and even in the winter months, yes, we have the odd grey day, but we also have the vast majority of beautiful sun-blushed days,” he maintains. So, when it came to the design, sunlight formed a very important part of the brief.
Another integral part, Adrian continues, was creating a spa that spoke to destination, of the place we are in – the Mediterranean – as well as focusing on the hotel’s history. “We are a heritage property, our hotel dates back to 1962 and our Villa to the turn of the 20th century. So there is that heritage, but there is also a lifestyle and a connection to Malta, to our roots. With the Athenaeum, we very much wanted to engage those two concepts,” he explains.
The team did this by looking outwards, also incorporating the idea of recreating la dolce vita of the 1960s, drawing inspiration from the citrus trees, the honey, the lifestyle of fun and joy that one associates with the southern Mediterranean during that time. To do this, the Corinthia worked with a design architect out of the United Kingdom, a company called Goddard Littlefair, who were, Adrian says, “inspirational in developing this concept and theme.” They also worked with QP Management Projects based out of Malta, also an arm of Corinthia, on the project.
“The architecture and interior design organisations came together and created something very special: a sense of the Corinthia Palace in the heart of the Mediterranean, with a feeling of lifestyle, of wellness,” the General Manager maintains.
“It was important for us that when you walk into the spa, you immediately feel a sense of calm, and that is reflected in the colours and textures that were chosen for the walls,” he continues, referencing a smooth Veneziano wall finish when you first walk into the spa, which is contrasted in the arches by a hard stone which blends with the smooth cream colour scheme, surrounded by plants, both inside and outside.
The choice of colour scheme when it came to the textiles for cushions, pillows and leathers, as well as the detailing in the furniture, also contribute to this serene effect.
“I can say that your journey starts as you walk towards the spa on your way to the pool. You can smell the plants – rosemary and different herbs – so that as you walk past, your sense of smell immediately triggers a feeling of peace. Once you walk into the spa proper, you hear the calm music, smell the scents, and really feel the experience of walking through the facility with its arches and its curves,” Adrian enthuses, highlighting the many curved elements of the space, and the fact that there are no hard corners.
“Once you are upstairs, there is a beautiful sofa where you sit for your pre-treatment consultation, and again, the curves and the chairs all form part of the small details that combined, create the journey. The detail of the subconscious in the design allowed us to create this very special space,” he adds.
Creating a space that spoke of the destination also extended to the primary materials and finishes used, Adrian continues, affirming that where possible, the team favoured finishes that are honest and true to Malta. “We worked with partners who are local, and what we couldn’t find locally, we again looked at the geographic region,” he says, mentioning paints from Italy, the marble beds which are from the south of Italy, and the team’s consultants for the Vitality Pool, who were from Spain, “always trying to be as honest and truthful to Malta and to the destination.”
Describing the defining elements of the space, Adrian reveals that for him it is the sense that there are many different spots within the Athenaeum Spa, which he loves. “It has not been an unusual thing to see the GM of the hotel with his laptop working in the Serenity Lounge when it’s a quiet morning, because it truly is a fantastic space – it releases the mind, it’s inspirational. It gives that sense of peace,” he says.
Apart from that, he considers the colour, materials and sense of destination that the team created as what makes the space special. And of course, he notes, the space alone is not enough – a beautiful, architecturally pleasing and well-designed space is only a part of the experience. “Some of the best spa people I have had the pleasure to work with, including Spa Director Michelle Reynolds, have developed an experience. We looked at the senses, we looked at the music that we play, we looked at the smell, we looked at all the textiles that we use in the building, and what you sit on and what is covering the bed; the type of towels we use, and the bathrobes and the slippers. It is a complete experience that we put a lot of thought into,” he reflects.
“There are many parts to this puzzle. But when it’s put together, it’s something beautiful, something unique. And this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to create something very special in Malta, based on our international experience in the luxury sphere around the world. Malta deserves a facility like this, and the Corinthia Palace and Athenaeum Spa is the right place for it.”
This feature was first carried in the Autumn edition of Business Now magazine, the sister publication to BusinessNow.mt.
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