“A re-energising escape from the crazy pace of London life” is how South Kensington Club founder Luca Del Bono described his concept for the innovative private members’ club. The Anglo-Italian entrepreneur opened his luxury urban retreat in 2015, in a vast Georgian building that once housed Ronnie Wood’s infamous Harrington Club. Now conjoined with what was Francis Bacon’s first London studio, the South Kensington Club, or SKC, is all about health and wellness, both of the body and the mind.
In accordance with that philosophy, the club’s leisure spaces combine comfort with style, featuring Mediterranean-meets-colonial decor dotted with greenery and reclining chairs on which to read, chat or nap (post-workout, of course).
SKC’s state-of-the-art fitness facilities include three studios where members can hone their physiques with yoga, pilates, barre, cardio, boxing and high-energy dance classes, as well as private fitness sessions. And for a more old-school workout, the top floor houses a spacious gym with a conservatory roof that floods the room with light.
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After all that honing and toning, you can rehydrate at the juice bar, which leads to an elegant open-air terrace – the perfect spot to consult SKC’s expert nutritionists and trainers. There’s also a resident beautician and barber for a spot of pampering, as well as the Mediterranean Restaurant, serving stealthily healthy cuisine to members and their guests.
SKC’s Watsu pool
Surely the biggest draw, however, is SKC’s lavish bathhouse, with mosaic-lined Turkish hammams, plunge pools, London’s only saltwater Watsu pool, and fragrant wood-panelled banyas - traditional Russian saunas that are more humid and less hot than the conventional Nordic variety. Here, the club’s team of therapists draw on ancient rituals from across the globe to offer treatments ranging from traditional Swedish massage to somatic coaching, which teaches the art of self-healing.
For an introduction to the banya experience, try the Russian Dance of the Leaves treatment - a 15-minute thermal massage using a Russian technique called parenie. After showering, banya-goers are advised to spend five minutes or so in the hammam, to warm and relax their muscles, before heading into the banya itself. Once in the eucalyptus oil-scented sauna, you don a tea cosy-esque felt cap soaked in cold water, to stop your hair getting too hot, before laying face down on a wooden bench. So far so fairly normal.
The Russian twist is the veniki, or leaves. The therapist (banschik) uses not their hands but rather wads of oak or birch leaves to massage your body, first brushing, then tapping and finally pressing them down on your muscles, before flipping you over and repeating the process on the other side. The sensation is initially like heavy rainfall, building to a sheet of warmth as the banschik applies increasing pressure to release tension and allow the leaf oils to soak into your skin. It may sound bizarre to Westerns but fans rave about the treatment’s invigorating effects. Indeed, Russian athletes swear by it to increase blood circulation and release toxins.
The ritual is rounded off with a quick dip in the plunge tub, after which you can enjoy some downtime in SKC’s tea library, sipping a cup of traditional Russian char - or something stronger. As the club’s website says: “We believe in the classic country club experience: mixed doubles, a sauna and a stiff martini. It’s all about balance.” And it’s all available in the centre of the busy metropolis.
South Kensington Club, 38-42 Harrington Road, London SW7 3ND, www.southkensingtonclub.com
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