We Tried Out the New Dior Spa on Board the Royal Scotsman Train—Here's What It's Like
The Scottish Highlands are no one’s secret. This untrammeled countryside has been on the eager traveler's map since the 18th century, when the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote about its vast landscapes. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased a holiday home known as Balmoral in Aberdeenshire, and there’s been travelers making the pilgrimage desperate for a gasp of that fresh Highland air ever since.
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Still, as the Royal Scotsman, a Belmond Train chortles along railway lines that carve through sweeping heather and glassy lochs, it feels as though you might be the only person gawping at the scenery whizzing past. You–and the 35 other passengers taking one of the Scotsman’s handful of journeys together, holed up in vintage-lacquered train carts surrounded by emerald velvet upholstery and plump tartan pillows and free-flowing Champagne.
I was traveling solo to Edinburgh and then northbound aboard the Scotsman, and the idea of being effectively trapped aboard a sleeper train with 35 strangers was intimidating–even before I considered the Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express vibes that come as part of the package when you embark on this sort of journey (Belmond also owns the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, incidentally). Cocktails in the observation carriage, communal suppers in the dining cart, and excursions to try fly-fishing, shooting, or to whip around a distillery on a whisky tour all seemed like wonderful ways to spend a few days in May. But the idea of doing all of the above with people I'd never met for a full 48 hours made me a little nervous. I could, I bargained with myself, spend most of the trip writing at the dinky desk in my single cabin, taking photographs from the open-air observation balcony (the only one of its kind in Europe, I was told by Sharon, one of the ever-smiley staff wrapped in tartan), and experiencing the spa. After all, the spa was the primary reason for my visit.
A spa set aboard a moving sleeper train is intriguing and unusual enough. But starting this spring, Dior has taken over a full carriage on the Scotsman, turning it into a Dior Spa complete with glossy lacquered walls, the Maison's burgundy Toile de Jouy, and one of the most comfortable spa beds I have ever slipped into.
It might seem like a curious partnership, but this landscape was no stranger to Mr Dior. In 1955, Dior staged a fashion show not in London or Paris or Milan but in this neck of the woods, taking over Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. After the show—for which the Maison flew out 172 dresses—there was traditional Scottish dancing that delighted the founder enough to write about it in his 1956 biography. “After the show, there was an unexpected contrast which delighted my French eyes: the parade of girls in their delicate evening dresses was succeeded by Scottish reels danced by magnificent Scottish gentlemen in their kilts," he wrote.
Now, Dior Beauty has pulled together a short, considered menu of treatments in two plush carriages on board. Smart, helpful therapists make the rounds as the group boards, making appointments for anyone who wants one. The treatments have been tailor-made for the train: a 30-minute D-Travel body massage (perfect for squeezing in some self care between a jam-packed itinerary of excursions) and the D-Elements full body treatment, which uses products inspired by the Scottish landscape.
I went for the third and final option: the D-Highlands facial. This hour-long treatment, I was assured, would be a perfect antidote to a busy day roaming the Highlands; 60 minutes to unwind and put myself in someone else's capable hands. “I'm going to work on some pressure points,” my therapist told me as I settled down into the bed. I must have looked alarmed, because she added, “But it will be nice, not painful.”
She told no lies. When I left, I felt as though knots and tension I wasn't even aware I was holding onto had been worked out of my temples and neck. At one point, lulled by the rocking of the train (and the two glasses of Chardonnay I'd had with lunch), I drifted off to sleep—something I almost regret, as it meant I missed a good 10 minutes of the treatment. (To be fair, one fellow traveler confided that she was considering sneaking back to the spa at night to take a sleep in the bed—it really was that comfortable).
A Dior spa treatment is a luxury at the best of times. But whizzing past fields of golden rapeseed and ancient forests, rocked by the train's gentle sway, felt like one of the most spoiling things I've done for a long while.
Finding time to check in to the spa—and you must—is the tricky bit. It's easier when you're taking a longer trip: some last for three or four nights, and would presumably have more downtime than the rip-roaring two-night whirlwind I went on. But for all my talk of hiding away in my cabin, I barely had two minutes to myself. I surprised myself by bonding with my fellow passengers over the two days I knew them—promises to take it easy be damned. This sort of trip—jostling for space together at breakfast, toasting Champagne flutes before supper—enforces friendliness in a way I've never experienced before.
I went fly-fishing with a Yorkshire chap who graciously and proudly told the rest of the guests that I had caught seven trout, despite the instructor casting my line for me each and every time. I sipped whisky with a nurse from Florida at Strathisla Distillery, and got recommendations for future holidays from two Stockholm-based hoteliers and a couple of Barcelona-based interior designers. On our final night, there was a proposal on board and everyone clinked Espresso Martinis and danced to the live fiddle player brought on to play us into Dundee. It was, honestly, too much fun—and it showed. At least the entire final night people assured me that—thanks to my Dior facial—I was glowing.
This article originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler U.K.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler