Relaxation Treat: Cocoon Urban Spa

Whether you’re in Athens for a day or forever, it’s great to know there’s a place such as Cocoon Urban Spa where you can receive top-quality therapies for face and body, either as a one-off treat or as a course of treatments that bring results. 

As someone who has been passionately interested in holistic wellness for decades, I was among the very first to visit Cocoon Urban Spa when it opened 20 years ago. In my post-lockdown slump, I headed over there to try some renewing and reviving therapies that could facilitate the process of returning to the land of the living. 

My Own Experience: Tried & Tested!

I tried the CBD Oil Massage and the vitamin C Facial, in that order. I arrived stressed out from work, life, and a year+ of lockdown inertia and was ready to surrender to the hands of the spa’s skilled therapists. I was not disappointed. The CBD Oil Massage is a head-to-toe therapy using an ingredient that has become widely lauded for its effects in reducing anxiety and muscular pain. The therapist used strong yet caring strokes to ease away my blocks and gracefully accepted my invitation to converse about the therapy itself and various other personal questions regarding my body’s health. I was impressed not only by the fantastically relaxing experience but also by her depth of knowledge and charm. 

Next, was the Vitamin C Facial, which involves a face cleansing (with Murad products, not hands or a machine) and a reviving massage that help a strong dose of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to leave the skin glowing because it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, accelerating healing and removing fine lines to reveal skin freshness, brightness, plumpness, and shine. Again, the aesthetician kindly explained the entire process to me and offered me extra tips for my skin type and beauty routine. 

I certainly left Cocoon Urban Spa feeling as dreamy and relaxed as I’d hoped, with skin that glowed for days and has improved in texture ever since. 

NOTE: Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my swimsuit along, so I missed out on the chance to enjoy the sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi, but there’s always the next time!


While at the Spa, I stopped for a chat with Maria Poulada, the co-owner of Cocoon who together with her sister has led it to develop and evolve into a truly fantastic place of holistic wellness for Athenians and visitors alike.

Getting to Know Cocoon Urban Spa: Q & A with Maria Poulada

How has the wellness scene in Greece changed since you first opened 20 years ago?
It has broadened and multiplied, which is great. However, more and more schools and Yoga Teacher Training programs are churning out “therapists” and unfortunately, during my recruiting efforts, I’ve seen that the quality has dropped significantly, and inexperienced teachers and masseuses are being absorbed by the market and lowering the standard. 

Where do your therapists train?
Most of our therapists are very skilled and have studied Natural Health Science. It’s one of the oldest and most respected schools in Attica. I usually ask the teachers from that school to recommend grads for me and it’s worked out great.

Who are your customers?
Cocoon Urban Spa has a wide range of customers, from people who come for a profound life-change (to decrease chronic stress or pain, improve sleep, etc.) and visit us on a regular basis and then there are people who come once a year to treat themselves on their birthdays or to give a gift. I think we are the only place in the city that offers a truly holistic wellness approach, passive and dynamic therapy, encompassing treatments, yoga, acupuncture, and homeopathy.

What would you recommend as The Ultimate treatment for post-lockdown stress?
It’s a bit subjective. Some would say it’s the Shirodhara or any classic massage. For me, personally, it’s Yoga. The Hatsumomo is a terrific overall detox treatment and if you couple it with a deep cleansing facial or a Renewing Facial, you’ll look and feel brand new! The CBD oil massage is deeply relaxing and works well for anxiety-related stress.

What kind of products do you use for treatments?
We’ve remained very old-school, sticking to our philosophy of hands-on therapy and natural products. It’s vital to use the highest-quality products for massages and facials. We’ve been using Decleor and Jurlique for ages because they’re natural, organic, and biodynamic. Also, the quality is terrific. You relax just by smelling them and the results are fantastic.

As published in In+sights Greece (www.insightsgreece.com)

Home - Cocoon Urban Day Spa
Cocoon Urban Spa is on Souliou 9 & Erifilis Str, Halandri, Athens. Email : info@cocoonurbanspa.gr &
phone : 210 6561975

fourfold massage bliss

The treatment room at the Electra Palace Hotel's Aegeo Spas
The treatment room at the Electra Palace Hotel’s Aegeo Spas

My latest Tried & Tested experience was a four-hands Lucky Treatment at the swanky Electra Palace Hotel, at the Aegeo Spas. Although I have tried and tested massage therapies at some of the world’s best spas – such as the Pimalay Resort in Thailand, Amansara in Cambodia, Ryokan in Japan, Grande Bretagne in Athens – as well as a colourful and impressive variety of smaller wellness centres and quirky, off-road therapy retreats both near and far, I had never experienced a four hands massage. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so, but for some surreal reason it never appealed enough. What really piqued my interest in the Lucky Treatment, also known as the Wish Massage was its enchanting concept. Not just a massage carried out by two therapists but an entire ritual in which the client is asked to make a wish at the beginning of the therapy, this had a spiritual element that I could not resist. I feel sorry for those who cynically scorn “magical thinking” – in fact, I think being able to practice it, (with measure of course because we always need to remain grounded to a basic degree) is a superpower that offers strength, resilience, the ongoing capability to dream your world into being, and an important connection to creativity, to the magic that lies within us.

Upon entering Aegeo Spas in the Electra Palace Hotel

The Electra Palace Spa is not fancy or huge, but it’s luxurious, with a relaxing  ambience of dim lights and dreamy aromas. The staff are all extremely warm, professional and comfortingly familial, so as soon as I arrived, very excited about my massage booking no doubt, I felt right at home. After 15 minutes in and out of a hot sauna, I wrapped myself in a fluffy white robe and was greeted by smiling massage therapists Kalliopi and Bora, both beaming and presenting me with a lit candle. In the therapy room, I was asked to make a wish and then blow out the candle. I had thought about my wish while in the sauna and the objective now was to focus on it gently during the therapy too.

Aegeo Spas Electra Palace Hotel Athens
Skilled therapists Kalliopi and Bora who gave me the Lucky Treatment greet me with a lit candle so I can make my wish.

At first I was in mind-mode and got myself into a little spiral of paranoid thinking: “What if they are looking at each other and making faces?” Then I decided to tell my mind to shut the hell up and try and focus on what I actually felt. Starting from my legs, the therapists kneaded and pressed all the tension out of my limbs in perfect synchronisation. “It is like a dance,” Bora told me, that we choreograph spontaneously as we work!” Their movements came in flow with the music that was playing, which made the experience even more immersive as I lay feeling aware of their synchronised massage, the emotive but not overwhelming music, and how I felt.

So how did I actually feel? Like I’d never felt before during a massage. It was as though I had been taken into the hands of some mythological creature that was floating and flying me around while I happily surrendered (if it had been a mythological creature I don’t think I would have been as relaxed!). At various points one therapist began where the other had ended, so there was an ongoing flow of movement, like deep, calming waves of relaxing tranquility. When one therapist massaged my head and the other my feet, I could do nothing but feel that even if the wish I’d made at the start of the treatment was not realised, I was nonetheless experiencing a wish come true, one I’d made a few hundred times on nights when my son wouldn’t sleep, or when I crouched over my laptop trying to finish off an article. I could sense that they were not going through the motions, but instead were working with giving and dedication to help me feel good, and at the end of the session I felt so blissed – and blessed – that my only wish was that these two wonderful individuals have all of their wishes come true!

One and a half hours of the session are focused on the body, while the last half hour is centred on the head (where you think of your wish) and face, with special attention to the lips (from which you speak your wish) and the eyes (from which you see your wish manifest). A cleansing and glow-inducing mask is slathered indulgently onto the skin, and if the client accepts, the head and hair is massaged with hot olive oil. Unsurprisingly, I was pretty spaced out after the therapy, but putting on the clothes that define who I am I soon regained my urban instincts and got back to ordinary life. Not that after that experience I felt ordinary in any way, shape or form.

In the Lucky Treatment, 1+1 = 4!

anne specque, spa pioneer

Anne Specque is the Manager at the Grandre Bretagne Hotel’s Spa, which was the first to open in Greece (and among the first in Europe) in 2003. The French national came to Greece “for a few years” and ended up staying here until the present day, and as she reveals in this interview she is enamoured by Greek nature and all its bounty – the medicinal plants, which she uses for tea infusions, the hot springs and the sea are her favourites. The GB Spa is a luxurious wellness heaven for spa lovers wishing to enjoy pampering at its best, and is open both to hotel guests and outside clients.

“I came here for the opening of the Spa in 2003. Before that I worked in different places but they weren’t really spas, because spas as we know them only really started to develop over the last 12-14 years. Before that there were beauty centres, thalassotherapy or massage clinics. As our lifestyle changed, spas became a requirement of sorts in hotels, along with a gym area.

“The word spa means ‘Salute Per Acqua’ meaning ‘health via the water’; you definitely need have contact with the water. It’s not like thalassotherapy because that’s based on therapies with sea water. Especially if you are in a city, a spa is an oasis, a world of beauty and a place to rebalance the body and mind. The contact with water is so important before starting your treatment; when one arrives they may think they will relax with a body treatment, but this is not ideal – the ideal is to have contact with water, through a pool or sauna, and to relax and rebalance the nervous system, and to clear your energy from the outside world and its stress. When you swim, the water – especially or water here which is therapeutic, chlorine-free, enriched with ozone, oxygen and salt – melts away the tensions. Sauna is also very beneficial. Here we have various kinds of steam like one with eucalyptus, one with maracuja fruit, or other herbs. If the client doesn’t have time to use the spa facilities, we encourage them to at least use the steam facilities even for 10-15 minutes, because the steam temperature is higher than that of the body so it relaxes the muscles.

The GB Spa swimming pool, which is chlorine free and enriched with ozone, oxygen and sea salt. Grande Bretagne Anne Specque
The GB Spa swimming pool, which is chlorine free and enriched with ozone, oxygen and sea salt.

“A great deal has changed over the years in the spa world. One of the major changes is that nowadays many men visit spas – 15 years ago no men was seen in a beauty salon! Lots of (mainly businessmen) come for manicure-pedicure, grooming and massage therapies.

“Another change is that people like to combine the spa experience with healthy food – our clients care more about their nutrition. When guests talk with me they want to know what they should eat throughout the day, whether they should follow food fashions and such. I’m very health-oriented as a person and I am vegan but I don’t advocate others should be the same, as everyone has different needs. What I do propose to people nutritionally is that they follow the seasons; we have four seasons and even though it’s true that the environment has changed and it’s a little bit unstable, we have to keep the direction of eating the fruits and vegetables of each season and to add the things we prefer, whether it be herbs, or meats or eggs or cheese. I also believe people should try to eat local produce, as each country has to adapt its nutrition according to its own nature. I’m a true believer in the phrase ‘you are what you eat’.

“People are also travelling much more and are experimenting by trying more types of therapies. Ayurvedic treatments have become more popular in Europe – we’ve been offering Ayurveda for 12 years, but they’re not the most popular treatments as people still prefer body treatments (aesthetic and massage).

GB Spa Anne Specque interview
View from the naturally-lit GB Spa courtyard.

“Also there’s a return to natural therapies  – rather than using machines. Treatments done by hand, and beauty rituals like threading, which don’t make you lose elasticity in the skin, are very in demand recently.

“Every day is different for me – I don’t have a set routine! I adapt myself to the needs of the guests and it makes me very happy to offer them the best experience possible. The only standard thing is how we welcome the guests, and how we accommodate or advise them according to what they’d like to experience.

“Behind the scenes there is a great deal to do every day. From managing the various therapists and other staff like reception, cleaning, the life guard, etc, to making sure that everything is in its place throughout the day, to offering guests all the right suggestions and information based on their demands so they can leave here feeling wonderful. I always propose to guests to see the spa and what it can offer them, and we also suggest gift certificates that they can offer to a friend or partner.

The Grande Bretagne Spa Director, Anne Specque.
The Grande Bretagne Spa Director, Anne Specque.

“When selecting the therapists who work here, the most important thing I look for is for them to have at least a basic professional experience, but the most important thing is that they are passionate about what they do, and to continuously evolve in their skills. I like giving them the opportunity to develop their skills through practice and trainings – learning never ends, we need to constantly refresh our knowledge. We have an in-house trainer as well as a trainer who comes here from ESPA. The key focus is to keep a high quality of treatment and to have a really positive attitude in order to keep our team successful. The majority of our therapists are Greek, and many have roots in other countries too – Australia, Asia and Europe for example.

“In my time off, my passion is hot springs, and my favourite place is the island Ikaria in the northern Aegean. As it’s quite far away I don’t get the chance to go there very often so I go to nearer places on the mainland like Lagana, Xylokastro, or outside of Kammena Vourla or in wintertime to go to the sea I wear a special uniform for water (not a scuba diving suit) that goes from your neck to your feet and I don’t feel the cold water at all. I also like to gather plants from natural landscapes – I have around 50 types of herbs at home – and to make infusions. I cook according to the Hippocratic philosophy – to eat simply and to really enjoy my meal. For exercise, apart from swimming I love to cycle and visit archaeological sites as I’m fascinated by ancient places.”