17 December 2011, UK
This month sees the launch of a new concept in travel guides from independent website www.pearlescapes.co.uk. Rather than follow the traditional guidebook structure, the guides from Pearl Escapes distil the various hotel, restaurant, sight, and indeed spa options in each area down to just one recommendation with an in-depth first hand review of each pick.
Whereas in the past guidebooks were essential to find out the choices available in each area, now, with the internet, it is easy to find a long list of choices. What is missing is the wisdom to help people choose quickly and easily, especially when they are tired, busy or just want to find a great solution rather than undertake hours of internet research; hence the website and now the guide to direct them to one tried and tested choice. Website creator Pearl Howie used to work in a stressful finance company: "I would get so burnt out that when I finally took a couple of weeks off I was desperate to find a holiday that I could just book, but I would get exhausted talking to travel agencies or looking up hotels online and I'd end up staying at home."
Although at first glance the website www.pearlescapes.co.uk is an eclectic mix covering hotels, spas, fitness, books, parks, food and even meditation, the philosophy is simple: "To create a comfort zone where people can feel safe enough to explore new possibilities, share sources of healing and rediscover their bliss." It is also handily sorted by budget, location and your current need from an escape; whether it is peace and quiet or inspiration.
The first travel guide to be published; "China Spa Princess – The Guide from Pearl Escapes" despite its title, is not written exclusively for women. Pearl explains that the phrase "spa princess" was coined to describe how she felt when enjoying a really amazing spa; on top of the world and really belonging to the place where she was, so it is just as appropriate for spa kings too.
China Spa Princess covers five popular areas of China; Hong Kong, Yangshuo, Shanghai, Huangshan and Beijing, and five very different hotels; from a low key £22 a night hotel in Huangshan to a brand new £168 a night suite in Shanghai. As you'd expect from the title, the guide also recommends spas, once again with a lot of variation; from a £9 reflexology session by the river in Yangshuo to a sumptuous spa day in Beijing coming in at £187.50, not forgetting the in-depth review of the famous Mandarin Spa in Hong Kong which cost around £85. (The guides for each separate region are also available as Ebooks.)
The guides have a heavy focus on spa treatments and traditional healing methods for several reasons, as Pearl explains; "When I first visited Morocco I felt very much like an outsider, even inside the riad where I stayed in Marrakech the women were veiled from head to toe, but when I visited a traditional hammam suddenly I was experiencing the culture from the inside."
Many cultures have healing treatments at their heart, and visiting some countries without trying their spa treatments is like refusing to taste the local cuisine. "When in Rome do as the Romans do, when in China have some reflexology." she adds. Massages and other healing treatments can also help to ease many travel problems from jetlag to stomach upsets and help travelers to relax and unwind.
Existing guidebooks have tended to ignore spas even in places like Marrakech where they are very popular, which does make it harder to find them. Much of the research to find the spas, which were then visited and reviewed, was conducted online leading to some disturbing discoveries. Unfortunately some spas do offer illegal services, which can make people wary of trying any of them. Most of the time it is fairly apparent from online research if there is something untoward being offered. "Luckily the only time I've ever knocked on the wrong door the receptionist quickly advised me they only provided personal services to gentlemen – but that was in London!" recalls Pearl.
Although "China Spa Princess – The Guide from Pearl Escapes" includes reviews of some decadent and relaxing massages, it also includes a few that were reviewed but not recommended, including cupping or moxibustion and gua sha or scraping. Apparently it’s not just what treatment you choose but where you try it, (although many top spas in China do not offer these traditional treatments). Pearl tried cupping based on a glowing internet review of one particular spa. "But it left my back very bruised and sore. It didn't turn out well," admits Pearl "but hopefully my review will help people avoid similar experiences."
Another unique aspect of these guides is their focus on "Where To Go" – how to find acceptable toilets on your journey. The first question everyone asked Pearl when she told them she was going to China was – what about the toilets? "So I set out to demystify Chinese toilets." says Pearl. From futuristic wonder toilets in Shanghai to basic but clean in Yangshuo to nightmare facilities on Huangshan this guide has the low down and dirty insight.
The Pearl Escapes guides have also been written from the newcomer's perspective, leading to some insights into which areas are approachable for those with no understanding of Mandarin as well as notable cultural differences, not just in China but between different regions of China. "I seem to both manage to wander into trouble and somehow get myself out of it when I travel, so there's advice on how to avoid certain situations, but also what to do if you land in them anyway." says Pearl.
Last year Pearl's book "The Wee, The Wound And The Worries: My Experience Of Being A Kidney Donor"; the first book by a UK kidney donor, was published, and is also included on her website. The response from readers was unprecedented; "I was overwhelmed by some of the comments, I even had one lady emailing from hospital as she was recovering. I felt that the book really made a difference to people looking for help and advice and I hope that this book will help anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting China to take the leap and do it now."
For those who may not be able to make the trip to China right now, Pearl describes China Spa Princess, with its vivid first hand descriptions, as more than just a guide, but also as "an accompaniment to dreaming".
"China Spa Princess – The Guide from Pearl Escapes" is now available as an Ebook on iTunes and also in paperback direct from the publisher Lulu.com. The paperback will shortly be available on Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
China Spa Princess – The Guide from Pearl Escapes is now available in paperback exclusively from the publisher Lulu.com http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/china-spa-princess---the-guide-from-pearl-escapes/18727569
It is also available, as well as the separate regional guides as an Ebook on
The individual area guides are also available; Hong Spa Princess http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hong-kong-spa-princess/id478895395?mt=11
Yangshuo Spa Princess http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/yangshuo-spa-princess/id478638340?mt=11
Shanghai Spa Princess http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/shanghai-spa-princess/id478667498?mt=11
Huangshan Spa Princess http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/huangshan-spa-princess/id478489756?mt=11
Beijing Spa Princess http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beijing-spa-princess/id479995630?mt=11
About the author:
Pearl Howie (firstname.lastname@example.org) runs Pearl Escapes http://www.pearlescapes.co.uk.
Dedicated to helping people find their perfect escape, whether it's a spa hotel weekend or relaxation technique, Pearl Escapes reviews every escape personally.
Email me at email@example.com
(c) Pearl Howie 2015. All rights reserved.