10 Best Luxury Hotel Spas
By Sandra Ramani
Historically, wellness retreats and destination spas weren't concerned with things like posh furnishings, gourmet eats, or locker room freebies, focusing instead on their (sometimes strict) health and lifestyle programs. Now that luxury hotels and resorts are in the spa game, though, things have changed: These days, spa aficionados are likely to find extras like homemade organic snacks, private treatment villas, and high-tech facilities (think indoor "snow rooms") to complement the therapeutic services. Below are some favorite five-star spots that take pampering to a whole other level.
Sea Island, Georgia
Why We Like It: The 65,000 square-foot spa at The Cloister, a classic oceanside resort, is a wellness wonderland, with koi ponds and indoor gardens, a therapeutic water circuit (complimentary for all hotel guests), and an elegant locker room where attendants greet you with homemade fruit or mint-chocolate granola bars and plenty of Southern charm.
Best Treatment: In the signature 90-minute Sea Creations Facial, guests are wrapped in plush Kashwere blankets and socks, slathered with Babor products, and massaged with smooth seashells—which you get to take home as a souvenir of the experience.
Insider Tip: With several noted restaurants, an in-house ice cream/candy shop, and even its own beachside food truck, The Cloister is famous for its food—but it's also one of the only luxury resorts with an on-staff nutritionist, who is available to chat with guests (including kids) about healthy eating habits and help plan menus.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Why We Like It: From the welcome ritual, in which feet are soaked, cleansed, and massaged with freshly-picked native herbs, to the futuristic, pod-like treatments rooms floating around the edges of the indoor pool, the stunning spa at Capella Pedregal just gets things right. We love the focus on natural and organic products, the unique treatments (like sound therapy and aqua massage) and the on-staff Spa Guardian who performs traditional healing therapies and whips up herbal remedies.
Best Treatment: The scents and techniques used in the decadent, two-hour Phases of the Moon treatment vary to correspond with the lunar cycle (there are New Moon, Waxing Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon versions), but all include some type of body scrub, nourishing wrap, and lots of massage.
Insider Tip: Unlike most of the high-end resorts in the Los Cabos area, Capella Pedregal is within walking distance of Cabo San Lucas, so there's no need to rent a car or pay for taxis if you want to head into town.
Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa
San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy
Why We Like It: Soak in thermal waters first discovered by the ancient Etruscans at the Fonteverde Tuscan Resort and Spa, tucked among the rolling green hills of southern Tuscany's Val d'Orcia region. Popular with Italian celebs, the laid-back resort is centered around a 17th-century main building built by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de Medici, who wanted a weekend retreat near the healing waters. Since then, the facilities have grown to include seven indoor and outdoor therapeutic pools and an extensive beauty and wellness center staffed with doctors, holistic practitioners, nutritionists, and dozens of skilled therapists. Best of all, guests are free to pad around in their bathrobes (everywhere except the fine dining restaurant.)
Best Treatment: Performed in a private steam room (by a therapist clad in a bathing suit), the Mediterranean Mud treatment includes lots of intense massage using potent local herbal oils, followed by the head-to-toe application of detoxifying thermal mud rich with salt and minerals from the Italian coast.
Insider Tip: Fonteverde is near some of the lesser-known jewels of Tuscany, including medieval towns like Pienza and the archeological sites at Sovana and Chiusi. To explore the region in style, ask about the hotel's Ferrari package, which allows guests to explore the countryside in the latest model sports cars from the iconic Italian brand.
Taj Lake Palace
Why We Like It: The three-room spa facilities of the Taj Lake Palace, a historic palace-turned-hotel floating in the middle of Lake Pichola, may not be as large as some of Taj's other Jiva Spas, but it offers one thing none of its sister hotels do: the chance to get pampered on the water. Inspired by the grandeur of the hotel's royal past, the Jiva Spa Boat is an elegant mini-yacht outfitted with a double spa treatment suite, shower, steam room, relaxation area, and a large deck with hot tub and lounge beds.
Best Treatment: The three-hour Royal Spa Sojourn includes a exfoliating body scrub done with fresh natural ingredients, a deep massage with fragrant herbal oils, and plenty of time to soak in the boat's outdoor tub, glass of bubbly in hand, and watch views of the Aravali hills float by.
Insider Tip: Udaipur is famous for its miniature painting traditions, and the hotel can arrange for you to visit some of the remaining artist workshops and watch the masters ply this painstaking craft.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
Why We Like It: Set on one of the few white sand, swimming-friendly beaches in Bali, this Four Seasons outpost does a stellar job of showcasing the culinary, artistic, and healing traditions of this soulful island. Spa treatments incorporate sea water, natural ingredients and Balinese, Ayurvedic, and holistic techniques. Of the eight beautifully-appointed treatment rooms, three have extra perks like Swiss showers and private gardens with soaking tubs and outdoor showers, and there's also a beachside satellite spa where guests can enjoy al fresco services.
Best Treatment: Performed in the oceanfront spa bale, the two-hour Fire and Sky service beings with some light Indonesian martial arts-inspired stretches and breath work, continues with a vigorous Balinese massage done with heated bamboo rods, and ends with a calming guided meditation.
Insider Tip: Inspired by Bali's beauty? Try putting it down on paper at the hotel's Sketch by the Sea pavilion, which is set-up with an easel, paints and paper—and ocean views—for guests that want to tap into their artistic side.
Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
Why We Like It: If you've seen The Hangover 2, you'll recognize the lush Andaman Sea-side Phulay Bay resort as the setting for the movie's climactic wedding. Not featured on the screen (but visited by plenty of stars in their downtime) is the resort's serene spa, the first destination ESPA in Thailand. Facilities include eleven treatments rooms, a sprawling indoor-outdoor relaxation lounge, vitality pools and a healthy café.
Best Treatment: You can't go wrong with the basic, stretch-filled Thai massage (performed with the client clad in soft cotton pajamas), or the two-hour Thai Herbal Infusion treatment, featuring a natural body scrub, warm herbal poultice massage, foot cleanse, mini-facial, and nourishing, hot oil scalp rub.
Insider Tip: The resort helps support Koko the Elephant, a two-year-old baby pachyderm who comes by twice a week to perform tricks, interact with guests, and—if you're lucky—let you hop on board for a short ride along the beach.
Why We Like It: Boasting a rich history and a sleek, modern design, the iconic hilltop Dolder Grand resort includes everything from a two Michelin-starred restaurant to a skating rink in the winter. The award-winning 43,000 square-foot spa houses a library (stocked with health and wellness resource books), water circuit, indoor-outdoor pools, and Japanese-inspired touches like a "snow room"—to help tighten pores after a stint in the steam—and oversized tubs filled with warm, massaging stones.
Best Treatment: In the Organic Aroma Massage, clients can choose a scent from the all-natural Amala line to be incorporated into a massage done with a mix of muscle-easing techniques.
Insider Tip: The Dolder is home to one of the premier hotel art collections in the world, from the Andy Warhol over the reception to the Camille Pissarro and the Salvador Dali in the fine dining restaurant. Ask for a list of the highlights—and don't miss the painting in the main building done by one Sylvester Stallone.
Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Why We Like It: After a day spent in the jungle with the orangutans and giant Rafflesia plants of Borneo, there's no better place to regroup than at the beautiful Shangri-La Tanjung Resort perched on the edge of the South China Sea. Set on its own islet, and connected to the main resort by a flower-lined walkway, the CHI Spa "village" is made up of several private spa villas, each with its own treatment room, changing and bath facilities, and outdoor relaxation space.
Best Treatment: Get a feel for the destination with the two-and-a-half-hour Pulau Bayu Retreat, with its pearl-cocoa body scrub (a mix of ginger, cocoa beans and pulverized Sabah pearls) and therapeutic pressure-point massage inspired by the techniques of the native Bobohizan healers.
Insider Tip: Take the hotel's shuttle to sister property Shangri-La Rasa Ria to visit its 64-acre nature reserve, home to a orangutan rehab program and plenty of native wildlife.
Hotel Arts Barcelona
Why We Like It: Soaring high above the Barcelona boardwalk, the contemporary, design-forward Hotel Arts Barcelona is beloved for its beachside location, Michelin-starred Enoteca restaurant and exclusive Six Senses spa, which sits on the 42nd and 43rd floors—and has endless views of the coastline, even from the sauna.
Best Treatment: The Hot Stone Chocolate Massage soothes aching muscles with warm basalt stones, and helps hydrate skin and boost circulation with oils made with natural Catalan chocolate.
Insider Tip: The best spot in the hotel's poolside terraced gardens is in the shade of Frank Gehry's massive golden fish sculpture, which lives just next to the hotel.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Why We Like It: Spanish-Moorish style architecture, tiled fountains, and lush gardens fragrant with rosemary and lavender set the Mediterranean scene at the historic Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, once the playground of stars like Clark Gable and Judy Garland. The 31,000-square-foot spa complex houses 28 treatment rooms (some with fireplaces), a pool, and an Artist's Cottage and Apothecary where you can take classes like custom fragrance blending.
Best Treatment: Inspired by the healing traditions of the Chumash Native Americans, the Kuyam Experience takes place in a private, Moroccan-titled steam room (it can hold up to eight people), and includes inhalation therapy, dry heat, and the self-application of different therapeutic desert clays.
Insider Tip: Rent some wheels from the hotel's bike shop to explore downtown Ojai, with its boutique-lined covered arcades, farmers markets, and well-stocked wine shops.
Photo Credits: Spa at the Cloisters: Sea Island; Auriga Spa: Capella Hotels and Resorts; Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa: Societa Terme e Benessere SPA; Taj Lake Palace: Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces; Phulay Bay: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C.; Dolder Grand: Peter Hebeisen; Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort: Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd.; Hotel Arts Barcelona: Courtesy of Hotel Arts Barcelona; Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: Courtesy of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
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A bit late in adding to the fine above reviews, but do wish to mention some special and favourite Bangkok spas we recently savoured again, in June, 2014, at two cherished properties: The Mandarin Oriental's Spa and The Siam's delightful spa offerings. I remain partial to certain Asian business travel hotel's various in-room massage treatments (my Asia business travel habits die hard), but will say some of the Mandarin Oriental's and The Siam's spa programmes are ideal for couples. The recent Bangkok spas entailed an end of work week session at the MO, followed by another during the subsequent weekend holiday stay at The Siam. Lovely sessions, both; savour your spa times, down by the river, in beloved Bangkok.
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