Take a deep breath. Relax. No matter how stressed out you get, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s a spa out there to soothe you. From sleep therapy to Thai detox, anti-aging facials to a mythically good backrub (and not to mention something called Rolfing), Hemispheres has traveled the world to find the best spa treatments out there right now. Be prepared to feel better.
Author Jacqueline Detwiler & Layla Schlack
By Jacqueline Detwiler & Layla Schlack
When Hollywood wants to show relaxation in a single image, it’s often a marble bathtub overflowing with bubbles, and no wonder. There’s scarcely a faster way to reach nirvana than feeling your heart rate slow while immersed in a cauldron of perfumed suds. But there’s a bath, and then there’s a bath. Spas like the Nam Hai in Hoi An, Vietnam, have elevated the practice to an art, crafting themed bathing ceremonies that reflect historical Tibetan, Asian, Arabian and Balinese customs. The Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wisconsin (pictured), takes a more modern approach, using technology from its namesake plumbing company to outfit bath treatments with underwater music, colors and mind-boggling configurations of whirlpool jets. Either way, your stress levels will take a dip.
In today’s overscheduled world, the only thing harder than paying attention is turning off and going to sleep. To relieve the resulting insomnia, spas like the new Raison d’Etre spa at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, and Six Senses at Rue de Castiglione in Paris are offering massages that lull guests into sleep with soft music, sleep-encouraging muscle releases and oils or butters scented with chamomile or lavender. Even day spas have gotten in on the trend: One of the most popular treatments at New York’s YeloSpa is a nap in a podlike treatment room, where you can customize the sound, lighting and scent.
Working mines and vacations don’t go hand in hand. But the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Wieliczka, Poland, has been a tourist attraction for decades because of the purported health benefits of breathing the cold, salty air. Spending time in the salt cave is believed to help people with ailments such as asthma, allergies and ulcers. In the last few years, the salt cave craze has spread stateside. Galos Caves in Chicago are created entirely out of salt from the Dead Sea and Eastern Europe. At $15 for a 45-minute session, a visit to Galos certainly couldn’t hurt anything.
If you go to a spa for pampering, a detox program may not sound like a good time. But if you go to a spa to feel better, these intensive, multiday programs are just the thing. Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary in Koh Samui, Thailand, gives visitors specially prepared food, herbal remedies, colon hydrotherapy and time in an infrared sauna, while We Care Spa, a celeb favorite in San Diego, focuses mostly on food—or the lack thereof. You will partake in a juice fast meant to help with weight loss and flush out impurities with spa treatments such as a magnesium wrap or an herbal detox wrap.
All but one of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s top five nonsurgical procedures in 2009 were anti- aging face treatments. But while Botox and fillers are popular, recovery time is long, and the results can be, shall we say, less than desirable. This has led many spa visitors to request the next best thing: facials, like one at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental in New York City, that produce near-surgical results without breaking the skin. The Mandarin’s masterpiece, the Opulent Rejuvenesence facial, costs as much as the least expensive injectables ($600) but uses topical products by celebrity surgeon Ivo Pitanguy to achieve similar contouring, lifting and wrinkle-reducing effects—without that conspicuous recovery week in Tahiti.
Cal-a-Vie spa in San Diego wants to help you get your head on straight. They probably can’t help you remember where you left your keys or what time you have to pick up your daughter from soccer practice, but their craniosacral therapy can help balance your energy. Just by working with your head and face, therapists can help improve the function of your central nervous system, relieving headaches, TMJ, neck pain and back pain. The rest is up to you and your iPhone.
Choosing between a massage, facial, manicure or scrub can be more stressful than anything spa- related should be. That’s why many places are offering samplers, where you can get several short treatments in just an hour or two.
1. COMO SHAMBHALA SUN SOOTHER, $200
COMO Shambhala Retreat, Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos Full-body compress, scalp massage, application of after-sun lotion and custom ampoules in 75 minutes (30-minute massage can be added on for $40).
2. JET-LAG REVIVER, AROUND $216
Luxury Spa, Brown’s Hotel, London Invigorating Body Brushing, Aromatherapy Associates Massage and Carita Booster Facial in 90 minutes.
3. OUR SIGNATURE TREATMENT, $190
Oceano Hotel & Spa, Half Moon Bay, California Massage, mini-facial, foot mask and foot massage in 90 minutes.
4. MOUNTAIN MORNING SAMPLER (AVAILABLE 8 A.M.-1 P.M.), $225 Stein Eriksen Lodge, Park City, Utah Pick any three from the mini-facial, “Stein Signature Massage,” “Alpine Mini Manicure,” “Alpine Mini Pedicure,” soak and personal training, in about 90 minutes.
5. SPA SAMPLER, $171 (shown above) The Spa at Chelsea Piers, New York City 25-minute Swedish massage, 25-minute facial and manicure.
Traditional treatments get you in the right place.
Going all the way back to ancient Greek bathhouses, spas were used more for health and socialization than beauty maintenance—equal parts chill-out spot, community center and hospital. Now, some modern spas are making a sense of place a fundamental part of the spa experience. These treatments give visitors a taste of local history using ancestral practices or indigenous ingredients.
Chinese staples like ginger, rice powder, jasmine and green tea soften the skin before a traditional tui na scalp massage at The Spa at The Mira.
A Turkish-style hammam at La Mamounia spa is the setting for treatments with black soap, honey and orange essence.
RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO:
At the Sense Spa at Rosewood Mayakobá, a Mayan steam ritual known as a temazcal involves heating a small hut with volcanic stones.
A mystical Andean massage at Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel and Wellness takes place on a stone bed that has been heated with flaming oils from indigenous plants.
Several treatments at Blue Palace Resort & Spa in Elounda use foods for which Crete is famous, including Greek yogurt, olive oil and raki.
One squeamish guy’s quest to discover the origins of the backrub leads to the mecca of massage: Palm Springs. By John Sellers
AMONG THE MANY THINGS I expected to experience during my first visit to Palm Springs, a nap in the arms of a stocky dude in a wetsuit wasn’t one of them. • Yet there I was, in a small heated pool at the sprawling Riviera Resort & Spa, being cradled by a man named Kyle and snoring like a walrus. It’s a scenario my wife would snicker at heartily over the phone a few hours later, but I’m man enough to admit that in the moment, I was totally feeling it.
Kyle, the massage therapist assigned to treat me at the hotel’s lush SpaTerre, happened to be an ardent practitioner of the relatively new—and, it almost goes without saying, New Age—breed of massage called watsu. The name is a hybrid of the words “water” and “shiatsu,” but, more tellingly, Kyle’s introductory description included the phrases “The idea is to simulate the womb feeling” and “I’ll be holding you by the sacrum.”
While such expressions would ordinarily cause me to flee, I figured an activity sounding so loony would provide a nice contrast to my larger mission here.
I’d come to Palm Springs to partake in some of the trademark therapies that helped put this desert town on the map back during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Since it was hard for me to imagine longtime resident Frank Sinatra allowing a guy in skin-tight swimwear to hold him by the sacrum, I booked a second, more traditional treatment package at the nearby world dominance, the Romans had so sullied the purely restorative rationale behind the Greek ur-spas called gymnasiums—literally, “places for naked exercise”—that the very suggestion of taking a steam bath seemed sordid.
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, when two New York doctors visited Sweden and brought back a technique developed by Per Henrik Ling, that massage gained a foothold in America. Around then, resorts for the rich began bubbling up around hot springs in places like Saratoga Springs, New York, and Calistoga, California.
It’s a quick ramp up to the Palm Springs—and the spa industry as a whole—that we know today. Founded by a doctor seeking a cure for his tuberculosis-stricken son in the 1880s, Palm Springs flourished as Hollywood’s influence grew just 100 miles to the west. By the 1930s, celebrities knew it as a go- to destination. Actor Ralph Bellamy opened his Racquet Club here in 1934, and soon enough the town’s part-time residents included Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
As I learned with my surprising experience at the Riviera—which opened in 1959—the massage has come a long way, even since its Palm Springs heyday. But as Sylvia, my friendly message therapist at the PSYC spa, led my terrycloth-robed self to a private room named after the American Cup winner Courageous, commanded me to lie down on a padded massage table, and started beating my tense shoulders like a pair of bongos, it was refreshing to find that some things will never change.
JOHN SELLERS is the author of the forthcoming memoir The Old Man and the Swamp.
Bring nature into your spa experience.
The scenery in these far-flung spas is almost as decadent as the treatments.
1. WOLGAN VALLEY TIMELESS SPA, LITHGOW, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA
Indoor and outdoor treatment rooms offer unfettered wild valley vistas.
2. HOTEL CARUSO BELVEDERE, RAVELLO, ITALY
As you look out the window from the massage table, the Mediterranean lulls you into semiconsciousness.
3. DEEP OCEAN SPA, BORA BORA, TAHITI
You don’t even have to leave your beach blanket— on that white-sand, cerulean-water Tahitian beach you fantasize about—to get a massage.
4. THE CAMBRIAN, ADELBODEN, SWITZERLAND
The invigorating combination of the mountain views and the thorough massage might just inspire you to spin around on the hillside and yodel.
Rolfing restructures your body— in a good way.
If you’ve heard of Rolfing, you’ve probably wondered what a procedure with such an unpleasant name could possibly entail. Not to worry—it’s not a description of what’s going to happen to you. Well, not entirely. The body alignment practice, more similar to chiropracty than to massage, is named for the doctor who founded it. Dr. Ida Rolf realized back in the early 20th century that realigning the body to move more naturally could make even the most notorious sloucher stand up straight. Although the 10-session series—in which a therapist uses his fingers, hands and elbows to reform your connective tissue—isn’t exactly blissful, Rolfing can relieve aches and pains, help you get back into exercise and even make you look better in clothes. “People who Rolf want to change physically, emotionally or mentally,” says Ray McCall, Advanced Training Faculty Member at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration. “I see it as a catalyst.”