The world's ten best spa retreats
Author: elizabeth king
Photography: COURTESY OF COMO SHAMBHALA
1. Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai,
Relaxing after a massage, taking in views of the Suthep Mountains, it's easy to feel like a Thai prince or princess. Especially after an ayurvedic ancient arts awakener treatment that stimulates your chakra with a Dead Sea salt polish, reiki massage, a shirodhara oil treatment and a frankincense foot massage. To complete the package there's the Elemis pro-collagen marine facial. Combined with the humid air of northern Thailand, the surface of your skin feels doubly plumped and buffed. The resort's décor is just as luxe: think polished teak floors, sumptuous Thai-cotton decorations and Siamese art. www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai, +1 66 53 298 181.
2. Como Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri, Ubud,
It's only a one-hour drive from Denpasar, but you feel you've been air-freighted to another world as you enter this self-styled "Retreat for Change" built into the jungle overlooking Bali's Ayung River. There's an emphasis on physical activity as well as ayurvedic treatments including abhyanga, a full-body warm oil massage. And don't leave until you've had a warm muscle wrap, a Balinese-inspired therapy blending local folk medicine and the sensual appeal of hand-crushed warm rice with spices. cse.comoshambhala.bz, +1 62 361 978 888.
3. The Spa at Chewton Glen, Hampshire,
You get more than a hint of the calibre of the clientele at this country house-turned-spa from the fact its website gives directions for arriving by helicopter (two hours' drive for the rest of us). Regularly voted Britain's favourite spa, it has a 17-metre pool and aromatherapy-infused steam rooms and saunas. Stressed-out Londoners are keen clients of the nourishing spa days; others come for the 52-hectare gardens, the impeccable service and the 58 rooms eschewing the sort of chintzy atmosphere you'd expect. www.chewtonglen.com, +1 44 1425 275 341.
4. Miraval Resort and Spa, Catalina, United
Set in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, the lasting impression of Miraval is freedom. There's no whiff of boot camp as you gaze across the 160-hectare spread with its mesquite trees, cacti and 104 hacienda-style rooms. Guests are encouraged to create their own daily schedules and there's no pressure to map out a strict plan. Yet there's so much to do. From a 100-strong list of spa treatments to workouts in the yoga centre, meditation, the sexuality and vitality program, golf and hiking, no-one stays long in their room. Miraval is cleaning up spa awards all over the globe - it practically invented the current craze for hot stone massage - and its list of special events extends from golfing workshops to anti-ageing seminars. www.miravalresort.com, +1 520 825 4000.
5. Ananda Spa, Rishikesh, India
A five-hour train journey from Delhi, Ananda takes a bit of effort to reach, yet it's full of guests from New York, Paris and beyond. And it's hardly surprising. The resort lies in the grounds of the impressive ancestral home of the Maharajah of Tehri-Garhwal, and it's easily first choice for anyone keen to experience ayurveda in its land of origin. Activities include outdoor yoga with a Himalayan backdrop, tai chi, ayurvedic cookery or a nourishing rose-oil facial. There's also a full menu of hydrotherapy, beauty treatments and abhyanga, the ayurvedic equivalent of the four-hand massage. www.anandaspa.com, +91 1378 227 500.
6. Six Senses Spa, Crete, Greece
Greece's sleepy hotel scene was enlivened for the 2004 Olympics by the development of some of the most beautiful properties in Europe, including the $11.6 million Six Senses Spa in Elounda, a fishing village on the island of Crete. The focal point is a 400 sqm marble and stone tepidarium, while other highlights include the total healing treatment (encompassing crystal therapy and chakra balancing), ayurveda treatments, thalassotherapy and Thai massage. For a truly Grecian experience book an algae wrap or oil-stone scrub. www.sixsenses.com or www.elounda-sa.com, +1 30 284 106 8000.
7. Four Seasons George V, Paris, France
Perhaps you don't want isolation with your spa experience. You want to be in the thick of things, and you think dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant or shopping are just as important as a caviar facial. Look no further than the gorgeous spa in this most grand of Parisian hotels, which constantly beats off the competition as Europe's best hotel spa. There's the usual suspects - body scrubs, wraps, facials, hot stone therapy and various Asian massages. But, surprisingly, some of the most enjoyable treatments have a Mexican flavour. The Punta Mita massage combines tequila and sage to improve circulation and dissolve muscular tension, while the margarita scrub uses tequila, salt and lime to exfoliate your skin and zap stress. www.fourseasons.com/paris, +1 33 149 527 000.
8. Terme di Saturnia Spa and Golf Resort, Maremma,
The 37-degree mineral springs of Saturnia are said to have been created by the Roman god Saturn to calm the anxieties of the local warring peoples. After a thermal pumpkin face mask, it's easy to forget this story is mythology. This spa in the hills of Tuscany pulls in visitors for its total wellbeing plan, which takes in hydrotherapy, beauty, stress management, diet and fitness. But decadence rules in Terme's four thermal pools, complete with waterfalls and whirlpools. Immerse yourself then shower in a stall bathed in orange or blue light. Finish up with a biological age evaluation and a massage, facial or body wrap designed to knock years off your age. The ambience is relaxed and luxurious and the guestrooms, in a historic stone mansion, complete the dream. www.termedisaturnia.it, +1 39 564 600 111.
9. Kempinski Grand Hotel & Spa, Heiligendamm,
Founded in 1793 by Duke Friedrich-Franz I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the great-great-great-great-great grandfather of the Queen, this was Germany's first seaside spa resort. In June this year it was the venue for the G8 conference, following a seven-year renovation costing $466 million, which banished memories of its stint as The Sanitorium of the Working People under the former East German government. Once inside this crenellated jewel you'll find a 3000 sqm spa with an enormous indoor swimming pool, Turkish hammam and a yoga master hailing from the Himalayas. And like the G8 leaders, you can also enjoy sailing on the Baltic Sea, golf and horse-riding. The Kempinski Grand, a two-hour drive from Berlin, is also planning to add a polo field, three more golf courses and an ayurvedic centre. www.kempinski-heiligendamm.com, +1 49 382 037 400.
10. Maia Luxury Resort and Spa, Mahé, The
Newcomer Maia is topping most of the major spa listings for two reasons. First, the director is Frederic Vidal, formerly of leading spa Les Thermes Marins de Monte Carlo. Then there's the almost narcotic beauty of the location - 30 villas, each with its own infinity pool and surrounded by bougainvillea, sit amid precipitous cliffs. In the spa, Vidal continues his relationship with La Prairie; even the toiletries in the bathrooms feature the luxe brand's cobalt-blue livery. Maia's most-requested treatment is its signature massage, part of an exclusive program developed by Susan Stein of Bali's Jari Menari therapy centre. All of the masseuses are Balinese but here they use the long, deep hand strokes of remedial massage instead of the Indonesian "dancing fingers" technique. Also included as part of your stay is qi gong, self shiatsu and yoga training. www.maia.com.sc, +1 248 390 000.
Here are some more recently opened spas we'll be hearing a lot more about in the future:
Hotel Marqués De Riscal
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar
Dead Sea, Jordan.
Uma Paro, Bhutan.