7 New and Unusual Hotel Spas (and Treatments) Around the World
What to expect when you order the beach-sand scrub in Costa Rica, the serenity tea ritual in Japan, or the heated-club massage in Tanzania.
By: Katie Chang
WHETHER YOU’RE IN Austin or Africa, travel takes its toll on you when you’re living out of a suitcase. But long gone are the days when a hotel massage meant asking for change at the front desk to start up your room’s vibrating bed. These seven spas, which opened (or were renovated) in hotels around the world within the last year, will relax muscles cramped from hours in coach, relieve bones burdened by overpacked bags, and clear schedule-laden minds. Most notably, these spots offer truly exotic escapes. Ready for your heated-club massage?
Four Seasons Safari Lodge
Where: Serengeti National Park, Arusha, Tanzania
Must-try Treatment: Kifaa heated-club massage
Takeaway: Serenity in the heart of Africa
Cradled in the heart of Serengeti National Park, this luxurious spa encourages guests to connect with its serene surroundings by offering all of its treatments in one of six free-standing pavilions, some of which are outfitted with private outdoor tubs. To combat the unavoidable fatigue that results from both long-haul flights and bumpy game rides, book a kifaa (which means “tool” in Swahili) massage. As the property’s signature treatment, it features a rungu, a wooden club that traditionally used by Masai warriors in East Africa. After being heated, it’s pressed into the body with long, deep strokes to relieve pressure and unfurl tight muscles. The addition of warmed baobab oil from Tanzania not only hydrates sun-parched skin, but also delivers reparative antioxidants. Post-massage, plunge yourself in the infinity pool, where you can take in views of the expansive skies and elephants at the property’s watering hole.
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort
Where: Culebra, Costa Rica
Must-try Treatment: Beach-sand scrub
Takeaway: Lush luxury in an emerald jungle
Famed Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher met the challenge of designing an oasis that feels both sophisticated and environmentally sensitive by incorporating organic elements like wood and stone, along with several outdoor treatment rooms, into an 11,000 square foot structure with sweeping views of the lush forest surroundings and Bay of Culebra. The Sombrero Beach Sand Scrub is frequently requested by guys, because it exfoliates the skin, sans sickly-sweet scents or slick residue. Local sand is buffed on, leaving the body invigorated and healthy-feeling—much like after a day at the beach. As with all treatments at the spa, you can set the tone, quite literally, for your experience by selecting a soundtrack from a special playlist curated by the hotel’s official “Cultural Insider of Music.”
Where: Verbier, Switzerland
Must-try Treatment: Skiers stretch massage
Takeaway: Swanky skiers paradise in the Swiss Alps
As one of the most exciting newcomers to this swanky Swiss ski town, W Verbier sets the bar high with its aprés ski offerings. And after hitting the slopes, it’s the AWAY Spa—which happens to be the biggest one in the town—that the sporty set retreats to, for treatments that alleviate exercise-related pain and discomfort. The Skiers Stretch Massage loosens tight muscles and encourages flexibility, while the Mogul Leg Pump reduces cramp-causing lactic-acid buildup in legs and buttocks. So there’s no excuse for skipping the resort’s club, Carve, that night before hitting the slopes the following day. Among the other guest perquisites are whirlpools, saunas, a hamam (Turkish bath), and a spacious, heated pool that extends outdoors so you can swim under the stars while surrounded by snow.
Where: Kyoto, Japan
Must-try Treatment: Ryokucha Serenity tea ritual
Takeaway: Find peace in ancient Japan
It’s only fitting that a spa dedicated to restoring your mind and body to a quiet, thoughtful place would be found in a city renown for its temples and gardens. While the entire spa menu was created to honor and respect the local culture and history, it’s the Ryokucha Serenity Ritual that’s especially noteworthy. Based on the thinking that tea’s health benefits can also be enjoyed when applied topically, this treatment spotlights Gyokuro, green-tea leaves that have been sun-dried for 20 days. Warm compresses are steeped in the antioxidant-rich tea, then pressed on muscles and joints, to encourage circulation and detoxication. A scalp-and-foot massage with warm essential oils promotes an even deeper state of well-being, from head to toe.
Where: Chicago, Illinois
Must-try Treatment: Chuan hand-and-foot soak, scrub, and massage
Takeaway: Chinese water treatment not far from Chicago’s Water Tower
Water’s the word at this 22,000-foot spa, located in the heart of downtown Chicago. In traditional Chinese medicine, water’s believed to help re-balance and restore one’s whole being. Following all treatments, the spa recommends setting aside time for the signature Chuan Bathing Ritual. Pick a sauna (herbal or salt stone) to loosen overworked muscles, then hop into the aromatherapy shower. Finish with a few minutes in the herbal steam room, then snooze it off on one of the lounge’s warmed recliners. If there’s one treatment really worth the splurge, though, it’s the Chuan Executive Indulgence. Targeting those those oft-neglected hands and feet, the indulgent process includes an essential oil-spiked soak, followed by a scrub to smooth away unsightly callouses and dry patches, and a tension-relieving massage.
Lake Austin Spa Resort
Where: Austin, Texas
Must-try treatment: Manaka tapping
Takeaway: More than 100 spa services in a newly designed Lone Star institution
This independently owned, 40-room resort and spa isn’t the newest kid on the block, but after recently unveiling newly redesigned guest rooms—all with calming lake views—and innovative spa treatments, this award-winning resort feels just as fresh, warm, and inviting as the day it opened. Even the most seasoned spa-goers will be blown away by the sheer size (25,000 square feet) and extensive menu of services (over 100). Rather than de-stress with a tried-and-true massage, gaze east with a session of manaka tapping, which has been used in Japan since the 16th century. Pegs are placed on your body’s acupoints, then gently and rhythmically tapped with a manaka, a small wooden hammer. Fans liken the treatment to acupuncture, claiming that it helps re-balance the body and alleviate pain without needles or discomfort.
The Thief Spa
Where: Oslo, Norway
Must-try Feature: Communal Aufguss sauna
Takeaway: Stealing spa treatments from all over the world for your benefit
As the name implies, the Thief Spa borrows the best of popular spa treatments from all over the globe, and gives them a sleek home in Norway’s capital city. For starters, there’s the city’s only hamam. While you’re seated on a heated bench, a bath attendant vigorously exfoliates your entire body to buff away dead skin and increase blood circulation, then lightly massages soap all over, before washing and massaging your hair and scalp. Also popular is the Thief Guss, the spa’s unique spin on a traditional German Aufguss. Up to 30 men congregate in a Finnish-style sauna for this monthly affair, as water and essential oils are poured on hot rocks by an attendant, to increase sweat and reduce toxins in a social, communal environment.
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Image courtesy of Four Seasons Safari Lodge