10 relaxing health retreats around the world
These health retreats around the world should be on everyone’s travel to-do list
Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa, Germany
One of Europe’s first spas, this is a “grand hotel”-it was on my bucket list of must-do spots, and it didn’t disappoint. Its enormous spa is divided into theme areas using specific products, and I went for a phyto-aromatic Sisley botanical facial. Then I indulged in aromatic steam rooms, Finnish and Bio saunas (featuring coloured lighting panels for chakra balancing) and a cool plunge pool before conking out in a relaxation room overlooking a courtyard. Afterwards, I strolled through Lichtentaler Allee park to the modernist gem by American architect Richard Meier, the Museum Frieder Burda.
Baden-Baden is a beautiful little town where 800,000 litres of healing thermal waters flow from 12 springs each day. The ruins of the Roman bathhouses are preserved as a museum under the Römerplatz. A pass to the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish bath above the ruins and other thermal-water day spas is an inexpensive and interesting option for visitors. (brenners.com)
Image: Brenner’s Park Hotel and Spa
The Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, Florida
The Pritikin Program was founded more than 50 years ago by Nathan Pritikin, a Chicago-born engineer who became interested in nutrition after he was diagnosed with heart disease at age 41. It advocates regular exercise and a diet high in fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, and low in fat. My stay at the centre, which is part of the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami, started with an evaluation by a physician that included cardiometabolic stress testing (I’m fairly fit). I exercised each morning with a group-no excuses-and attended workshops in nutrition, stress management and health that included “real world” training (e.g., how to make healthy choices in restaurants). I enjoyed the classes, along with a few spa treatments and forays into the nearby malls in the afternoons. The food, while plentiful, contained no butter, added salt or sugar, and had very little oil. The minimum duration of stay is a week, but they urge longer stays. I dropped two pounds in five days-that in itself convinced me to join a gym back home. The whole philosophy just makes sense to me. (pritikin.com)
Tucker’s Point Hotel & Spa, Bermuda
Bermuda is a tiny (54-square-kilometre) paradise of pink-sand beaches, gorgeous golf courses and turquoise waters. Tucker’s Point is just 15 minutes from the airport, but in a quiet spot on 81 hectares of rolling hills. It’s surrounded by its own golf course, plus the beaches and beautiful glittering blue waters of Castle Harbour, Harrington Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, and all rooms have a magnificent water view.
My spa treatment started with a scrub using honey harvested on Tucker’s Point property combined with pure cane sugar and oil. My spa therapist, Mai, exfoliated me from neck to toes. Next, it was into the Silver TAG Shower with its 18 shower heads for 10 minutes of alternating hot and cold water to stimulate my circulation. (I had chosen this anti-cellulite hydrotherapy program-other options keep the water on warm to hot.) I finished up with a divine hydrating massage. Switching between various techniques (Swedish, lymphatic drainage and pressure points), Mai massaged me with aloe gel that is locally harvested and combined with a marine massage cream.
Post-treatment, I could have strolled to the beach, a spot that’s so pretty it’s a popular place for weddings. But I chose to lounge-like a rag doll, my skin soft and smooth-as I enjoyed the view at the spa’s reflecting pool, and sipped tea without moving a muscle. (tuckerspointhotel.com)
Image: Tucker’s Point Hotel
Miramonte Resort & Spa, California
The Well Spa near Palm Springs is like a private Tuscan villa set within the landscape of Miramonte Resort. I started my day with a water yoga class in a saltwater pool. Before lunch, executive chef Robert Nyerick took a few of us on a stroll of the property with harvest baskets in hand. We picked Meyer lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, sage, oregano, mint and lemons growing on the grounds, which Nyerick then used to enhance and garnish our meal. I also learned about the therapeutic uses of essential oils from aromatherapist Lori Torquati. (The resort makes its own aromatherapy treatments.) I had a superb, 90-minute facial that gloriously intermingled massage with every step. It started with a footbath and foot massage; then, while the creams and masque were doing their wonders on my face, the esthetician massaged my hands, arms, shoulders, neck and scalp. Then I had an eye treatment and lymph-draining face massage. The final touch: a specialty mineral makeup application. (miramonteresort.com)
Image: Miramonte Resort and Spa
Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
Casa de Campo on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic is a jaw-dropping enclave by the town of La Romana, edged by the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Chavón River on the other. The property is so large-to accommodate such amenities as 63 golf holes and an equestrian centre with polo-guests are given personal carts to drive around. For my Tropical Day Dream Body Treatment in the Cygalle Healing Spa, I was taken to a private sanctuary with a patio garden, hot and cold plunge pools, steam room, sauna, shower, change room and therapy bed. My garden area was open roofed but walled in for privacy, so I could even wander around naked while enjoying the pools. My treatment began with an all-over exfoliation with organic cane sugar. Then my therapist applied a body mask of fresh papaya, pineapple, passion fruit and yogurt that she mixed, on the spot, in a blender. She wrapped me in plastic, then layered on warm covers, and while my skin was absorbing the mask, she massaged my head. Then, after I showered, the treatment ended with a hot and cold stone massage. Daydream, indeed: I was in a trance. (casadecampo.com.do)
Image: Casa de Campo
Polynesian Spa Rotorua, New Zealand
Rotorua is a quaint town on the North Island near many adventure sports areas for families and adults. Shweebing, Zorbing, jet boating, extreme free fall, abseiling (rappelling) and more offer vacation thrills. (The first two have to be seen to be believed. Shweebing entails lying back in a pedal-powered pod on a monorail circuit; Zorbing involves rolling down a hill in a large inflatable globe.) The day spa sits beside Lake Rotorua, a volcanic lake that bubbles with sulphur-rich water. I enjoyed a soak in the various outdoor hot mineral-water pools prior to my spa treatments. The Rotorua Mud Replenish Body Wrap-in an airy treatment room with large windows overlooking the lake-began with a full-body honey-walnut polish, followed by a mask of Rotorua mud mixed with local manuka honey, aloe vera, almond oil and seaweed extract. I rested for 20 minutes wrapped in plastic sheets and warm blankets while the therapist gave me a scalp massage. Next, a shower to rinse off, and an application of honey and lavender body lotion. As if that weren’t enough, I finished off with a 30-minute foot massage with a coconut sugar scrub and lotion. It was a dreamy half-day that soothed my body after my 100-metre abseil into the Lost World caves the day before. I had come to New Zealand for adventure, but couldn’t resist a little pampering. (polynesianspa.co.nz)
Image: Polynesian Spa Rotorua
Bad Wörishofen, Germany
Bad Wörishofen, a spa town about 85 kilometres west of Munich, owes its fame to Sebastian Kneipp, a priest who discovered the curative effects of its water in the late 1800s. People came from all over Europe to benefit from Kneipp water therapies, which use alternating warm and cold water to stimulate circulation. Father Kneipp had a holistic approach to well-being, prescribing daily exercise, medicinal herbs, meditation and a nutritious diet to his patients. Kneipp therapy is one of a cherished few that treat body, brain and soul (others include Ayurvedic and Ancient Chinese). I’ve noticed that many spas throughout the world offer some form of his therapy.
I loved the town with its attractive pedestrian zone, fragrant gardens, outdoor concert area and museum portraying Kneipp’s life and achievements. An orchestra performs three times a day.
I spent a half-day at the enormous South Seas Therme Bad Wörishofen. Under a huge glass dome, I swam in turquoise thermal waters surrounded by natural palm trees. I also soaked in pools enriched with brine, sulphur, calcium, iodine and selenium. There are multiple themed saunas, including one called Backhäusle where you can actually bake your own bread. Therme Bad Wörishofen is the major spa complex in the town (the minimum age of entrance is 16; families with kids have the opportunity to explore the spa every Saturday).
There are several hotels in town; I stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel der Sonnenhof, where I had a traditional Kneipp treatment for the sciatic pain near my right buttock.
It started at 6 a.m. with a therapist wrapping a warm sack of steamed hay and meadow flowers around my lower torso while I lay in bed. Later in the morning I went to the therapy rooms, where I was hosed down first with warm and then ice-cold water from my ankles to the top of my thighs. After that, I was free to enjoy the thermal pools and the stimulating hot and cold Kneipp water walk (a kind of watery path on an uneven bed of stones; you go from hot to cold water, back to hot, and then do it all over again.) Then I visited the steam rooms and sauna.
My sciatica wasn’t cured but I’d spent less time here than the one-week minimum recommended (a stay of two to three weeks is considered optimum). The treatment certainly helped, and the overall spa town experience was uplifting. (bad-woerishofen.com)
Image: Bad Wörishofen
Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, Costa Rica
Tabacón, in central Costa Rica, is surrounded by tropical rainforests and is near Arenal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Rainwater, which enters the earth through fissures on the surface, is heated by magma, creating wonderful natural thermal springs both on the spa’s property and all around the area.
In between spa treatments and fine meals, I enjoyed lazing in these hot-spring pools surrounded by exotic gardens, thick tropical vegetation and waterfalls, within view of the magnificent volcano.
I had signed up for the week-long Lifestyle and Wellness package, a program of spa treatments, exercise, nutrition education and a specially designed Ayurvedic meal plan. When I arrived, I met with the nutritionist to go over my meals for the week based on my preferences and body type. A chef from India prepared the meals, which were largely vegetarian and delicious. Among the scrumptious offerings were lentil soup, fruit smoothies, cottage-cheese rolls, curries, chicken strudel with red cabbage, and homestyle Indian bread. As a special treat I had one gala dinner-whatever I wanted-prepared just for me and served in a forest setting under a gazebo with a white linen table setting, candles and flowers.
My package included several spa treatments. In an open-air bungalow set in the lush gardens of the thermal spring area, I had a scrub with tropical leaves, followed by an hour-long massage and then a half-hour soak in a private outdoor hot tub. I listened to the sounds of the waterfalls, the birds and the rain as I savoured an hour-long facial.
Two “Temazcal” sessions were included in this spa experience. These were led by a shaman and took place in an adobe-style sweat lodge, which had a pit filled with hot rocks. We sat around the pit in the dark as the single small entrance door was shut to keep in the heat. The shaman encouraged us to talk about our feelings as she added hot water to the rocks, filling the room with steam. It was too much for one woman, who left in tears, but I toughed it out. Each of these sessions was about two hours long: half an hour of prep time with a shaman around a fire; 45 minutes or more in the Temazcal adobe hut; and about half an hour to cool down in a cold stream, have fruit and drinks, and relax.
As a change of pace, my exercise sessions included a really fun Latin dance class. At the end of the week, the nutritionist went through a plan that included meal and exercise recommendations for me to continue with a healthy lifestyle. I loved the program, and the exotic setting made exercise and diet a real pleasure. (tabacon.com)
Image: Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort
The Spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Mexico
On the Yucatán Peninsula (east) side of Mexico in the Riviera Maya area, there are spas that take your breath away. This region offers the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and stretches of powdery white-sand beaches.
It takes a spa of considerable beauty to entice people indoors when the outdoors is so spectacular. The Spa at Grand Velas is so extraordinary that it seduced me to stay inside for hours. (You can come as a day guest even if you’re not staying at the resort.) Built amid the lush jungle that hugs the resort, it is nearly 90,000 square feet with 40 treatment suites that are beautifully appointed with local art, and separate hydrotherapy facilities for men and women.
Prior to my massage treatment, I enjoyed the complimentary Grand Velas Hydrothermal Journey. In a room with soaring ceilings, I had seven “experiences” starting in the sauna, followed by the colour therapy steam room, clay application room, ice room, sensation shower, hot tub and ice-cold polar plunge pool. I was guided from one experience to another by attendants who made sure I had the optimum amount of time at each for my health (about five to 10 minutes in each, except the polar plunge pool and ice room, which I exited very quickly!). I took a rest between stations in a comfortable lounge chair and admired the jungle views outdoors.
Then I went to the experience pool, which has a sensory pebble walkway, cascade falls, water bubble beds, neck jets and a bubble “geyser.” Finally, I had an amazing massage that started with a ritual based on four elements of life: The footbath contained grains of millet to symbolize earth; water was a wet flower placed in my hand; for fire, the therapist put a hot stone on the back of my neck; and for sound, she placed a shell on my ear, which created a sound like the wind. During the massage, any tension left in my body gave way to the smooth strokes, which were deep but not too deep. (The therapist checked several times to make sure the pressure was okay.) When I was back in my robe, I relaxed with a snack of fresh-made cookies and tea. The sun and the sea were beckoning outdoors but I felt so calm, I didn’t want to leave. (rivieramaya.grandvelas.com)
Image: The Spa at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Hawaii
Up the West Maui highway from Lahaina is a five-kilometre stretch of beach and a destination resort area known as Ka’anapali Beach Resort, one of the first planned active-vacation destinations in Hawaii. The resort area encompasses condominiums and world-class hotels, including The Westin Maui. It’s well-located beside the Whalers Village shopping centre with a beach walking path that connects the various hotels along the ocean-great for strolling or jogging.
The Westin’s five outdoor pools, which span several levels within the 8,000-square-metre aquatic playground with slides and waterfall features, are an ideal spot for families (except the pool for adults only). The 1,400-square-metre Heavenly Spa offers top-notch services and a neat “Relax and Play” package for parents; they can get a 50-minute couples’ massage while their kids are in the “club” (for ages five to 12) doing activities such as koi fishing (with nets), gekko hunting, slide races and scavenger hunts. The spa’s relaxation room looks out to the Pacific Ocean, and during whale season, which is from mid-December to mid-May, you can watch humpback whales cavorting and doing their mating antics.
There are three Westin Heavenly Spas in Hawaii (31 around the world, with six more scheduled to open in the next couple of years), and The Westin Maui in Ka’anapali is the original. My treatment was a Haulani (heavenly fruit) scrub and a shower you have while lying down. The aesthetician applied a pineapple-and-passion-fruit-infused scrub of raw sugar and coconut oil to my body to increase circulation and exfoliate. To rinse, she turned on the shower, a seven-head apparatus that streamed hot water on me as I lay on a rubber-cushioned treatment table (strategically placed towels kept my private parts covered). She held a water wand with cool water to vary the hot and cold on my body, with the aim of increasing circulation. Normally I don’t like such shower treatments, as I find I get cold and feel too exposed. Not this time. I was warm and covered enough to feel at ease. I came out of it feeling refreshed and invigorated.
The spa offers “Wellness Wednesday” classes year-round, such as “The Art of the Bath” (how to make your own bath sachet with herbs and salts). Kudos to this pioneering spa for continuing to offer something beyond the ordinary. (westinmaui.com)
Image: Westin Maui Resort & Spa