The benefits of spas have been known for centuries. Since ancient Romans went to the baths to relax, spas have been a way to unwind. Beyond relaxation, luxury wellness retreats and spas are a great place to work on your cardiovascular and mental health. They’re perfect for girlfriends adventure getaways, couples retreats, and for a solo travel experiences.
There are definitely spas in your hometown, but for this travel guide I want to talk about a few that are truly FOMO inducing. Spa Tourism is a thing, and it’s not going anywhere. Pack your passport for the ultimate global spa getaways.
Known for its Onsen hot springs, Japan has an incredible tradition of spa culture. A Japanese legend tells how Izanagi, the god who created the world with his wife, Izanami, bathed to cleanse himself after traveling to the underworld. Public baths are an everyday part of Japanese life where people from all walks of life find tranquility. For travelers, there are both ancient and modern ways to explore this culture.
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Look no further than the AO Spa and Club at the Andaz Tokyo for a modern take on traditional Japanese Spa culture. An urban retreat the heart of Tokyo, AO Spa & Club combines the purest ingredients of Japan with the latest in high-performance techniques for unique wellness spa services. Situated on the 37th floor, it’s worth visiting just for the view.
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Located in Nagano Prefecture in the Honshu mainland of Japan, the Shibu Onsen is a hot spring resort that has 1,300 years of history. Cobblestone lanes are surrounded by traditional wooden ryokan (Japanese inns), making this quaint old town particularly charming. You will get a sense of a Japanese onsen village while strolling on these streets in your yukata (light cotton kimono). For a bonus visit Jigokudani Yaen-koen (Monkey Park) where you can see wild monkeys bathing in hot springs. This is the best proof I’ve ever seen that spas are natural and primeval.
Over the centuries, many nations have practiced sweat bathing, but no one does it quite like the Finns. The Finnish sauna is a unique kind of sweat bath. Influenced by both the Eastern and Western bath cultures the tradition of the sauna, carried on unbroken for about two thousand years, is deeply rooted in the nation’s way of life. Just make sure you’re ready to roll in the snow or dip in the lake between sessions.
Each year this Lapland hotel is carved out of snow with a different look. The walls and furniture surfaces of the rooms are decorated with ice art. The room temperature is 0–5C°, but using sleeping bags intended for extreme conditions combined with reindeer furs, you can be sure your stay will be warm and cozy. Experience their unique spa with outdoor hot tubs and a Sauna made from snow. In the winter this is the perfect place to gaze at the northern lights.
You read that right, a Sauna in a Burger King and, yes, whoppers are served while you steam. Guests at the 15 person Sauna can lounge on blue and red benches with a Burger King towel or robe, and watch TV or play video games while getting a schvitz in. Great for groups.
European royals, rock stars, and everyday folk looking to indulge head to Switzerland for some of the best medical spa destinations in Europe. In Victorian times, aristocrats came here to take the “air” and the “waters” to recuperate from a broad range of illnesses. With them came a tradition of luxury and pampering. Many swiss clinics go beyond spa services, offering state of the art solutions to aging, weight loss, and stress. Modern Luxury Wellness retreats take note.
A few hundred yards from Lake Geneva is one of the world’s legendary spas. Clinique La Prairie is known for its groundbreaking research into rejuvenation. CLP’s founder, Dr Paul Niehans, in the 1920s created a famous serum that is both coveted and secretive. Everyone from Winston Churchill to Mic Jagger has journeyed to CLP for its fabled fountain of youth. Besides a secret formula, this spa has some of the most luxurious facilities and amenities on the planet. If you can’t make it to the Swiss alps, they have branches around the world including in NYC and the Caribbean.
Since 1369 relaxation seekers have flocked to this rejuvenation resort. One of Europe’s premier spas, this tranquil mountain paradise has six pools (both indoor and out) that range in temperature from warm to cool. The Roman inspired baths here switch between dry and humid heat. saunas, solariums, steam rooms, and a massage center round out the wellness services in this spectacular alpine setting.
The Turkish Hammam is about as close as you can come to a real Roman bath. The ancient descendents of the Ottoman empire know how it’s done. Think of this as a curated luxury experience to maximize cleanliness and wellness. Your guide for the the hammam is your tellak or natir, who leads patrons through increasingly warmer sections of the bath. A traditional Turkish hammam includes body scrubbing with handwoven wash cloth known as a kese, a foam wash, and a massage.
For a traditional Hammam experience in a modern luxury setting, look no further than the Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul. The hotel itself is located on the European shores of the Bosphorus in an ottoman palace. Lined in ancient marble, the ambiance is truly unique. I recommended the 40 minute Pasha treatment because who doesn’t want to feel like a royal!
For a piece of history visit the Cağaloğlu Hamam, it is the last major hamam constructed in the Ottoman period. They have been in operation since 1741. Unlike other historic hamams, it has never been modernized. They offer ancient treatments; the most extravagant, the Sultan Mahmut I package, includes a massage by two attendants. This spa is strategically located to visit some of the other wonders of ancient Istanbul.
Spa culture is a truly global phenomenon and can be a great piece of any trip. I have visited spas to reconnect with my partner, have a girls weekend, and for solo self care. For me it’s especially fun to think about all the people in history and around the world who have taken a break in the same way. On my travels, across multiple continents, I can connect with new people comparing notes on spas. This is a really good way to experience a new culture while improving your overall wellness. Head to any of these luxury wellness retreats for an epic experience.
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