SundayLife! rounds up destination spas which make the most of their setting to provide an immersive, sensory experience.
ST REGIS LHASA
At 3,680m above sea level, what better place to escape from daily life than Lhasa, one of the highest cities in the world?
Facing the Potala Palace, once the chief residence of the Dalai Lama and now a World Heritage Site, St Regis Lhasa is itself built in the style of a luxurious Tibetan palace.
Tibetan influence continues in the design of the meditation garden and the 1,087 sq m Iridium Spa, which offers traditional Tibetan treatments such as Himalayan snow rose facials, a nutmeg butter massage and a shambala bowl and heated stone massage.
Yoga classes focus on five to seven poses which help newcomers adjust to the Tibetan altitude.
Treatments range from 350 yuan (S$75) up to 4,800 yuan for The Alchemy of Light treatment, which uses iridium and other precious gemstones in its massage, facial and cleansing bath.
The highlight of the spa is the Gold Energy Pool, a 225 sq m heated pool lined with 24-karat gold tiles secured by crystals. Dip in its jewelled reflection, then enjoy a foot massage, food and drinks at the poolside cabana seating.
Rooms start from 861 yuan a night.
Where: Lhasa, Tibet
DHARA DHEVI CHIANG MAI
Set in a 24ha site outside Chiang Mai, the Dheva Spa and Wellness Centre within the luxury resort capitalises on the area's rich history and culture in an impressive 3,100 sq m complex modelled on ancient Mandalay palace architecture.
Visitors are welcomed in a seven-tier lobby of ornately carved teakwood, then escorted to one of 25 rooms and suites for treatment.
The spa's menu is diverse and includes a Muay Thai package, in which guests spend 60 minutes learning the muscle- and flexibility-building techniques of the combat sport, then 80 minutes of Thai massage for 4,200 baht (S$175).
There is also a 200-minute Lanna Ceremony treatment, which includes a wild honey steam bath, tamarind and Thai herb scrub and full-body massage for 9,975 baht.
The spa has a selection of aqua therapy areas, including a hydrotherapy room, steam room and rhassoul mineral clay pool.
It took 31/2 years for 150 Chiang Mai artisans to complete the spa complex, which is decorated with ornate mouldings and sculptures of sacred animals and Buddhist symbols.
With a reservation, outside guests can use the spa.
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
In the Maldives, glass floors in spa treatment rooms allow guests to enjoy the region's crystalline water and active marine life while lying face-down on a massage table.
Lime Spa in Huvafen Fushi resort takes underwater entertainment a step further by submerging its treatment room, providing panoramic views of the surrounding coral reefs and ocean floor.
Underwater treatments include Lime Cocoon, a detoxifying and energy-boosting scrub which uses seaweed extracts to cleanse and revitalise; and Lime Light, which uses indigenous coconut oil, lime and minerals in its steaming poultices and massage.
The 90-minute treatments start at US$315 (S$430).
After these treatments, guests are invited to enjoy some private reflection time and underwater views while sipping a spa cocktail and nibbling on island fruits.
A Lagoon Bungalow with pool starts from $2,563 a night.
Where: North Male Atoll, Maldives
THE BANJARAN HOTSPRINGS RETREAT
In a verdant 6ha valley, amid towering 280 million-year-old limestone hills, The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is nestled among natural caves, waterfalls and, best of all, rejuvenating geothermal hot springs.
One may imagine that the resort is tucked miles away from civilisation. In reality, The Banjaran is in Perak, Malaysia, a quick 15-minute drive from Ipoh city and two hours north of Kuala Lumpur.
Each day, three million litres of underground spring water bubble to the surface, flowing around the base of the limestone hills before being channelled to four outdoor jacuzzi-styled dipping pools.
Soaking in this ionised mineral water - the temperature ranges from 40 to 70 deg C - is said to help alleviate stressed and tired muscles and joints.
The Banjaran's spa includes wellness treatments that are influenced by the retreat's Malaysian locale. These include the traditional urut, or massage, using specially prepared palm oil infused with detoxifying herbs and spices.
Both the technique and recipe for the oil are handed down from generation to generation and are rarely found outside the region.
The retreat also offers wellness programmes for goals such as detoxification and weight management.
There is also access to nutrition consultants, meditation and taiji instructors and classes on pranayama - a controlled breathing exercise, as well as natural thermal steam and meditation caves.
Guests stay in luxurious Garden or Water Villas, which start from RM1,300 (S$490) a night. To keep the retreat quiet and focused on wellness, guests must be above 12 years old.
Where: Perak, Malaysia
If visiting historic Mesoamerican ruins has you burnt out, a visit to Rosewood Mayakoba resort's spa on the Mayan Riviera may be reviving.
The 647ha resort sits on a 1.6km-long stretch of white Caribbean sand and its spa, Sense, is tucked away from the rest of the resort on its own island.
Guests get to the spa by crossing a bridge or by a resort boat direct from their room.
Secluded in the jungle, the 1,580 sq m spa has 12 treatment rooms and eight island suites where therapeutic treatments incorporate indigenous ingredients made from local plants such as aloe and agave cactus.
Treatments include an agave azul hydrating experience, using a scrub and wrap of agave azul, the plant used to make tequila, followed by a massage with distilled tequila and lemongrass for US$170 (S$230).
For the royal treatment, try the Mayan equinox ritual, which relieves stress through a traditional copal blessing, a tree resin burned like incense which was used to bless Mayan warriors before battle.
This is followed by a full-body exfoliation, wrap and mask that includes a mix of jade, gold and silver to nourish the skin, as well as a 90-minute massage. The 21/2-hour experience costs US$375.
Suites start from US$835 a night.
Where: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
This destination spa, set in the red rock of Boynton Canyon, Arizona, is inspired by the landscape and traditions of the Native American people who lived in the area.
The holistic wellness centre provides treatments for mental and physical wellbeing, many with Navajo and Anasazi influences.
These include a prickly pear butter wrap, sedona clay wrap, turquoise "dreaming" skin hydration mask and Soul Seeker treatment, in which a therapist leads guests through exercises to heighten awareness of their physical and inner selves.
The spa also provides mindfulness, meditation, communication and life-coach sessions.
It is only for those aged 16and older and a minimum of three nights' stay is required. A three-night journey includes six treatments and consultations and costs start from US$2,520 (S$3,425) a person. Extra treatments start from US$160 for a 60-minute session.
Where: Sedona, Arizona, United States
About an hour's drive from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, the man-made Blue Lagoon is a much-visited attraction.
Created by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant, the first bathing facilities opened in 1987 after locals discovered the beneficial effects of bathing in geothermal salt water.
Last year, it was voted Europe's Best Luxury Mineral Spring Spa in the World Luxury Hotel Awards.
Located in a lava field in south-western Iceland, the warm waters, which average 37 to 39 deg C, are rich in minerals such as silica and sulphur. Bathing in the waters is said to help rejuvenate and soften skin as well as treat psoriasis.
While basic entrance to the lagoon costs €35 (S$54) to €45 for an adult depending on the season, packages including drinks, treatments and towel rental start from €50.
Spa specialities include a deep-cleansing white silica mud mask to soften skin, sauna and steam rooms carved into surrounding lava rock as well as geothermal salt scrubs.
All the spa's massage treatments take place in the water, where patrons rest on submerged massage tables or floating mats.
These include a nourishing in-water algae treatment, which starts with a salt scrub, during which the skin is polished with Blue Lagoon minerals and oils, followed by a nutrient-rich algae wrap, while the face and scalp are gently massaged.
The treatment ends with a 50-minute full-body massage and costs €190.
Where: Grindavik, Iceland
KULM HOTEL ST MORITZ
Breathing in the fresh alpine air in this famous ski resort town may be enough to awaken your senses, but for the full alpine spa experience, there is Kulm Hotel.
Spa-goers get to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains to the north and Lake Moritz to the south - from the warmth of an open-air pool, which is kept at 34 deg C even in the middle of winter.
Other spa facilities include a 10 by 20m indoor lap pool with floor-to-ceiling windows, a 45 deg C salt grotto, steam baths and an infrared cabin for deep-heat therapy to ease muscle tension and enhance blood circulation.
Those hoping to rid their bodies of toxins or trying to warm up after a day on the slopes can hop into the Swiss-styled Finnish Sauna, where patrons relax in the nude, sweating in the 80 to 100 deg C dry heat.
Treatment rooms lined in pine and local wood offer floor-to-ceiling views of the spectacular mountainside which guests can enjoy while being treated to local wellness therapies, such as a 20-minute alpine wild herb bath for 70 Swiss francs (S$100) and a 50-minute hot and cold mountain stone massage for 160 Swiss francs.
With a reservation, outside guests can use the spa.
Where: St Moritz, Switzerland
ROYAL MANSOUR MARRAKECH
Worth visiting just to bask in the palatial decor of the space, the Royal Mansour spa in Marrakech, Morocco, is replete with intricate wood and marble carvings and pristine tilework.
Beauty treatments inspired by local ingredients include a massage which nourishes the body with argan oil, monoi butter made from coconut oil infused with Tahitian gardenias, as well as rose oil. It costs 2,200 dirham (S$815) for 75 minutes.
The highlight of the spa is the luxury hammam. Personal assistants, called "kessala", heat and hydrate guests' bodies before sloughing the skin with a kessa, a glove made of coarse fabric to remove dead skin and stimulate circulation.
Washed with black olive soap rich in vitamin E, the guest is then massaged with aromatic oil.
The hammam experience costs from 1,400 to 3,200 dirham, depending on the length and elements of the treatment.
The spa mostly uses its own brand of beauty products, called marocMaroc. Made of local ingredients such as almond oil, clay minerals and orange blossom water, it is the first luxury cosmetic brand from Morocco.
Outside guests can use the spa.
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
EVASON MA'IN HOT SPRINGS
An oasis in the desert, the Evason Ma'In Hot Springs in Jordan sits in a dry, rugged landscape 264m below sea level.
A 25-minute drive from the Dead Sea, the spa resort boasts sole use of the Ma'In hotspring, which bubbles up from a desert rock near the resort in the Hammamat Ma'In valley.
The family-friendly property offers children's activities and babysitting services so guests can rest and take advantage of the award-winning luxury Six Senses Spa.
The standalone building has 10 treatment rooms, a steam cave and a spa pool which sits directly under one of the hotspring waterfalls, where guests can enjoy a natural hydro-massage.
The treatments are inspired by the hotspring, the Dead Sea and native ingredients.
They include an olive oil massage, basil and mint scrub, purifying Dead Sea Mud body wrap, henna flower hair and scalp treatment as well as facials using an ancient recipe of yogurt, ground olives, cream, honey, nuts, fruits and flowers to refine and enrich the skin.
There are spa treatments for children aged 12 to 16, including a 30-minute head-and-shoulder massage and a mini facial. Prices are available upon request.
Outside guests can visit the spa for 38 dinar (S$73), but entrance is free if they book a treatment.
Where: Ma'In, Jordan
Info: www.sixsenses.com/evason-resorts/ ma-in/destination
This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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