A spa break is the ultimate feel-good holiday, and whether you are looking for five-star indulgence, a mood-boosting break with your partner or a healing solo retreat, the trick is finding the right fit for you.
In the past couple of years, a slew of new wellness retreats, spas and resorts opened as hoteliers rightly anticipated that, as soon as we could fly again, we would crave healthy environments where we could boost our immune systems, calm our minds and get a major dose of Vitamin D.
This year is all about alternative therapies in which science meets spirituality, often with a focus on mental wellbeing. It might be gong bathing, where the sounds use a specific frequency that has positive effects on the brain, or freezing-cold cryotherapy, which boosts both immunity and brain function.
However, it is the emphasis on targeting the mind as much as the body that typifies healing holidays in the post-pandemic world. Mental health has truly gone mainstream and we all fully recognise the importance of self-care, while the menopause is more discussed than ever before.
That health is wealth has been drummed into us, and we seem to be embracing wellness as an investment. At the immunity-boosting Original FX Mayr retreat in Austria, guests are extending seven-day visits to 10, with two-week stays being increased to as much as four weeks. Healing Holidays is reporting that travellers who might have gone away for a week to recalibrate are now booking for 21 days – and longer – to get that truly immersive experience with emotional support.
The desire for some R&R with a side serving of wellness seems universal, hence the wide range of new spa experiences on offer this year. From self-care suites in Santorini to city slicker resets in Manhattan and a couples’ hideaway in Malta, there really is something to suit everyone.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a rise in medi-spas tackling such issues as weakened immune systems, inflammation and the effects of long Covid, using treatments both new and old. The benefits of authentic, natural spa treatments continue to gain traction, with escapes in 2022 offering everything from river bathing to massages in Oman that use locally sourced frankincense oil. If there has ever been a time to invest in yourself, it is now.
For a city reset…
Aman New York, United States
One of the most exciting hotel openings of 2022 is taking place in Manhattan this spring. Aman’s latest venture lies in the Crown Building, former home of the Museum of Modern Art, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Its enormous spa promises to live up to the luxury chain’s usual high standards: three storeys dedicated to wellness including a dramatic swimming pool lined with daybeds and fire pits. Guests can detox in the sauna and steam rooms, and enjoy Aman signature therapies, such as Purifying, which includes a smoking ceremony with sage, lymphatic drainage, nerve point therapy and nerve stimulation.
The details: Opening May (001 212 201 8888; aman.com)
For pure indulgence…
Raffles The Palm Dubai Resort & Spa, Dubai
This sybarite’s paradise has a Cinq Mondes spa that is off the scale when it comes to palatial pleasure. Think 23 treatment rooms, two private suites and a spa menu loaded with enticing treatments such as a Tahitian moon scrub using tiara flowers, sugar and coconut, or a wrinkle-reducing Kobido lifting and plumping facial. In addition, there is a yoga studio, a gym, two hammams, Japanese baths and the largest swimming pool in the Middle East to dive into.
Overlooking the Palm’s softest white-sand beach, rooms – as you might expect – are opulent, with butler service, chandeliers and handcrafted furnishings. Restaurants are extraordinarily ornate, particularly Blüthner Hall, where you can sip champagne or take afternoon tea while a pianist tinkles the bespoke grand piano beneath the gold ceiling, and Le Jardin, redolent of a French palace with a terrace overlooking flower-filled gardens and serving food from around the world.
For an immunity boost…
RAKxa, Bangkok, Thailand
Despite it being a river hop from Bangkok, there is a sense of the clandestine about this hush-hush island retreat that officially opened in 2021 but, owing to the pandemic, is only really now starting to see clients through the door. For winter sun next season Thailand is worth holding out for if you want a full-body MOT rather than a mere massage; high-tech treatments mixed with ancient Ayurveda produce astounding results. A long-Covid programme has even been introduced, aimed at targeting the respiratory system and reducing inflammation.
After an initial consultation with a doctor, a tailor-made programme is created including everything from fitness training to IV ozone therapy and immune infusion with laser therapy, alongside traditional massages, corrective exercises, acupuncture, chakra balancing, and access to a hyperbaric chamber, where your lungs gather more oxygen than normal to help fight bacteria. Even without a personalised programme guests are guaranteed to leave here feeling healthier than when they arrived, thanks to the food (nutritionists work in sync with doctors and chefs to ensure you are staying clean and lean), cleansing tea lounge, gym, hydrothermal spa and relaxing villas spread around a lake and surrounded by lush jungle.
For a long stay cleanse…
Original FX Mayr, Austria
You don’t have to be noticeably overweight to know that the “muffin top” which moved in over lockdown now has squatter’s rights, but weight is not always the main reason to set out on a pilgrimage to the esteemed Original FX Mayr clinic. My menopausal sleep was choppy, and working late on winter nights had left me feeling dead-headed and sluggish.
That said, a high-intensity treatment week with a phalanx of highly trained Austrian doctors on daily call is not financially lo-cal. But with the price tag come medics, shiatsu gurus, fitness and yoga trainers, bracing walking guides, lakeside saunas and beauty treatments, plus lovely accommodation, daily appointments and small but palatable meals served in a chic restaurant where silence is observed, so you can better focus on chewing slowly.
I loved the oxygen-enriched high-altitude treatment: the sense of head-clearing was instant. It also distracted me from the hunger pangs as the restricted diet kicked in. Braver souls tried three minutes of cryogenic treatment, which is so cold it freezes the hair on your arms – though I’m told there is a spurt of energy afterwards.
Under the watchful eye of Gabriella Schnitzler, a former senior Prada and Vuitton executive who serenely rules the roost with two (presumably diet-adjusted) dogs in tow, the whole place is a remarkable exercise in multi-disciplinary teamwork. And the proof in the buckwheat pudding is that so many who could choose anywhere for their body-and-soul reboot turn up year after year.
How to do it: Treatment programmes at the Original FX Mayr (original-mayr.com) start from £1,466pp for the seven-day Original Mayr Basic programme, which includes diagnostic, medical and detox treatments, but not accommodation. Extensions are possible.
For ancient remedies…
Six Senses Fort Barwara, Rajasthan, India
Originally owned by the Rajasthani royal family, this converted 14th-century fort is so spectacular it would surely get their seal of approval. Tucked away behind the frescoed facade of the former Zenana Mahal (women’s palace), the Six Senses spa is a veritable delight of ancient Indian treatments, including Ayurveda. Resident Ayurvedic doctors discover guests’ doshas (body types) and then prescribe treatments, such as a dreamy four-handed massage, where two therapists work simultaneously, or shirodhara – warm oil being poured continually on the forehead.
Six Senses is a pioneer in looking locally for inspiration and Fort Barwara is no exception, hence the spa menu also includes intriguing treatments such as Tiger’s Eye, where a therapist uses crystals and sound therapy to help release fear and anxiety. At the Alchemy Workshop, guests can learn how to make their own potions to cure ailments; fire meditation and sunset and sunrise yoga are also on offer.
If you like things more 21st century, there are also group fitness classes and personal training, and though it’s hard to drag yourself away from the suites, which are palatial with outdoor showers and gardens, just 30 minutes away is Ranthambore National Park Royal for tiger safaris.
The details: Doubles from £621; Ayurvedic programme £400pp (00 91 7 4622 57777; sixsenses.com).
To unwind as one…
Iniala Harbour House & Residences, Malta
Since bursting onto Malta’s hotel scene last year, Iniala has already gained a Michelin star for rooftop restaurant Ion Harbour and opened feel-good Essensi Spa, officially making it Valletta’s must-stay bolthole. The spa lies in the vaults of the hotel’s four historic townhouses, a comforting, cocooning space with an enticing heated pool, steam room, sauna and a whopping 80 treatments on offer, from Ayurveda to waxing, reflexology and facials using luxurious Guerlain or Sisley For Men products. A herbal bar allows guests to have a go at mixing their own natural ingredients for scrubs and oils.
Launching in March is a spa suite in which couples can enjoy treatments à deux in the privacy of their own room, or slip discreetly into the main spa via an adjoining door. Post-treatment, guests can chill in the vaulted-roof bar before enjoying a seven-course tasting menu on the candlelit roof terrace overlooking Valletta’s Grand Harbour. Romantic weekend breaks with a side of spa don’t come much better than this.
For the great outdoors…
Gleneagles is perhaps most famous for its world class Ryder Cup golf course, but the rolling fairways and pristine greens are wasted on me. I’m with the Mark Twain school of thinking that golf spoils a good walk, and having travelled the 400-plus miles from London, I was keen to find other, more enjoyable pastimes.
That said, I certainly wasn’t about to succumb to hours spent supine. Despite reaching my sixth decade, I still like to fill every waking moment with high-octane pursuits, and I was keen to discover what more this millionaire’s playground could offer a 60-something fun seeker with a penchant for excitement and never ending desire to keep busy.
At first light, I was met at the ornate Edwardian entrance by Kim, a wellness coach and fitness queen who guided me on a brisk, hour-long jaunt along Drover’s Walk, a meandering trail that showcases some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer.
Next was a ‘long exhale’, a two hour massage that involved my feet being scrubbed with a mixture of honey, salt and heather seeds followed by a full body massage. Far from being irritated at staying still for too long, I found I loved every blissful moment and, unusually, lost the struggle to stay awake.
Soon enough it was time to head back to the city – though I am already planning my return. Next time I’ll be taking in wild swimming and falconry, perhaps punctuated with an afternoon of fly fishing or wandering up the glen to try to catch sight of red deer through a Swarovski telescope.
The details: Rates at Gleneagles (01764 662231; gleneagles.com) start at £475 per night based on two sharing and including breakfast. Retreats are priced separately. Read the full hotel review here, plus our pick of the best spa hotels in the UK.
For a menopause minibreak…
Marbella Club, Spain
What better place to spend some of the waning days of my perimenopause than at a bespoke menopause retreat at the Marbella Club? The concept behind ‘Ageing Gently’ is to work in conjunction with your existing lifestyle, and also provide a stairway to heaven type timetable of massage and facials. It’s a blissful reset, along with tips for long term changes.
On arrival, I’m given a body composition analysis using a special set of scales, revealing such useful information as muscle and fat mass. Another diagnostic technique available is bioresonance, which is based on kinesiology. This is quite fascinating – I’m not entirely convinced by the science; it uses energy to highlight imbalances in the body, but does correctly identify a tooth problem, as well as flagging up food intolerances and various imbalances. The focus is better choices, not counting calories.
There are treatments, too – a firm all-over body massage gives me a floating out of body feeling so blissful that I’m pretty sure it counts as meditation. A Tibetan Bowl Sound Massage is said to release your chakras. The therapist strikes a bowl, which emits a vibrating chime – the bowl is placed up and down your body and struck repeatedly as the vibrations resonate through your tissues.
Clearly, three nights isn’t enough. I suggest that I stay a month, in order to truly feel the benefits and implement all the lifestyle suggestions. I am told about two couples who were ‘trapped’ at the Marbella Club during the first lockdown of 2020. Lucky them.
The details: Ageing Gently Retreat at the Marbella Club (00 34 952 822211; marbellaclub.com) from £2,236pp, for two nights including all meals and activities. Other bespoke retreats include body balance, exhaustion, nutrition and liver health. Read the full hotel review here.
For back-to-nature simplicity…
The Retreat at Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya
Famous for its resident Rothschild giraffes, which pop their heads in for breakfast and afternoon tea with guests, this iconic hotel has now opened the Retreat, a sanctuary for wellness hidden among trees from the adjacent manor. Its pièce de résistance is a stunning rooftop infinity pool that can bring you face-to-face with said giraffes when taking a dip – now that’s what you call wild swimming.
Two treatment rooms and a short-yet-perfect spa menu keep things refreshingly simple; highlights include the Traveller, a restorative back, neck and shoulder release post-flight and Safari Soul for a full body massage to ease away any bumpy Land Rover-induced aches and strains.
There is also a gym, steam room, sauna and hot tub, Daisy’s Café for healthy, organic bites and some idyllic day beds to drift off on when temperatures start to soar. Traditionally sold as a place to start or end a safari in Kenya, there’s now more than enough going on at this bucket-list destination to make it the standout bit of your break.
For a seaside setting…
Harbour Beach Club & Hotel, Devon
It’s no flights and no faff at this new south-west resort due to launch its spa in March. Rejuvenation-seeking spa-goers will find solace in this sanctuary on the shoreline of Salcombe’s South Sands beach, where the hum of the outside world is muffled by waves breaking on sand.
A destination in its own right rather than a holiday add-on, the spa leans towards the marine; wave stone massages, detoxifying mud wraps, morning yoga sessions barefoot on the sandy beach. You’ll get a lot of spa for your buck, including a heated 39ft indoor swimming pool, hydro-pool, relaxation room, plus all the usual treatments.
Best of all are the innovative fitness classes taking you off-site to hike or bike around the surrounding area, or into the big blue for wild swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking. A seafood supper on the hotel terrace overlooking the beach is the perfect way to end your spa day, though you might need a Salcombe gin and tonic to fully recharge.
To heal from within…
Soneva Jani Resort, Maldives
Aiming to raise the Indian Ocean archipelago’s spa bar (which is already very high), this five-star resort has revealed its latest masterpiece: Soneva Soul Island Spa. Reached via wooden walkways through treetops, it’s a discreet, three-storey retreat that melds with the landscape and deserves a design award for its open-air treatment rooms, yoga pavilion and meditation platform with 360-degree lagoon views.
But it’s not just the architecture that is impressive. The spa’s team of in-house experts tailor self-care programmes for each guest through a mix of ancient wellness techniques – Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and even medicinal mushrooms – and cutting-edge treatments such as cryotherapy, platelet-rich plasma therapy and heart-rate variability testing. There’s even a sleep expert to help guests develop healthy sleeping habits.
If you’ve got something to mend, be it a knee injury, broken heart or sleep-deprived mind, this is without doubt the place to be. Or if you simply want to get fitter, the Soneva Soul movement programme gets you moving in fun and innovative ways; think jungle gyms and deep-water aquatic sessions, with pranayama breathing and meditation reinforcing the link between mind and body.
For a full detox…
Chenot Palace Weggis, Switzerland
At Chenot Palace’s flagship centre of wellness in Weggis, Switzerland, an international mix of solitary and couple detoxers – mostly Russian, but including increasing numbers of Brits and Europeans – have gathered, intent on a week (or two, or four, depending on your time and resources) focused on the very important matter of prevention rather than cure. Or, as they have it here, the business of “healthspan”. Most of Chenot’s guests are aged between 45-65, but in the last week of January there are no shortage of 20- and 70-somethings too. The prevailing philosophy: if we’re living longer, and hoping for more years of retirement, then let’s enjoy them in better health.
For, at Chenot, wellness is not something you can buy in a bottle, it’s something you achieve by focusing on the four pillars of health – nutrition, exercise, relaxation, sleep – via a holistic combination of Chinese medicine and science.
There is much to take away from each stay: your resting metabolic rate, for example; postural and movement tips. Such is the focus on wellness not thinness, that they don’t actually weigh you – though by the end of the week, I’m not only clearer headed and more motivated, but lighter too (to the tune of five kilos). I’ve also managed to turn all my ‘red’ or ‘stressed’ areas (sinuses, heart, pineal gland, spleen) to green, and as well as filling in my PLF, have signed up to a yoga course. Prevention not cure indeed – and if this is the true meaning of detox, sign me up for the next one.
The details: Healing Holidays (020 3372 6945; healingholidays.com) can arrange a seven-night Advanced Detox programme from £6,369pp based on two people sharing, including British Airways flights, full board accommodation and inclusions of the programme. Chenot Palace Weggis (00 41 412 552000; chenotpalaceweggis.com).
For solo self-care…
Santo Wellness Junior Suites at Santo Maris Oia Luxury Suites & Spa, Santorini, Greece
Want to get away from everything (and everyone)? Then jet off to Greece to spend four dreamy days hidden away in a Santo Wellness Suite, launching in April. The concept behind the new suites, which are inspired by yposkafa (caves) built into a hillside, is “live well through nature” and the result is an abundance of holistic treats purely for oneself.
These cocooning spaces are perfect for nurturing and filled with a healthy food and drink-stocked mini bar, yoga mat, wellness notebooks for journaling, diffusers with essential oils and sleep spray by the king-sized bed. There’s also a spa beauty kit with exfoliating body scrub, antioxidant herbs, a body sculpture serum and vitamin-rich face mask.
Hard as it is to leave your private pool suite, daily Kundalini and Hatha yoga sessions are included in the price, as is a five-hour guided bike tour to neighbouring island Thirasia and two 60-minute massages – one to combat stress and the other a deep pressure massage said to have been used by ancient Greek healers.
For thermal therapy…
Sky Lagoon and the Reykjavik EDITION, Iceland
Iceland’s latest spa experience is set on a cliff just outside Reykjavik. Its infinity-edged geothermal pool, overlooking the Atlantic and edged by soaring lava rock walls, is simply spectacular. Book the Sky package, a seven-step spa ritual that includes entering the infinity pool via a cave-like tunnel, cold plunge pool, a body scrub using Icelandic salt, coconut and sesame oil, steam room, cool mist and a heavenly moment in a glass-walled sauna, with incredible views. Swap notes afterwards at the swim-up bar. Though you can’t stay at Sky Lagoon, a taxi ride away is the newly opened Reykjavik EDITION, a slick hotel with Snaefellsjokull Glacier and harbour views.
For peace all round..
Jumeirah Muscat Bay, Oman
Desert and sea collide at the cove of Bandar Jissah, between the Al Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman, where this palatial new retreat will open in late spring. Aside from the usual crowd-pleasers, such as a dive centre and suites with sea-view balconies, it’s the Talise Spa that offers real sanctuary: hammam, sauna and steam room plus a Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio by Bastien Gonzalez (Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett are said to be fans). The spa menu will use local brand Sacra; be sure to book the signature treatment, a 60-minute Essence of Oman tailored massage and body scrub using Omani frankincense oil and sea salt. It also has a kids’ club, so there’s plenty of opportunity to pack the children off to have fun while you invest in some you time.
The details: Doubles from £249; Essence of Oman treatment £96 (jumeirah.com).
Additional contributions by Jane Knight, Kay Burley, Alice Smellie and Anne McElvoy.