Words Gabrielle Mirkin
If there’s one word guaranteed to produce a state of dreamlike longing in your average, hard-working person, it has to be ‘spa’. Just three little letters can instantly transport us into a world of blissful images of cool, calm spaces, soothing hot water, gentle chiming music, restorative treatments and relaxing massages.
The idea of medicinal bathing has been around since Roman times, but fell out of favour in most cultures until the 16th century, when it was revived in England. Various theories exist as to where the term ‘spa’ arose from. The most common one runs that the name comes from the town of Spa in Belgium, long famed for the restorative quality of its mineral waters – not, originally, from soaking in them, but from drinking them, as the iron-bearing water had strengthening properties. Other sources suggest the word arose from the Latin spagere, meaning to scatter, sprinkle or moisten, or even that it is an acronym of the Latin phrase ‘sanitas per aquas’, or ‘health through water’.
Whatever the original meaning, today the word ‘spa’ suggests a world of ways to indulge yourself while (ostensibly?) improving your health. And with the rise of luxury spa resorts around the globe, spas have also become complete design experiences as well. Modern spas draw influences from a wide range of styles and cultures, from traditional Turkish hammans, to natural landscapes and ultra-slick minimalist modernism. Here, we’ve drawn together some of the most stylish and luxurious spa resorts to retreat to when the stress of daily life is taking its toll. Whether your design taste runs to Asian-style zen or modern European geometrics, there’s a spa sure to soothe your sore eyes, as well as your sore muscles.
Therme Vals, Switzerland
Being the only thermal spring in Graubünden, the Therme Vals Spa, designed by architect Peter Zumthor is a stunning landmark built from 60,000 stone slabs of Valser Quarzite in different shades of grey. The combinations of light and shade, open and enclosed spaces and linear elements make for a highly sensuous and restorative experience. Below the pool deck is a wellness centre where you can have treatments focusing on relaxation and pampering.Located 1200m above sea level, dug deep into a mountain, Therme Vals is a masterpiece which has been declared a historic monument. Valser spring water (the ‘champagne’ of Swiss mineral water), fills six pools; a pool floating with rosehip petals, a fire pool (42?C), an ice pool (14?C), an indoor pool (32?C), a panoramic outdoor pool and a pool that echoes with monastic chants.
Royal Malewane, South Africa
Royal Malewane is internationally renowned as the pinnacle of luxury game viewing in Africa as well as being home to one of the most exclusive spas on the continent. Nestled in the heart of 13,000 hectares of wild African bush, this resort is the ultimate sanctury for the senses. Every aspect of the spa has been designed to encapsulate a true African spa experience, utilising the very best of eastern and western thinking. Stretching out between Jackelberry and Acacia Thorn, the bush spa’s clean lines and minimalist design exude an air of complete balance and tranquillity. Soothing colours, complemented by rich organic textures and open-plan design, create a mood of pure serenity.
Positioned around the central courtyard are the beautifully appointed treatment rooms, fully equipped gymnasium, steam room, hot and cold African baths and bush casitas, perfect after a long day out on safari.
Huvafen Fushi, Maldives
Huvafen Fushi is a discreetly super-lux retreat located on its own lagoon on a tiny pristine island in North Malé Atoll. A naturalist’s wonderland where the stunning environment is an attraction in itself. The resort is made up of 43 naturally-modern bungalows and is exclusively home to the world’s first underwater spa. It’s where the Maldivian seascape merges fluidly with world class interior spa design. The colours and textures of the sea have provided the spa with all of the inspiration needed for its creation and makes a distinctive mark on the world spa scene with a combination of soothing architecture, cutting-edge spa technology and the very latest in water therapies. If celebrity patrons are an indicator of a hotel’s popularity, this resort is about as hot as it gets; Kate Moss, George Clooney, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, have all visited.
A spectacular spa and wellness temple in the pristine mountain air of Arosa in the Swiss Alps. Famous architect and designer Mario Botta’s design is minimal with light and space being the key. Granite stone from the mountains, light maple wood and glass are the only three building materials used. With the open plan design, guests on the fourth floor can see right down to the ground floor. Water is in abundance, with springs throughout the site pouring pure Arosa spring water. Guests pass through a rain curtain into a small seated area where they can enjoy a programme of seasons – summer rain, a winter storm, fog, mist or pure sunshine, designed to soothe and invigorate the mind and soul. Natural stones throughout the knee-deep stream, passes through ice cold and hot spots, stimulating blood circulation and the nervous system. Tschuggen is a true oasis of health, beauty and wellbeing.
The Lalu, Taiwan
The Lalu overlooks tranquil waters of the mystical Sun Moon Lake and is surrounded by lush landscapes and natural wonders. Dating back to 1901, recent renovations and additions by Kerry Hill Architects have resurrected the resort to a new international level. At the Lalu guests can truly escape from society by hiding out in one of the seven private villas with individual swimming pools, courtyards and pavilions. The hotel’s spa comes with an extensive range of organic treatments using traditional Asian and specialty Western massages along with rejuvenating body scrubs, exclusive to The Lalu spa. Hot, warm and icy whirlpools, steam rooms, a dry Swedish sauna, 60-metre swimming pool, Japanese bathing and warming fireplaces overlook the spectacular Sun Moon Lake.
This striking aluminium clad hotel spa designed by noted American architect Stephen Holl (with the help of the local practice of Sam/Ott-Reinisch), is a wine-world center. Visitors are drawn to its spectacular look (inspired by the shape of a crumpled wine foil), and to its unique concept: a spa for wine lovers. Set amid newly erected vineyards, the 1000m2 spa has a selection of Vinotherapy treatments involving grape and wine products, with specific wine related treatments such as the Barrique Cuvee. The split level Aveda Destination Spa, decked out over three floors in pale green mosaic is Aveda’s first destination spa in the country of birth of its founder, Horst Rechelbacher. The 82-room hotel seems to float above air (built above a collection of 900 year old cellar passages), as a glass ground-floor complex including a rock pool and a larger swimming pool give way to a solid first and second floor.