Ultratravel Top 10: Summertime spa retreats

newslide Summer means time off before getting back to business in September — which somehow, perhaps because it’s the start of school, always feels like the real beginning of each year. And to start afresh it’s worth using some of those delicious spare days of summer for self-improvement, shaping up and slinkily skinnying down in […]


Summer means time off before getting back to business in September — which somehow, perhaps because it’s the start of school, always feels like the real beginning of each year. And to start afresh it’s worth using some of those delicious spare days of summer for self-improvement, shaping up and slinkily skinnying down in a spa. No need to feel guilty: just mentally rebrand your hours — or days or weeks — in the spa as a frankly selfless gift to everyone around you. After all, it’s they — family, friends, colleagues — who will reap many of the benefits of the healthier, happier you, nicer to look at and better to be around.


Furnas Boutique Hotel, Azores

On manicured Sao Miguel, the largest and most lush of the nine Azores and home to one of the world’s greatest concentration of boiling-hot thermal pools, the 55-room Furnas hotel and spa — opened in March 2015 — will charm any spa lover who thinks they’ve seen it all. The hotel is unexpectedly stylish, with rooms decorated in a strict minimalist palette of stark white and earth brown, and the wallpaper of blown-up black and white landscape photographs works especially well in the gleaming bathrooms. The spa is the star, though. After a day spent hiking along the coast, fortified by the hotel’s large breakfast — which offers great local breads and cheeses — it’s a novelty to come back and follow the thermal circuit. Visitors can move from jazuzzi to sauna to steam room, then from indoor to outdoor pool — both supplied by thermal water, all the while watching the steam rise from the nearby vents as the sun starts to set.

Doubles from €147 (Dh620) (furnasboutiquehotel.com)


Gurney’s Montauk Resort, Long Island, United States

The great broad expanse of firm sand that runs along Long Island from the Hamptons to the Montauk lighthouse may be one of the best beaches in the United States. With the constant wind and sound of the surf it’s exhilarating to stroll here — ideally, first thing in the morning when there’s no one else around. And at the end of a day spent fishing — this area is also one of the best seawater and freshwater locations in America — or shopping at Ralph Lauren and the other designer boutiques down the coast in Southampton, East Hampton and Sag Harbor — it is satisfying in the extreme to take a few hours out before dinner to head down to the salty-scented spa. Here you’ll find the only sand-filtered seawater pool in America and a programme of treatments using seaweed (with a 50-minute wrap for Dh530) and mud (a 90-minute slather is Dh975). Though recently refurbished, Gurney’s still feels redolent of when it opened 30 years ago, when planners were happy to allow hotels to be built directly on a beach. Perhaps it’s that constant soul-rinsing sound of the pounding surf that leaves you feeling as if you’ve been on holiday for about a fortnight, even if it’s only been an evening’s stay.

Doubles from US$409 (Dh1,505) (gurneysmontauk.com)


Hotel Tannenhof, St Anton, Austria

Hotel Tannenhof, with 24 staff and a maximum of 14 guests in its seven suites — all large, pine-lined eyries with terraces and wraparound mountain views — this is the smallest and most private of the five-star hotels in the Tyrol. Built using some of the 400-year-old timber salvaged from the 17th-century farmhouse it replaced, it exudes cosiness, even on a summer’s day when every window is open to the cool mountain air. With a pool, steam room, sauna, two pine-lined treatment rooms and a relaxation area looking over the St Anton valley, the spa entirely fills the ground floor. By day, guests tend to emerge only to head into this naturally lit, alpine-flower-scented space. And after a vigorous hot-stone massage using locally mined silver quartzite it’s ineffably relaxing to have to wander only a few yards upstairs for dinner. The chef’s “creative alpine” cuisine is commendably healthy, at least until you hit dessert — but you can also do a strict five-day detox here at Dh10,355 for two, all-in. Summer rates are half that of the peak winter season, making for a great bargain.

Doubles in summer from €541 (Dh2,275), including breakfast (hoteltannenhof.net)


Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru

Summertime in the UAE is the dry season in Peru. Perfect timing, then, for tackling Machu Picchu, the intriguing mountaintop royal retreat built by the Incas around 1450, abandoned a century later, “rediscovered” in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham and now Unesco’s most spectacular World Heritage Site. As this city in the clouds is so far above sea level at 2,430 metres, it’s most safely approached over the course of a few days, otherwise altitude sickness can strike. This mesmerising eco-hotel, sat by a rushing river in a garden lush with orchids and busy with hummingbirds, is the ideal place to acclimatise, and features rooms with mountain views, handmade alpaca blankets on oversized beds, handwoven carpets and whitewashed walls. The straw-floored Una spa uses plants, flowers and herbs that only grow in Peru, and visitors will be educated by rather eager hotel staff on the various flora used during treatments. For more on Inkaterra’s lodges in Peru, see page 32.

Doubles from $350 (Dh1,285) including taxes and breakfast (inkaterra.com)


Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Olympics run throughout August in Rio this summer, and if at this very moment someone is cancelling their booking, you may just grab one of the 436 beachfront rooms and suites at this newly opened Hyatt outpost. Located in upmarket Barra near several Olympic venues and away from the craziness of Copacabana, the hotel has three beach-view restaurants — Brazilian, Japanese and Italian, plus an airy yoga studio and lavish nine-room spa attended by a hyper-glamorous team of therapists. If you suddenly feel like having a lift, some filler or your eyes debagged while there, no problem. Cosmetic surgery — sometimes given as an 18th or 21st birthday present — is routine in Rio. And where better to recuperate than the city where all eyes will be on the Games, rather than yours?

Doubles from $176 (Dh645) (riodejaneiro.grandhyatt.com)


Kempinski Barbaros Bay, Bodrum, Turkey

It’s not entirely a marketing spiel: A little more than 10 kilometres outside Bodrum, standing coolly on a headland of broad Barbaros Bay, looking out across the Aegean to the satisfying sight of empty green hillsides, the Kempinski really does seem to enjoy its own special microclimate. While Bodrum bakes, you can be comfortably lounging by the enormous infinity pool as the ever-present sea breeze ripples over you. Admittedly, by about 2pm on an August afternoon it can feel rather too hot and humid, but that’s the time to wend your way down into the coolness of the spa, occupying almost the entire lower ground floor. Everything at this hotel has been built on a generous scale, unconstrained by a lack of space. The lofty pale-marble hammam is positively palatial and makes for an appealing setting for one of the Dh450 Turkish foam massages — an experience that reduces anyone, any age, to the state of a giggling child. Very restorative and a reason alone to go, we say.

Doubles from 1172 Turkish lira (Dh1,540) including breakfast (kempinski.com)


Vidago Palace, Portugal

What a find. Remote, peaceful, barely known and unbelievably good value, this former palace — built in 1910 in the cool, green north of Portugal — is one of those discoveries that make you look around in delight and disbelief. Perfect for anyone who wants to eat marvellous food, have a massage or two, wake up to birdsong from the surrounding 250 acres of parkland, and, ultimately, get away from it all. The interior is magnificent, with its mahogany double staircase, marble floors and crystal chandeliers. The grounds are a joy, with a lake and woods of pine and cedar, and a championship golf course laid out in 1936. Open-air early morning yoga classes take place on the roof of an ornate old pavilion. The thermal spa water — good for joint problems — can be drunk straight from the source and bathed in. Meanwhile, in the 20-room, white marble spa with a large hammam, indoor and outdoor pools, a spruce team of Portuguese women work diligently. A 45-minute Vichy shower and massage with thermal waters costs Dh270. And there’s a sister spa to explore at nearby Pedras Salgadas — with treehouse rooms in the forest. Truly great stuff.

Doubles from €196 (Dh825), b&b (vidagopalace.com)


Fletcher’s Spa, Archerfield, near Muirfield, Scotland

Scotland’s immense landscapes can thrill the heart like no other — but even in the height of summer the weather in these northern reaches can be chilly enough to make you especially grateful to walk into a well-heated, welcoming spa, where the sofas are squashy, the cushions deep and the treatment rooms couldn’t be cosier. On the wild and windy coast outside Edinburgh, overlooking the little island of Fidra — inspiration for the famous children’s book, Treasure Island — Archerfield encompasses an 18th-century, 15-bedroom mansion, old cottages, modern open-plan lodges. It’s also home to one of the area’s famous golf links. Fletcher’s is designed to occupy its guests around the clock, helpfully accommodating the family member or friend who, as their other half is striding off with their clubs towards the golf course, is heading resolutely in the opposite direction, while rolling their eyes. So a Dh790 spa day — with long sessions in the marine sauna, herb aroma steam room and Rasul mud chamber, plus a 90-minute face and body treatment and tea, cakes and a stack of glossy magazines by the fire — can be spun out well beyond the 18th hole.

Doubles from £182 (Dh980) (archerfieldhouse.com)


Mandarin Oriental Paris, France

Rates at five-star hotels in Paris are some of the highest in the world, and their spas are similarly priced. But, goodness, do they deliver. The Mandarin is arguably the best placed of all Paris hotels for luxury shopping: slap in the middle of Rue St Honore and seconds, rather than minutes, from Chanel, Balenciaga, Hermès, Lanvin and all those lovely parfumeries. At the weary end of a summer’s day browsing it is a pleasure to totter back to the hotel and slip down the white camellia-lined staircase into the spa. With its 15-metre pool and centrepiece of Guerlain creams and scents to sample, it’s easy to give oneself up to the ministrations of the facialist. Cleanse, steam, extract, massage, mask, moisturise — it’s the expert way each procedure is delivered, the quality of the creams and the testimony of therapist Laetitia’s own complexion that make this jewel-box of a spa so satisfying. You may barely notice, or care, that your 80-minute Orchidée Impérial extravaganza costs Dh1,160.

Doubles from €911 (Dh3,832) (mandarinoriental.com)


Villa Stephanie, Baden Baden, Germany

Ideal to take over in its entirety, especially during the pleasantly warm days of summer in Germany’s most elegant spa town, this sumptuous 15-room residential spa opened just over a year ago. Utterly private, but linked by corridors to the 19th century Brenner’s Park hotel, haunt of royalty and to Haus Julius, one of Europe’s top medical and dental clinics, Villa Stephanie has quickly established itself as a world-class medi-spa and recuperative haven. It’s the world’s first hotel where flicking a bedside switch seals the room from electromagnetic fog, which can interfere with brain function and make it difficult to sleep, so a restful and detoxifying stay is virtually guaranteed. Treatments are thorough, starting with the 60-minute body analysis and training consultation (Dh260). But it’s the therapists — in particular the Japan-trained shiatsu master and the pulverising hammam masseur — and the state-of-the-art medical and dental facilities that help distinguish the spa as a secluded base for a thorough overhaul.

Doubles from €707 (Dh2,975) (villastephanie.com)

Source: art & life

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