In this month’s edition of the Popupla Travel Awards, we’re celebrating all things wellness by shining a spotlight on the treatments and spa rituals that make us feel whole again.
While we'd never pass up a blissfully relaxing massages or a wow-you're-glowing facial (because we always have time for those!), these are services that up the ante on what a spa can do and be. From ancient Turkish traditions to futuristic brain journeys, these innovative offerings (and their striking environments) take spa-going to another level — and may even be the highlight of your trip.
The Swiss Facial That Will Make You Glow
Where: Gstaad, Switzerland
What’s to Love: The stunning alpine setting, natural materials and warm wood finishes, and all-natural, largely botanical products make the spa at Six Senses, a hotel company known for its wellness offerings, a Zen oasis in the middle of the Bernes Overland. The Swiss Anti-Aging Jewel Facial (60 minutes, $240) starts with a bamboo peel, followed by a most invigorating massage and the application of a nutrient-rich serum extracted from indigenous plants. This viscous Royal Jelly is applied as a mask, giving the skin hefty doses of vitamins and trace elements that will make you glow. The sound healing treatments using singing bowls, gongs, and crystal tuning forks are relaxing and restorative as well.
The Hammam Fit for Royalty
Where: Marrakesh, Morocco
What’s to Love: Excellent hammam experiences at every price point are a local specialty in Marrakech, where liquid olive oil soup and a kessa massage glove are essential souk souvenirs. But the hammams at Royal Mansour are on another dimension of awesome — as is the entire spa, which is as gorgeous as you'd expect one built for the royal family to be. The Signature Hammam (75 minutes; 1600 MAD / $165) has options evocative of three Moroccan regions: The Atlas Mountains (lavender and holy basil), Taliounie (saffron), and Kalaat M'Gouna (roses). Temps Pour Soi (90 minutes; 2000 MAD / $207) includes a masterful scrub and washing in a jewel-like bathing temple (there's no other word for it), followed by an almond milk shampoo and a 20-minute massage. Oh, you only answer to "sultan" or "sultana" from now on? After this, that's understandable.
The Ultimate Spa Day in the Balinese Jungle
Where: Sumba Island, Indonesia
What’s to Love: Nihioka Spa Safari is unlike anything you will ever experience. After a long walk through jungle, rice paddy fields, and a local village — during which you basically sweat your entire body weight out — you arrive to a magical oasis to find fresh coconuts to sip on and a semi-outdoor shower to rinse off in. Plush robes are waiting, as is breakfast in a cabana overlooking the ocean. Below are two perfect, private white-sand beaches with the bluest water you will ever see. After you eat (they'll whip up anything you'd like), you can go swimming in the ocean or lay by the pool. From there, the spa-ing begins. You can choose a half-day or a full day of unlimited treatments. Yes, unlimited. You can get massaged for hours or mix your own cocktail of body wraps, hair-conditioning, acupressure, facials, and more. It’s totally up to you. After you finish, they will bring you tea and snacks before taking you back to the hotel.
Health and Wellness at the Foothills of the Himalayas
Where: Chandigarh, India
What’s to Love: The Ayurvedic cleansing ritual Dinacharya (90 minutes, $120) is meant to be practiced daily. The therapist begins by cleansing your eyes with a medicated liniment, your ears with drops of oil, your mouth with an oil-based mouthwash, and your respiratory system with a medicinal smoke. From there, they liberally apply oil to the entire body in long strokes. While it's not meant to be the most relaxing treatment, it's remarkably invigorating. Your skin will feel like silk for days.
A Modern Take on an Ancient Turkish Tradition
Where: Simondium, South Africa
What’s to Love: Partake in an ancient Turkish cleansing treatment at a garden oasis in the winelands outside Cape Town. Recommended for couples, the Hammam Traditional Soap Treatment (60 minutes, $150) takes place in a private, marble-laden steam room with a heated stone-slab treatment table and gorgeous blue-mosaic-tiled-ceiling. After a vigorous scrub with Turkish gloves, lukewarm water is repeatedly poured over the body, creating a Zen-like state, while the heat and steam relax tired and sore muscles. From there a soapy piece of cloth shaped like a long rectangular balloon is filled with air and used to rub down the entire body. You'll leave feeling squeaky clean with the skin of a newborn baby.
Futuristic Brain Treatments for Mental Clarity
Where: Alacant, Spain
What’s to Love: A few months ago, the luxury resort and spa that looks like it was plucked from the pages of a futuristic William Gibson novel launched a duo of non-invasive brain treatments. Led by the charismatic Dr. Bruno Ribeiro, a neuroscientist and psychologist, the program caters to those looking to tap into optimal brain vitality, productivity, and to accelerate cellular recovery. Brain Photobiomodulation ($225 per session), developed with Harvard University-NASA technology, sends varying infrared light wavelengths to dormant parts of the brain to boost energy, performance, and improve concentration. Meanwhile, Transcranial Current Stimulation ($45 per session), which also has a Harvard pedigree, addresses everything from addiction to depression to migraines — and helps you catch your Zzzzs. Sessions run 45 minutes, an ideal time to talk to Dr. Ribeiro about — no pun intended — what’s on your mind before springing outdoors to soak in the salty Mediterranean air.
Japanese Hospitality That Takes You to New Heights
Where: Tokyo, Japan
What’s to Love: The indoor/outdoor ryokan-style baths on the top floor of the luxurious hotel are fed by hot springs piped from 1,500 meters below the city streets. Therapies begin with a soak (and, if you like, at night, a view of starry skies), a stretching session, and an oil treatment tailored to each guest’s needs. In typically hospitable Japanese fashion, glasses of ice cold milk, hot teas, and beautiful specialty snacks are provided at the end.
Read More on Popupla: A Stunning Japanese Ryokan in the Heart of Tokyo
An Out-of-Body Experience Without Any Drugs
Where: Bürgenstock, Switzerland
What’s to Love: The Bürgenstock Alpine Body by Suzanne Kaufmann (90 minutes, $300) is an immersive combination of a revitalizing peel and a whole body massage designed to stimulate the metabolism and all of those neglected connective tissues. The invigorating head massage alone is worth the hefty price tag for this thoroughly relaxing, holistic – dare we say transcendent? – experience. The combination of Swiss botanical creams, skilled masseuses, and all of that fresh mountain air – complete with clanging cowbells in the distance – leaves you thoroughly limp, in the best possible way.
West Coast Energy Boost
Where: Ojai, California
What’s to Love: Get a big does of hippy-dippy California at the Ojai Valley Inn where it's all about spiritual energy and wild-crafted Kypris skincare products. Named for the East West Ojai Valley, the East West Ritual for Balanced Beauty (100 minutes, $355) is designed to revive energy flow using polarity techniques. The rose quartz facial massage is next level. You'll leave this lengthy, sybaritic session feeling rested with absolutely glowing skin.
An Out-of-This World Massage at an Otherworldly Retreat
Where: Grindavík, Iceland
What’s to Love: Book an in-water massage (from $142) at the spa at this ultra-luxe hotel, and you'll get a portion of Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon all to yourself. The muscle-melting treatment takes place in a part of the lagoon only accessible to spa guests. You get the same pastel blue, silica-rich, good-for-your-skin geothermal seawater everyone comes to Iceland to experience, just without any of the tourists. After working out your knots, detoxing in the subterranean steam cave, and reflective on the spa’s panoramic terrace (with a rejuvenating skyr smoothie in-hand), you’ll never want to do this iconic Icelandic landmark differently ever again.
Massage to Take Your Breath Away
Where: Canyon Point, Utah
What’s to Love: The desert-view spa is perched on 600 stunning acres of protected land on the Colorado Plateau. The location alone will take your breath away. So will the spa program, which takes cues from traditional healing systems the world over, particularly those of the Navajo. Among the plethora of incredible Zen-inducing offerings (candlelit yoga, floatation therapy, full- or half-day movement journeys), a massage from the knowing hands of masseur David Sanchez is the highlight. (Yes, he's that good.) Massages, which start with sage smudging ceremonies and end with crystal sound baths and use Aman’s all-natural skincare products, can be had individually (60 minutes, $225; 90 minutes, $325) or as a balancing, nourishing, or purifying signature treatment (105 minutes, $400), which kick off with a heavenly mineral-rich foot massage ritual.
Massage to Make You Feel Whole Again
Where: Beverly Hills, California
What’s to Love: The super-minimal spa is considered one of LA’s best kept secrets, a soothing hideaway you might find in Japan. It's totally luxurious, without the glitz. The incredibly indulgent massages (from $200) are at once therapeutic and technical, as if the body workers have intuitive knowledge of where your pain is and how to fix it — with Swedish and Japanese techniques, hot stones, foot soaks, and sake.
A special thank you to Popupla contributors Victoria Cairo, Allison Reiber DiLiegro, Emily Dougherty, Alex Erdman, Darlene Fiske, Mary Holland, Brooke Lavery, Crystal Meers, Nicole Najafi, and Christina Ohly.
More Adventures in Wellness
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