Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express. While American Express Card Member benefits are highlighted in this publication, including through the links indicated below, the content of this article was independently written by the editorial staff at Meredith. Other Departures content paid for by American Express is explicitly marked as such.
The best hotel spa treatments are the ones that not only leave you feeling utterly relaxed and rejuvenated but also infuse you with a deeper understanding and different perspective of the destination you’re visiting. By incorporating traditional techniques, rare and native ingredients, and the surrounding landscapes, these signature spa therapies add a meaningful cultural element to the hotel wellness experience.
Oil Baths at Garabag Spa & Resort, Azerbaijan
As one of the world’s oldest oil-producing countries, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan knows the value of black gold on a global scale. But in the spa town of Naftalan, petrol plays a different role as the key ingredient in the wellness scene. The town is named after naphthalene oil, a rare type of crude oil used locally as a panacea for centuries. The healing properties were first said to have been discovered by a Silk Road merchant whose ailing camels miraculously recovered after resting near a pool of naphthalene. Today, Naftalan is known as Azerbaijan’s top wellness destination, and many resorts offer oil baths to relieve aches and soothe the skin. At Garabag Spa & Resort, adventurous guests can enjoy full-body naphthalene oil baths enhanced with salts and seaweed from the nearby Caspian Sea, as well as localized foot and hand oil baths.
Vinotherapy at Les Sources de Caudalie, Bordeaux
With around 6,000 wineries, it’s no secret that Bordeaux is basically a wine lover’s Disneyland, but even the most well-versed oenophile may not know that wine needn’t be sipped to be enjoyed. At the pastoral-chic Les Sources de Caudalie, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property nestled among the grand cru vines of the iconic Château Smith Haut Lafitte, wine is on the menu at the table as well as at the Vinothérapie Spa. Utilizing natural antioxidant and anti-aging properties of the resveratrol-rich grapes, “vinotherapists” will deepen your appreciation of this region with lavish Cabernet-seed scrubs and decadent barrel baths infused with vine extracts and grape marc, the organic residue from grapes after their pressing.
Morning Flotation at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, Iceland
With ever-shifting tectonic plates, groaning glaciers, and steaming volcanos, Iceland’s overactive geologic activity has shaped both the physical and cultural landscape of this sparsely populated island nation. But through ingenuity and adaptability, the Icelandic people have learned not only to survive this dramatic land but to also thrive off it. Nowhere is this more apparent than at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, a lava-hewn haven of wellness and luxury set on a lava field in the futuristic shadow of a pioneering geothermal power plant. The 62-suite hotel uses mineral-packed waters, a byproduct of the power plant, to create a hotel spa unlike any other with lava salt scrubs, healing silica treatments, and collagen-producing algae masks—all directly sourced from the rich geothermal waters. Performed under the vast Nordic morning sky in a cocoon of powdery steam and cornflower-blue lagoon water, the signature Morning Flotation treatment is a 45-minute guided aquatic float that provides you with the chance to meld into a deep meditation of the surrounding otherworldly landscape—both natural and manmade. The experience is almost literally out of this world.
Misneach Massage at Adare Manor, Ireland
While strolling the fog-cloaked, emerald grounds of the 840-acre Adare Manor estate—an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property—in Ireland’s County Limerick, it’s easy to forget what century you’re in—especially if you happen to come across the hotel’s rare collection of ancient Celtic ogham stones tucked away in a grove of trees in the southwesterly corner. Dating as far back as the fifth century, the mystical stones (thought to be used as territorial markings or monuments) are carved with the linear symbols of the ogham alphabet, an early medieval form of the Irish language. Inspired by the Celtic relics on the hotel grounds, the spa’s Misneach treatment—meaning “inner strength” in Irish—uses a set of bespoke ogham stones infused with energy from an Irish intuitive specialist to center and ground the mind and body via massage, visualization techniques, and breathing exercises.
Healing Honey at Amanzoe, Greece
There is perhaps no country with a stronger (or stickier) link to honey than Greece. From beehive-shaped Mycenaean burial sites to Hippocrates himself writing of its mythical healing powers, honey is an indelible component of Greek culture both past and present. Tooted for its antioxidants and scientifically backed antiseptic and antibacterial properties, honey is still used as a restorative wellness treatment at the sun-drenched 30,00-square-foot spa at Amanzoe in the Peloponnese. Rooted in the tenets of classical Greek medicine, bee-based treatments include a signature massage with local beeswax and olive oil and honey facials where native thyme honey is used as an exfoliant and purifier. Amanzoe also offers trips to the source of these sweet treatments: the Bairaktaris apiary, a century-old organic honey-bee farm and small museum, is located in the valley below Amanzoe, just 10-minutes away.
Temazcal Ceremony at Chablé Yucatán, Mexico
Dating back to ancient Mesoamerica, the temazcal is a sacred sweat lodge used for physical and spiritual cleansing and healing. Traditionally, it was used as a place to purify oneself after battle and as a place to give birth, and even in present day, it maintains its purpose as a sanctified site for spiritual rebirth. Chablé Yucatán, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property hidden within in the steamy Mérida jungle with its very own cenote, is blessed with a brightly decorated domed temazcal and Monica Simone, a Mayan medicine woman in-residence to guide you in a ritual of rebirth. With hot steam, indigenous herbs, chanting, and meditation, the Temazcal Ceremony will purify you from the inside out.
Traditional Zulu Healing Consultations at Fordoun Hotel and Spa, South Africa
Set in South Africa’s serene KwaZulu-Natal Midlands about two hours from Durban, Fordoun Hotel and Spa is a bucolic farmstead turned boutique spa hotel purpose-built for peaceful getaways. Spa treatments incorporate 120 indigenous Zulu medicinal plants foraged from the onsite garden and also include sessions with the Zula healer, Traditional Dr. Elliot Ndlovu, an experienced inyanga (traditional medicine healer) and sangoma (spiritual healer). Consultations are designed to help solve current and future health problems, with proposed remedies including bespoke herbal concoctions or targeted treatments. Guests are also invited to address more esoteric issues or opt for a general wellness session. Other spa treatments at Fordoun include an invigorating Rasul Treatment, which uses white clay harvested from the base of the Drakensberg mountain range during the full moon, and the Nduku Nduku Massage with knobkerrie sticks, wooden Zulu rods traditionally used as weapons or ceremonial objects.