The Great Spa Towns of Europe
Take a dip into UNESCO’s recently designated therapeutic springs.
A deeply rooted wellness philosophy and lakeside serenity combine to invigorate the body and spirit at this Indian resort's spa.
SOMETIMES EVEN A queen must splay on a chaise lounge. What else is she to do when her lungs are filled with the soot of Mumbai’s bustling metropolis, her breath heavy with the exciting drudge of nurturing babies, books, and Bollywood scripts?
To life we must all go. Or, in my case, to a spa. So, I shake the ennui off my weary limbs and slip my feet into The Leela Palace’s velvety slippers. I run my hands over my suite’s mother-of-pearl marble inlays, the cushions with zardozi designs, the heritage artwork, and the thikri glass murals that date back 400 years. My fingers tingle from drawing lineage to the centuries-old culture of Mewar — a princely region in India’s regal state of Rajasthan — by which this lakeside retreat in Udaipur is inspired.
I walk through the delicately latticed jharokha balconies. The rhythmic beat of folk music sung by an enthusiastic quartet rises from the inner courtyard, infused with the ambient sound of water from the ubiquitous water fountains. These nods to the erstwhile local customs and traditions lend an uptick to my spirit. I twirl under the domed havelis of this modern-day palace. Ambling past the landscaped courtyards and the pool flanked by stone peacocks, I watch quivering sparrows come for nibbles to the lakeside restaurant’s table. A chiku fruit has fallen from a tree in the palace garden. I offer it to a curious squirrel.
I ponder whether kings got massages to heal from wars. There’s no historical record of it. Not even of Maharana Pratap Singh, who was considered the most powerful king of Mewar. But if there’s a tradition worth keeping, this one is definitely it.
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After my 60-minute massage, I am tempted to take a dip in the private pool attached to my therapy suite. But I’m accustomed to the sultry climes of Mumbai, so it’s chilly. Instead, I bathe with Tishya by The Leela bath amenities (the name Tishya means joy and happiness in Sanskrit), a line of vegan and paraben- and SLS-free products, with a natural, locally inspired floral scent. I am then offered a one-on-one yoga class in the meditation tent, a chance to hit The Health Club, or to pop into the gym for a steam. I save these options for a less languorous day.
For now, I sip on green tea as a private chef serves me a curated and portioned meal from The Leela’s freshly minted initiative: Aujasya. Widely regarded as a disruptor in India’s dining industry, Aujasya finds the right nutritional matrix between health needs and gastronomic expectations, replicating the traditional techniques of classical cooking and the knowledge of Indigenous ingredients to create nourishing food for the heart and mind. It changes the facets of a dish instead of changing the dish itself.
In the ancient kitchens that served Mewar’s kings and queens, legend has it that a whiff of kumatiya seeds before battle would lead gallant soldiers to victory against relentless Mughal invaders, give Rajput princesses vigor to commit jauhar rather than be dishonored by enemies, and lead Udaipur’s royal family to stand up against imperial powers in Delhi when others hadn’t.
Food was the path to dignity, wisdom, and, most of all, bravery — a trait most cherished in these parts. This vigor of life, or Aujasya, percolated through centuries of great gastronomical prowess and holistic wellness, through the rugged Aravalli terrain and towering forts. I savor every bite of this culinary heritage while gazing at the crystal waters of Lake Pichola from my tent. Serenity wafts in along with tufted ducks and coots. The soothing chirping and fluttering of egrets, cormorants, and kingfishers provide a conclusive balm to my jaunty nerves.
As my final sojourn, I visit Lord Shiva’s sixteenth-century Omkareshwar temple, located next to the Palace Garden, where a fourth-generation priest conducts a soul-cleansing ritual for me.
The Leela’s wellness program, built upon two principles — renew (mindfulness) and restore (food and nutrition) — has lived up to its promise of providing personal rejuvenation. Refreshed and invigorated by this maharaja’s feast, tempered with a monk’s serenity, I am illuminated by the City Palace’s shimmering lights under a clear sky full of stars.
Leela Palace is a Fine Hotels + Resorts property. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm check-out, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.
Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning author, screenwriter, and journalist from India. She has received various honors for her distinguished contributions to literature, gender issues, and journalism, including the Bharat Nirman Award, Frank O’Connor International Award, Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and the Laadli Media Award. She’s published eight books, including the recent bestseller, “Boys Don’t Cry” (Penguin Random House, 2022).
Pankaj Anand has worked for over a decade as a lifestyle and travel photographer, photographing on multiple continents for international features in the fields of hospitality, food, architecture, and fashion for numerous clients and global publications.
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