Ulusaba Rock Lodge

Spa gazing

From thermal springs with panoramic forest views to a menu of Native American-inspired therapies, Imogen Lepere tours nine uniquely positioned spas in which to get away from it all

Aroma Boma, Ulusaba South Africa

Around 240 metres above the Sabi Sands Nature Reserve in Kruger National Park, Rock Lodge was once the perfect lookout point for Shangaan warriors to scan the horizon for enemies. Today, it makes an epic point from which to spot elephants and other game ambling through the bush while being pampered by a small army of experts wielding Africology products made from native ingredients such as rooibos, aloe and African potato.

The Aroma Boma Spa is small but perfectly formed, with two treatment rooms, both of which can be divided into smaller spaces by cool linen curtains. The first is connected to Ulusaba’s Rock Lodge, the second is in the leathery bed of the dried-up Mabrak River, at a discreet distance from Safari Lodge. Both offer a range of treatments inspired by the extraordinary surroundings. The indulgent Soul of Africa ceremony will see you swaddled in mud, then soothed with a body and scalp massage with marula oil, which has been used in bush medicine for centuries because of its natural antioxidant properties.

The lodge is among the most luxurious in all of Africa. A collection of 21 rooms and suites appear to have sprouted from the savannah with their thatched roofs and raw wooden balconies. Curvaceous walls inspired by the homes of local tribesmen and higgledy-piggledy beams put one in mind of a very sumptuous hobbit encampment, although the gorgeously stylish interiors and lavish service have more in common with Out of Africa than Middle Earth.

Rock Lodge Pool

Travel Details

Doubles from £591.

Treatments from £49.


Rainforest spa, Sugar Beach St Lucia

Nature and man combine to serene effect at this dreamy Caribbean gem. Hidden in a lush rainforest in the shadow of the Pitons – the mountainous volcanic spires that are St Lucia’s picturesque poster girls – it is a cool oasis of seven thatched treehouses with open sides, allowing warm breezes and the song of the St Lucia warbler to waft in as you unwind.

White-sand beaches lapped by aquamarine waves are a mere coconut toss away, yet the dense rainforest creates a sense of utter seclusion. Book the couples’ room and bask in the cool rock pool in the courtyard as you sip champagne, before a soothing massage with locally pressed coconut oil. To really immerse yourself in the island – if you’re an urbanite dreaming in vain of a holiday, look away now – try the Sulphur Seduction. You’ll bathe in the black waters of St Lucia’s sulphur springs as they bubble up from the heart of the volcano, then be smothered in sulphur mud (famed for its detoxifying properties). Back at the ranch, a dizzying apothecary of local materials are used to nourish the skin. Organic cacao, wild rockweed, coffee, bananas and sea salt appear in scrubs and wraps, and a temazcal (traditional stone steam lodge) provides a connection to the island’s earliest settlers, the Amerindians, while at the same time leaving skin soft and supple.

The hotel’s gleaming bedrooms are the haunt of A-listers and well-heeled castaways. Many have plunge pools and views over the eponymous beach. With its black chandeliers and teak bar, The Great Room Restaurant is the epitome of modern elegance. Try local plates such as mahi-mahi fish with green figs.

Pool 2

Travel Details

Doubles from £326.

Treatments from £41.


MS Vulkana, Tromso Norway

The Norwegian concept of friluftsliv – ‘the free air life’ – evokes Arctic ice flows, island-hopping beneath the peachy glow of the midnight sun and hiking through forests in search of bilberries. It is a concept of wellness that this floating spa embodies to a tee, while also making a great base for all of the above activities. This 50-year-old fishing boat has been cunningly converted by architect Sami Rintala and boat builder Gunnar Eldjarn and is a lesson in how careful design can reinvigorate unusual spaces. The pair have fitted a hammam, saltwater hot tub, ice pool, sauna and Zen lounge, from which you can spot the Northern Lights through the glass ceiling. Diving boards encourage you to plunge into icy fjords before returning to the comfort of the open fire.

A morning cruise from the colourful town of Tromsø will encourage you to reinvigorate with a traditional Finnish sauna, but to truly feel the benefits of the Norwegian outdoor life, a multi-night private tour is a must. Try skiing in the Lyngen Alps before soothing tired muscles in the hot tub, or go game hunting with a local expert in the frosty wilderness.

The fact that there are only seven beautifully appointed cabins (most with queen-sized beds) does much to keep the experience intimate, while an excellent restaurant serves nourishing plates with an emphasis on local seafood.

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Travel Details

Whole boat hire with access to the facilities from £137pp (minimum eight people).

Two-hour use from £72pp.


Dolenjske toplice thermal spa, NR Novo Mesto Slovenia

This lush eastern European kingdom has a long and noble spa tradition dating back to Roman times. From the green surroundings of the Pannonian Plain to the limestone caves of the Karst region and the Mediterranean coast, the country is awash with thermal springs. The Dolenjske region in the south-west is particularly verdant, with damp meadows and steaming springs leading to 1,000-year-old forests.

The thermal spa at Dolenjske Toplice is among the oldest in Europe. Indeed the entire town has sprung up around the hot springs, which bubble from a depth of 1,000 metres and remain at a bath-like 38C all year round. While the spa tradition in the area may stretch back hundreds of years, the treatments at Terme Dolenjske Toplice are bang up to date. Experts draw on wellness traditions from around the globe to create an enormous menu. Try the Oriental Massage for softer skin, focus on mindfulness with a Tibetan massage to the soundtrack of traditional instruments or shed dead skin with a Japanese cherry blossom peel. After your treatment, drink up the panoramic views of the Kočevje forests from the Balnea Wellness Centre’s indoor pool, which is trimmed in blonde woods and scented with oil burners. Four hotels have access to the spa, but the Balnea is the best.

Rooms and suites are decorated with fabulously kitsch touches, yet the overall impression is sleek and stylish thanks to the sophisticated colour palette and attention to detail.

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Travel Details

Doubles from £160.

Treatments from £22.


Vinotherapie spa, Martillac France

Sitting pretty between Sauternes and the Médoc, the Graves vineyards are among the oldest in Bordeaux. However, it wasn’t until 1993 and a chance meeting with a professor from Montpellier’s University of Pharmacy that the owners came up with the idea of extracting polyphenols from grape seeds to use in face cream. Since then, the Caudalie brand has gone from strength to strength. When a thermal spring was discovered in the midst of the estate in 1999, a wine-themed spa using Caudalie products was the natural next step.

Built in the style of a traditional tobacco-drying barn and lapped on all sides by a sea of vines, the building is the epitome of rustic chic. An open-air bath made from oak and shaped like a giant barrel offers the chance to luxuriate in the spring’s steamy mineral-rich water while exfoliating with dried grape marc. In the 19 treatment rooms, every last drop of goodness is squeezed from the estate’s crop. Merlot grapes are transformed into purifying body wraps, nails are buffed with freshly sliced fruit for moisture and seeds are crushed and mixed with essential oils and honey to form nourishing scrubs.

Le Sources de Caudalie’s 61 bedrooms are scattered throughout cottage gardens in a series of romantic buildings designed to look like a French hamlet. In a nearby lakeside orangery is the Michelin two-star La Grand’Vigne restaurant and its vast wine cellar, which, at last count, held 16,000 bottles.

La Bastide Des Grands Crus1 2014 Gde Laubier∏

Travel Details

Doubles from £265.

Treatments from £61.


Bota bota, Montreal Canada

Water is a recurring theme at this quirky option, which floats in the port of Old Montreal. The stuff steams in fragrant eucalyptus oil baths, pirouettes around whirlpool tubs and keeps the sun beds bobbing in a soothing motion.

The 1950s passenger ferry morphed into a luxury spa in 2008 and now boasts five decks, each with different facilities. In the summer, guests can soak up views of this French-speaking city’s jagged skyline from the relaxation deck, while in winter, the contrast between the thick snow and the heat of the wood-lined sauna is guaranteed to leave your muscles feeling shipshape.

Bota Bota’s signature treatment is the water circuit. This cunning loop reinforces the immune system by promoting the production of white blood cells, as well as stimulating the cardiac system. Swap from steam bath to cold shower, then bring your heart rate down with a 20-minute rest in one of the many cosy corners designed for snoozing.

The range of body scrubs on offer reads more like the menu of one of the many pick-your-own farms in Quebec County than a traditional spa. Blueberries, apples and pears all play their part, but the Immersive Indulgence Experience is our pick. A cranberry and pomegranate scrub is followed by a chocolate truffle wrap and a firming facial.

Rich soil and a comparatively warm climate make the St Lawrence River Valley the bread basket of the Quebec region, meaning that menus at La Traversée Restaurant abound with local cheeses, honey and seafood. While there is no accommodation on board, the spa offers packages with LHotel Montreal, a grand dame of the city.

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Travel Details

One night’s accommodation and spa access from £163.

Treatments from £29.

botabota.ca lhotelmontreal.com

Aqua dome spa, Langenfeld Austria

This futuristic complex huddles in a cleft in the Ötztal Alps, overlooking a glorious swathe of the Austrian Tyrol. It’s a 22,000 sq m wellness wonderland that produces seemingly endless means of relaxation like rabbits from a hat.

From a distance, the thermal spa dome looks like a giant soap bubble. Inside, it houses two pools, a waterfall and endless sun loungers from which to admire the dramatic views of the mountains. There are also two flying saucer-esque open-air baths (one with saltwater and one that is refreshed every 15 minutes with sulphurous liquid from a natural spring), a sports pool, in which you can test yourself against the current, and seven saunas. The heustadlsauna is typical of the area, with snug wooden gables and a central rack of hay which releases fragrant essential oil as it smoulders. Sway on a chaise longue in the mineral bath, sip herbal tea by a mossy rock pool and bathe under the moonlight in the river pool.

Treatments take inspiration from Mother Nature. Little is more blissful than being cocooned in local sheep’s wool and surrounded by the scent of burning mountain herbs while your circulation is gently coaxed back to efficiency by a therapist.

The hotel’s 200 rooms were partially designed by a feng shui expert and are characterised by ashen wood and plenty of light. The restaurants are almost as wide-ranging as the spa options.

Aqua Dome Anlage Gesamt Winter

Travel Details

Doubles from £283.

Treatments from £15.


Cowshed spa, Oxfordshire England

You’re more likely to see Chelsea tractors than combine harvesters at this bucolic 40ha estate in Oxfordshire. The luxury country house hotel-cum-members’ club is part of the Soho House group and is as well turned out as the rest. Think 40 cabins with rocking chairs draped in lamb’s fleece, minibars filled with cocktails and transport via 1950s milk floats.

The spa continues the boho-chic theme. Cross the wooden bridge to an island to discover a boathouse with an indoor pool, sauna, ice bath and hot tub. Given that the estate is a honey-pot for London media types, the grooming and fitness facilities are particularly strong. In a converted cow shed you’ll find a beauty parlour complete with velvet armchairs, barber shop and several treatment rooms offering skin analysis and gel peels.

Copyright Soho Farm House Cowshed Exterior 1

Travel Details

Doubles from £330.

Treatments from £35.


Mii amo, Arizona USA

Surrounded by the Coconino National Forest, Arizona’s Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness presents an epic landscape of curvaceous cliffs riddled with ancient cave dwellings, plunging canyons stalked by coyotes and flaming rock stacks. Members of the Yavapai tribe believed that the veils between other dimensions were thinner here and it was therefore somewhere to achieve spiritual growth and enlightenment. Today, it is a hotbed of alternative medicine and for those looking for spiritual R&R.

Built out of red adobe brick, Mii Amo almost magically blends into its surroundings and nature plays a key role in the experience. Guests are encouraged to hike, mountain bike and try astrology, while treatments are largely informed by the Yavapai legacy. Massages and reflexology take place in open-ai wickiups (round wigwams) covered in brushwood and there is an entire Native American treatment menu. The Inner Quest draws on sacred elements such as honouring the four directions, burning sweet grass and being wrapped in a hot blanket to sweat. More traditional options include the Milk and Honey Soak: a gloriously indulgent warm bath with both of these skin-salving ingredients followed by a massage.

The hotel’s 16 bedrooms are decorated in warm desert tones, many with bee hive-shaped fireplaces. The café focuses on organic ingredients grown in the kitchen garden. Try fresh tomato gazpacho followed by pine-scented venison with braised chard.

Mii Amo At Dusk Ma Print

Travel Details

Doubles from £1,153 for three nights and six spa treatments.

Treatments from £123.


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