From treetop hot-tubs to beachside saunas, it’s time to unleash your inner Jane and head into the wild.
It used to be all about bringing the outside in, with forest murals and floor-to-ceiling windows embracing spectacular views. But more spas are taking the inside out to fully embrace their surroundings. Hot tubs on the beach, anyone? Jacuzzi in the jungle? Getting close to nature has now become an essential part of the spa experience – and the more extreme the location (or weather) the better.
Perhaps we have the Scandinavians with their al fresco saunas to thank, or simply the fact that we are becoming more environmentally aware. There is also mounting evidence to suggest that being outdoors can lower our stress levels and induce a sense of wellbeing.
Whatever the reason, we all love a spa that not only makes the most of its dramatic location, but lets us loose in its scenery. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s head outdoors…
You’ve probably heard the term ‘forest bathing’. One Japanese study showed that simply looking at trees can lower our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So why not head deep into the woods by booking your very own treehouse with a hot tub?
The treehouses atChewton Glen take luxury spa-ing to a whole new level – literally. Sleeping up to eight, these contemporary pods offer elevated forest views a dizzying 10 metres above the ground. Large terraces floating above the tree canopy have comfy daybeds where you can receive your spa treatment and a steaming outdoor hot tub on the deck. A hearty breakfast hamper is delivered each morning to set you up for some horse-riding, cycling or hiking through the 900,000-acre wilderness of the surrounding New Forest.
Aqua Sana Woburn Forest is part of the Center Parcs village in Bedfordshire. Twenty thousand native trees and foliage were planted during the making of the village, some of which you can get up close and personal with while swimming in the outdoor vitality pool. The pool is one storey up, so you can swim amid the trees.
The Rainforest Spa at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, on the island of St Lucia, has treetop treatment rooms reached via wooden bridges winding through the trees. Set in 100 acres of rainforest, between the Piton Volcanic mountains and natural flowing waterfalls, each thatched room is based on the Arawak Huts of the Carib Indians. You can book a trip to the nearby volcanic sulphur springs at the drive-in volcano.
Follow the eco-fashion trail out to the Almescar Spa at the uber-hip Casa Uxua resort in Brazil, created by former Diesel designer Wilbert Das. Ten private villas are set on the edge of rainforest, desert and jungle. Almescar is a local tree that produces a highly bio-active resin, prized by Pataxo Indians for centuries and used in the organic treatments. The white clay body mask lagoon trip was photographed by Mario Testino for Vogue USA, while the pool is tiled with 4,000 specimens of healing aventurine quartz.
Doing outdoor yoga or having a massage while listening to real – not taped – jungle sounds is a thrillingly exotic spa experience. Set in a clearing above a jungle-covered gorge on the River Ayung, near the spiritual centre of Ubud, the Como Shambhala estate on Bali is surrounded by jungle, mountain landscapes, and exotic and rare plants. The Bali spa is an ‘immersive’ wellness experience, embracing local culture and nature as part of the programme, where the lush and verdant landscape is used as a natural outdoor gym.
Meanwhile, film buffs should try director Francis Ford Coppola’s luxury eco-lodge Blancaneaux in Belize, where waterfalls pour into natural swimming holes surrounded by dense jungle, mountains and Mayan ruins. At the request of FFC himself, The Waterfall Spa has Thai treatments performed by therapists trained at the Sacred Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok.
Wallowing in a warm spa pool while looking at spectacular scenery is our idea of heaven, especially when cold air snakes its way through the steam making you feel truly alive – and a bit bonkers; you can even do a bit of twitching on the side. We love the outdoor infinity-edge bubble pool at theConiston Spa, with its calming lakeside view and the romantic Yorkshire Dales beyond. We could also be persuaded to try the stunning Lefay Resort and Spa in Italy with terraced olive groves overlooking Lake Garda: swim in the infinity pool, try The Wind and the Trail running circuit or meditate in the therapeutic garden.
Further afield, the stunning Tri in Sri Lanka has been designed to make the smallest footprint possible and is built in a spiral based on the Fibonacci sequence on the banks of Lake Koggala. It offers its guests bespoke Quantum Yoga and Ayurveda treatment programmes, an ionised lakeside infinity pool, and villas with private plunge pools. For extra immersion in the surroundings, you can arrange stilt fishing lessons or learn how to scale a coconut tree. Make sure you bring your binoculars for birdwatching – and earplugs, if you don’t want to be woken by the dawn chorus.
Galgorm Spa in Northern Ireland has an entire thermal village situated on the banks of the spectacular River Maine. Saunas face the flowing river and Galgorm forest beyond. But, if you go, you simply must book a private riverside hot tub, ideally with a glass of bubbly and a special plus one. You may spot deer roaming through the estate.
Or for a warmer river view, try the beautiful outdoor pool overlooking Portugal’s River Duoro at Six Senses Duoro Valley. Book into a room with a private hot tub and watch red kites swoop over the river, or head into the forest and try a meditation pod dangling from the pines.
While firsts and unique experiences abound in the world of luxury spas, Huvafen Fushi’s Lime Spa in the Maldives can lay claim to the extraordinary achievement of being the globe’s first underwater spa. Two subterranean treatment rooms mean that the resident angelfish and damselfish can look on while you enjoy a body scrub. Afterwards, retire to the lonu veyo, a saltwater flotation pool which harnesses the healing minerals of the Indian Ocean, or relax in the lounge with panoramic views of the lagoon and its clownfish and stingrays.
A new addition to the menu at Ibiza’s Yoga Rosa is meditative free-diving – which relies on the diver’s ability to hold their breath until resurfacing rather than using breathing apparatus. Around the island’s most picturesque coves you can feel truly at one with marine life.
There are lots of exotic ocean-view spas around the world. However, we are lucky in the UK to have our own beautiful beaches, something our favourite spas have used to great effect (there’s nothing more frustrating than a beach spa in a hotel basement…).
The C Bay Spais situated in one of the UK’s most sought-after settings, in 125 glorious acres of stunning Cornish coastline encompassing its own private Blue Flag beach, Carbis Bay. C Bay Spa maxes out its ocean setting with an innovative selection of beach-and-sea- inspired therapies. Following a Lava Shell massage, head to the serene ocean-view lounge or opt for a Voya Organic Body Buff or a Detoxing Organic Seaweed Leaf Wrap.
Also in Cornwall, The Scarlet Spais famous for its clifftop hot tubs overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean, ideal for storm-watching (we like the positive take on national weather), and it’s dramatically perched outdoor pool which is filtered naturally by reeds.
Not every ski resort spa makes the most of the mountain scenery – and not every mountain needs snow to be beautiful all year round, although we do delight in an outdoor heated pool in sub-zero temperatures. Talking of sub-zero temperatures, try Badrutt’s Palace in Switzerland for snow covered peaks, steamy hydropools and post-ski massages. The 25-metre pool is in a huge glass-sided room with views straight out onto the mountain tops; swim outside and you can laze in the warm water while looking out over the frozen lake – they even play polo on the ice in winter.
For warmer mountain spa-ing, head to the family run yoga retreat Valle de Vida in the Andalucian Pizarra mountains, amid caves, mountain streams, springs and waterfalls. Reached only along a 4km track through orange groves, this is a proper archetypal mountain hideaway, although packed with yoga-istas rather than Bond villains. Swim in the solar heated pool or enjoy the views from the hilltop yoga studios.
We have previously featured some fabulous desert spas in Arizona, including the legendary Canyon Ranch. Here, spa-goers can can take classes in astronomy and nutrition, learn to track animals in the desert or follow the uplifting Spirit Walk Trail around the 150-acre resort.
For utter desert chic, head to the beautiful boutique hotel and spa the Tierra Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert, with its famous salt flats, flamingos and starlit night skies. The hotel faces the Lincancabar volcano, and Una Spa has gorgeous indoor and outdoor pools, a steam room and therapies using natural desert elements. They also have an Adventure and Spa pairing menu for the active: horse riding and private outdoor bath, or hike to a sunrise geyser followed by a hot stone massage.