Taking to the Waters

The World’s Best Spas

There are those who would argue that a vacation isn’t truly a vacation if it isn’t governed by an itinerary that’s a mile long. Certainly, there is something to be said for absorbing every last bit of activity and culture from a destination, particularly when one’s intention is to explore as much ground as possible in this lifetime. But what about the lost art of relaxing?

We are confident that our guide to four of the world’s most glorious spas will leave anyone hard-pressed to resist the siren song of the spa vacation. We’ve selected locales both here in the U.S. and abroad, each one of them promising the getaway of a lifetime.

These destinations have been chosen not only on the basis of the services they provide and the unparalleled luxury they offer, but the breathtaking natural scenery that surrounds them as well. Our suggestions are also noteworthy for their close proximity to an engaging array of cultural sites and activities, so even those of you who find it a challenge to put aside your guidebooks can rest assured that you will still find reasons to page through them.

Camelback Arizona Spa & Golf Resort Hotel, Scottsdale

Visit Camelback’s comprehensive Web site and you will be invited to “elevate your expectations.” Go a step further by paying a visit to this oasis in the Sonoran Desert, and you will soon realize why it is one of the most talked about spas in the world. Located only minutes from downtown Phoenix, Arizona, its accommodations include 453 spacious Pueblo-style casitas and 18 suites, some of which include private swimming pools. Guests’ rooms feature picturesque French doors that open out onto private balconies or patios, as well as kitchenettes (although it is difficult to imagine that the lure of Camelback’s top-notch restaurants would even find one exercising the option to cook). Guests of Camelback can enjoy a varied array of dining options, including BLT Steak (Chef Laurent Tourondel’s adaptation of the classic American steakhouse) and Sprouts, a sophisticated eatery located in the spa for fresh and innovative dishes.

Camelback’s spa (recognized as one of the top in the guide 100 Best Spas of the World) occupies a full 32,000 square feet, with 132 treatment rooms beckoning guests to indulge their senses. Services include an impressive cadre of facials and body treatments, as well as personal training sessions and a full-service salon where one might run into such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey or Jessica Simpson. Treatments can also be enjoyed in a private cabana, surrounded only by desert foliage in peace and solitude. Just minutes away from the hotel are 1,000-year-old ruins waiting to be explored, as well as guided horseback riding excursions, jeep trails and white-water rafting.
camelbackinn.com and camelbackspa.com

Auberge du Soleil, Napa

A Northern California crown jewel of spas, Auberge du Soleil is the realized dream of restauranteur Claude Rouas, who envisioned a tribute to Provence that would afford his guests an opportunity to experience the state’s wine country in true epicurean style. Terraced down a hillside with panoramic views of Napa Valley, the spa’s blend of Mediterranean-style decor, original contemporary art and plush rooms and suites epitomize California living at its finest. Guests can dine at Auberge’s world-famous restaurant or on private outdoor terraces, and retire to quarters that include a fireplace, large soaking tub, separate showers and custom-made bath amenities. Auberge du Soleil is also the first hotel in the Napa Valley to be certified through the Bay Area Green Business Program, employing practices such as the use of sustainably produced amenities, extensive recycling and a house water filtration system.

Also in true California style, the Auberge du Soleil presents its guests with an eclectic array of opportunities for relaxation and sport, with its world-class Auberge Spa, tennis courts, “La Plage” pool, sun deck and fitness center. Many of the treatment preparations used in the spa feature house-infused oils, as well as calendula, rosemary, lemon balm and other herbs that are cultivated by therapist’s in the spa’s garden. This destination is also home to an outdoor sculpture gallery that features 110 contemporary works by 65 California sculptors. Surrounding Auberge are some of California’s most famous wineries, as well as art galleries, golf courses and hiking trails. Those looking to view Napa from even greater heights may opt to take a hot-air balloon trip, or visit such locations as the Lincoln Symphony Hall or the Di Rosa Preserve.

Gora Kadan, Hakone National Park, Japan

Mention Japan to most people, and either one of two images will come to mind: Modern-day Tokyo, with its neon lights and bustling crowds moving at a frenetic pace, or the Imperial Japan of yore, with its zen gardens and majestic temples. Those longing for a taste of the latter would do well to pay a visit to Gora Kadan, a former holiday retreat for the Imperial family located in Hakone National Park, just 56 miles south of Tokyo.

Hakone National Park is located on a volcano that caved in nearly 3,000 years ago, and its alternately mountainous and desert-like landscape is home to the natural hot springs that feed Gora Kadan’s baths. The spa’s poetically beautiful grounds are a veritable tribute to the elements – surrounded by lush trees, its buildings are constructed in a traditional Japanese style, with sliding rice screen doors opening out onto enchanting stone pathways lit by lanterns and baths and fountains carved out of rock. Communal pavilions and hidden enclaves are all flawlessly landscaped to facilitate a Zen-like awareness of one’s surroundings, and provide visitors with a sense of privacy and removal from the world at large.

Services offered include fango mud treatments, stone therapy and reflexology, as well as hammam baths and fitness instruction. Gora Kadan’s famous Kaiseki Kadan Restaurant is open to the general public (as are its spa services for non-guests), and is a half-timber design landmark building that was constructed in 1930. Serving traditional Kaiseki cuisine, the culinary delights offered by its chef’s promise to entice the taste buds while supporting the healthy lifestyle promoted by this gem of a spa.

Terme di Montecatini,
Montecatini Terme, Italy

Montecatini Terme is a city of spas located in the heart of Tuscany, and from its springs flow four types of healing waters that are infamously known to aid the liver and digestive system. One can enjoy the “acqua” of this ancient city at a collection of nine different resorts, all located in relatively close proximity to one another: Terme Tettuccuio, Terme Regina, Terme Leopoldine, Terme La Salute, Terme Torretta, Terme Redi, Terme Excelsior, Terme Tamerici, Terme Grocco and Piscina Termale. Winding their way through these sites are meticulously manicured parks that feature live music in the warmer months, as well as majestic neo-classical structures that lend an air of old world glamour to the practice of “taking to the waters.” Faucets are often backed by images of cherubs and robustly healthy men and women, while treatment rooms feature brightly colored tiles and hydrotherapy water-massage devices.

When visiting Montecatini, one can stay in any number of exquisite hotels, with some of the most luxurious being the Grand Hotel Ambasciatori, Hotel Adua & Regina di Saba, Benessere a Montecatini Terme, Hotel Aristan, Hotel Temerci & Principe and Hotel Puccini. These establishments offer visitors an experience of classic European elegance that is straight out of a 1950s movie, as well as opportunities for fine dining and recreation.