Tulum, Mexico

Authentic Mayan sorcery in a far-out setting

MANY OF Tulum’s inhabitants came to visit and never left. As well as honeymooners and partygoers it has drawn world-class teachers; one of these is Yaan’s wizard-like spa director, Bobby Klein. A former rock photographer who hung out with The Doors and the Stones in the 1960s, Klein was one of the first Westerners to practice acupuncture in LA. These days he’s an in-demand Intuitive Life Counsellor and his powerful energy radiates throughout Yaan’s sparkly-walled wonderland. Follow the white smoke trail of copal (a sacred resin Mayans burnt to connect to the divine) and it’ll take you down to the therapy pools and garden treatment cabins. The lo-fi style, modern with rustic touches (changing-room sinks sunk into reclaimed tree trunks, a vintage Fifties-style dresser in the relaxation area) is the creation of Sebastian Sas, who co-owns Yaan as well as Nomade, the accommodation choice of drifter fashionistas, with ocean-front rooms opening out to pristine beach. Yogis will love the (more affordable) Bedouin tents. Kick things off with a one-to-one multi-dimensional counselling with Klein, whose background in Jungian psychotherapy brings forth life-coping strategies as well as connection to your spiritual side. Healing is a big part of the 60-minute session – you lie down as he cradles your head craniosacral-style and sings soul-stirring American Indian chants. It’s a fitting start. Klein has gathered a group of local healers who meld modern spa practices with mysticism, massage and herbal medicines their families have used for generations.Elizabeth for the Yäan Traditional Mayan, a mesmerising, nurturing ritual including Sobada Maya, deep organ-realigning massage that miraculously lifts the belly and eliminates bloat. Therapist Arlette has studied with Mexican tribal leaders and you feel this connection as she whispers sacred words at the start of the Four Elements treatment and rolls onyx crystals up and down the spine to unravel back tension. The Thai Temple treatment with Carolina is a physical experience of deep stretching and unravelling of muscles, combining recognisable Thai massage moves with her own delicate, precision release in long-neglected joints

INSIDER TIP Allow an hour to dip into the therapeutic waters, drawn from cenotes. Spa angels clad in white smocks bring scrubs to the steam room, urge you into the cold shower, give a talk through meditation and afterwards offer sweet tea and a shoulder-melting hot pad as you lie in the shade under the palms.


Phuket, Thailand

Lasting wellness and the smartest scene

VLADISLAV DORONIN is the billionaire chairman of Aman Resorts, one of the world’s most exclusive hotel groups. He is also a bit of a health fanatic so the company’s new spa programmes were always going to be something special. Launched last summer under the watchful eye of ex-Chiva-Som general manager Paul Linder, these ‘immersions’ focus on renewal and nourishment, both physically and spiritually. Marry the highly skilled team of practitioners with the postcard perfection of Amanpuri, the seriously glamorous hideaway in Phuket, and the promise of that bone-warming sunshine, and it’s almost impossible not to attain an inner glow. The hotel’s Thai-style teak villas are dotted among the lush folds of a former coconut plantation overlooking a private beach of white sand lapped by jade-green waters. For wow-factor wellbeing, there’s a stunning spa that radiates serenity thanks to its zen architecture. But the key to these holistic retreats is personalisation. While most places only play lip service to the idea, Aman is so sincere about individual attention that participation is limited to just eight guests at any one time. This means the team can calibrate every single detail of your stay, based on one of four themes: cleanse, mental awareness, fitness or weight. Note: there is no detox. This is a gentle and intelligent steer towards sustainable, long-term balance, rather than quick-fix starvation diets and trick psychology. You will never go hungry – minibars are stocked with customised snacks such as energy balls.  Those booked in for fitness may get endorphin-releasing kick boxing followed by muscle-releasing rubdowns; those on a cleanse may have water-based cardio and effective lymph-draining massages; awareness guests might be prescribed silent reflection and transformational craniosacral therapy. Each session is elevated to extraordinary by the quality of practitioners, including Anamai Apaiso, a revered former Buddhist monk turned mind trainer. With so few guests, timetables can be monitored on a daily basis and adapted depending on feedback – as can your diet.  This is a sophisticated, A-list retune done the Aman way, which means there’s loads to learn, it won’t hurt one little bit and you’ll leave feeling utterly amazing.

INSIDER TIP Pre-book an appointment with Roger Moore – not the James Bond actor but a shamanic spiritual healer whose energy work is deeply powerful.


Latchi, Cyprus

Super-solid break, even with the family

THERE IS a Russian physiotherapist here called Vladimir Papakides who has been practicing at the spa for eight years. He works wonders with sports injuries, spinal ailments, torn tendons and all sorts of aches and pains. People come back time and time again for his rehabilitation therapies and thorough massages. He is a constant at Anassa and he is brilliant. The same goes for the hotel itself. It is strikingly dependable, so it’s no surprise that there are so many regulars. The rooms are reliably lovely (with Provençal blue shuttered windows, huge high beds and creamy marble bathrooms; there isn’t a dud out of the whole 166), the food is reliably delicious (the soft-shell crab at Basiliko restaurant, the wagyu beef in Helios, the sweet sticky nuts with local honey at breakfast) and the weather is reliably good: warm enough for T-shirts as early as March, with a balmy sea you can still swim in at the end of October. Which is why it’s heavingly popular with families.The spa, flooded with sunlight and fresh air, is a serious set up, designed as much for those who want a five-day programme (fitness or anti-ageing, for example) as for those who just want the odd treatment, use the gym or swim in the saltwater exercise pool. The main focus is thalasso-therapy, with water for the invigorating and restorative jet sprays and hydro baths pumped straight from the Mediterranean. There’s a comprehensive range of Ila therapies alongside QMS anti-ageing options, but it’s the newly introduced Anastasia Achilleos facial that everyone seems desperate to book (ask for gentle, intuitive Claudia). 

INSIDER TIP Bring your Amex in case you stumble into the new boutique Kult, which features a collection of Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent to rival Matches.


Baja California, Mexico

The original bootcamp is still leading the way

THE OLDEST destination spa in North America, which opened to guests in 1940 has everything going for it, especially for action bunnies. Fly to San Diego and drive across the Mexican border into the foothills of Mount Kuchumaa, held sacred by Native Americans. The atmosphere is spiritually vibrant, and the location, chosen by author, philosopher, psychologist and natural-living mentor Edmond Szekely, sparkles with high-vibrational energy. An incredible landscape awaits: 4,000 acres of stunning private grounds filled with trailing African daisies, sunflowers and roaming butterflies. Days start with early-morning hikes – some on challenging routes, hence the need for the daily post-breakfast stretching classes. And classes are what stays are centred on, ranging from gentle release-and-mobilise exercises and several types of Pilates to more hardcore cardio, boxing, kettle bells and bootcamp. Signature treatments are good rather than sensational, so be sure to seek out the more transformative specialists, such as Jonelle Rutkauskas. She offers extraordinary energy healing, which helps release past traumas and reset the central nervous system. Food is healthy but abundant, and suppers are sit-down, four-course affairs where you are encouraged to bond with other guests. This is perhaps most apparent in the hilariously exuberant and popular dance class with Yuichi Sugiyama. A Hollywood choreographer, he is one of the stars of the present-day manifestation of the ranch and is utterly amazing, with a diamanté-crop-top flamboyance all his own. Nothing will get you smiling more. The ranch isn’t hip or cutting edge, but it deserves a place in the roll-call of the world’s best destination spas, with all the pioneering touchstones on which it was founded remaining: a belief in fresh air, natural foods, exercising in nature, personal reflection time and human connection. And above all, it rests in one of the most exquisitely beautiful pockets of our planet. Seek it out.

INSIDER TIP Beware of the skunks that skulk near pathways. If they spray you, a bath in tomato ketchup is the antidote to the foul smell.



Added fire-power at an Asian big gun

HASN’T BANGKOK’S grande dame aged well .The140-year-old hotel only appears to get more ravishing. As part of the anniversary celebrations, the original 19th-century Authors’ Lounge has been preened to perfection. Its marble floors gleam glacial white, rattan fans swirl above peacock chairs and potted palms, while the city’s best-dressed chatter over tiers of fruity afternoon tea. A metamorphosis has taken place in the spa too. With its focus on traditional, deep-reaching treatments, plus a stunning waterside location, the Oriental Spa has long been a destination in its own right.  Try the Oriental Pampering programme to go full Queen of Siam or for a more spiritual bent, try the Life Balance Ayurveda, which includes two sessions of mind-melting shirodhara and yoga one-on-ones. Healthy food is on the menu now too: mango salad, sweet-sour tamarind fish soup, and shrimp and peanut curries, available in the restaurants, rooms, by the pool and in the spa. Upping the ante yet further is the Spa Studio, four glamorous treatment rooms so you will leave you with the complexion of a toddler. Then there’s the Bastien Gonzalez Mani:Pedi:Cure Studio, the first in Thailand, where consultants (hand-picked and trained by the man himself) not only perform synchronised hand and feet polishing, but also offer advice on everything from posture to diet and wellbeing. All in all, the Mandarin Oriental offers a masterclass in growing old gracefully.

INSIDER TIP Try to plan your trip around the visit of practitioner Dr Buathon, who uses Tibetan singing bowls and qi massage alongside psychological techniques to unlock the causes of stress.


Rajasthan, India

All-natural rituals in palatial grounds

THIS IS ONE of Rajasthan‘s most beguiling places to stay, most excitingly, a destination-spa get-up from organic British skincare brand Ila. Come for a week or as a mini add-on to a longer trip to India; either way, a stay here will move you. Not only is the hotel itself beauty manifest – an exquisite 18th-century palace with Marwari-horse murals, wooden swings swaying in courtyards and the sounds of ankle-bracelets jangling – but the Ila-Only spa is a refuge of gentle goodness. Here, Denise Leicester, founder of Ila, has designed a series of next-generation bespoke treatments known as the Devi Blessings, based on the Indian festival of Navratri: a nine-night period of self-reflection symbolising the nine months a baby spends in the womb. The Devi Blessings take you on a journey through the chakras and combine ancient healing techniques with wild-harvested ingredients of the upmost integrity, many of them sourced in India. Imagine Damascena rose oil, which contains 38 damask roses per drop, poured over your chest to help nurture peacefulness and awaken unconditional love. Or a body scrub of 200-million-year-old Himalayan salt mixed with warmed poppy seeds rubbed over your entire body to soothe internal vulnerabilities. These are treatments as ritualistic ceremonies: subtle om tuning forks, potent purifications using black-amber smoke and Bhutanese chants, crystal-bowl sound healing in the sacred frequency of omega 432 (which aligns us to the heartbeat of Mother Nature). The sleek, green-slate swimming pool is a lovely refresher. There’s a gym and hot tub, and the most gorgeous variety of places to eat, from the restaurant itself to private open-air rooftop soirées decorated with candles as far as the eye can see. Choose a three, five or nine-night Devi Blessings Journey and you can combine treatments with yoga, workouts that leave you feeling nimble and lose-yourself meditation sessions in secret nooks of the building. Explore nearby Delwara, which is known as the town of the gods, with its numerous Jain temples that look like something out of Indiana Jones, before savouring deep rest in the palace itself. 

INSIDER TIP Visiting masters are in the mix for 2017, including retreats with intuitive English healer Fiona Arrigo, who offers wonderful workshops on feminine wisdom for modern times.


Puglia, Italy

A full-on immersion into mind-blowing healing methods with shamans and sonatas

I HAD SIGNED UP to do the Tarant programme, a four-day ancient Puglian healing ritual. It was described as being ‘for those moments when you need a revolution.  When I arrived at the hotel, the sheer beauty of the place made me weep. You pass through a vast, medieval-looking arch to a spectacular stage-set beyond. Hundreds of candles flicker in an entrance hall of sepulchral calm. The entire hotel is made of tufo stone, with small troughs containing rock crystal to absorb negativity. Spa Director Patrizia Bortolin has amassed a team of therapists, masseurs, psychologists, yoga masters, naturopaths, musicians and dancers who seem to have been culled from some academy of the spiritual elite.  Part of the mystery is never being told which treatment is next, so it’s impossible to anticipate or control. Just trust and let go. My first was a traditional Roman bath experience, which left me wiped out and migrainous. That afternoon, I had a session with Italian shaman Stefano Battaglia, who looked at me, seeing deep into my soul. . The restaurants serve delicious Puglian cuisine so you can be as healthy (or not) as you like, but there is no spa menu. Carmine Basile, the Iyengar yoga teacher, was world class. My shoulders, stiff as coat hangers, felt coaxed back to life. But my favourite massage involved a sequence of music co-ordinated with a series of colours. The final massage is 90 minutes of bonkers brilliance. You are hurled around, semi-naked and slathered in warm olive oil, to the sound of Puglian women whispering and wailing. You have to let go of your inhibitions. I adored it, feeling ecstatic and energised afterwards. 


Villa Stephanie at Brenners Park-Hotel
Baden-Baden, Germany

An enforced wind-down of the highest order

FOR ANYONE whose pace of life feels overwhelming, the prospect of a stay at this five-star pit stop is the equivalent of winning the health lottery. Villa Stéphanie, the little sister of the plush grande dame Brenners Park-Hotel, is somewhere to have a proper break. The 15-bedroom sanctuary is highly modern and elegantly pared-back.  There are no group sessions, tree-hugging activities or finding yourself through art programmes here. This state-of-the-art medical facility handholds you through a 360-degree assessment of your wellbeing. The facilities are spanking new, with cardiologists, gynaecologists, physiotherapists, ophthalmologists and aesthetic dentists all on tap. Dr Harry König, who leads the squad, even offers pig-stem-cell rejuvenation therapies. Every treatment is administered by someone at the top of their respective game. It’s the Formula 1 of check-ups. A morning with Dr Ulf Pietzcker in his gigantic Starship Enterprise-esque office involves an all-encompassing schedule of examinations. Next come the alternative therapies to address stress and fatigue, and a general maintenance programme to work into your own routine back at home. But it’s not all clinical procedures and hard-edged hospital beds. There are bespoke Sisley facials, and massages and stretching sessions are prescribed as a necessity rather than just an indulgence, always with the same therapist for consistency.There is time to rest, but there’s also lots of activity in the form of yoga, kickboxing and mental training, which leaves you as energised and clear headed as a stay here does. This isn’t a spa that takes you apart before putting you back together, no tasteless broths, impatient nurses or ill-fitting gowns – just pampering with purpose.

INSIDER TIP See stunning contemporary art at the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden, a great place to lose yourself for an hour.

From Conde Nast Traveller