LET’S HIT THE HAY SPA
Spa treatments and holidays go together like massage oil and Enya. Personally, my “holiday mode” means face down and drooling, and preferably with frangipanis wafting under my nose. But just as food fads are getting more ludicrous (donug, anyone?), the therapies you can try around the world are getting weirder than Michael Jackson circa 2002.
Sometimes a spa treatment can be quirky in its quest for connection to a place – warm seashell massages in Fiji, shall we say – or ties with tradition, like being whipped with branches in a Venik massage in Russia. Others might make you squirm – like the now ubiquitous fish foot spas in Thailand; make you thirsty, like beer baths in Austria, and cause you to question your sanity – cactus massages in Mexico (ouch!).
Then there are treatments that really rub you into the destination. After a day of hiking in the Rockies, why not treat yourself to a cannabis massage? Denver, Colorado, is reportedly leading the legal weed wellness scene. In Thailand, Orange is the new Massage Oil at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution, where you can be massaged by female inmates for a steal.
Just as memories of an incredible food experience can transport you back to that little trattoria in Italy, so too can flashbacks of a spa treatment – for better or for worse.
When photographer and digital influencer Lauren Bath found her name down for cryotherapy while on assignment in Monaco, she “figured it would be some delightful thing”. “Fast forward to an hour later and I was standing before a technician in my underwear, a pair of socks, Croc sandals, gloves and a headband about to step into a -110°C room. To say that I came out traumatised is an understatement,” she says.
For me, the Gold Coast hinterland will forever be the place where I meditated with a horse. Equine therapy is becoming increasingly popular at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, placing stressed-out guests shoulderto-shoulder with a stallion whose instincts hold a mirror up to your monkey mind. “They have a very beautiful way of guiding us to the areas we might not like to look at,” trainer Megan Bardsley says.
Wish you were feeling more like a filly or colt yourself ? At Hotel Heubad in northern Italy, since 1903, they’ve been wrapping wellness seekers in damp hay, pulled from unfertilised meadows above 2000m of altitude, said to soothe stiff joints, muscle cramps, and even obesity.
Vinotherapy is another growing spa trend. While I’d normally advocate drinking the benefits, I’ll always remember O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat because I soaked in a tub of their shiraz (and felt like the side of beef in a bourguignon).
Esoteric sound baths and vibrational tuning treatments have long been favoured by new-agey spas. At Gwinganna, my fellow Escape writer, Paul Ewart, found himself naked, “in a room kitted out with a sound system that would make any top-tier club in Ibiza jealous” before he was transported away in a Spirit of Sound treatment.
“While a medley of world music and a ‘sounds of nature’ album boomed in my ears, I was massaged by my therapist, before she picked up an instrument – rainmaker, bongo drums, or symbols – and circled me. The thought that there may have been something naughty in my pre-spa cup of tea did cross my mind,” he says.
For Amanda Woods, another whose words appear regularly here, the 7 Chakra Dhara massage in Bali at the Ayana Resort and Spa turned into the spirit tune-up she never knew she needed. “After a long massage the therapist started rubbing oils on my chakra points, then gemstones and crystals were placed on top … but when she started using the sound of tuning forks, one for each chakra, everything kicked in,” she says.
“By the time she’d struck the seventh one and was moving it around my head I felt like my entire body was vibrating.”
Good vibrations or not, my motto is go weird or go home during your next spa experience. That way at least you’ll have a good story to tell.