Healing through water—whether through steam, ice, compress, and bathing—is the very essence of a spa. With its benefits so well documented, it makes sense that luxury wellness venues are expanding their facilities to include water experiences that offset our high-tech, high-stress lives. And the level of innovation these days has gone off the charts: Middle Eastern hammams are being reimagined, float tanks are back in vogue, while traditional saunas and hot spring bathing are also experiencing a new wave. These are our recommendations for water-inspired treatments to drift, soak, and steam your worries away.
Practiced for centuries in Europe as a cure for pain relief, stress, arthritis, and sleep disorders, hydrotherapy is being reinvented for luxury spas. At Bali’s COMO Shambhala Estate, you soak in a mineral-rich vitality pool while massage jets pummel different parts of your body to boost circulation. Over on New Zealand’s South Island, Aro-Ha takes a different approach, with outdoor hot and cold pools that beckon after a day of vigorous hikes and yoga. Meanwhile, upscale urban hotels seem intent on creating the ultimate thermal sanctuary for guests to relax before their treatments. The marble Wet Lounge at the Remède Spa at St. Regis Singapore is a prime example, where spa-goers can enjoy Mediterranean bathing rituals including a black olive soap scrub, a Moroccan Rhassoul clay mud wrap, and Dead Sea salt baths. Remède’s award-winning Vichy shower describes a massage on an infrared heated marble bed, enhanced with sprinkles of rose and orange blossom–scented water. In Europe, the Italian fashion capital is home to Shiseido Spa Milan, the first such spa by the Japanese personal care brand in the country. Occupying 1,000 square meters on the sixth and seventh floors of the recently revamped Excelsior Hotel Gallia, the venue beckons with plenty of natural light, and guests can make use of both hydromassage and a waterfall wall to relax the shoulders and neck after a swim in the indoor pool.
Hot spring experiences and contemporary bath houses have become increasingly popular in recent years. In Japan, Hoshino Resorts offers a contemporary take on hot-spring ryokan with its upscale Kai brand. Located 90 minutes’ by train from Tokyo in the Hakone hot spring region, Kai Hakone features minimalistic, semi-open baths looking out onto woodlands whose colors change with the seasons.
Amanemu in Ise-Shima National Park is another testament to Japan’s bathing culture: set around a mineral-rich thermal spring, the resort houses a 2,000-square-meter spa with two large onsen pools, a pair of private onsen pavilions, and a watsu pool. And for those who prefer total privacy, each suite at Amanemu features a salt-infused spring water bath.
In a similar vein, resorts in Bhutan are capitalizing on the Himalayan kingdom’s longstanding wellness traditions. COMO Uma Paro offers guests a hot stone bath heated solely by fire-roasted river rocks, which crack and steam as they sink to the bottom of a wooden tub, releasing minerals into the water. For an additional layer of authenticity, Amankora Gangtey organizes an unforgettable soak inside a rustic stone shed belonging to a local farmer, with views of the Gangtey Valley and its famous 15th-century monastery right from the comfort of your tub.
And with community and connection increasingly linked to longevity, communal bathing is also gaining new ground. At Peninsula Hot Springs outside Melbourne, families and friends congregate in magnesium-rich outdoor pools of varying temperature. Visitors who go this southern summer can even watch live music as they soak, thanks to the addition of an amphitheater overlooked by seven new hillside pools.
Showstopping Saunas and Steams
Sweating is known to detoxify the body and new studies show that regular sauna time can lower our risk of dementia and boost cardiovascular health. Better yet, the latest wave of saunas in Europe has seriously upped the fun factor and levels of creativity. Scandinavia is leading the charge on this front, as evinced by Löyly —Helsinki’s recently opened public waterfront sauna complex—and mega-spa The Well outside Oslo, a three-level wonderland with 15 themed saunas ranging from a jungle to a cinema. Those who prefer staying put in the Norwegian capital should head to SALT, a temporary 5,000-square-meter cultural project on the seafront promenade. Running through October next year, it comprises a series of striking wooden structures inspired by traditional Norwegian fishkehjeller (fish racks) used by nomadic Arctic communities. SALT’s Árdna amphitheater is perhaps the largest—and certainly one of the coolest—public saunas in the world, where up to 120 people gather for group sweating on tiered benches looking out through a glass wall toward the iceberg-shaped Oslo Opera House, all while experiencing theater, readings, talks, and art exhibits. Visitors can even sip on a cocktail at the bar while grooving to Norwegian electronica. Árdna is open for sauna sessions on Saturday evenings, with admission including the use of two cold tubs outside the structure and a converted century-old barrel once used to store 6,000 liters of sherry.
Over in Scotland, the Hot Box Sauna has been billed as the country’s first lochside sauna, with large French doors framing views of Loch Tay, not to mention an evening DJ area and bar.
Southeast Asia also has a diverse selection of noteworthy saunas and steam venues. The sauna at ESPA at Resorts World Singapore comes with an unforgettable view, while the centerpiece of Karma Spa at Karma Kandara in Bali is the cliff-hanging Infrared Detox Sauna that offers jaw-dropping vistas over the Indian Ocean.
The Spa at The Reverie Saigon is a standout for different reasons: at 1,200 square meters, it’s easily the largest and most luxurious spa in Ho Chi Minh City. The two-floor expanse contains amenities like a dedicated hair and beauty salon, two open-air Jacuzzis, an almost Olympic-sized swimming pool, and gold-accented steam rooms in Carrara marble that are as decadent as the rest of the property.