Vacations used to be all about touring world-famous attractions and snapping pictures of historical landmarks. But these days, more and more people are making their self-care a priority while traveling — whether that’s by hitting the day spa, attending a seven-day wellness retreat or spending time in nature.
Unsurprisingly, the benefits of these excursions go well beyond relaxation: Many spa treatments enhance your mental and physical health. Massage therapy has been proven to reduce chronic pain, ease anxiety, improve your overall cognitive health and even give your immune system a boost. And bathing in a Turkish bath (or “hammam”) can increase circulation, clear out your sinuses and help your skin glow. No wonder the wellness tourism became a $639 billion industry in 2017, and continues to grow rapidly.
Want to get in on the trend — and get away from it all? These spas around the world have earned acclaim for their posh facilities and above-and-beyond treatments.
Linger Longer Spa - Phra-Ae Beach, Thailand
The award-winning Linger Longer Spa at Layana Resort and Spa offers an exceptional treatment inside its Salt Inhalation Room, which reproduces the climate conditions you’d encounter in a naturally-formed salt cave. The result is a deep cleansing of bacteria and irritants that can only be achieved in such a carefully controlled environment.
As with many spas on this list, Linger Longer is also distinguished by its location: Mu Koh Lanta National Park, a marine archipelago covered with rainforest and beach forest. The spa is just steps away from one of Thailand’s finest stretches of beach inside the park.
Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa & Cultural Hideaway - Elmau, Germany
There’s only one thing that beats the scenic drive through the German countryside to reach Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa and Cultural Hideaway: the spa itself. Named the top “International Destination Spa” in “Travel + Leisure’s” World’s Best Awards this year, this wellness retreat does not disappoint.
Uniquely, Schloss is actually comprised of six separate spas — three for families and three exclusive to adults, including one for women only. For adults traveling sans kids, The Badehause Spa — featuring 16 treatment rooms, two infinity pools, a yoga center and an infinity rooftop pool — is a standout. For families, The Nature Spa, with its three clay tennis courts, boccia ball court and kids’ playground area, beckons.
Stunning views of snow-capped Wetterstein Mountain and tranquil Ferchenback Creek are visible throughout the expansive property.
Clinique La Prairie - Montreux, Switzerland
Clinique La Prairie originally opened in 1931, and has lured visitors with its gorgeous views of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps since.
In addition to its memorable setting, the spa is innovative in its use of technology and science to elevate the R&R experience. Its most famous treatment is Revitalisation cell therapy, an anti-aging procedure based on (yes) the regenerative capabilities of foetal lamb-liver extracts. The clinic has also developed cutting-edge treatments for diabetes, infertility, osteoporisis and sciatica. It’s little wonder that "Condé Nast Traveller Spa" named this the “Most Progressive Clinic” in the world in 2018.
Gaia Retreat & Spa - Brooklet, Australia
This stunning Down Under spa is located on 25 secluded acres in Byron Bay, and offers not only a day spa but an intimate retreat center where guests can book packages ranging from two to seven nights.
But the real distinguishing factor here is a globally renowned restaurant, serving wellness-focused three-course meals made with produce from an onsite garden, and paired with Australian organic wines. This year, the retreat earned a World Luxury Restaurant award in the categories of both Luxury Spa Restaurant and Health & Wellness Cuisine.
Mii Amo - Sedona, Arizona
This Southwestern retreat was recently named the best destination spa in the U.S. by “Travel + Leisure.” In addition to more conventional therapies, it offers a unique regimen called “watsu,” which involves a personal practitioner gently cradling and massaging the body in chest-deep warm water. Native American-inspired treatments include a wellness ritual performed only when there’s a full moon.
The spa is also notable for its setting among Arizona’s spectacular red rock formations, an environment it takes advantage of by focusing on outdoor activities like guided hiking and mountain biking.
The Spa at Adare Manor - Limerick, Ireland
Few resorts boast a history as rich as Adare Manor, an elegant resort built in Limerick during the 19th century. The manor’s interior has been gorgeously renovated since the 1830s, but still retains unique historic touches, including gargoyles throughout and a gallery inspired by the Versailles Hall of Mirrors.
It is within this storied setting that The Spa at Adare Manor pampers guests. With an eye on honoring the hotel’s Celtic roots, treatments integrate material from four trees connected to the ancient Ogham alphabet: willow, oak, ash and birch.
In 2018, this retreat was bestowed with the World Luxury Spa Award for best “Luxury Hideaway Spa.”
Talise Ottoman Spa - Dubai, United Arab Emirates
In one of the world’s busiest cities, the Talise Ottoman Spa at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel is a private oasis far removed from cosmopolitan hustle and bustle. Voted the "Best Resort Spa" by the World Spa Awards in 2017, the spa is renowned for its distinctive features, including “snow rooms” cooled to 4 degrees Celsius and filled with actual snow, ideal for beating the city’s famously scorching heat.
At the center of the spa is a traditional Turkish hammam, where guests can partake in an ancient style of steam bathing that traces back to the Ottoman Empire. And for the truly indulgent, there's a facial involving a mask made out of 24-karat gold.
Este Fitness & Spa - Sofia, Bulgaria
Bulgaria may not be the first place that pops into your mind when you think of wellness, but Este Fitness and Spa is a hidden gem that’s regularly lauded in the World Luxury Spa Awards. Like the Talise Ottoman Spa, it features a hammam, which is uniquely equipped with heated marble massage tables.
Also on tap: a traditional Bulgarian treatment called Boreh, which utilizes a local ingredient recipe dating back to the 13th century.
Viva Mayr Altaussee - Altaussee, Austria
Another winner of the "Condé Nast Traveller" Spa Awards 2018, the Viva Mayr Altaussee combines luxurious facilities with innovative skin and beauty treatments, hydrotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, nutritional counseling and more.
But what really makes the Viva Mayr center a must-visit is the spectacular scenery guests enjoy while there. The resort offers panoramic views of the Austrian Alps, snow-capped in winter, and crystalline Lake Altaussee. The area is also known for its superior air quality, aiding in the revitalization experience.
SpaHalekulani - Honolulu, Hawaii
This year, SpaHalekulani was named the best U.S. spa by the Global Spa and Wellness Awards, and the title is well-deserved. SpaHalekulani is located at the beachfront resort of Halekulani on the Hawaiian island of Oahu — making this a premier spa for beachgoers.
Staying true to the unique cultures of the island, the spa offers Polynesian rituals, including lomi lomi and nonu Samoan massages that utilize kukui nut oil, and a Taurumi Tahitian massage that uses monoi oil, made by soaking the petals of Tahitian gardenias.
After treatments, guests can head to the resort’s five-star and five-diamond restaurant, La Mer, boasting dishes with tropical and French influences.
The Spa at Seafire - Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The Caribbean is rife with luxe, renowned spas — and according to the Global Spa and Wellness awards experts, this spa inside the Kimpton Spitfire hotel is the best of the bunch.
Located along Seven Mile Beach, one of the most popular destinations on Grand Cayman island, the spa is, through and through, a tropical wellness retreat. Set amid native gardens at the foot of the sea, it offers treatments integrating local ingredients, including the “Vitamin Sea” facial, which relies on sea minerals to revitalize the skin, and a body scrub that utilizes oils extracted from local coconuts.
The spa also boasts the only Turkish hamman in the Cayman Islands.
Almablu Wellness & Spa - Lido di Jesolo, Italy
Those in need of R&R after days spent sightseeing in Italy should consider stopping in at Almablu Wellness and Spa at the Almar Jesolo hotel, accessible via a 50-minute boat ride from Venice. Like other hotels on this list, this five-star destination has become a favorite due to its seaside location, with ocean vistas visible from a private spa suite and whirlpool area.
The spa has received several awards over the years, and touts a wellness approach focused on extremes: Guests begin their treatment in a “humid zone” with saunas and steam baths, and can also enjoy an “ice room” featuring a cold-water shower and ice massages.
The spa also offers hydrotherapy treatments based on the teachings of Sebastian Kneipp, a Bavarian priest who helped pioneer the naturopathic medicine movement.
Rancho La Puerta - Tecate, Mexico
Rancho La Puerta is a favorite among “glampers” — those seeking luxe accommodations in a more rustic setting. The award-winning fitness and spa retreat, often referred to simply as “The Ranch,” sits quietly near Baja California’s Mount Kuchumaa, and puts an emphasis on holistic health practices.
In addition to more traditional treatments, guests can participate in a wide array of activities, including 60-minute meditation walks, art-studio sessions and Broadway-style dance classes. Holistic therapies include ayurveda, one of the oldest healing systems in the world.
An onsite organic farm provides food for the spa’s large dining hall, making this a culinary standout as well.
The Lanesborough Club & Spa - London, England
The Lanesborough Club and Spa at The Lanesborough Hotel is an up-and-comer that has quickly established itself in the world of wellness. In addition to boasting elegant facilities, it offers a series of highly regarded mud treatments, and its restaurant menu was designed by Michelin-starred chef Eric Frechon.
On the scene for just a little over a year, it was recently honored as the “World's Best New Hotel Spa” in the World Spa Awards.
Mandara Spa at Norwegian Cruise Line
Most of us probably don’t associate cruises with wellness, but Norwegian Cruise Line offers the ultimate in relaxation while guests sail the high seas. Mandara Spa was awarded the “World's Best Cruise Spa” in 2017 by the World Spa Awards, and it’s just as modern as any spa you’d find at a five-star resort on land.
The spa offers an impressive roster of over 50 specialty treatments, as well as hot tubs, a steam room and tropical rain showers. On select cruises, guests can relax in a salt room, which releases therapeutic salts believed to improve respiratory conditions.
Those looking for a truly immersive experience can book a special spa suite, featuring special features like waterfall showers and in-suite hot tubs, plus prioritized access to spa amenities.