Rubbed up the right way

There's more to spa treatments than just taking the waters. Harriet Griffey assesses the options
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Time was when a spa visit meant several months spent in the taking of, and bathing in, spa waters. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, people travelled from the UK to Europe to "take the waters" for their health, and many European health insurers will still fork out for spa treatments. Then, when the First World War prevented European travel, the British Spa Federation was set up in 1917 to promote the British spa industry, and focus switched from Europe to the spa towns of Bath, Harrogate and Cheltenham.

Time was when a spa visit meant several months spent in the taking of, and bathing in, spa waters. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, people travelled from the UK to Europe to "take the waters" for their health, and many European health insurers will still fork out for spa treatments. Then, when the First World War prevented European travel, the British Spa Federation was set up in 1917 to promote the British spa industry, and focus switched from Europe to the spa towns of Bath, Harrogate and Cheltenham.

The range and number of spas has blossomed over the last 10 years, but now spas can mean anything from a rigorous detox, part of a leisure break, or a return to health. In the language of spas, they fall into five broad categories: medical, destination spas (where you visit purely for the spa), hydrotherapy (where mineral or seawater is key to treatment), day spas (with no residency), hotel/resort spas (spas hosted by the hotel to provide added value).

As we face a British winter and the excesses of a Christmas party season, what better way to prepare or recover than at a spa? Pre-tox or detox, chill out or blob out, the choice of where is comprehensive and covers a variety of approaches. Here's a quick guide to some examples worth considering.

Health

If your inclination is for a serious detox with a medicinal slant, you can't go far wrong with the Mayr Health Spa in Austria, set up in 1936 by Dr Mayr who believed that our poor eating habits and lifestyle raised internal toxin levels, that in turn depleted both our physical and emotional health. It's a rigorous regime, overseen by medical staff who devise individual health cures that include hydrotherapy, colonic irrigation, exercise, and dietary measures designed to purify and detoxify the intestine.

www.golfhotel.at

Ayurveda

Ayurvedic medicine has been practised in India for the last 4,000 years and uses a blend of massage, medicinal herbs, foods, exercise and lifestyle changes to enhance and restore good health.

Many people travel to India to experience Ayurvedic treatments, but an authentic Ayurvedic Spa is located closer to home - in Kent. Here, Ayurvedic practitioners and doctors from Kerala are able to provide an extended range of Ayurvedic diagnoses and appropriate treatments, including: the Panchakarma, a full Ayurvedic detoxification that takes place over five days; Udwarthanam, for obesity related problems, including cellulite; Shirodhara, where warm oil is continuously poured over the forehead to help relieve stress, migraines and insomnia; Abhyanga, where two ayurvedic practitioners massage in unison using warm oil, is followed by a steam bath so the full therapeutic effect of the massage and specially prepared oil is enhanced; plus Pizhichil, a full body MOT, traditionally carried out once a year in India, to prevent premature ageing. All these treatments, which keep the immune system in good working order and the body fit and healthy, are available at this extraordinary Ayurvedic oasis.

www.torsparetreat.co.uk

Ski and spa

If you have a passion for spa treatments and skiing, find a place to stay that provides great skiing, a sauna, a secluded outdoor Jacuzzi looking out onto snowy mountains, Guinot beauty treatments and hot stone massage, plus gourmet food and Jo Malone products in the bathroom, and you've located some sort of ski nirvana. Not for nothing has Ferme de Montagne been selected as one of the 100 Best Spas in the world by Harpers & Queen.

www.fermedemontagne.com

Luxury

Susan Harmsworth is evangelical about E'Spa, and with good reason. She brings to it over 30 years' experience, making E'Spa one of the most sought-after franchises in the spa world. "If I had to pick two things that make a good spa, it would be the journey and the quality of the treatment. You need both of these to complete a good spa experience. You could be in the most amazing environment but if you have a bad treatment, none of this matters. Equally, you may have the most amazing therapist, but if the treatment is interrupted by noise from reception or other clients, the experience is ruined."

Spas in the Mandarin Oriental chain of hotels, Sandy Lane in Barbados, the Maldives, Barcelona, Nice, Milan, Mustique, Edinburgh all benefit from E'Spa extensive hands-on consultancy, which includes a range of natural products, therapist training and architectural consultancy. The aim is to meet consumer need rather than corporate necessity, and it shows.

www.mandarinoriental.com

Thalassotherapy

True to the traditions of spa therapy, thalassotherapy utilises sea water to detox, release muscular tension, or ease arthritis. Common in France, thalassotherapy bridges the gap between health and luxury where, after a seaweed wrap and an invigorating douche à jet musculaire (hosing down with sea water), you can de-stress with aromatherapy massages and pedicure. And also true to French tradition, you can remise en forme (get back in shape) and find out why French women can eat highly calorific food and remain so svelte (see opposite).

Now you can fly direct, courtesy of Ryanair, to Dinard in France, where one of the best thalassotherapy spas provides treatments and good food overlooking the Atlantic and benefiting from the Gulf stream. Over the course of a six-day stay you can for example rack up an average of five treatments a day, so it's more than just an opportunity to chill-out - expect to be seriously revamped.

www.thalassa.com

Family

Center Parcs might not be the first place you think of when you think of spas, but given the family clientele, there's bound to be a stressed-out adult present who would welcome the chance to slope off for a well-earned bit of pampering in one of the Aqua Sana spas recently opened in four Center Parcs resorts. Leave the children to the bicycles and take yourself off for a Hammam steam bath, an Elemis body wrap, a Carita pro-lifting firming facial or a massage. Or leave the kids at home and book yourself in for an Aqua Sana Overnight Escape or Indulgence - plus complimentary bike use!

www.centerparcs.com

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