Pamper yourself. You know you deserve it

It's hard work sampling five of the world's most luxurious health spas but someone's got to do it. Valerie James takes on the task

I am an eternal optimist. I expect every spa visit to magic away flab, every massage to banish stress and tension permanently, and every facial to take 10 years off me. None of these miracles has happened yet, but my list of problems (dodgy back, skin that reacts to over-rich creams, and shoulders tensed in the region of my ears) has been presented to many, many spas. These five are among the best: for their treatments and, however fleeting their effects on me, for their ambience.

Banyan Tree Hotel, Phuket, Thailand

This glorious resort is created around an artificial lake with its back to the sea. Guests stay in individual villas ­ some have private lap pools and raised sundecks ­ with polished teak floors and furniture softened by Thai silks. Inside is a shower and outside a bath in a courtyard, shaded by bougainvillaea and lotus blossoms.

Tearing myself away from the villa, I went to the spa building and waited for my appointment by one of the main pools, sipping fresh ginger tea and observing that the huge Western guests dwarfed the tiny, elegant Thai therapists.

I confessed to my masseuse how gargantuan I felt. She giggled and said: "My name means tiny," holding up her child-size hands for inspection, "but you will see." She led me to an open-air massage room, screened by blinds. As I lay on my stomach on the table, she took away the towel from the doughnut-shaped face ring and I stared at the floor, where a bronze bowl containing a perfect lotus flower had been placed. Tiny's childlike fingers were made of steel, and as they smoothed the oils and muscles into harmony, I thought that here I might drown in beauty.

A week at the Banyan Tree with Elegant Resorts (01244 897888; costs from £1,425 per person, including return flights and room-only accommodation.

Merv Griffin's Resort & Givenchy Spa, Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is Hollywood's playground, and the spa at Merv Griffin's allows you to mix with visiting movie high-rollers. The hotel, spa and gardens are designed in the style of Versailles, with much use of marble, colonnades and arched windows, and beautiful rose gardens, full of bowers, rills and fountains. Rooms are all large and comfortable, decorated in cool beige tones, with views, as everywhere in Palm Springs, of the mountains.

The therapists, from 10 different countries, gave an interesting insight into differing attitudes to health and beauty. Givenchy products are used exclusively; my facial, which certainly did abolish all signs of jetlag, was done by a Frenchwoman, and a La Stone massage, using local lava stone, by a Mexican. This latter treatment was the star turn. I was unsure at the beginning about the weight and heat of the stones, but they turned me to jelly and afterwards I slept for 11 hours.

Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel & Givenchy Spa is a member of Leading Hotels of the World (00800 2888 8882; Rooms cost from US$199 (£140) per night.

Oberoi Hotel, Mauritius

The Oberoi is one of the newest hotels on the island, and follows its parent group's usual style of individual villas, Indonesian longhouse restaurant and much use of thatch. Set on a beach at Baie aux Tortues, it has a view of the mountains, white sand and unforgettable sunsets.

The spa, too, is a thing of beauty: a teak construction with long corridors, indoor and outdoor treatment and rest areas, and cooling fountains. The Mauritian therapists are charming, and the treatments are based on local ingredients and traditional Ayurvedic principles. My favourites included a body exfoliation with a coconut husk (rough) followed by a massage with fresh coconut flakes, finished off with a papaya-based cream to give my skin a smooth, silky polish. The next day I had an Ayurvedic massage, then a steam treatment and finally the shirodhara ­ warm oil trickled on to the "Third Eye", in the centre of the forehead ­ the ultimate relaxation therapy, calming the mind and reducing blood pressure.

Five nights at the Oberoi Hotel, Mauritius with Abercrombie & Kent (0845 070 0611; cost from £1,770 per person, including return flights and b&b accommodation.

Hasseludden Conference & Yasuragi, Stockholm

Located in an old school, on an island in the Stockholm archipelago, this Japanese spa represents an extraordinary juxtaposition of cultures. The rooms are furnished with tatami mattresses, and in the larger ones, sliding paper screens separate living and sleeping quarters. A special treat is breakfast in your room, where a Japanese feast is laid out on low black tables for you to enjoy as you watch the huge ferries sailing by outside.

Treatment areas are on a lower level, arranged in a square around a collection of sacred stones. It was here that I delivered my dodgy back to Mr Chau, a Chinese Tuina therapist. He said he would sort it out and he did, almost permanently, with one manipulation and a massage. He also advised me to relax in the outdoor hot tubs, set on balconies among the snow and the pines ­ very Japanese, very Swedish ­ and swim a little, which I did, back eased, in the huge pool, Mozart trickling through the speakers, happily and totally culturally mish-mashed.

For further information about the Hasseludden Conference & Yasuragi, contact the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council (00800 3080 3080;

The Lygon Arms, Broadway, Worcestershire

The Lygon Arms couldn't be more English. Dating from the 16th century and set in one of the Cotswolds' tourist-trap villages, it is built in the local honey-coloured stone and has beamed ceilings and traditional furnishings. Its history includes visits from both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell (at different times).

The service ­ presumably because the hotel is part of the Savoy Group ­ is impeccable, and also very English. But make your way down the lavender-edged path to the Lygon Arms Country Club, with its gym, colonnaded pool and spa, and you are transported to Italy. Treatments here use Dermologica, Borghese and Versace products. Borghese is exclusive to the Lygon Arms and includes thermally treated Fangoactive mud.

I could have tried Detoxicura, but I chose Curacorpo (the treatments even sound more effective in Italian), a mud-wrap to detoxify, firm and reduce cellulite, all of which means sleeker and slimmer. I followed that with a mud facial. Bliss, utter bliss, and an English afternoon tea in front of an open fire only yards away.

B&b at The Lygon Arms (01386 852255; costs from £120 per night single or £175 double.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open