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; www.elegantresorts.co.uk) 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; www.lhw.com). 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; www.abercrombieandkent.com) 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; www.visit-sweden.com).

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; www.savoy-group.com/lygon) costs from £120 per night single or £175 double.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn