From Greece to Iceland, these World-Class Spas Combine Wellness and Exquisite Design
Immersed in nature, these beautifully conceived spa destinations rejuvenate the body and soul
Practicing self-care has taken on renewed prominence as people search for ways to cope with life’s stressors. For some, that means a deep plunge in healing waters while for others it’s a vigorous hike over desert terrain. From infrared saunas and multisensory pools to lava rock massages and mineral salt baths, wellness comes in more forms than ever. At these spas, which offer carefully curated therapies administered in masterfully designed spaces, a healthy-living experience equates to beauty inside and out.
Designer Paulina Moran was given carte blanche to create the interiors of this 40-room luxury resort, set on 750 acres of a former sisal plantation outside Mérida. Guests check in at a manor home from the 1800s, but its upscale accommodations are freestanding glass villas, each with a private pool. The spa here is more than 100,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor gorgeousness, with a menu of Maya-inspired treatments; an impressive hydrotherapy circuit (with steam, dry sauna, and cool plunge); a sculptural “caracol,” where a shaman conducts readings and sound cleansing; and hidden nooks for meditation. There are three options for dining, with culinary offerings designed by chef Jorge Vallejo (whose Mexico City restaurant, Quintonil, was named one of the World’s 50 Best), most using organic, seasonal ingredients that are often sourced from the expansive on-site gardens.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort
Sensei Lanai opened after an extensive renovation helmed by architect and designer Todd-Avery Lenahan. The 96-room property is nestled in the secluded mountain region of Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. With over a thousand different species of plants, a ficus forest, and rare 30-foot-tall Bismarck palms, Sensei is a dream destination for anyone looking to engage fully with nature while still encountering a Claude Lalanne or Fernando Botero sculpture. Aiming to “balance play with purpose,” this world-class wellness enclave creates customized itineraries for each guest based on their physical, emotional, and nutritional goals. Visitors can partake in the unlimited complimentary yoga, meditation, fitness, mindfulness, and nutrition classes; 18-hole putting course; and a zip line with sweeping views of Kaiholena Gulch. Treatments such as massages, facials, and aqua therapy can be experienced in private spa “hales,” Japanese-inspired, teak-clad sanctuaries hidden within a secluded garden, complete with a private plunge pool.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon
Remote yet easily accessible, this 62-suite property debuted on the Reykjanes Peninsula, a UNESCO Global Geopark with volcanic craters, mud pools, hot springs, and 800-year-old lava fields. Designed by Reykjavik-based Basalt Architects with Milan’s Design Group Italia, the Retreat hotel seems to rise from those expanses, with serene rooms abutting the milky-blue geothermal waters of the iconic Blue Lagoon. The subterranean spa is meant to look as if it had been carved into the volcanic earth, with concourses of lava stone leading to massage rooms, steam and sauna, a cold plunge well, secluded lounges, and a panoramic viewing deck. The spa provides a curated selection of treatments (both in water and out), including an experience that takes visitors through a circuit of mineral salt, algae, and silica, and has the option to conclude in the Lava Cove, a self-contained sanctuary that features a fireplace, butler, and its very own lagoon.
This Aman property debuted earlier this year, hidden in plain sight on 80 acres, 72 of which are dedicated to permanent forest. Just steps from Kyoto’s famed Kinkaku-ji Temple, the resort was designed by the late architect Kerry Hill, an Aga Khan Award winner who was also tapped for Aman resorts in New Delhi, Tokyo, and Shanghai. Intimate pavilions that are in harmony with their surroundings are linked by moss-covered stone paths. The 24 guest suites and two villas are resplendent in ryokan-inspired design with quietly beautiful furnishings, deep hinoki bathtubs, and floor-to-ceiling windows framing the stunning landscape. The spa pavilion houses three treatment suites as well as indoor and outdoor bathing facilities that are fed by mineral-rich natural hot springs. Many of the brand’s signature spa treatments incorporate healing ingredients unique to the area, such as local sake, Tanba Kuromame black soy beans, cold-pressed camellia oil, and even gold leaf. Six bespoke blends of tea have been created for the spa; their grounding and meditative effects are meant to complement the therapies, but their ingredients have also found their way into the essential oils used by the practitioners and their calming scents infuse the space.
Greece’s first holistic wellness destination was born out of owner Marina Efraimoglou’s personal journey as a cancer survivor. A stay at the legendary California spa Golden Door led her to “set the intention of opening a healing retreat” in her homeland. The 45-room property, designed by Deca Architecture, is built into a mountainside in Mystras, a medieval Peloponnese town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Euphoria is spread across several buildings, including a restored structure that dates to 1830, with the spa perched at the highest point. The stars of that four-story structure are a domed multisensory pool with color striations inspired by the architecture of the Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine hammam, Finnish sauna, and a striking minimal staircase that winds around a skylighted interior well. Guests can choose from an à la carte menu of treatments, including those that combine forms of Greek and Chinese medicine, or embark on an expertly guided journey to address weight loss, fitness, nutrition, or balance concerns.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2020 Fall issue under the headline “Worlds Away.” Subscribe to the magazine.