Forget seeing the sites. At these retreats, the spa is the destination.

BY UTE JUNKER

IS THERE ANYTHING better than a great massage? We think so. A truly memorable spa experience requires three more things: a picture-perfect setting, food that nourishes the soul and an atmosphere that encourages – no, forces – you to exhale. Here, we take a look at five dreamy resorts that set the standard for destination spas.

GO WITH THE FLOW

7132 Hotel, Switzerland

WHY HERE? Design lovers will swoon over the spa and magnificent thermal baths at this eye-catching alpine hotel in the town of Vais.

TELL ME MORE. In the beginning, there were the waters. Enriched with natural minerals on their 25-year subterranean journey through the alps, the healing waters of St Peters Spring can be enjoyed in six separate baths at 7132 Thermal Baths. Built by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, the bathhouse features some 60,000 slabs of local quartzite.

Zumthor is one of two celebrated architects behind the 7132 Hotel, the other being Kengo Kuma, who hails from Japan. The latter’s oak­panelled, cocoon-like rooms team beautifully with Zumthor’s moody stucco interiors.

Hotel guests enjoy complimentary access to the baths and an on-site spa that offers a range of treatments, including a massage using a compress filled with alpine herbs and a hot-stone session featuring more of that local quartzite.

Just being immersed in this incredible Swiss landscape is enough to make you feel better. In summer, the Vais Valley offers spectacular hiking; in winter, skiers and snowboarders are joined by tobogganists and snowshoers in exploring the winter wonderland.

DON’T MISS… The hotel’s finest restaurant, 7132 Silver. As if a double helping of Michelin stars wasn’t enough, the head of the kitchen was recently named Gault&Millau’s Swiss chef of the year. The peak experience is a 10-course chef’s table feast accompanied by rare Cristal Champagne cuvees.

Embraced by ancient cedar and pine forests, lapped by sparkling waters and framed by dramatic peaks, the resort reminds you, with every spectacular view, that you have arrived in a special place.

RICH PICKINGS

Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

WHY HERE? Offering luxury accommodation in seaside suites or 15th-century stone cottages, this twice-as-nice Adriatic retreat delivers a deluxe stay with a globally inspired spa menu.

TELL ME MORE. Some guests demand the royal treatment. At Aman Sveti Stefan, that means waking up by a pink-sand beach in a villa that was, in a previous life, literally a royal retreat. Other guests choose a different experience, heading across the narrow causeway to the fortified island that houses an additional 51 rooms in a village setting.

Both options make the most of Aman Sveti Stefan’s unique surrounds. Embraced by ancient cedar and pine forests, lapped by sparkling waters and framed by dramatic peaks, the resort reminds you, with every spectacular view, that you have arrived in a special place.

It is a feeling that is reinforced by the wellness offerings, which draw inspiration from around the world. You can take a Thai kickboxing class or try a healing session of hi lot therapy, a Filipino treatment that detects energy imbalances in the body. Be sure to book the spa’s signature treatment, the Adriatic Rejuvenation, featuring an oat-milk soak followed by a body exfoliation using local ingredients, including mint-infused olive oil, wild honey and raw sugar, and a massage with lavender and palmarosa oils.

DON’T MISS… One of the great delights of this resort is the historic village at its heart, so take the time to wander the picturesque lanes that lead to hidden terraces, inviting restaurants and bars, and weathered stone churches.

NEED TO KNOW. Plan for a summer sojourn as the resort closes for the winter season.

SOUL REVIVAL

Six Senses Ibiza, Spain

WHY HERE? It’s Ibiza, but not as you know it. Raves are out, restoration is in at this wellness retreat.

TELL ME MORE. At the recently opened Six Senses Ibiza, they start as they mean to go on. When guests arrive on the private peninsula that houses the resort, they are greeted with a smoke ceremony designed to cleanse them of everyday cares.

That’s not the only cleansing that goes on. From turmeric and ginger shots at breakfast to the spirulina smoothies served by the pool and the local, seasonal ingredients at the resort’s signature alfresco restaurant, HaSalon Ibiza, everything here is designed to boost your body and soothe your soul.

If you tire of the spa’s steam room, hammam, juice bar, longevity lounge and massage catacombs, there are plenty of other activities on offer, including the chance to hurtle through the pine forest on an electric mountain bike and take cooking classes using produce grown on the resort’s farm. The hotel hosts regular retreats throughout the year, focusing on anything from running to improving sleep.

DON’T MISS… The heart of the property is the 1,200-square-­metre wellness centre, surrounded by organic gardens which provide the botanicals for the spa.

SLOW DOWN BY THE SEA

Sublime Comporta, Portugal

WHY HERE? This low-key luxe retreat numbers Madonna and Ralph Lauren among its fans.

TELL ME MORE. It takes about an hour to reach the Troia Peninsula from Lisbon, but it might as well be another country. Breathe in the pine-scented air, take a stroll through the wave­washed sand dunes and you will feel the stress slide off your shoulders.

Among the rustic-chic villas and cabanas scattered around the lush grounds, the Bio-Pool Suites are the most irresistible. They’re built on stilts in the style of local fishermen’s huts, making it easy to dive from your terrace right into your private, chemical-free pool.

Book a massage at the spa, which uses sea salt and regional botanicals, or stretch out in the yoga studio before heading to the resort’s acclaimed diner, Sem Porta, where the menu features local fare, including fresh fish and black pig.

DON’T MISS… Tempting as it is to hole up on the property, take some time to explore the area. The endless beaches are lined with laid-back beach shacks offering casual meals by the sea. Alternatively, staff can pack a picnic for you – all you have to do is choose a stretch of sand and remember to keep an eye out for passing dolphins.

Breathe in the pine-scented air, take a stroll through the wave-washed sand dunes, and you will feel the stress slide off your shoulders.

DIVE RIGHT IN

Euphoria Retreat, Greece

WHY HERE? Enjoy a mountain high at this Peloponnese spa hotel, which has developed a cult following. In part, that’s thanks to its expansive menu of spa treatments, which meld Eastern and Western approaches.

TELL ME MORE. In addition to that impressive spa menu, Euphoria Retreat boasts nourishing Mediterranean fare, meal plans tailored to guests’ needs, and a dramatic setting, close to one of Greece’s most atmospheric World Heritage sites, the town of Mystras.

What really elevates this experience, however, is the architecture. A stay at Euphoria Retreat is designed to be a transformative experience and the spa’s full-scale architecture, with its array of domes and pools, draws inspiration from cathedrals and pleasure gardens. The spiral staircase has guests ascend through shifting coloured lights, from a mystic blue to an ebullient yellow. But the most striking element is the domed hydrotherapy pool where guests can dive down four metres, shedding their stresses before resurfacing, cleansed of their cares.

DON’T MISS… Euphoria offers a range of multi­day retreats, including a new Feel Alive Again program. Designed to assist those who are struggling with pandemic fatigue, it includes workshops dedicated to exploring emotions, creating mandalas and crystallising a vision for the future.