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12 of the Most Spectacular Spa Designs Around the World

While spas may seem like a place to just relax, they can also be architectural and design marvels. The history of spas proves very interesting, in understanding how we came to the culture of spas we have today. Join me in discovering the most incredible spas around the world!

A spa is a location where mineral-rich spring water (and sometimes seawater) is used to give medicinal baths. Spa towns or spa resorts (including hot springs resorts) typically offer various health treatments, which are also known as balneotherapy. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are especially widespread in Europe and Japan.

The term is derived from the name of the town of Spa, Belgium, whose name is known from Roman times, when the location was called Aquae Spadanaesometimes incorrectly connected to the Latin word spargere meaning to scatter, sprinkle or moisten. Since medieval times, illnesses caused by iron deficiency were treated by drinking chalybeate (iron-bearing) spring water (in 1326, the iron-master Collin le Loup claimed a cure, when the spring was called Espa, a Walloon word for “fountain”). In 16th-century England, the old Roman ideas of medicinal bathing were revived at towns like Bath (not the source of the word bath), and in 1596 William Slingsby who had been to the Belgian town (which he called Spaw) discovered a chalybeate spring in Yorkshire. He built an enclosed well at what became known as Harrogate, the first resort in England for drinking medicinal waters, then in 1596 Dr. Timothy Bright after discovering a second well called the resort The English Spaw, beginning the use of the word Spa as a generic description.

 

The History of Spas

There is evidence of prehistoric people visiting natural hot and cold mineral springs in search of a cure for their ailments. Bronze age artifacts have been found at springs that still exist today. In the ancient world, these natural springs and their healing powers were often associated with gods. There has always been a spiritual component to the healing properties of water. In many traditions, the ritual of bathing in or using the water from a particular river, or other purified water, can bring about physical and spiritual purification. The ancient Greeks were known for bathing. During this time, taking a bath was associated with treating illnesses and personal hygiene. Ancient Greeks kept vessels and basins in their homes for washing hands and feet. People did not have bathtubs or running water inside their homes, but public bathhouses were used. The Greeks began bathing regimens that formed the foundation for modern spa procedures. The earliest such findings are the baths in the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, and the luxurious alabaster bathtubs excavated in Akrotiri, Santorini; both date from the mid-2nd millennium BC. They established public baths and showers within their gymnasium complexes for relaxation and personal hygiene. Greek mythology specified that certain natural springs or tidal pools were blessed by the gods to cure disease. Around these sacred pools, Greeks established bathing facilities for those desiring healing. Supplicants left offerings to the gods for healing at these sites and bathed themselves in hopes of a cure. The Spartans developed a primitive vapor bath. At Serangeum, an early Greek balneum (bathhouse, loosely translated), bathing chambers were cut into the hillside from which the hot springs issued. A series of niches cut into the rock above the chambers held bathers’ clothing. One of the bathing chambers had a decorative mosaic floor depicting a driver and chariot pulled by four horses, a woman followed by two dogs, and a dolphin below. Thus, the early Greeks used the natural features, but expanded them and added their own amenities, such as decorations and shelves. During later Greek civilization, bathhouses were often built in conjunction with athletic fields.

The Romans followed the Greek bathing traditions, and expanded them, building large and complex bathhouses. Archaeological ruins of Roman baths have been found throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East in the areas formerly known as the Roman Empire. Temporary or permanent buildings were built around natural mineral springs. Roman technologies including the ability to deliver running water into cities via aqueducts and the invention of cement made construction of bathhouses easier, and the culture of the time favored the public health benefits as well as leisurely benefits of bathing. Romans expanded spa rituals to also include sauna, massage, and resting afterwards. During medieval times, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the cultural attitude toward spas and bathhouses changed. People believed that too much bathing was unhealthy and bathhouses were places of immoral activity. They preferred natural hot and cold springs, which were believed to be holy sites that could cure diseases. Some natural springs actually could cure certain conditions, due to water rich in iron or other minerals, and health resorts were built around those springs. In addition, the Romans used the hot thermal waters to relieve their suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, and overindulgence in food and drink. The decline of the Roman Empire in the west, beginning in AD 337 after the death of Emperor Constantine, resulted in Roman legions abandoning their outlying provinces and leaving the baths to be taken over by the local population or destroyed.

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the public baths often became places of licentious behavior, and such use was responsible for the spread rather than the cure of diseases. A general belief developed among the European populace was that frequent bathing promoted disease and sickness. Medieval church authorities encouraged this belief and made every effort to close down public baths. Ecclesiastical officials believed that public bathing created an environment open to immorality and disease. Roman Catholic Church officials even banned public bathing in an unsuccessful effort to halt syphilis epidemics from sweeping Europe. Overall, this period represented a time of decline for public bathing. Great bathhouses were built in Byzantine centers such as Constantinople and Antioch, and the popes allocated to the Romans bathing through diaconia, or private Lateran baths, or even a myriad of monastic bath houses functioning in eighth and ninth centuries. Bathing procedures during this period varied greatly. By the 16th century, physicians at Karlsbad, Bohemia, prescribed that the mineral water be taken internally as well as externally. Patients periodically bathed in warm water for up to 10 or 11 hours while drinking glasses of mineral water.

One  example of the curing properties of spas was found in the Belgian town of Spa, which featured a natural mineral spring with iron-rich water. People came to drink the water of the spring to be cured of conditions caused by iron deficiency. A health spa resort was built around the spring, and the word “spa” eventually came to mean a health resort built near a natural mineral spring.n the English coastal town of Scarborough in 1626, a Mrs. Elizabeth Farrow discovered a stream of acidic water running from one of the cliffs to the south of the town. This was deemed to have beneficial health properties and gave birth to Scarborough Spa. Dr Wittie’s book about the spa waters published in 1660 attracted a flood of visitors to the town. Sea bathing was added to the cure, and Scarborough became Britain’s first seaside resort. The first rolling bathing machines for bathers are recorded on the sands in 1735. In the early 1700s, spa resorts increased in popularity when Queen Anne of Great Britain visited Bath, England, which was a former Roman bath site. After her visit, a few other high-profile Brits also visited Bath and soon the spa resort there became the social center of England. Socialites would stay for weeks or months at a time, bathing in and drinking the mineral waters, and enjoying other activities such as games, shopping, concerts, dinners, dances, and taking in the social setting. Vacations centered around healing spa resorts, which became popular and spread all over Europe, as people sought out better health through water. In the 20th century, modern medicine began to cure some of the more extreme medical cases that spas once helped, and spas became more about leisure, wellness, nutrition, weight loss, and beauty.

In the 19th century, bathing became a more accepted practice as physicians realized some of the benefits that cleanliness could provide. A cholera epidemic in Liverpool, England in 1842 resulted in a sanitation renaissance, facilitated by the overlapping hydropathy and sanitation movements, and the implementation of a series of statutes known collectively as “The Baths and Wash-houses Acts 1846 to 1896”. By the mid-19th century, the situation had changed dramatically. Visitors to the European spas began to stress bathing in addition to drinking the waters. Besides fountains, pavilions, and Trinkhallen, bathhouses on the scale of the Roman baths were revived. Photographs of a 19th-century spa complex taken in the 1930s, detailing the earlier architecture, show heavy use of mosaic floors, marble walls, classical statuary, arched openings, domed ceilings, segmental arches, triangular pediments, Corinthian columns, and all the other trappings of a Neoclassical revival.At the beginning of the 20th century, European spas combined a strict diet and exercise regimen with a complex bathing procedure to achieve benefits for the patients. The European spas provided various other diversions for guests after the bath, including gambling, horse racing, fishing, hunting, tennis, skating, dancing, golf, and horseback riding. Sight-seeing and theatrical performances served as further incentives for people to go to the spa.

By the mid-1850s hot and cold spring resorts existed in 20 states. Many of these resorts contained similar architectural features. Most health resorts had a large, two-story central building near or at the springs, with smaller structures surrounding it. The main building provided the guests with facilities for dining, and possibly, dancing on the first floor, and the second story consisted of sleeping rooms.

The Jacuzzi Brothers company was founded in Berkeley, California in 1915. It was a business owned by seven brothers from Italy. They started out making wooden propellers for airplanes, but then moved on to other inventions. In 1956 they designed a pump that could be submerged in a bathtub to provide hydrotherapy treatments for a family member suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Roy Jacuzzi and his team created the first jetted whirlpool bath in 1968, and the company went on from there to design and manufacture Jacuzzi hot tubs as we know them today. Jacuzzi style hot tubs changed the spa industry, and are still a major feature of most spas today. The evolution of spas has been continuous, and nowadays vacation resorts are not necessarily built around natural hot or cold mineral springs (though some are), rather most vacation resorts are built in a particular destination, and then they create a spa within the resort. Modern day technology allows for the creation of any kind of spa imaginable. Most modern spas are still based on the healing power of water, and also offer many other kinds of treatments, utilizing both ancient techniques and modern technologies. Today we realize the value of relaxation, de-stressing, and a natural, holistic approach to wellness, which is why spas are so popular right now. Luckily for us, spas are now accessible to everyone, not just the very wealthy.

 

The 10 Most Spectacular Spa Designs Around the World

1.Marqués de Riscal 

Post–Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Gehry returned to northern Spain to create the Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection hotel and spa and a jubilant shot of dynamic contemporary design amid the rolling vineyards of the Rioja Alavesa wine region. Gehry used some 30,000 square feet of titanium to create the ruffled roofline—whose energetic waves evoke a flamenco dancer’s skirts—and created a glass passage that leads to the spa, designed by architect Yves Collet. There, the Bordeaux, France–based Caudalie offers the relaxing, rejuvenating—and, in some cases, even slimming—wine- and grape-based wellness treatments that the brand originally perfected in its home country.SPA Vinothérapie® Caudalie Marqués de Riscal is a unique concept offered in an extraordinary setting. The prestigious cosmetics brand Caudalie, creators of the Vinothérapie® SPA concept, offers effective, natural treatments which contain the extraordinary properties of the vine and the grape. A unique moment of pleasure involving all the senses so as to enjoy a taste of paradise: unique aromas of precious oils, relaxing music and skilled hands to enable you to live an extraordinary experience. The winery was founded in 1858, so there is a long tradition in the space. 

 

2. Rogner Bad Blumau

Rogner Bad Blumau is a famous Therme Hotel in Styria, Austria. The thermal bath complex was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, one of Austria’s most prominent and well-known visual artists of the 20th century.  Hundertwasser’s artistry and philosophy of living in harmony with nature permeates every facet of the Rogner Bad Blumau. Defining design features include walkable green roofs, uneven floors, asymmetrical windows, and organic lines and shapes. It’s a one-of-a-kind architectural complex, which is also the world’s largest liveable work of art. The roof is made of grass, and trees twist through the floors. The hotel is, in essence, a thermal bathhouse where traditional spa treatments sit alongside modern and Eastern practices. There is a water landscape with sweetwater and thermal pools. Spend half a day exploring the range of saunas. Then recharge or work out at the health center. Finish up by taking a relaxing walk through the amazing green grounds.

The main house of Rogner Bad Blumau welcomes its guests with its distinctive Hundertwasser architecture. The colourful façade of this unique building creates just the right holiday mood. It comprises 46 rooms, the hotel’s reception desk, and the main part of the administrative offices. Friedrich Stowasser, better known by his pseudonym Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, was an Austrian visual artist and architect who also worked in the field of environmental protection. On his numerous travels around the world he collected many ideas, experiences and insights which he used to redesign buildings and design new houses. Friedensreich Hundertwasser did not think of himself as an architect, rather as a healer of ailing architecture.

 

3. Spa Fasano at Hotel Fasano Punta del Este

The area just inland of Uruguay’s ultrachic beachfront retreat Punta del Este proved the perfect place for the December 2010 opening of the first countryside resort from Brazil’s design-minded Fasano brand. Here, top Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld designed a minimalist spa whose bunkerlike appearance can, at first glance, belie its high style. The slabs of rough limestone that make up its exterior, however, elegantly recall the surrounding granite boulders, while a long, low window (shown) affords seemingly endless views from the indoor pool over the 1,200-acre estancia. Inside, five treatment rooms, a sauna, a steam room, a fitness center, and the traditional Japanese wood soaking tubs called ofuro surround a glass-enclosed winter garden planted with Uruguayan cacti and other local flora.

 

4. Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort

Enveloped by virgin forests on a ridge overlooking both the hills of Myanmar and Laos, this laid-back but utterly luxurious resort and spa is in a truly unique setting in Northern Thailand. The soulful spa is a cut above, set up in a three-story, open-air pavilion with wood treatment suites that quite literally overlook three countries. The treatments here employ centuries-old northern wellness traditions that are fused with indigenous and local medicinal ingredients. The spa’s peaceful setup is a short amble to a rice paddy pavilion that is set up for yoga and massages. For 16 years, ever since they opened their Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, they have put elephant welfare at the core of their mission. Early on, they hired a director of elephants—his business cards actually said this—who is beyond passionate about the animals.

The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort is located in the northernmost province in Thailand, Chiang Rai, and unlike most luxury resorts you’re likely to visit in your lifetime, it offers activities that are truly unique to the area. Originally the capital of Thailand’s ancient Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Rai is a destination known for rich cultural attractions that include ornate temples such as Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), historical relics such as Wat Phra Kaeo (the Emerald Buddha) and sites like the Hall of Opium and Golden Triangle Park, which gives insight to the region’s dark past as a narcotics hub.

 

5. Brenners Park Hotel and Spa

Baden-Baden is one of the world’s most famous spa towns, and there is no spa more comprehensive or professional than in our Villa Stéphanie Spa & Wellbeing, a spa where guests enjoy recuperative, preventative and luxurious treatments, in glorious surroundings. Covering an area of 5000 square metres, an entire house has been dedicated to the world of spa. Stretching over five floors, it comprises a 500-square-metre sauna, indoor swimming pool, plunge pool, private gym and a ladies sauna. Inspiringly designed treatment rooms overlooks the gardens. Old World elegance and state-of- the-art healing are combined at this Belle Epoque mansion in the Black Forest. The sister property to Baden-Baden’s Brenners Park, it has just 15 rooms and a genius digital detox switch that blocks WiFi. Next door, experts in dentistry, cardiology, and physiotherapy create individualized programs for detoxing, skin rejuvenation, mental vigor, and more. Unlike elsewhere, the experience is intensely private. 

 

6. Mamounia Spa at La Mamounia

A Moroccan fantasia of artisanal mosaic tile work, horseshoe arches, intricate plaster details, and marble floors, the Jacques Garcia–designed spa at Marrakech’s recently redone and reopened grande dame hotel, La Mamounia, has never looked better. Garcia found his rather specific muse in the hammams of 1950s Cairo, and their intimacy, low lighting, flowing curtains, and overall feeling of mystery inspired his vision for Mamounia Spa’s cathedral-ceilinged ozone-treated pool (shown), nine treatment rooms, six outdoor massage pavilions, and three hammams—that’s one for each gender and another that can be taken by private appointment only. All this exotically elegant space isn’t just for show, of course: The extensive treatment menu contains some 80 different therapies.

 

7. Chable Resort, Mexico

The 32,000-square-foot spa at this 19th-century Yucatán hacienda is centered on a cenote and surrounded by Mayan ruins, and the therapies are rooted in ancient practices. There’s a resident shaman, detoxifying sweat lodge sessions, and full moon bathing rituals. The menu includes mouthwatering dishes like suckling pig with pickled Ixchil onions. Chablé is a sanctuary set amid tropical gardens in Merida, and while small in stature, the spa is one of the most magical setups imaginable. Inspired by and in reverence to the natural world, Chablé Spa oozes tranquility and rejuvenation, and truly is in a league of its own. All things revolve around a natural cenote, and this spa has shaken up the wellness game by blending ancient mysticism and modern methodologies. Chablé is a true reset in every sense of the word—the perfect place for a touch of relaxation and replenishment.

 

8. Amangiri, Utah

Amangiri is the stuff of legends—and for good reason. The pace here is peaceful, and life centers around the stunning pool built into the surrounding cliff face, which seems to flow from within the rock itself. Combining natural hues, textures, and designs, the resort’s limestone pavilions provide a cool oasis, and the signature Aman Spa is breathtaking and treatments unrivaled, characterized by an overwater sauna pavilion and an ultra-modern floating treatment pagoda. Magic. The desert setting is otherworldly, the 34 suites have terraces to let you soak in the mesa and dune views, and the 25,000-square- foot spa is inspired by Navajo traditions. And no other Aman offers more beyond-the-spa excursions. Amangiri is in the Four Corners, surrounded by the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, Lake Powell, and Grand Staircase– Escalante, and its staff includes archaeologists, geologists, and naturalists.

 

9. Ananda, India

Even if you’re not into yoga, a visit to this resort on a 100-acre maharaja’s estate in the Himalayan foothills will leave you feeling enlightened. The 24,000-square-foot spa has 24 treatment rooms and offers more than 80 therapies that balance physical and mental well-being through meditation, chanting, breath control, reflexology, and dosha-appropriate meals of veggie thalis and curries. Daily lectures on vedanta, or life philosophy, feed the mind.

Ananda in the Himalayas offers the perfect marriage of a profoundly beautiful and spiritual location with a well-balanced program of treatments and practices, in a luxurious resort. It has earned a reputation as one of the world’s best health and wellbeing retreats – it won Conde Nast Traveler2019 Reader’s Choice Award for Top Destination Spa Resort in the World – and the accolades are well deserved. Inspired by a deep understanding of ancient Indian traditions, Ananda Spa employs qualified Ayurveda doctors and therapists to administer personalized treatments ranging from therapeutic massage to toxic elimination; experienced Bihar School yoga teachers will design your yoga and meditation program; and there are daily interactive talks from Vedanta disciples and leading international masters. Ananda in the Himalayas is a total experience for anyone wishing to heal, cleanse, relax and revitalize, restore balance, and embrace holistic wellbeing.

 

10. THE WELL at Hacienda AltaGracia

Tucked away in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains in Southern Costa Rica, a new property is vying to be the world’s preeminent wellness destination. Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection—the love child of Auberge Resorts and New York City’s feel-good sanctuary The Well—is set on 864 tropical acres and features 50 “casitas” thoughtfully designed by New York-based interiors guru Nina Gotlieb, as well as an onsite organic farm, a coffee plantation, 28 horse stables, and a palatial hydrotherapy center. The programming is meant to suit wellness wonks and adventure junkies alike—from retreat classics (yoga, meditation) and outdoorsy thrills (tree climbing, horseback riding) to more spiritual pursuits (gong baths, crystal energy healing, palm readings).. True to form, Auberge Resorts Collection has thoughtfully reimagined the spa experience, with East-meets-West healing practices, expert-driven health coaching and workshops, and holistic treatments. This will mark the lauded wellness brand’s first international foray where it will introduce Talamancan healing traditions, fusing advanced therapies with local healing traditions. The setup for the spa is Casa de Agua, a greenhouse-style pool and therapy room with heated stone beds for natural clay treatments and relaxation, which overlooks rolling hills and a lush endless canopy of trees. Whether you’re a spa novice or a wellness aficionado, this retreat is not to be missed.

 

11. Hoshinoya Tokyo

Japanese architect Rie Azuma reinvented the traditional Japanese ryokan when she created Tokyo’s Hoshinoya property in the city’s buzzy Otemachi neighborhood. For spa-goers, the main attraction is a breathtaking hot-spring bath, situated on the hotel’s 17th floor. The baths are filled with healing waters and offer full exposure to the sky, creating a truly sensual experience.Initially, the ryokan appears as a tall black monolith that blends in with its surroundings, a landscape of towering office buildings that compose Tokyo’s financial heart. As you get closer, you see that its dark exterior is actually an elegant lattice of leaf-like patterns, or komon, that veils the ryokan. Outside the entrance are multihued stone benches shaped like boats and planters that resemble ikebana vases, forming a contemporary Zen garden. You soon realize there is nothing monolithic about this ryokan.

There are indoor hot spring bath fed from 1,500 meters below Tokyo. The thick, saline waters have an energizing effect. A tunnel leads away from the bath; you wade through it and emerge into the outdoor bath. A gentle night breeze blows in through the open roof, a privilege afforded by the bath’s location on the top floor. The sky is a serene expanse of black, almost unblemished by the glare of city lights. For a moment, you can forget you are in the center of one of the busiest metropolises in the world.

 

12. Tschuggen Grand Hotel (Arosa, Switzerland)

Mario Botta designed the cathedral-like Tschuggen Bergoase spa in the Swiss resort town of Arosa. The 54,000-square-foot complex has become well known for its trademark steel-and-glass sails that allow the interior to be permeated with light and mountain views. Carlo Rampazzi created the delicate interiors that combine light, water, and stone.High above everyday life is a sanctuary providing regeneration for body and soul, conscious enjoyment and authentic immersion in the region. All this holds unforgettable moments – whether with the family, as a couple or even all to yourself for once. Since 2019, the Tschuggen Hotel Group has already been operated in a completely climate-neutral manner. With the Green Globe certification, they have gone one step further, making them one of the most sustainable premium hotel groups in Switzerland.The Tschuggen Bergoase opens a new dimension of spaciousness and comfort, nature and geometry, warmth, rock, light and water.The fresh air of the mountains and the raw energy of the water, which rises in the heart of the Swiss Alps and rests in the deep blue Lake Maggiore, revitalize not only the surrounding landscape but also the human organism In our Bespoke Spa Journeys, we take this power and channel it through tailor-made treatments for sustainable health and holistic wellbeing – using purely organic or certified natural products. 

 

These are some of the most spectacular spas around the world, and their pricing reflects it. While spas are a luxury destination, there are also many around the world that are much more affordable, or even natural hot springs that are free. So, whether you’re looking for a luxury experience or to just connect with nature and relax, there is something for you!

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