A decade ago, we didn't know our shiatsu from our sushi. How things change - these days spa therapies are big business, and a holiday must, reports Jo Foley.
Luxury Spa Holidays
One of the great changes to travel and holidays over the last ten years has been the rise of the Spa. Up until then the odd resort would offer a facial, manicure or pedicure in the attached hairdressing or beauty salon. The more daring offered a massage – either a sports one, or a Swedish job – both very similar, which always took place in a small dark room in the bowels of the hotel, and invariably somewhere near the swimming pool to ensure the scent of chlorine permeated the air.
How times have changed. These days resorts and hotels are proud of their spas and indeed they are one of the major attractions when any guest is booking a holiday. No longer in a dank room, these are opulent pleasure palaces, swathed in linens and muslins, decorated in silks and satins, with the sweet smell of frangipani and jasmine permeating the atmosphere. A whole new genre of music has grown up around them too from Tibetan chants, to the sound of crashing waves and from the wind whistling through trees to the haunting sounds of Aeolian harps. Indeed today’s traveller is a sophisticated animal who knows what he or she needs on a holiday – and that includes a full service spa, which offers therapies and treatments from all over the world. You may well be in Tenerife but that does not stop you from wanting many of the therapies of the east. Witness the newly refurbed Oriental Spa at the Hotel Botanico or the amazing thalassotherapy treatments on offer all along the French Atlantic coast through to Mardavall in Majorca and the Elounda Mare in Crete. These days the spa user knows the difference between a Swedish, a shiatsu and a lomi lomi massage – and demands the choice. (For those not that au fait with spaspeak, a Swedish is a deep tissue massage, a shiatsu is a Japanese type which works with the energy channels while a lomi lomi hails from Polynesia and includes a number of strokes using the elbows as well as the forearm). While she is also totally at home with the water based therapies of both the hydro spa and the thalasso spa (the former uses water, the latter sea-water)
The average spa visitor is now a discerning and demanding client with an accumulated knowledge of what a spa can deliver. One of the great treats anybody can receive as a present is a voucher for either a day or a half-day trip to a spa, it is all part of how we cope with our over-stressed, time poor existences. We feel that we cannot just flop in front of the TV, we must be experiencing something else to help us de-stress, relax or feel better. Hence the never-ending search for different and effective treatments. Today’s spa user is no longer satisfied with a gentle aromatherapy massage, she is looking for an aromatherapy massage that will have a therapeutic effect on her muscles, her sleep patterns or general well being. And that is a trend that can be seen throughout the world. Spa aficionados have gone past the pure pampering side of spas, now they are looking for results, which is why so many spas are offering stress management, life coaching and meditation techniques next to the more usual wraps, scrubs and facials.
This has also given rise to the interest in some of the more complementary medical therapies, again from the east. For instance acupuncture and acupressure from Chinese Traditional Medicine are offered to help everything from digestive problems to stopping smoking, then there is cupping where warm glass cups are applied to various parts of the body to help alleviate muscle pain and strain. Ayurvedic therapies are now hugely popular in many countries using treatments based on the oldest medical discipline in the world which hails from southern India. In such treatments, especially formulated oils, poultices, baths and diets are prescribed to help every condition from stress to high blood pressure, for the whole purpose of ayurveda is to treat the whole body, rather than just the dysfunction.
But the guest never loses sight of the fact that this part of spa usage is also part of a holiday so pampering and the feel-good factor must also be included. Delicious food is a must so spa cuisine has developed by leaps and bounds with exotic salads and fruits, straight from the ocean fish while everything has to be organically grown and produced. And no spa worth its name can be without a juice bar – the most delicious and direct way to get some of your five portions a day.
And finally, to underline that the sensuousness and enjoyment of spas as places of wellbeing and relaxation are here to stay, is the increase in the couples’ massage rooms. Only a few years ago it was thought quite daring for a spa to offer a massage room for two and was marketed as a honeymoon special, now such rooms are a necessity, as men are enjoying spa therapies just as much as women. And although many men might have been a bit wary when first offered a massage, they felt fine if their partner was with them…and still do, which is why many more such rooms are being added to spas. Some are super luxurious with outdoor pavilions as well as indoor treatment areas, sunken baths for two and menus offering champagne and strawberries. It’s only on holiday that many of us feel that we can spoil ourselves in such ways – and long may it continue.