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Best of the Best 2005: Spas

RafflesAmrita Spa, Canouan Island
At the RafflesAmrita Spa on Canouan Island in the Grenadines, you will find all of the Asian elements that characterize the Singapore flagship: Indonesian and Thai furnishings, exotic lotus tea, and therapists practicing treatments that originated in their homelands of Nepal, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philippines. But the spa also thoroughly incorporates its Caribbean island setting into the experience that it offers guests. A small boat ferries you to one of the two glass-floored suites built on stilts in the water, or you can take the Amrita Lift (the spa’s funicular) from the open-air reception area, with waves crashing below, to one of the nine private palapas that have been built into the hillside. Bearing names such as Peridot, Sapphire, and Azure, the thatched-roof palapas celebrate the exquisite blues of the ocean and the vibrant greens of the island’s flora. During their treatments, most people prefer listening to the gentle lapping (or wild crashing) of waves rather than the usual New Age music.

Days at the spa begin with group classes held high on the hillside in the Breathing Space, an open-air meditation pavilion built around a 50-year-old gold berry tree. Class offerings include chi, which involves slow, fluid movements intended to stimulate the flow of energy through the body. Even more unusual is Kum Nye (Tibetan yoga), a discipline dating to the eighth century that combines specific breathing techniques, self-massage, and stretching. Spa director Shirley Meerson, who previously headed the spa division of India’s Taj hotels, instructs the class.

Meerson’s exotic preferences also are reflected in the spa’s signature treatments. During the Aromatic Tourmaline, which is intended to help relax the nervous system, a therapist drizzles warm, woodsy-scented oils on your body drop by drop, then lightly massages them into your arms, legs, back, and feet. As you roll over, the therapist places a large hot towel under your back and neck to facilitate absorption of the warm oils, which he or she then trickles over your torso, neck, and thighs. For the Gentle Breeze massage, warm cloths are placed around your feet to help you relax. The therapist then employs techniques including Polarity, which is intended to balance the chakras (or energy centers), and Trager movements, which involve cradling your body and rocking it gently, before delving into a bliss-inducing, deep-tissue, Swedish-type massage.
 
Instead of hopping off the massage table minutes after a treatment is completed to make way for the next client, you can enjoy the mood for a while: An extra half hour is built into every appointment, allowing time for you to soak in your private Jacuzzi tub, sip tea, and savor the stunning view.  —Shari Mycek

 

RafflesAmrita Spa, 877.226.6826, www.rafflescanouan.com

Asian Fusion
Home to some 4,000 spas, Bangkok, a bustling metropolis where the edgy and sublime harmoniously coexist, holds allure for the most discerning spa devotees. Not coincidentally, leading Asian hotel group Shangri-La selected this city for the first of its 20 Chi branded spas. At Chi Spa at Shangri-La Bangkok, you can escape the din of the crowds and relax by the waters of a tranquil private garden suite scented with candles and incense.
 
Treatments, which in Chi parlance are referred to as “journeys,” range from two-and-a-half to five hours and are rooted in the healing traditions of China and the Himalayas. Your session begins with a series of questions to determine your element—metal, water, wood, fire, or earth—which is believed to reflect your essential nature and body type. With this information, your therapist selects fragrant herbs, oils, and spices to bring your mind, body, and spirit into balance.  —Jessica Taylor

Chi Spa at Shangri-La Bangkok, +66.2.236.7777, www.shangri-la.com

Natural Wonder
Situated on a bluff overlooking the cerulean blue Indian Ocean and the granitic islands of the Seychelles, Rock Spa takes full advantage of Frégate Island Private’s natural endowments. One of the objectives, says spa director Pippa McGann, was to develop a treatment menu featuring the ecologically sensitive resort’s produce, including its plantation-grown papayas and the oil of the indigenous Coco de Mer nut.

“We also wanted to get a flavor of the Indian Ocean,” adds McGann, who points out influences from Mauritius, India, and Australia, as well as the local Seychellois culture. The Frégate Island Retreat Massage, for example, incorporates Reiki and shiatsu as well as Swedish and Balinese techniques, while allowing the individual therapists to interpret those disciplines. Whether you receive your treatment alfresco on a day bed overlooking the sea or in one of the airy spa suites, you will be lulled by Frégate’s exclusive soundtrack: the calls of the island’s rare bird species layered over the distant surf.  —Laurie Kahle

Rock Spa at Frégate Island Private, 800.225.4255, www.fregate.com

Romanian Remedy
Cornelia Zicu arrived in the United States from Romania in 1992 with $300 in her pocket and a cache of her grandmother’s homegrown beauty recipes. Her talents as an aesthetician blossomed at New York City’s Peninsula Hotel, where she gained renown for her $500 collagen-stimulating facials. Last February, Zicu opened Cornelia Day Resort, a sophisticated Midtown haven eight stories above Fifth Avenue that includes a private couple’s spa suite, a hair salon and a barber shop, and a rooftop café and garden. You also can reserve a tented rooftop cabana for treatments—a unique amenity in Manhattan. Another New York first is Cornelia’s Watsu pool, where you can enjoy the tangolike massage in warm saltwater and a view of the spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

At Cornelia, Zicu’s obsession with detail—personalized lockers, concierge services—is as apparent as her heritage: The air is infused with a mist containing salt mined in Romania, the mud used in treatments is extracted from a Romanian lake, and each session begins with the offering of a spoonful of honey, a healthful tradition she attributes to her grandmother.  —Shari Mycek

Cornelia Day Resort, 212.871.3050, www.cornelia.com

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Photo by Dana Allen
Photo by Cheryl Zibisky