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Polynesian Spa, Rotorua, New Zealand Set on the shores of Lake Rotorua in NZ’s thermal heartland, Polynesia Spa’s 38 hot mineral pools are fed from two natural springs. The mildly acidic waters from Priest Spring soothe aching limbs, while Rachel Spring’s alkaline waters leave skin glowing. When to go? Daytime visits are quieter, avoiding the after-work crowd, but the evenings make the most of the starry skies above Lake Rotorua, which lies within a caldera formed about 240,000 years ago. Some pools are adults-only, but others cater to families and feature waterslides and a toddlers section. Private pools are “swimwear-optional” but can be booked only for 30 minutes. Indulge in a signature thermal mud wrap or treatments using organic ingredients such as manuka honey and then, if your legs will still carry you along, take a walk in the lush surrounding Government Gardens.
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Thermae Bath Spa, England A frosty January morning finds me in my togs floating languidly in a toasty-warm rooftop pool in the heart of Bath, enjoying dreamy views over the honey-coloured chimneypots of this gorgeous spa city. I’m imagining all the health benefits accruing from mineral-rich spring waters, “curing” ills since before the Romans. The contemporary structure at the heart of the large spa complex, fashioned from Bath limestone wrapped in glass, is linked to historic Georgian spa buildings and fed by the same springs used by the Celts and Romans. Plan on becoming a bit of a prune because taking the waters can take all day; drifting in the moving waters of the main indoor pool, unknotting muscles in the hands of an expert in the watsu pools, losing a few kilos in the Roman and Georgian steam rooms. And be sure to check out the open-air Cross Bath, a sacred Celtic site.
The Blue Lagoon, Iceland “We’ll be back in a minute, Mum,” one of our twins calls out before they both paddle off into thick mist. We’re at The Blue Lagoon in Rekyjavik, the surreal, stunning geothermal spa and resort voted one of National Geographic’s 25 Wonders of the World. On a winter’s afternoon, we watch the sun set on icy volcanic plains while sipping cranberry Brennivin cocktails in a vast lagoon carved out of 800-year-old lava fields. The water is bathtub-warm, an eerie milky blue, and rich in sulphur and silica, giving it an alien silkiness, and reportedly great for skin ailments such as psoriasis. The resort does a booming trade in skincare products. Suddenly, our twins reappear, smeared in white clay. Apparently, they stopped by the lagoon’s silica mud mask bar during their swim and now resemble two White Walkers from Game of Thrones, which happened to be filmed across this region. That’s Iceland: equal parts bizarre and magical.
The Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort, Taiwan Just south of Taipei, this hot springs venue has an elegant local feel, with indoor and outdoor pools accommodating both mixed and segregated nude bathing. There’s rooftop bathing with 360-degree mountain views, and private couples’ or families’ suites, with sunken bath or cypress tub and windows looking over gardens, mountains and rainforest. In the large ground-level terraced courtyard, interconnecting steamy hot springs set among rocks and plants, and partially covered by a high canopy, are especially atmospheric for star gazing. There’s an indoor Hot Spring Room, palm-bordered swimming pool, gym and massage rooms, children’s facilities, tea museum, wide range of suites (including family and pet-friendly), Chinese and “international” restaurants, two cafes, bakery and barbecue area. The “primeval buttress roots” rainforest beside the resort buildings offers nature walks as well as soothing surrounds and even seasonal firefly-spotting.
Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, Victoria Floating on my back, gazing through soaring windows at white-trunked gums and cherry blossom trees, I’m full of gratitude to the Hepburn Springs locals of the 1860s. During Victoria’s gold rush era, these early ecowarriors joined forces to block mining near the town’s springs, protecting the precious waters in an area that’s home to Australia’s largest concentration of mineral springs. More than 150 years on, visitors can take the waters at Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, a sleek, modern complex incorporating parts of the site’s original bathhouse and boiler house. Entry includes access to the tranquil mineral relaxation pool and mineral spa pool, a toasty 36C with pumping spa jets. Upgrade to a Sanctuary pass to relax on submerged spa couches, soak in a salt and magnesium pool and bathe outside, or book a private mineral bath featuring milk, mud or magnesium for an experience that is, well, pure gold. Hepburn Springs, near Daylesford, is about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne airport.
Yamato no Yu, Narita, Japan The mineral composition of the water at Yamato no Yu is especially recommended for stiff joints and just the thing before squashing on to a plane. The onsen is surrounded by rice paddies and is just two train stops and a 10-minute taxi ride from Narita international airport. The source water is 19C when it gushes from the spring beneath the building and is heated to a heart-racing, stress-melting 41C before filling the eight public baths of the complex. The baths are gender-segregated, changing on alternate days. When I visit, the view from the ladies’ outdoor bath is of swaying wands of bamboo and a slow-moving cloud bank. After an hour or so of swapping between bath, sauna and a comfy wooden bench, I feel suitably prepared for my overnight flight home. But Yamato no Yu has one last treat for me — a postcard sayonara as Mount Fuji emerges from the clouds to glow in the sunset.
Colca Lodge, Colca Valley, Peru The thermal waters of Colca Canyon are rich in lithium, which is said to promote relaxation. But as you slowly poach in a 38C outdoor bath it is difficult to say what is the most calming feature of the spring-fed pools at Colca Lodge. Is it the cocktails from the poolside bar and grill Las Pocitas? Or perhaps it is the soothing sound of the Colca River that rushes alongside? Or could it be the outlook on to colourful terraced gardens, quinoa and pampas fields and an alpaca-filled corral, set against a magnificent backdrop of sky-scraping Andean peaks? There are public hot springs nearby at Tambo and Chacapi but the crowds can dim the sense of tranquillity. Colca Lodge’s thermal baths are open only to houseguests of the 45-room hotel. There are four rockpools fed by scorching spring water that is cooled, via pipes and exposure to the alpine air, to between 22C-38C. Find your comfort zone, Goldilocks style, settle in and enjoy the serenity.
Bad Radkersburg, Austria Guests in white towelling robes headed to or from the spa and pools wander the hallways of Bad Radkersburg’s Romantik Hotel im Park in Austria’s oldest thermal and volcanic region. The hotel’s extensive spa is just one of the options in Bad Radkersburg, one of 15 spa towns in the region of Styria, where magnesium-rich springs were discovered in 1927. The largest of these thermal spas is Parktherme, its pools sourced from a depth of almost 2000m. Parktherme has three thermal spa pools, as well as freshwater pools, and a “sauna village” offering eight infusions and a nude sauna area. Its modern architecture is a stark contrast to the Renaissance facades of the surrounding town and the water here is so good it’s been bottled.
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Alba Wellness Resort, Vietnam The sensibility and style of this onsen getaway feels entirely Japanese but I am 45 minutes by road from the former imperial capital of Hue. A circle of thatched bungalows is set in a valley around a pool and winding stream; the backdrop is of the green-grey Truong Son mountains. My accommodation is sleek and smart, with pale timbers, leafy views, stone benches and log tables, latticed light fittings and an enormous bamboo-screened ensuite. But I am not here to while away time in bed, despite the obvious comforts.
Alba’s natural thermo-mineral spring was “discovered” in 1928 by a French doctor, but locals had long talked about the healing properties of the area’s water source. At the indoor-outdoor onsen, clearly marked signs take guests through the steps of preparation and the seven progressive hot, cold, hydrogen-infused and oxygenated bathing options, culminating in the outdoor onsen pool, heated to a lively 42C and surrounded by gardens; it’s clothes-off for the segregated pools, which are misted with such gusts of steam that modesty is hardly an issue. This pavilion-style complex could have been lifted straight from, say, a Japanese mineral springs resort such as those around Beppu on the southern island of Kyushu, although a point of difference is that the Alba onsen also has a spa, where reflexology and therapeutic massages, many featuring eucalyptus, are offered.
Rest is recommended after all this dousing and dipping, but guests can take a bike to ride around the estate, go trekking, attend cooking lessons and book cultural experiences. Meals served at Madam Chau, with its high yurt-like ceiling and circular lines, have an emphasis on farm-to-plate produce and health tonics sipped through lemongrass straws. I have never felt so snug and drowsy nor slept so deeply. (Tip: Mainstream sister property Thanh Tan Hot Springs Hotel is nearby; both are run by Vietnamese operator Fusion.)