Five international spas that embrace local wellness traditions

The facilities looking to Mother Nature for the finest ingredients

The wintery exterior of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland, which uses thermal water in its spa treatments. Photo: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
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The celebrated practice of using Mother Nature’s unrefined ingredients in spa treatments is centuries old, embracing the wisdom of local beauty and wellness traditions.

Here, we explore five international hotel spas, examining how hero ingredients, found on their doorsteps, are incorporated into their signature treatments.

1. Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel, Hungary

Inside one of the relaxing treatment rooms at Anantara New York Palace Budapest Hotel. Photo: Anantara

Ingredient: Clay

Treatment: Revitalising Goddess Treatment

Considered by many as the ultimate spa city, Budapest is the buzzing Hungarian capital straddling the snaking Danube in the heart of Europe. Dating back to Roman times, the city has a rich spa history, which was further elevated by the Ottomans. Its spa popularity continues thanks to the medicinal thermal baths of Szechenyi and the recognised benefits of mineral-rich clay.

Anantara New York Palace, located on the Pest side of the Danube, is central and convenient for all major sights and cultural attractions. Initially opened in 1894 as the opulent European headquarters for the New York Life insurance company, this eclectic Belle Epoque palace has a flavour of Italian Renaissance, with Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau influences.

The hotel’s signature spa treatment, Anantara’s Revitalising Goddess treatment, uses clay sourced from Lake Heviz; the country’s largest thermal lake. It starts with an exfoliation followed by a Heviz peloid mask and back massage. The formula, rich in healing minerals and thermal water, along with natural grain extracts and pure essential oils, nourishes the skin. The clay is formed by millennia of geological and biological processes, giving it a high Humic acid and organic material content, with a heat-retaining capacity. It is excellent for smoothing skin and regular use can enhance the defence mechanism of the immune system. Cosmetic benefits include cell metabolism enhancement and increasing collagen production, while reducing inflammation and ageing signs due to thermal effects, which dilate capillaries, allowing an increase in nutrients and oxygen.

2. Hilton Lake Como, Italy

A lake view from spa facilities at the Hilton Lake Como Spa. Photo: Hilton

Ingredient: Silk

Treatment: Signature Silk Stretching Massage

Located at the foot of the Alps, with dazzling lake scenery, Como is known as the Silk City. In the 15th century, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan – best remembered for commissioning Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper – decided to plant mulberry trees to feed silkworms and business boomed. Even today, the region provides 70 per cent of Europe’s silk. If you thought Lake Como was full of old-age palazzos, you’d be right, but there’s a new kid on the block – overlooking operatic skies towards the lake and mountains, and combining the best of tradition and innovation. The Hilton Lake Como, which was a silk factory until 2018, features a contemporary design that combines the best of heritage and modernity. It houses 170 rooms, 20 of which are situated in the old building and have glass domed boxes of silk collars produced in the original factory on display.

Hilton Lake Como’s signature massage encases the body in silk fabrics. Wrapping it, stretching it, and ultimately relaxing it. It is a vigorous workout for the body, perfect for alleviating stress levels. The therapist selects an aromatic oil, tailored to each individual’s needs for a mix of muscle and tension relief, a good option for guests looking for relaxation with a dash of emotional balance. The masseuse then preps the dermis layer with a locally spun silk cloth to release toxins and the flowing massage is worked gradually deeper into the tension, encouraging optimum circulation. It’s said to be as effective as an hour’s stretching, but so much more nurturing. It certainly left me feeling grounded and focused.

3. W South Beach Miami in Florida, US

W South Beach uses cooling aloe vera in its spa treatments. Photo: W Hotels

Ingredient: Aloe vera

Treatment: Chilled Hydrating Facial

The Away Spa at W South Beach is a highly design-focused sanctuary dedicated to holistic and therapeutic treatments. The spa underwent a $5 million renovation and a new 9,000-square-foot luxury wellness space includes seven treatment rooms, a couple’s suite, an outdoor basking terrace, eucalyptus-infused limestone steam showers and Chanel-inspired vanities. “Tell us what your ‘perfect spa day’ looks like and we can create it,” says director Kristen Laukaitis. “We flipped the spa concept on its head – moving away from dark and isolated environments to one filled with light and calm natural textures.”

The signature treatment, a chilled hydrating facial, uses freshly harvested aloe vera plants sourced from the property’s grounds. Aloe vera can be found growing all over Florida, thriving year-round in the warm climate. Known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, it has many benefits and when used during a facial, it can help to hydrate the skin, reduce redness and prevent wrinkles. It is also popular for supporting the healing of sunburn and minor cuts and scrapes.

To prepare the aloe vera, a leaf is soaked in water for 10 minutes, then halved lengthways before the aloe gel is scooped out. The chilled gel is then placed into an immersion blender to create a thick, frothy liquid, which is then used as the treatment’s massage medium. It feels like nectar as it’s stroked across the skin, followed by cryo-ice globes massaged in a circular motion around the face, neck and décolleté to support absorption and aid with lymphatic drainage.

4. Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, Scotland

The exterior of the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian in the Scottish capital. Photo: Waldorf Astoria

Ingredient: Highland heather and Scottish dulse

Treatment: Tar Liom Signature Celtic Ritual

Located close to the historic Edinburgh Castle and not far from The Royal Mile, the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian is affectionately known as “the Caley” after its Caledonian Railway Company heritage. Comedy troupe Laurel and Hardy coined their catchphrase, “Now look what a fine mess you’ve got me into Stanley,” here after Stan Laurel dropped a cup of coffee on to one of its white tablecloths.

While the train station is no longer active, the hotel remains as popular as ever, supported by a spa partnership with Ground Wellbeing. Founder Peigin Crowley’s inspiration comes from plants and natural apothecary, and if you look closely, you may well see the Scottish national flower, the thistle, growing in the wild areas only a few minutes’ walk away. Crowley spent more than two decades crafting a personalised collection of distinctive and transformative wellness products and treatments that meet her passion for making self-care accessible to all.

Highland heather is the hero ingredient at the Waldorf Astoria Spa in Edinburgh. Photo: Sean Kinnear / Unsplash

The Tar Liom – which translates to Come with Me – Signature Celtic Ritual blends ingredients sourced from the mountains, shores and mist-shrouded lochs of the Scottish Highlands. It anchors Ground’s holistic philosophy in gentle breathwork, hands-on rhythmical pressures and techniques, lymphatic drainage and the powers of aromatherapy oils.

Key hero ingredients include the nourishing botanicals of highland heather, which contains beneficial flavonoids that have a strong antioxidant effect, reducing the damage caused by free radicals on the skin by blocking them. Additionally, Scottish dulse (seaweed), which cleanses and detoxifies, improves skin tone and pigmentation and increases hydration. It also helps balance oil production, as does safflower thistle oil.

5. Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Switzerland

The exterior of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. Photo: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz

Ingredient: Thermal water

Treatment: Haki Flow treatment

Situated among the meadows and vines of the Bundner Herrschaft, and only 10 minutes from Heidi village, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland centres around a thermal bathing tradition spanning hundreds of years. Rich in essential minerals, its healing effects were first discovered in 1242 by two hunters from the nearby Pfafers Abbey. With thousands of feet of spa space, it is one of the biggest in Europe, featuring a mix of private and public thermal baths. Tamina Therme has 10 pools, a dedicated family spa and a total of nine saunas, with an ice grotto to cool down after your sauna session.

When designing the Haki Flow treatment, Harald Kitz drew his inspiration from the history of Tamina Gorge, utilising the curing thermal water as the essential component of the treatment. A gifted therapist and musician, he perceives the individual and their surroundings as bodies of sound and has harnessed his skills to compose a treatment method with a natural feel for touch (haptics) and motion (kinetics). He’s received several awards for his method, and his ritualistic treatments have created an entirely new approach to water therapy. During the Haki Flow treatment, my therapist guided me through the warm thermal waters, drawing out and expanding my body, allowing my spine and pelvis to stretch and rotate, relieving my shoulders, neck and head. I experienced a wonderful feeling of weightlessness, and while cocooned, I lost all sense of time and space as the day’s worries just melted away.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 4:03 AM