World's most beautifully designed spas

Architectural Digest

(Photo courtesy of Verdura Golf & Spa Resort)


A new class of international spa resorts has emerged with high-design decor and luxe amenities. Here are our picks, perfect for a spa holiday.

Verdura Golf & Spa Resort
Sciacca, Italy


Hotelier Rocco Forte opened the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, a 568-acre mecca of rest and relaxation, in 2010, bringing a new level of Mediterranean luxe to a private stretch of beach on Sicily’s southwest coast. For the holistic spa, which recently launched one- and two-week-long Vita Health wellness retreats, Italian architect Flavio Albanese, a former editor of European design bible Domus, collaborated with Forte’s sister and the brand’s director of design, Olga Polizzi, to create some 40,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor space. Inspired by the region’s vernacular architecture, the pair arranged a series of minimalist, local tufo stone–and-glass pavilions (containing treatment rooms, a double-height hammam, and a 25-meter pool) around seawater-filled thalassotherapy pools (shown) that overlook the resort’s golf courses and, beyond, the Caltabellotta mountains.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Elciego


Vinothérapie SPA Caudalie Marqués de Riscal
Elciego, Spain


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.

Photo courtesy of Viceroy Miami


The Spa at the Viceroy Miami Hotel
Miami, Fla.


Just when you think you’ve seen it all from design’s ageless enfant terrible, Philippe Starck continues to surprise. Recombining some of his signature set pieces—oversize mirrors, brightly colored crystal chandeliers, and haute-French furniture—the master of whimsical pastiche debuted this 28,000-square-foot fantasy of a spa and fitness center at the Viceroy Miami in December 2008, on the 15th floor of an Arquitectonica-designed downtown Miami skyscraper. The double-height, library-like “water lounge” (shown), with its plunge pools of various temperatures and floor-to-ceiling views of Biscayne Bay, proves the most jaw-dropping spot among many.

Photo courtesy of Selman Marrakech


Espace Vitalité Chenot
Erbusco, Italy


At this five-month-old boutique retreat in the Selman hotel, located just beyond the Medina, master designer—and Marrakech devotee (see La Mamounia, slide 10)—Jacques Garcia took inspiration from the East. He arranged the hammam-like spa’s seven rooms around a serene, naturally lit square pool (shown) and employed carved wooden screens and perforated vaulted ceilings to create an intriguing interplay between darkness, shadow, and light. Garcia combined all of this with artisanal Moroccan brick-, tile- and plasterwork, but the spa’s treatments are hardly those of local tradition; instead, the hotel has imported the coveted antiaging medi-spa methods of Frenchman Dr. Henri Chenot.


Armani/SPA, Armani Hotel Milano
Milan, Italy

Conceived by Giorgio Armani himself, the spa at Milan’s newest high-fashion hotel—only the second Armani hotel, the first being in the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa—exhibits the crisply cool, tautly tailored, and handsomely masculine minimalism for which the Italian designer is rightfully renowned. Its nearly 11,000-square-foot perch, on the hotel’s eighth floor, affords the most striking of views out over the city, especially from the heated relaxation pool (shown), the perfect place to prepare for, or extend the pleasures of, a treatment.

Photo courtesy of Green T. House


Green T. House Living Bath House Residence
Beijing


For this recently opened component of her Beijing lifestyle empire, the artist, designer, chef, and tea connoisseur JinR created a revolutionary reimagining of a Tang dynasty emperor’s bathhouse. Inside the Green T. House four-bedroom vacation villa and day spa is a large bath recessed into the slate floor filled with green tea–infused mineral water (shown), along with spoon-shaped tubs for hot-steam baths. These, like many of the treatments and therapies here, use Green T.’s own oils and seasonal salves, which capitalize on the healing power of tea and traditional Chinese medicine to soothe and revitalize.

Photo: Peter Hebeisen


The Dolder Grand Spa
Zurich, Switzerland


Originally built in 1899 in romantic high-mountain style by Belle Epoch Basel architect Jacques Gros, the Dolder Grand, a castlelike Zurich icon, received a four-year Norman Foster–led redo that debuted a few years ago. To the turreted, half-timber original, Foster added sinuous wings, one of which houses the Dolder’s new Japanese-inflected spa. Here, amid grand Alpine views glimpsed through floor-to-ceiling windows, guests enjoy a fusion of form and function in a Bisazza-tiled mosaic infinity pool, a relaxation area with hanging basket chairs, and a sunaburo (shown), which comprises a series of Japanese-style heated-pebble tubs.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Fasano Punta del Este


Spa Fasano at Hotel Fasano Punta del Este
Punta del Este, Uruguay


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 wooden soaking tubs called ofuro surround a glass-enclosed winter garden planted with Uruguayan cacti and other local flora.

Photo courtesy of Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa


The Spa at Monastero Santa Rosa
Conca dei Marini


With the May 2012 opening of the Monastero Santa Rosa, a 20-room boutique hotel in a 17th-century cliff-top monastery in the tiny town of Conca dei Marini, Italy’s Amalfi Coast can finally claim a destination spa worthy of the area’s romance and sophistication. Carved into the building’s barrel-vaulted stone foundations, the ingenious four-level spa’s rock sauna, aromatic steam room, ice fountain, hydro pool, tepidarium (based on the one found at Pompeii), and large treatment rooms—including a huge double-height spa suite—occupy a variety of seamlessly interconnected nooks and alcoves. The spa continues outside, with treatment pavilions (shown) in the hotel’s terraced gardens, whose plantings were designed by no less a talent than Vatican landscape architect Tiziano Giangiulio. Therapies use botanical products from the 800-year-old Florentine beauty brand Santa Maria Novella, rarely seen in hotel spas.

Photo courtesy of La Mamounia


Mamounia Spa at La Mamounia
Marrakech, Morocco


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.

Photo courtesy of Backstage Hotel


Backstage Hotel Vernissage
Zermatt, Switzerland


With his new boutique hotel in the Swiss Alps, Heinz Julen adds to his polymath résumé. (In addition to hotelier, he’s also a painter, designer, and architect.) Located in the heart of his native Zermatt with magisterial Matterhorn views, Backstage contains not a single aesthetic detail that hasn’t received Julen’s idiosyncratic touch. This extends to the spa, where he created seven pavilions, each representing a day in the Earth’s creation as told in the Bible. Guests proceed through the glass cubes, partaking of the multisensory installations Julen has created in each: a darkened steam room with pulsating light for Day One (“Let there be light”), a soaking tub with Dead Sea salt–treated water and the sounds of dolphins and birds for Day Five’s conjuring of fish and fowl. For the traditionally inclined, there are also more conventional massage treatments.

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