More hotels have started to play the hotel spa game in recent years—whether they’re opening luxurious facilities with a dozen treatment rooms and exotic therapies, or simply designating one room the “treatment room” for 30-minute massages. But just because a hotel has five stars doesn’t mean the same holds true for its spa. While we won’t name names, we will give you six signs of a very (very, very) good spa.
1. SEPARATE SAUNAS AND STEAM ROOMS FOR MEN AND WOMEN
A must. Let’s face it: As liberal as we can be in certain countries, we love not having to stumble upon a person of the opposite sex in a small, steamy room wearing the smallest of towels. Luxury hotels in the Middle East are inevitably the best at providing wonderfully grand single-sex services, including a super-sized ornate hammam of the Anantara Eastern Mangroves in Abu Dhabi or Talise Spa at Al Madinat in Dubai.
2. NO COMMUNAL LOCKER ROOMS
The ultimate sign of a top-notch spa? A changing area that’s incorporated into the massage cabins, so those of us who are a little shy about stripping down in front of strangers needn’t worry. Most spas will have a shared locker room—even the very best spas in the world—but being able to change, shower, and get ready in your own private dressing room is a luxury that shouldn’t be so rare. One spa we recommend for ultimate privacy is at the Mandarin Oriental Paris, where all massage rooms are fully equipped suites with hand-casted bathtubs.
3. A COMFORTABLE RELAXATION ROOM
Even if a treatment lasts only an hour, it’s worth booking a few hours off to get changed and make use of the spa’s facilities, like a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room, and sauna. Ten minutes in the steam room before a massage or treatment can help you get the most out of the experience. Prior to a massage, the steam helps to loosen the muscles, making it easier for the masseur to go to work; if you’re having a body treatment like a wrap, the steam opens the pores. (Just don’t forget to hydrate.) In between, it’s always a good idea to rest, so it’s key to have a pleasant relaxation room—preferably one with comfortable day beds, low lighting, aromatherapy oils burning, relaxing music, and a variety of the most recent magazines and newspapers. So far the best for comfort is the Four Seasons George V Paris, especially after a treatment when guests get a heated pad for their neck and shoulders.
4. A WELL-STOCKED SPA BAR
Relaxation rooms with a fully stocked snack bar—offering anything from natural herbal infusions to fine patisserie—are usually a tell-tale sign of a top spa. Sometimes spa bars have their own staff, like at theManali Hotel’s Cinq Mondes Mahayana Spa in Courchevel, France. Sometimes staff just seems to pop out of nowhere, ready to step in and serve guests a cup of ginger tea or slice of Pierre Hermé cake like atLe Spa My Blend by Clarins at the palace-hotel Le Royal Monceau — Raffles Paris.
5. EUCALYPTUS OIL IN THE STEAM ROOM (A.K.A. THE LITTLE TOUCHES)
Signs of a spa’s luxury credentials are in the details, like a eucalyptus essential oil aroma in the steam room. Towels and bathrobes, readily available in the changing room, should be crisp and fluffy and smell like a sunlit meadow (more or less). Another nice touch: twinkling ceiling lights and relaxing music in the sauna (try Le Mas de Pierre in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France). The best spas ask guests to swap their shoes for a pair of slippers as soon as guests arrive for their treatment. Other sure signs of professional pampering are a welcome drink of ginger tea or a cold, wet towel in a hot country.
6. WELCOMING AND GENUINE STAFF
The atmosphere of a spa depends entirely on its staff. A spa should be zen-like but with a healthy amount of busyness; there shouldn’t ever be two people in one space for more than a few minutes. The attitude of those who work at a spa should be relaxed, friendly, and not overly formal. Staff should always look busy but be welcoming, and guests should be made to feel at ease right away.