10 best natural spas around the world

Who doesn’t love a great spa experience? While a traditional Swedish massage or hot stone treatment is always relaxing, why not try something different and 100% natural?

All over the world, there are regions featuring geothermal pools, hot springs, and water heated by volcanic activity that also contain healing and curative properties. And this isn’t something new; even the Incas and the Romans enjoyed taking a dip in these natural spas. Minerals in the water help to alleviate ailments and diseases like asthma, psoriasis, muscle pain, acne, arthritis, neuralgia, and more. And not only is it healthy, its relaxing too.

For a closer look at some of the world’s most amazing natural spas check out the gallery below.

[flickr photo via snowpeak]

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Luxury accommodation in the heart of Antwerp


Antwerp is a compact city with bad weather, so while it’s walkable, it pays to be in the center of town. During my visit I stayed at the Hotel Julien, a recently renovated and expanded hotel within sight of the cathedral. In fact, I could see it from my bathroom window!

The Hotel Julien is firmly in the luxury hotel bracket with prices from 195€ ($268) and up, breakfast included. The decor is chic and modern, as you can see from this shot of the lounge. Next to it is a bar and then the breakfast room. There’s also a leafy patio and a rooftop viewing deck that the rain stopped me from ever using. There’s a spa on site as well as a helpful front desk with lots of information about the city and umbrellas to borrow when a nasty wind tears up the one you brought. Tip for the traveler: don’t bring a Spanish umbrella to a North Sea port. It’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.There’s lots to do within five minute’s walk, including the cathedral, several fine restaurants, a jazz bar, a rock bar, and a vibrant shopping district on Koepoort Straat, with its antique shops, bookshops, music stores, and vintage clothing stores. The walk to the central train station only took me 15 minutes.

To be honest, I don’t really care all that much what my hotel is like. The custom-made linen and trendy photography were a bit lost on me after a long day of sightseeing. If my hotel is convenient and comfortable, that’s all I need, and the Hotel Julien was both of these. If you’re looking for a luxury hotel with a great location, this is a good bet.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam!

This trip was partially funded by Tourism Antwerp and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

Cocktails, Chilean style

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at the bar of the very lovely Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, outside of San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile. I’d just returned from an afternoon at 12,600 feet, exploring the Andean Altiplano Lakes of Miscanti and Miñiques, and I was feeling parched.

Small wonder I was thirsty; Atacama is the driest desert on earth. Visually and geographically, it’s like the Southwest on steroids. If the love child of Sedona, Arizona and Abiquiu, New Mexico inherited a chain of conical, snow-dusted volcanoes, the largest salt flat in Chile, and shimmering lagoons full of flamingos, Atacama is what you’d get. Kraig recently wrote a great series on exploring Atacama, which you can find here.

San Pedro itself is a surprisingly sweet little village of adobe walls and buildings, with a whitewashed church and dusty streets. It’s the world’s least offensive tourist-mecca. Alto Atacama is located about a mile-and-a-half outside of town, in the middle of a river valley sided by craggy, brick-red rock.

Native plant gardens dot the property, there are resident llamas, the small restaurant serves many locally grown foods. But these are mere details. My biggest concern that evening was soothing my dust-coated throat with a cocktail.

I most definitely approved of the pisco sour made by Sebastián, the bartender. Pisco sours are a tricky thing; too often they’re made with old lemon juice or concentrate or too much sugar, and the result is a cloying, flat-tasting mess. But Sebastián squeezed fresh lemon juice (limón de pica, or Peruvian lime, which may or may not be the same species as key lime, depending upon who you ask). The final addition of good pisco made for a smooth, tangy, refreshing libation.

Sebastián raised his eyebrows at my swiftly drained glass. “Was good?” he enquired.

“Delicioso,” I assured him. “Uno mas, por favor.” As we spoke I watched him expertly muddling a mess of quartered limóns with something brown and sticky looking.

He followed my gaze. “It’s a Mojito Atacameño. Invented here at the hotel. You like to try?”

[Photo credit: Frank Budweg]Never one to turn down a cocktail, I nodded. “What’s in it?” I asked.

“It’s made with chañar, a fruit found only in Atacama (I later found out that chañar-the fruit of Geoffroea decorticans-is also indigenous to parts of Argentina).”

“It’s very important. We use the arrope (preserved fruit in syrup) to flavor ice cream and other desserts. But it’s also a medicine,” Sebastián explained. The Atacameño’s– the local indigenous people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years–use chañar as a traditional cure for bronchitis and sore throat.

To further underscore the allure of this little round fruit, I bring you the following passage from author Edward R. Emerson (Beverages, Past and Present, 1908):


Its flavour is beyond description, and the way the Indians eat this fruit best shows in what estimation it is held. Early in the morning all hands repair to the chanareschanar orchard (for, though wild, the trees grow in immense tracts) and proceed to eat of the fruit until locomotion, except in a crawling way, becomes almost impossible, and as soon as they have arrived at this state they crawl to the river, drink as much water as they can possibly hold, and then crawl back to the trees, where they stretch themselves out at full length and sleep until night, when they repeat the operation.

Sounds like the producers of “Intervention” could have had a field day.

Sebastián passed me a bottle of arrope de chañar to try. After a small taste, I realized that it reminded me, in appearance, consistency, and flavor, of tamarind paste. Tangy, a little sour, with an almost molasses-like sweetness. It was interesting, but not something I’d think of using in a cocktail. Nevertheless, I watched, dubiously, as Sebastián meticulously put together my Mojito Atacameño.

After muddling two quartered limóns, he added two tablespoons of powdered sugar (I assume because it’s traditionally used in a pisco sour, rather than simple syrup).

To this he added a dash of creme de menthe because fresh mint was out of season; the base was Absolut Mandarin Vodka (“You can use pisco, but I think vodka is better flavor.”).

When the finished drink was set before me, I contemplated it. It closely resembled the last fecal sample I’d had to submit after I accidentally drank unfiltered river water. The mojito had floaty bits of lime pulp and was cloudy from the thick arrope de chañar; It looked repulsive. I sniffed it, and took a cautious sip.

Fantastic. A beautiful balance of tart and sweet, with a clean, citrusy finish. Ass-kickingly strong. Sebastián was looking at me expectantly.

“Uno mas, por favor.”

My trip was sponsored by Wines of Chile, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

Daily Pampering: Organic resort spa opens in Malaysia

The Chateau Spa and Wellness Resort, the world’s first organic wellness destination spa resort, will open on April 28, 2011 in a 150-million-year-old tropical rainforest in the Berjaya Hills, Malaysia.

Modeled after an 18th century medieval ‘Haut Koesnigburg’ castle in Alsace, France, The Chateau has 210 rooms and suites. The Chateau offers three, five, and seven night packages that are specially designed for guests and include accommodation in The Chateau’s spa rooms, daily meals created by their very own dietician, and complete daily fitness and wellness programs.

The five star deluxe spa resort is the first to offer the use of illusive European thermal facilities, which include a herbal infused sauna chamber, salt grotto or mud chamber, and a soap brush/aquaveda heated bed with automatic body scrub facilities. Each guest meets with a member of the spa personnel to create personalized therapies and programs that are designed to meet individual needs and health goals. Use the therapies to work on pampering, beauty, anti-stress, body cleansing, fitness, weight loss, and more.The spa’s unique products are created from The Chateau’s very own ecologically grown gardens. The Chateau also has an array of fitness and wellness activities to experience, including mountain biking, horse riding, trekking, yoga, dance classes, bowling, as well as an 18 hole award winning golf course.

Why wouldn’t you indulge in this pampering? The Chateau Spa & Organic Wellness Resort is a 45 minute drive from the Kuala Lumpur city center and a 90 minute drive from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Forbes Travel Guide announces annual four- and five-star hotel, spa, restaurant winners

The star-rating for hotels, spas, and restaurants is similar to the Academy Awards for Hollywood. If Oscar is the type prize, a five-star rating for a hotel can be called “Oscar.” Luxury properties waited with bated breath for today’s announcement from Forbes Travel Guide: the list of Four-Star and Five-Star award winners for the 2011 Forbes Travel Guide.

The list, unveiled today, announced two hotels, two restaurants, and two spas winning a coveted fifth star. The list has defined the industry’s highest standards of excellence in hospitality for more than 50 years.

The five-star winner restaurants are both in New York City (Daniel and Eleven Madison Park); the two new five-star hotels include Island Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong, and Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in Farmington, Pennsylvania; and the two new five-star spas are The Spa at The Grand Del Mar, in San Diego, and The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, in Las Vegas.

Forbes Travel Guide’s ratings are based on objective evaluations of more than 500 attributes. This year’s additions bring the total number of Forbes Five-Star hotels to 54. Among the 54 Five-Star hotels, six are in New York City, the most of any city in the U.S. There are five Five-Star hotels in Hong Kong, and two in Macau, where ratings were established for the first time in 2009. Forbes Travel Guide expects to further expand its rating system to include properties in additional international destinations in 2011.

The complete list of Forbes Travel Guide Star award winners can be found here.