Switch off in South Africa

The Saxon Spa at The Saxon, Johannesburg
The Saxon Spa at The Saxon, Johannesburg

I’m a longtime fan of The Saxon in Johannesburg for many reasons. The fact that Mandela briefly lived (and wrote part of Long Walk to Freedom) here, and you can stay in the room he resided in; the always-polished and incredibly warm service (a by-product, I like to think, of the hotel’s longstanding independent family ownership); the buzzy lunches poolside at The Terrace restaurant, with its intersecting power circles of business, politics and social influence. And then there’s the Saxon Spa, which ranks up with the best city day spas out there. Housed in its own floor on the hotel’s ample grounds, it has hot and cold pools, hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, mani-pedi stations and a hair salon.

The Eden couples’ treatment room at the Saxon Spa
The Eden couples’ treatment room at the Saxon Spa

But there are also sleep therapies and mindfulness sessions amid the sophisticated offering of facial and body treatments, which utilise products from partner brands including Ling, Elemis or the high-tech QMS Medicosmetics lines. The multiple outdoor treatment areas and relaxation zones are a bonus, as are the excellent fresh-press juices and plant-based dishes at the spa’s café. The perfect antidote, wherever you’re staying, to days of dusty safari-going. Just book ahead on weekends, when it’s hugely popular with locals. Manicures from about £13; saxon.co.za


Not just for fragrant Florentine friars

The spa suite at The Savoy, Florence, with its view of the Duomo
The spa suite at The Savoy, Florence, with its view of the Duomo

The Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is the great Florentine heritage brand that’s been in existence since 1221, when Dominican friars arrived in the city and began producing balms and tinctures from plants cultivated in the monastery’s gardens. In February, The Savoy, Rocco Forte’s sleek hotel on the Piazza della Repubblica, will open a two-storey spa suite offering a series of face and body treatments created with the Santa Maria Novella experts using their products. (Think scrubs with Iris powder and vitamin-infused oils, or a half-hour targeted back and neck massage with its Arnica cream, a global cult favourite.)

Santa Maria Novella products at The Savoy’s spa suite
Santa Maria Novella products at The Savoy’s spa suite

Located on the top floor, the suite has a large treatment room and private bath with shower and tub, with a reach-out-and-touch-it prospect on the Duomo; upstairs is a relaxation area with a 180-degree panorama of the city and hills. Treatments from €80; roccofortehotels.com


My favourite Marrakech hammam

The pink-marble spa at La Sultana Marrakech with its warm-water pool
The pink-marble spa at La Sultana Marrakech with its warm-water pool

Having been to Morocco about 18 times, I’m comfortable claiming a degree of authority in the country’s hammam stakes, my experience having run the gamut from jaw-dropping indulgence (and its inevitable gut-clenching prices) to public baths that are spartan both in service and surrounds. La Sultana isn’t categorically the finest hotel in Marrakech (while I’m very fond of it, I know some who aren’t). But it does have what I’d argue is, from a quality-for-money standpoint, the city’s best hammam, hands-down. The black olive soap rub-up is lightly scented with eucalyptus oil, followed by a mitt scrub that’s firm but not flaying, and buckets and buckets of hot (but never scalding) water throughout – and then a brisk but smooth massage.

One of the treatment rooms at La Sultana
One of the treatment rooms at La Sultana

The small but perfect relaxation area, clad in blush-pink marble with a warm-water pool, is an ideal way to loosen up pre-soaping; or, guests are welcome to hang out and use it for up to an hour after their treatments are done. Total cost: just over £60. Hammams from about £39; lasultanahotels.com


A Bangkok escape by boat

The Oriental Suite at Mandarin Oriental’s spa in Bangkok
The Oriental Suite at Mandarin Oriental’s spa in Bangkok

As thrilling as navigating its 10mn-plus citizens can be for those who love it, Bangkok is a place you sometimes just really need a break from. Enter The Oriental Spa, which is one of Bangkok’s great oases, located in its own little compound across the Chao Phraya river from the Mandarin Oriental hotel itself. The three-storey house, built of teak and more than a century old, now holds multiple treatment suites the size of small flats; many have vitality pools, large lounge areas, and mat platforms for Thai massage. Extra time is built into every booking to allow for maximum exploitation of all that space and privacy. There are spa packages combining multiple face-body-mind ministrations, themed “Jet Lag”, “Digital Wellness Escape” or “Oriental Qi”. There are old-school Thai and four-handed massages. There are Endermologie sessions for face (tightening and plumping) and body (firming, cellulite reduction), and Bastien Gonzalez nail treatments. An impressive fusion of eastern and western wellness – and any place you have to get to by boat has my vote. Facial treatments from about £25; mandarinoriental.com


Subterranean Shibui cool in Manhattan

The pool and lounge at The Greenwich Hotel’s Shibui spa
The pool and lounge at The Greenwich Hotel’s Shibui spa

Since it opened in 2008, The Greenwich Hotel – like Tribeca, the Manhattan neighbourhood in which it sits – has had the understated cool thing down pat, from the wide-plank floors in the suites to the fire burning in the drawing room. Likewise – and no surprise here – its subterranean Shibui spa ticks all the right boxes.

The Shibui spa’s decor and treatment menu emphasises Japanese wellness traditions
The Shibui spa’s decor and treatment menu emphasises Japanese wellness traditions

Tatami, paper screens and rich deep tones prevail throughout. It offers the highest-calibre permutations of treatments you really want, with nothing extraneous (the whole menu’s barely longer than two pages – a haiku compared to some in its comp set). For body, there’s a slight emphasis on Japanese traditions (ofuro tub soaks, an oil-less Shiatsu administered on a tatami mat); and for face, a series of fairly straightforward treatments that utilise Natura Bissé, the excellent Spanish line. It’s worth booking in for a couple of hours on a chilly day just to lounge under the dark wood-beamed ceiling next to the pool. Treatments from $230; thegreenwichhotel.com

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