Most of the time when we’re out on the road, we’re extremely budget-conscious. We’ll often put up with hotel or guest house with lackluster bathroom facilities in order to save money, but sometimes, the urge to treat ourselves overcomes us.
In looking back over the years of our travels, we fondly remember those rare, but oh so rejuvenating, experiences. Not all of them have taken place in a spa, and thankfully, most of them haven’t broken the bank.
Of course, this list will change as we travel to more places and indulge ourselves in relaxing luxury. To date, though, here are our top 5 most enjoyable spa and spa-like experiences, in order:
5. Women’s Correctional Institute – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Although, we’ve frequently enjoyed traditional Thai massages living in Chiang Mai, we only recently ventured to the Women’s Correctional Institute to get massaged by a prisoner working hard to acquire new life skills.
When our numbers were called at our appointment time, we were quietly guided to the change room in the back and handed soft, loose-fitting clothes. Our feet were gently washed in a basin of warm water and then toweled dry, before we lay down on the massage beds to the peaceful soundtrack of running water.
Traditional Thai massage is not necessarily relaxing, with its focus on deep tissue pressure. However, this particular afternoon, as we celebrated our 7th year wedding anniversary, we could have easily stayed longer than the one hour we had booked. Too bad we were the last appointments of the day!
4. Dead Sea – Ein Gedi, Israel
Often found on bucket lists all around the world, floating in the Dead Sea was an activity we crossed off our list on our month-long trip to Israel. We visited the lowest place on Earth in the height of summer, so the extreme, dry heat (42C/108F) mixed with the moisture-sucking saltwater of the Dead Sea, was a recipe for inevitable dehydration.
So, drinking as much water as we could, we tried not to burn our feet on the hot rocks along the shore and were vigilant to keep the Dead Sea’s water from splashing into our eyes and mouths. After all, its 20% salt content is plenty enough to sting eyeballs for a solid 2 minutes or make one gag uncontrollably, neither of which are recommended for an enjoyable spa experience.
What is recommended, however, is to lather up with the thick, black mud from hidden pockets on the beach. After letting the mineral-rich mud dry, we rinsed off and our skin was so wonderfully smooth. Our shoes, on the other hand, remained crystallized with salt for the next two weeks!
3. Blue Lagoon – Reykjanes, Iceland
Lured in by photos of gorgeous, milky blue waters, with steam rising from its surface, there was no question that we were paying a visit to the Blue Lagoon when we took our trip to Iceland.
Despite throngs of other like-minded spa-goers, we enjoyed our half-day indulgence. Much like the Dead Sea experience, albeit the monochromatic opposite, we caked ourselves with the thick, white “mud” from the walls of the hot spring.
The highlight of the experience was the in-water massage, as we floated on blue mats in the Blue Lagoon. That might be the closest we ever come to a zero-gravity massage and it was absolutely amazing!
2. Çemberlitas Hamam – Istanbul, Turkey
It would have been a travesty had we passed up the opportunity to experience a true Turkish Bath when we were in Istanbul. If you’re also planning a visit to the city, be sure to plan ahead and book your stay at a relaxing B&B or hotel.
Although we could have ordered any number of spa treatments, including a body scrub, bubble wash, aromatherapy massage or a clay mask, we opted for simplicity instead. Resting on the heated, marble platform for as long as we wanted, followed by self-scrubbing and rinsing.
Also, we were relieved to learn that bathing at the Çemberlitas Hamam is separated by gender. For us, this made the entire experience much more relaxing, which, after all, was exactly the point!
1. The Friedrichsbad – Baden Baden, Germany
Claiming the top spot of our best spa experience to date was, hands down, The Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden, Germany. In the town named and known for bathing all the way back to when Hadrian was Emperor of Rome, it’s no wonder the place knows how to capitalize on indulgences.
The spa is a relaxed circuit of stations, ranging from dry and wet saunas, thermal baths and showers. The best, however, is definitely saved for the last. After having moisturized, we were led into the Quiet Room by its attendant as she silently imitated a librarian warning us with her finger crossing her lips. She tucked us into our own bed with the softest fleece blanket imaginable so tightly that it became our cocoon.
Not since, and likely never again, will we have such a peaceful nap. Sigh. Simply thinking about our afternoon in Baden-Baden has the power to ease tension and relax tight muscles.