An upside-down green tree sculpture hangs from the ceiling of a circular spa space, which is surrounded by white, diaphanous curtains
Interiors & Design Travel & Leisure

Spa Design: The World’s Most Beautiful Wellness Retreats

Taking time out to unwind and relax the body and mind is more important than ever given the hectic pace of modern life. The spa design at these stunning retreats creates the most sumptuous places to do so

With the increasingly high-tech world we live in, it would be easy to imagine spa design following suit. While treatments are becoming more futuristic—“biohacking clinics are the new nightclubs” exclaimed The Times in London recently, “the hottest place to network is over an ice bath and IV drip,” suggested The New York Times—today’s well-being spaces are, by contrast, embracing the beauty, texture, color, and slower pace of the natural world.

A wood-lined spa treatment room with low lighting, a daybed with cream-colored cushions, a metal bowl on the floor and a wooden side-table with two bottles on it. There is also a low ottoman and a small table.
An André Fu-designed treatment room at Claridge’s new London spa has low lighting for extra relaxation. As well as seven luxurious treatment rooms the complex has steam rooms, saunas, and a state-of-the-art gym.

“My personal view on wellness architecture revolves around the essence of emotions and the feeling of stillness when a space immediately makes you feel that you are being cocooned into an intimate world of comfort,” says André Fu, the Hong Kong-based architect who designed London hotel Claridge’s first ever spa.

On the third floor of the hotel’s new subterranean wonder world, the spa spans 7,000 square feet (650 sq m), which Fu has swathed in natural oak, beige French limestone, and bronze, from the swimming pool’s multi-vaulted ceiling to the cladding of the treatment rooms, all complemented with low-level lighting and the sound of water trickling down a suspended Japanese glass artwork called Rain Chain by artist Victoire Bourgois.

My personal view on wellness architecture revolves around the essence of emotions and the feeling of stillness when a space immediately makes you feel that you are being cocooned into an intimate world of comfort—André Fu

“This quiet material palette helped me to focus on the spatial expression of a mindful journey, guiding guests through a series of sculptural spaces, undulating in proportion, to provoke emotional connections within them,” Fu explains.

Drawing on his memories of visiting Kyoto and its traditional temples—“tracing back to the authenticity of where spa culture originated”—the effect is “highly intimate and warm,” he adds. “While we’ve created a space that is pure and architectural, it feels soft and cozy.”

It provides the perfect backdrop for transforming treatments offered at the spa, devised by Inge Theron, Maybourne Hotel Group’s creative director of spa and wellness and Facegym founder.

These include the traditional bamboo and silk ritual with body massage using herb-infused poultices, and a detox sculpting treatment, which harnesses the latest FIR (far infrared ray) technology to activate tissue metabolism, lymphatic drainage, anti-aging fire-and-ice korugi facial massage, and body cooling.

Spa Design and the City

The same sensibility flows through Aman New York’s flagship spa, spread over three floors of the 100-year-old Beaux Arts Crown Building on Fifth Avenue. Aman designer Jean-Michel Gathy and his studio Denniston have deployed oak, walnut, and cinnamon woods across finishes, floors, doors, and furnishings, alongside floors laid to imitate the patterns of woven rattan, plus Belgian blue marble and metallic detailing to lend depth.

Long, pale green swimming pool in a spa with double-height ceilings and two large half-dome light fittings.
The pool at Aman New York has double-height ceilings for a greater sense of space and peace. Set over three floors and 25,000 square feet (2,300 square metres), the spa's natural materials create a grounding environment. Image: Robert Rieger

While the 10th floor 65-foot (20 m) pool is the spa’s pièce de résistance, there is also a hammam, Banya Spa House, and two private spa houses, each with a double treatment room, a living area, and private terrace with a warm bath and cold plunge pool.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of wellness and spa, says that in placing equal value on “multiple factors—clinical analysis and therapy, nutrition, movement, emotional equilibrium, and others—that contribute to vibrant well-being,” treatments embrace both traditional therapies and the latest technologies, from cryotherapy to spectrophotometry (evaluating the amount of minerals, toxic metals, and oxidative stress in the body). There is also hydrotherapy, massage, and acupuncture.

Swiss Style

At the newly opened Six Senses Crans-Montana in Switzerland, a complimentary biomarker screening helps to “personalize programs and individual treatments, and guide nutrition,” says Jesmin Aly, director of wellness. “It is important for guests to be aware of what their bodies and minds need so they can implement lifestyle well-being into their daily life.”

The 21,500-square-foot (2,000 sq m) spa—with nine treatment rooms where the focus is on contemporary alpine therapies, a yoga studio, a series of swimming and plunge pools, saunas, and a biohack recovery lounge—sits right at the heart of the resort.

Simple, powerful well-being comes from being among nature—Emma Stratton

“The treatment rooms, which we imagined as mountain cabins in the woods, are organized around the alpine garden, putting them in direct contact with nature outside so that the timber lining contrasts with the green of the trees outside,” Reda Amalou and Stéphanie Ledoux of Parisian architecture and design studio AW² explain.

The wet treatment area sits within a curved walled space, as if dug directly into the mountain face; the vast indoor pool looks out onto a courtyard planted with birch trees. The result is one that encourages relaxation, “reviving the senses through an enveloping and cocooning experience.”

Eco-Friendly Pampering

A similar connection with the elements resonates in the spa design at Scarlet, the eco resort nestled atop rugged Cornish cliffs north of Newquay, U.K., where “simple, powerful well-being comes from being among nature,” says owner Emma Stratton.

A woman in a square swimming pool looks through floor-to-ceiling windows at a view of rocks and the ocean
The bromine-filtered swimming pool boasts spectacular views of the rugged Cornish coast and the ocean beyond at Scarlet in England, bringing the natural world inside.

To the soundtrack of waves crashing below the spa, its design echoes the location, with an indoor pool, outdoor natural reed pool, clifftop cedar sauna, restorative steam room, and “wide views of the blue Atlantic.”

The spa menu—including yoga and tai chi classes, breathwork, meditation, and softening bathing rituals—is guided by Ayurvedic principles, and treatments take place in tented, lantern-lit rooms and include stillness afterwards in the deep relaxation room’s suspended cocoon pods. The focus is on “restoring natural balance and making well-being easier for everyone,” says Stratton.

Costa Rican Retreat

At The Well’s Hacienda AltaGracia outpost (part of Auberge Resorts), its foothill roots in the tropical verdancy of Costa Rica’s Talamanca Mountains inspired the New York-based interior designer Nina Gotlieb’s biophilic design approach to echo the retreat’s lush 180-acre (72.8 ha) setting.

Ferns hang from the ceiling over a large indoor swimming pool. There's a tall plant in the corner of the double-height wall of windows, which look out over a tropical forest.
Plants are a major feature in the interiors of The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia, mirroring the lush tropical forest that surrounds the complex. Treatments here begin with a purifying ritual and end with a dip in the oversized tranquility pool.

“We wanted to inject light and natural texture into all of the spaces to bring the outside in,” she says of the spa design that teams local Guanacaste wood, terracotta, rose marble, and sisal with the simplicity of white walls, an abundance of overflowing plants, and expansive 45-foot (13.7 m) windows.

“We view design as a tool to deliver wellness in a passive but powerful way,” says Kane Sarhan, co-founder of The Well, which has outposts in New York, Connecticut, and Los Cabos, Mexico.

We view design as a tool to deliver wellness in a passive but powerful way—Kane Sarhan

Integrative energy healing sessions, including sound, light touch, and guided meditation, take place around a vast crystal quartz; outdoor treatment beds are set in their own private gardens; the clay, coffee beans, and medicinal herbs used in treatments are locally sourced or grown sustainably on-site.

Family Business

Father and daughter duo Alain and Lucie Weill conceived Lily of the Valley, a wellness retreat overlooking the beaches of Gigaro near Saint-Tropez, as “a place where people can take care of themselves and look after their health,” Lucie says. While weight loss is a goal for many of the hotel’s guests, it is far from punishing.

A sandy colored treatment room with rustic walls and wooden daybeds with cream colored cushions
A tranquil treatment room designed by Philippe Starck at Lily of the Valley, a wellness retreat nestled in the hillsides of Saint-Tropez. Image: November Studio

With spaces designed by Philippe Starck to, in his own words, “fit with its surroundings in such perfect harmony that it seems as if it’s always been there,” getting shipshape inside and out—through a regime of restorative treatments, aquatic coaching sessions, and meals overseen by nutritionist Jacques Fricker and chef Vincent Maillard—has never been so stylish.

“Our guests are often surprised to achieve the results they hoped for while still eating delicious food and going sea wading in a wetsuit under the warm sunshine of the Mediterranean,” Lucie says.

Comfort, connection, and above all mindfulness lie at the heart of these spas. “When a space is thoughtful enough to make a guest feel fully at ease and taken care of, that is the moment when they can begin to rejuvenate,” emphasizes Fu. Fancy pampering and high-tech bio wizardry are par for the course, but for Fu, his job is to design well-being spaces that “connect with the soul.”

Banner image: A tree sculpture by local artist Daniela Monge connects guests to nature at The Well in Costa Rica 

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