From the days of pampering sessions beloved of hen parties, the spa has become more of a retreat, offering a wellness experience which is becoming increasingly popular.
In fact, the wellness sector accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the general tourism industry and, according to industry experts, wellness tourism will grow by 7.5 per cent year on year, to a total of 1.2 billion trips in 2022.
As the trips have grown in number, so have the options: from ancient water and mud-based therapies to advanced treatments such as tissue oxygenation and management programmes for a host of conditions such as diabetes or obesity.
Wellness continues to be the driver for spa visits this year, with a notable trend of ‘back to nature’, both in terms of a spa’s surroundings and treatments.
One of the main natural trends is ‘Shinrin-Yoki’, the Japanese practice of forest bathing – or simply spending time in a forest for therapy and healing. This therapy is proven to reduce cortisol levels, alleviate depression, relieve stress and even blood pressure.
Japanese forest bathers visit Chubu-Sangaku National Park in the Hida mountain range, while closer to home Druskininkai, a traditional spa town with centuries-old wellness traditions, is known as the lungs of Lithuania thanks to the pine forests surrounding the town. Not surprisingly, forest bathing therapy is one of the area’s most popular activities.
Heat and mud are also set to be popular again this year. The health benefits of Hammam beds, mud therapy and saunas, which include detoxification, relaxation, improved circulation and clearer skin, are being rediscovered. The latest infrared saunas, which warm the body inside out, with more intense effects, are also rising in popularity.
The healing properties of precious metals and stones, such as silver, are also being rediscovered and increasingly used for health and beauty procedures. Silver ion baths are said to improve wellbeing and skin tone, as well as relaxing the body and mind, reducing fatigue and restoring the energy balance.
Amber, which is also known as Lithuanian gold, is widely used in Eastern Europe for wellness applications, including massages and scrubs. When the stone is warmed to a certain temperature, amber acid is released which relaxes and rejuvenates.
The origins of spa type therapies are believed to date back thousands of years, when the curative powers of mineral waters were first discovered, even before the Roman era.
Water-based therapies are still popular, from hot springs to thalassotherapy – the use of seawater to treat and heal the skin. One of the most renowned thalassotherapy centres is the Divani Athens Spa in Greece which offers the ultimate ‘briny’ experience with a combination of sea-air, mineral-rich sea water and ocean-inspired treatments.
Alternatively, Terme 3000 in north-east Slovenia is the home of ‘black’ mineral spring waters, discovered some 50 years ago by oil prospectors. Rather than black gold, they found that bathing in the geothermal waters invigorated their bodies, improved their blood circulation and lessened nervous tensions, while their complexions tanned more quickly.
Nowadays the water – more blurry than black, but salty with a faint oil aroma and a uniquely high temperature – is recommended for post-injury and post-operation recovery, while also benefiting different kinds of rheumatism and the treatment of some skin diseases.
More natural water wonders are found at the Grotta Giusti in Tuscany, a 1000-year old thermal cave and underground hot spring lake, actually described as the eighth wonder of the world by composer Giuseppe Verdi.
The grotto’s waters are rich in bicarbonate, sulphate, calcium and magnesium and have a natural temperature of 34°C, creating hot steam in the cave which detoxifies and relaxes the body.
Natural treatments include a ‘floating spa’ ie relaxing and floating naturally on the lake’s surface and even ‘spa diving’ – fully immersing in the thermal waters. Above ground the resort features thermal pools and mud pits which are fed water direct from the hot spring.
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