How to choose spas, wellness centers and retreats

Once upon a time they were known as Health Farms but now they are Spas or even Wellness Centers or even Retreats. They’re big business but before you book and spend, here are the questions you need to ask whether you’re a virgin spa-visitor or have decided to add a spa visit to your annual trips.

I’ve been lucky to visit many luxury spas for work but I haven’t enjoyed all of them. I’m very much into health but food is a big love, and I don’t want to go to an incredible location and be hungry or missing out on local foodie delights.  I hope these questions (and the answers) help you choose a place that’s fabulous for you. The best spas will reboot you and help you manage your wellness rather than battle with stress and illness. 

How far is the nearest village or town? Check the location – is there a village or town within easy walking distance and make sure it really is walkable. Are you happy to be somewhere remote or do you prefer a get-out option?

 Is it a hotel with a spa or a spa that’s a hotel?  Hotels can make more money by adding a spa. Sure, they can be a nice bonus especially if you arrive exhausted or are on business and need a nice massage. But if it’s the full therapeutic spa experience you’re after then choose the spa hotel not the hotel with the spa. A spa will be focused on making sure that every detail of your stay complements the treatments. You’re more likely to find yoga and meditation and other healthy activities. They will also have the specialist knowledge for all aspects of wellbeing and ever member of staff will be part of this. The fact that every guest is there for the same reason makes a difference.

 Is there a doctor on site? If you have medical issues you may pay prefer to pay more for a spa with a medical center.

What’s provided in the rooms? Is there a kettle and a selection of teas? Is water provided free or at a premium charge? You drink more water at a spa partly because as you rest your body reminds you to do so, and partly because treatments make you thirsty.  There is always ample water and herbal teas near the treatment rooms.

Exactly what is included in the meals? Whether you book half-board or full board check. What’s the menu like? Look at the a la carte menu too. Sometimes it’s easier and more cost effective to go full board, but sometimes there is more flexibility in not doing so.

Who are the clients?  Mostly oligarchs and aristos or working people top of their field, or a mix?  Mostly one nationality, from one part of the world,  or a mix? What’s the age group?

 If you are going alone, is the spa solo friendly? Is there a communal table for solo travelers to meet others if they chose to? Note that solo means everyone visiting on their own from widowed to single, or married/in a relationship but needing time out alone to lose weight or de-stress.

What’s the male/female ratio? Spas that market themselves more as wellbeing centers attract more men. Spas that market themselves on pampering  treatments attract more women.

What’s the policy on alcohol? Is there zero alcohol or a glass of wine with meals or a full blown fine dining experience?

What’s the policy on  Wi-fi? Is there Wi-fi everywhere, is it banned, or available only in certain spots? Some places encourage a digital detox, others ban it,  others leave it up to you.

 What do you have to sign? Do you sign away all your rights and your family’s to take action against the spa in case of a medical problem? Are you ok with that? This might be part of the paperwork you’re handed during your ‘welcoming’ drink.

 What do the worst comments on Trip Advisor say? Look for information rather than emotion, specific details rather than rants. There might only be a few negative reviews but look for anything that would also bother you. You are you. Look at the good reviews and again pick out specific details. You’ll see a pattern.

What’s everyone photographing?  Pretty much every spa has pretty details, so look for an impression beyond the candles and flowers. Could you be anywhere, or is this a very special somewhere?love-romantic-bath-candlelight

 What is the media coverage? If a spa is featured extensively in the media and the stories go beyond ‘this was a lovely luxurious spa’ that’s a good sign. If a place is dreadful it won’t be featured. Note that with some roundups not all destinations have been checked out. However, what’s featured tends to come from a trustworthy source.  If the write-up is bland and factual consider whether it’s lazy/ inexperienced journalism, or a diplomatic way of saying the place is so-so. Sometimes there is an obligation to keep advertisers happy by including at least a mention of a place.

Has the spa won awards or been voted ‘best’ by an organisation? What’s the organisation and is it one that resonates with you?

 Why are you going to a spa? What will you get that you can’t find on a different (less expensive) trip?

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