Spa holidays: Where to try the best indigenous treatments

Spa holidays: Where to try the best indigenous treatments

Such is the spread of spa treatments you can now have Thai massage in the Caribbean, Scandinavian saunas in Australia and reiki in Reading (probably). 

But there’s much to be said for making the most of the disciplines and products developed locally and sending clients to hotels with spas that specialise in indigenous treatments.

Their spa experience is then more than just a way to relax; it’s a slice of local culture and an extension of their holiday.


Balinese treatments and therapists are renowned worldwide and use herbs and oils made from locally growing ingredients such as ginger, frangipani, sandalwood and coconut.

The Como Shambhala Estate in Bali offers a range of traditional treatments, from local massage techniques involving kneading and rolling strokes to the Royal Lulur Bath.

This ultimate pampering treat starts with a massage, after which an aromatic spice body scrub is applied, followed by a cooling yogurt mix to balance the skin. It ends with a long soak in a relaxing, flower-filled bath.


It’s rumoured that Thai massage traditions were brought over from India more than 2,500 years ago. They involve stretching and deep massage to ease the muscles.

Traditional Thai massage is available at Four Seasons Resorts across the country. At the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, therapists also specialise in ytsara samunprai, an 18th-century practice where organic poultices of Thai herbs are used to open pores and relax muscles.

At the Four Seasons Koh Samui visitors can experience a Singing Bowls treatment, where bowls of different metals are struck, producing sounds and vibrations of different frequencies.

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China’s mountainous Yunnan province has been called the real Shangri-La. It’s part of Greater Tibet and is steeped in the ancient practices of the culture.
The Banyan Tree Ringha is built in traditional style and the spa uses treatments from the Gui Shi, an old Tibetan medical text. Heated river stones and sesame oil are used to massage the body, discharging toxins from the system.

The spa also offers traditional Chinese Tui Na massage that has been used for more than 200 years.

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The Land of the Rising Sun is the birthplace of many alternative therapies and home to expert practitioners.

Hyatt’s Pure spa brand uses local products in its treatments and the Riraku Spa in the Hyatt Regency Kyoto has many indigenous Japanese options to choose from.

These include shiatsu and anma massage methods, acupuncture and facials using organic chidoriya products such as adzuki bean powder and peach moon water.

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Saunas are part of everyday life for the Finns.

The Hotel Kalevala in Kuhmo, near the Russian border in northeastern Finland, is surrounded by lakes and forests and offers a peat sauna. In this traditional treatment the body is smeared in a peat mask, which dries in the sauna heat and is washed off, leaving baby-soft skin behind.

Brave guests can finish the experience by jumping in to the clear, cold waters of Lake Lammasjärvi – if it’s not frozen over, that is.

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Istanbul is riddled with traditional Turkish baths, but for an option that combines both history and luxury, send clients to the Ritz Carlton Laveda Spa.

 The hammam is modelled on the 16th-century Baths of Roxelana, a towering domed building that was the crowning glory of Ottoman Empire-era spas (and now houses a government-run rug and carpet shop).

After cleansing and exfoliation spa-goers are given a relaxing bubble massage, and for an extra hit of history they can swim in the Byzantine-inspired mosaic pool.

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Age-old Aboriginal healing techniques inspire the treatments at the Daintree Eco Lodge, in the tropical far north of Queensland.

Traditional products and massages are used, and visitors could try the signature Wabul Wabul or butterfly therapy, which incorporates the contrasting sensations of oils and desert salts to treat the skin.

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Long before the Spanish invaded Central America, the indigenous people used volcanic rocks to heat special lodges called Temazcals, where they would use steam to purify themselves and heal the sick.

At Iberostar’s Playa Paraiso Complex near Cancun residents can have a Temazcal treatment and herb-treated clay and hot stones are used to relax body and spirit.

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The coastal town of Portoroz has a long history as a health resort with excavations revealing Roman thermal baths.

In the 13th century, Benedictine monks used brine to ward off dropsy and rheumatism, and in the 17th century, pilgrims smeared themselves with local mud.

Things are rather more glam today at the five-star Grand Hotel Portoroz. But the Terme Wellness Centre still uses the salt pan mud, called fango, Acqua Madre (aka brine) and thermo mineral and sea waters in its treatments. 

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