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9 ultra-luxe spa getaways

The Bulgari Resort and Spa in Bali overlooks the Indian Ocean.
The Bulgari Resort and Spa in Bali overlooks the Indian Ocean.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bulgari Resort and Spa in Bali offers 59 ultramodern villas
  • Sensai Select offers a Japanese hot spring experience in Switzerland
  • Tabacón resort in Costa Rica offers an environmentally conscious luxury experience
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(Departures) -- Want to get away and get fit? Try one of these luxury spa resorts.

Bulgari Resort, Bali

"Bali" and "paradise": those words were once interchangeable, before rollicking pub crawls swept through Kuta, and gangs of "Eat, Pray, Love" devotees flooded Ubud. But miles from those bustling tourist meccas, atop a 520-foot cliff on the remote southernmost Bukit Peninsula, paradise still thrives.

Designed by the iconic Italian jewelry house, the Bulgari Resort and Spa Bali is idyllic in every sense: No-end-in-sight views of the glittering Indian Ocean are spectacular from all directions; the scent of sweetly heady frangipani flowers permeates the air; 59 ultramodern villas (picture Robinson Crusoe gone luxe: ylang-ylang palm-thatched roofs and private infinity pools) are stocked with soaps, creams, scrubs, silky songket sheets and robes you'll want to steal. Gracious staffers deliver splendid fare (Indonesian, Italian) and indulgent spa services to your door.

It would be an utter sin not to sample Bali's famous Royal Lulur body scrub ($95) -- Bulgari's is customized with ground turmeric and sandalwood -- or the complexion-changing facials (also done at Bulgari's flagship spa in Milan). The new Soin Multi-Facettes ($195) -- consider it entry-level antiaging -- incorporates the just-out-of-the-labs, antioxidant-rich Source Defense serums to smooth and plump skin and erase any traces of jet lag. The more advanced Soin Joyau Ultime ($290) features a series of heavy-hitting Précieuse firming emulsions and Merveilleuse wrinkle creams, which use the brand's skin-brightening gem essence technology.

The Source Defense, Précieuse and Merveilleuse skincare lines are available in the States, but don't leave before stocking up on Bulgari's UV Gem SPF 50 sunscreen ($95); the brilliantly weightless, invisible lotion isn't sold here. Then again, it's just one more reason to go back. Rooms start at $750; bulgarihotels.com.

Delaire, South Africa

Owned by jeweler Laurence Graff, Delaire is a new spa-lodge-restaurant on a 42-hectare working wine estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, about 45 minutes from Cape Town. It may only have ten suites to speak of, but like the diamonds Graff sells from his 30 stores worldwide, the cut is expensive -- starting at $1,255 for a double -- and close to perfect.

"I considered my own experiences and ensured we offer that extra something at every turn," says Graff. Interiors are by David Collins, who did the Wolseley in London; the food is by rising star Christiaan Campbell; and the knockout spa specializes in Swiss Perfection facials (from $85), the brand used at the Clinique La Prairie spa in Montreux, Switzerland. Hydrotherapy baths, a steam room, a sauna, a Pilates studio and a dedicated gentlemen's menu make this a serious contender for results-driven pampering. 27-21/885-8160; delaire.co.za.

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Farmhouse Inn, California

As a yellow Porsche Carerra pulled into the graveled entrance of the Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma's Russian River Valley, an hour-and-a-half drive from San Francisco, a young couple in robes and slippers headed to the spa just steps away from their barnhouse suite. Four friends who had been eating s'mores around the fire pit in the garden the night before were now sunning themselves by the pool. In the guest services cottage, a woman scooped homemade body scrubs and bath salts into small containers to use in the BainUltra air-massage tub and steam shower in her room. Her partner, meanwhile, was mixing a drink at the Italian soda bar and snacking on trail mix.

"Once you're here, you're in our home," says Catherine Bartolomei, who co-owns the inn with her brother, Joe. "And you're welcome to pretty much whatever you'd like to have. We want it to be like staying at a friend's house, but with the service you get at, say, the Ritz-Carlton." And though a hearty breakfast at the inn's Michelin-starred restaurant is included in the cost of the stay, Catherine will be the first to insist "you're not at a B&B -- we're not eating breakfast with you and telling you about our bunions!"

Indeed, the entire feel of the inn, its restaurant and its spa is very European. "We're drawn to the Italian-French model of doing things," she says. "It's farmy and humble, but in a sophisticated way." And its design -- from the eight oversized, vaulted-ceiling suites in the rebuilt barn to the nine cozy cottages with wood-burning fireplaces and saunas to the chic room in the main house with its infinity tub and French farm basin -- reflects that message well. So do the organic therapies in the small but completely gratifying new spa, managed by two former employees of the reputable Auberge Resorts. Rooms start at $275; farmhouseinn.com.

Carmel Forest, Israel

Israel as a spa destination? This may be a common rejoinder if one ever talks about visiting the country for just that. But after touring ancient landmarks and eating falafel, some rejuvenation and a healthy diet may be exactly what's needed. We recommend Carmel Forest Spa Resort -- a sort of Canyon Ranch with its own synagogue that's about a 100-mile drive from Jerusalem's political and urban tumult.

A spa dietician plans a program for you upon arrival. But following it may be difficult, even with the calorie counts posted: It's hard to resist the homemade yogurt and granola with a morning cappuccino, followed by a "proper" breakfast of eggs with grainy toast (warning: The house-made cherry-tomato jam is addictive) and, of course, "elevenses" of banana bread.

Guest rooms are, shall we say, nondescript. But two new suites are being added, each with a private swimming pool, a gym and a butler. Rooms start at $420; 972-4/830-7888; isrotel.co.il.

Sensai Select, Switzerland

In Japan, there's something in the water -- hot-spring water, to be exact -- that locals swear can transform one's skin. And now those healing properties that could once only be found in the volcanic hot springs can be experienced 6,000 miles west, at the Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel's Sensai Select Spa, in the snowcapped peaks of...Switzerland. The year-old spa -- the Japanese skincare company's first Select Spa -- and its tradition-based treatments are a welcome addition to the hotel's 60,000-square-foot wellness area, updating the historic 145-year-old property in Interlaken with a refreshing Eastern touch.

Located largely in Okayama, Japan's centuries-old bijin-no-yu, or "hot springs of beauties," bubble with minerals containing metasilicic acid, a highly effective element that increases circulation, de-stresses the body and helps skin retain moisture (by 250 percent!) while removing hardened dead-skin cells.

After 15-plus years of research, Sensai created the Hot Springs Invigorator, an ingredient formed from the acid, and incorporated it into the spa's Botanical Body Peel (for exfoliating), Bath Salt & Bath Milk (for bath and foot soaks) and Contour Mask (for facials). To fully experience the hot springs' benefits, book the three-hour Indulgence in Silk ($460): An aesthetician uses all three products during the treatment's six phases, each timed to coincide with the body's natural rhythms for maximal results. Rooms start at $615; victoria-jungfrau.ch

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Miraval, Tucson

The new integrative program at Miraval in Tucson, called "8 Weeks to Optimum Health," starts with two in-depth medical consultations to identify what's getting in the way of making you feel good, whether it's weight, chronic disease or stress. This intel is then used to pair you with wellness experts and itineraries at Miraval to bring about change. The effort continues when you return home, with weekly check-ins that we found to be a key factor, as they are so thoroughly administered.

Jim Nicolai, M.D., heads the program. His job is to pull from Western and Eastern medicine -- and the supplements aisle -- to customize a wellness practice that involves the right nutritionist, psychologist, fitness trainer, et al. Why all the experts? "Our current health-care system is not designed to help people with the day to day of what it takes to live a healthy life," says Andrew Weil, M.D., who created the program. "When people see their doctors, it's often because illness or disease has already occurred." The program starts at $425 a person per night, which includes accommodations and meals; miravalresorts.com.

Remède Spa, Mexico

Located on Mexico's Riviera Nayarit, Remède Spa at the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort has revamped its menu to include three new signature rituals. The two-hour Sacred Nature Huichol ($330; starwoodhotels.com) peels off impurities and imperfections on the face and body using organic products, while the Citrus Supreme ($380), also two hours, infuses the skin with vitamin C. The 90-minute Ocean Pearl ($280) uses black pearls for antiaging. Hmm...

Tabacón, Costa Rica

Even in Costa Rica, the country that practically invented the idea of ecotravel, Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort stands out. At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Costa Rica's environmental minister highlighted the exemplary sustainability initiatives of this small retreat, tucked away high in the volcanic rainforests. The spa incorporates the naturally occurring hot springs, rich in minerals from the nearby volcano; at the hotel, water-conservation, electricity-reduction and nature-preservation programs are in full force. Tabacón is also the country's first five-star resort to be certified carbon-neutral.

When it first opened in 1993, that wasn't the case. Over the past five years, it has transformed from a simple local stopover into an exceptional spa resort, an overhaul masterminded by Uwe Wagner, the German-born general manager. "All we wanted to do was live up to and surpass the Costa Rica ecohype," says Wagner. Since joining Tabacón in late 2005, he has overseen a $4.5 million renovation and launched the resort's rigorous environmentally and socially sensitive agenda, which includes hiring from neighboring communities and donating to area schools.

Nestled into 750 acres, Tabacón's low-slung buildings combine touches of Asia and Latin America, with locally crafted furnishings and beds made of dark wood. The high-ceilinged rooms have the feel of tree houses, albeit luxurious ones, each with an oversized window looking onto the green of the surrounding jungle. Several of the suites afford unobstructed views of Arenal, Costa Rica's youngest and most active volcano, which sits a few miles away in the adjacent national park.

At the hot springs across the road, the main pool has a waterslide and a bar; a restaurant overlooks the whole scene. Well-manicured paths follow the stream to a series of smaller pools and waterfalls. The Grand Spa itself is hidden in plain sight: across a footbridge, behind lush green walls. In the Temazcal sweat lodge, heated by lava rock, guests can take part in an ancient steam-bath ritual. Each of the treatment areas, under thatched roofs and without walls, is completely out of view from any other. After a volcanic mud wrap, rinsing off is as simple as tumbling into a private section of the stream. Tabacón (rooms, from $285; tabacon.com) is a three-hour drive from Liberia and two hours from San José. Nature Air, a carbon-neutral Costa Rican airline, flies from both cities (from $50; natureair.com).

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Jalousie Plantation, St. Lucia

The majestic pitons -- two volcanic cones that tower nearly 3,000 feet above sea level on the island of St. Lucia -- is known as being one of the most awe-inspiring locations in the world. (Oprah even declared it the number one thing to see in a lifetime in 2005.) Now there is another reason to visit this unesco World Heritage site: the Rainforest Spa, which opened in December at the Jalousie Plantation, a 100-plus-acre property at the base of the Pitons.

The 9,430-square-foot spa is woven around the dam of the original 18th-century sugar plantation and features seven thatched-roof tree house treatment rooms built by locals using traditional Amerindian techniques. Treatments incorporate indigenous plants and fruits and are designed to reflect the dramatic surroundings. For the truly adventurous, there's the Sulfur Seduction, which takes guests into the nearby hills for a soak in the sulfur springs, followed by a hot volcanic mud bath. The service concludes with a loofah scrub under the Piton waterfalls, and afterward there's a relaxing 30-minute massage back at the spa. Treatments, from $95; 758-456-8000; jalousieplantation.com.

By Aimee Lee Ball, Amanda Friedman, Christina Ko, Ying Chu, Deborah Frank, Perry Garfinkel, Melisse Gelula, Sophy Roberts

© 2010 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.