Seekers of the divine, perhaps you’ve heard – European Spas are having a resurgence, after playing second fiddle to the pleasure palaces of Asia for the last two decades.
Now revitalized and resplendent, they promise health, fitness and pampering at luxury levels.
While high-end spas dot the coastlines and valleys of the entire continent, here’s our pick of the best spas in Europe.
1. Acquaforte Thalasso Spa, Forte Village, Italy
The highlight of Acquaforte Thalasso Spa at Forte Village in Sardinia is a group of saline-dense thalassotherapy pools set in a tropical garden.
Slide into each one in turn – it takes about an hour and the temperature changes from 38 C to 20 C while jets massage and pulverize along the way.
The result is instant and total relaxation as the water takes all the weight off the body.
It’s very popular with injured sportsmen (particularly soccer players), who head for the pools with their physios.
It is also one of the few spas to offer zero-gravity yoga – another weightless exercise – alongside a choice of massages (including watsu) and a host of beauty therapies from facials to botox.
Relax at: Acquaforte Thalasso Spa, Loc. Forte Village, CAP 09010, Pula (Cagliari), Sardinia, Italy. Tel +39 (0) 709 218 818
2. Clinique La Prairie, Clarens-Montreux, Switzerland
On the shores of Lake Léman, Clinique La Prairie is seriously clinical, seriously medical and more than seriously expensive.
Since it opened more than 80 years ago it has hosted everyone from Churchill, a Pope or two, a gaggle of oligarchs and several rock stars.
All are rumored to have taken advantage of its renowned CLP Extract therapy.
In layman’s terms, CLP uses extracts of live cells from sheep embryos and claims a number of anti-aging benefits, from boosting the immune system and slowing down the growth of tumors to helping delay degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
The clinic’s medical services include orthopedic and cosmetic surgery, as well as expert help on cardiology, dermatology and gynecology.
It has one of the best menopause centers in Europe, as well as a renowned dental clinic.
And, of course, there’s the usual extensive menu of beauty and body treatments.
Relax at: Clinique la Prairie, 1815 Clarens-Montreux, Switzerland. Tel +41 (0) 21 989 3311
3. Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland
One of the grandest golf resorts on the planet, dotted with three of the most famous courses ever (including the PGA Centenary Course), Gleneagles also has the most glamorous spa in the British Isles – Espa Spa.
It’s a hedonistic heaven decked out with velvet chaises longue and deep sofas, all in shades of bronze, eggplant and dark chocolate.
One area is flooded with daylight, while the other is dark and dramatic with glowing fires and faux fur throws.
And while there are more than 60 therapies to choose from, there is a more recent addition of a wellness menu – Espa Life – which provides naturopathy, physiotherapy, fitness assessment, nutrition and acupuncture to deal with problems at a deeper level.
Relax at: The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire. Tel +44 (0) 1764 662231 (UK only); Tel +44 (0) 1764 662231 (International).
4. Viva Mayr, Lake Worth, Austria
On the shores of Lake Worth in Austria’s deep south and just a short drive from Klagenfurt (hometown of Arnie – the Terminator), Viva Mayr is dedicated to cleansing the gut, honing the digestion and detoxing the body.
Based on the teachings of Dr. Franz Xavier Mayr, who believed proper digestion is the road to health, this is where you learn how to eat again – properly.
The day begins with a dose of Epsom Salts and the food is a mix of dry rusks, broth, the odd potato and an occasional egg.
Every mouthful has to be chewed a minimum of 40 times.
Each visit begins with a medical consultation so that every program is tailor-made.
These can include everything from kneipping (bathing the body or parts thereof alternately in hot and cold water), massage, colonic irrigation, lymphatic drainage and therapies of the more pampering variety.
Relax at: Viva Mayr, Seepromenade 11, 9082 Maria Wörth, Austria. Tel +43 4273 31117
5. Schloss Elmau, Oberbayern, Germany
That’s what a spa resort with a Michelin-starred restaurant looks like.
Schloss Elmau is a Bavarian hideaway where the mind is as important as the body.
Hiking, biking, golf and yoga meet concerts, lectures, books and beauty.
It has four spas (including one for families), two libraries, one concert hall, six restaurants – one with a Michelin star – and the largest hotel bookshop in the world.
There are three-and four-night breaks, as well as a five-night anti-burnout package – or stay as long as you wish.
Otherwise, opt for massage, facials, pedicures, physiotherapy or postural realignment.
Go in winter to ski, or the rest of the year you can walk, sketch, paint, take yoga and tai chi classes or attend any of the many musical and literary events held throughout the year.
Relax at: Schloss Elmau 2, 82493 Krun, Bavaria, Germany; Tel +49 (0) 8823 18981
6. La Reserve, Ramatuelle, France
Take all the research and rigor from one of Geneva’s grandest spas and whisk it several hundred miles south to that flighty peninsula between St Tropez and Port Grimaud.
That’s exactly what happened with La Reserve, when it set up home in Ramatuelle, one of the prettiest villages on the Riviera.
Here, it overlooks the Mediterranean and has the award-winning spa’s anti-aging therapies (the non-invasive variety) prominent on the menu.
Following an individual lifestyle assessment, each guest has a personalized program of health, fitness and beauty treatments recommended.
It was the first spa to offer treatments from Crème de la Mer, which enhanced its standing with the lotus-eaters who flock to the area each summer.
The serious-minded will want the whole five-day regime, others will just want tasters of what is on offer.
Relax at: La Reserve Ramatuelle, Chemin de la Quessine, 83350 Ramatuelle, France; Tel +33 494449444
7. Capri Palace, Anacapri, Italy
Look out for falling Romans at Capri Palace.
Overlooking the sapphire-blue sea, this luxurious pleasure spot on the eastern side of the island is where the Emperor Tiberius held parties, orgies and, when tired of friend or foe, flung them over the cliffs into the sea.
It is also a serious medical spa and can pamper along with the best of them, but is most famous for its Scuole delle Gambe (Leg School).
Here, a host of supermodels and stars, as well as sports gods like Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo, have tripped through the icy pools and endured cold-mud treatments to keep their pins as perfect as possible.
Relax at: Capri Palace, Via Capodimonte, 14, 80071 Anacapri, Isola di Capri NA, Italy; Tel +39 (0) 81 978 01111
8. Europe Hotel Resort, Killarney, Ireland
Be sure to ask about McGillycuddy’s Reeks when in Killarney.
The Europe Hotel sports a spa with possibly one of the most beautiful views in the world, overlooking the largest of the Killarney lakes, Lough Lein, in the shadow of the blue-tinged mountains, McGillycuddy’s Reeks.
Guests can watch the colors change on the lakes and hills from the hydrotherapy pool or any of the relaxation areas.
The Espa spa is on two levels, with treatment rooms, a private spa suite and a thermal suite with a saltwater pool, an ice fountain, a sauna and a steam room.
The age-defying treatments are great for face and body, the views lift the soul.
Relax at: ESPA at The Europe, Fossa, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland; Tel +353 (0) 64 667 1333
9. SHA Wellness Clinic, Alicante, Spain
SHA Welness Clinic in Alicante is the perfect choice for a Zen-focused spa.
The chicest spa in Spain is devoted to anti-aging, wellness and the efficacy of the macrobiotic diet.
SHA is a series of gleaming white ultra-modern buildings adjacent to the Sierra Helada National Park, with views of the coastline from the rooftop pool.
Each guest has an initial consultation with an agenda coordinator and doctor on arrival to create a personalized program.
Alongside massages, colonics, gentle yoga and reflexology, the resort offers laser treatments for face and body, dentistry, cosmetic procedures, acupuncture and sleep therapies.
Relax at: SHA Wellness Clinic, Verderol 5 El Albir 03581 Alicante Spain; Tel +34 (0) 966 811 199.
10. Grand Resort, Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Caution – may contain Olympians.
Grand Resort Bad Ragaz consists of two hotels with super-luxury spa suites in a stunning Swiss valley just an hour from Zurich.
Space, clean air, mountains and rivers all contribute to the sense of well-being.
The B. Wellbeing & Spa facility is state-of-the art for sports injuries – whole soccer squads turn up for restoration.
There are also programs for detox, weight management and stress management alongside anti-aging therapies and sleep treatments, plus as a host of massages, scrubs and wraps.
It’s the sort of place that if a treatment is not on the menu, it doesn’t exist.
In the Spa Suites, all the water, including the bathwater, comes from natural springs.
Each bathroom has its own steam room and sauna, plus color-therapy baths operated by a Buddha-shaped button.
Even the mattresses can change from soft to firm at the flip of a switch.
Relax at: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, CH-7310 Bad Ragaz, Switzerland. Tel +41 (0) 81 303 3030
11. Castel Monastero, Siena, Italy
Imagine a renovated 11th-century hamlet with rooms and suites in castle courtyards and cottages.
Add food designed by Gordon Ramsay and special spa treatments devised by Dr. Mosaraf Ali, a physician to Prince Charles, Tommy Hilfiger and Claudia Schiffer among others, and you’ve got Castel Monastero in Siena.
Two indoor swimming pools and three outdoor ones complement the huge spa, where guests can spend days being pummeled and pampered.
Or you can take part in one of Dr. Ali’s three or seven-day programs – choose from slimming, detox or revitalizing.
Ali uses a mixture of naturopathy, Ayurveda and modern science and has a team of doctors to carry out the treatments.
Relax at: Castel Monastero Resort, Monastero D’Ombrone, 19, 53019, Castelnuovo, Berardenga, Sienna, Italy. Tel +39 (0) 577 570570
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.