If one of your New Year's resolutions was to make time to step out of the rat race and learn to relax more, then why not start as you mean to go on, and jet off to snow-covered Europe to take the waters at one of the continent's ancient spa towns?
With the festive season over and even the most dedicated party person hanging up their heels for the next few weeks (or maybe until the Dubai World Cup kicks off!), January is the perfect time to head across to Europe and spend a few days in the towns that have spent the past few centuries perfecting the art of rest and rejuvenation.
From Bath in England to Montecatini in Italy, via Vichy in France, pleasure-seekers have long struck out for the continent to place themselves in the hands of experts, whether it's for medical or relaxation reasons.And although the festive season may be over, you can always fill in the time between treatments, by scoping out the January sales, hitting the slopes for some skiing action, or simply kicking back by a roaring log fire and wearing the woolly jumper you'll never get to wear in the UAE (even with the air con cranked as high as it will go.)
Boasting enough history to make any Anglophile salivate, Bath in Somerset was established as a spa by the Romans in AD43 and boasts natural thermal waters that have been taken by royalty and celebrities over the years, decades and centuries. The Royal Crescent Luxury Spa Hotel is a great place to start your R'n'R journey, situated as it is in a stunning example of 18th-century architecture. Here, the Bath House Spa, which won a Conde Nast Traveller Reader's Award last year, provides treatments based around the four elements and is also open to non-hotel residents for spa days. With a relaxation pool heated to 35 degrees centigrade and a sauna and steam Karahafus, you'll also find a vast spa menu which includes massages, fruit enzyme wraps, aromatherapy facials and holistic treatments, with the Watsu a standout water treatment which employs shiatsu and hydrotherapy in the warm pool. The Woolley Grange Hotel is another top option, with this family-run spa hotel housed within a beautiful Jacobean Manor House in 14 acres of grounds. The spa, within the walled garden, features a menu that's influenced by the native flora and fauna of the region, using herbs, flowers and vegetable ingredients to bring the best of Mother Nature into the treatment room.
Deserving of its place in all the ‘World's best spa town' lists, Baden Baden has been attracting visitors seeking to better their health since the 19th century, and boasts public hot mineral baths and private spa retreats throughout the Greco-Roman, Regency and Georgian-influenced town. For tip-top treatments, try Brenner's Park Hotel & Spa, a hotel in the grandest sense of the word, whose spa benefits from over 135 years of experience. Check into the Beauty Spa, which uses Brenner's own label, Brenner's Spirit of Jaipur, products. Try their lymph drainage treatment to cleanse your post-party season body, or book into the Spa Suite for a South Pacific-influenced spa unlike no other. Add a medical element to your spa stay at the beyond-impressive Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe, where staff work in collaboration with the nearby Max Grundig Klinik to provide a more rounded health experience in this Black Forest hideaway.
Looking from the outside like a place the modern world forgot, the always-fashionable spa town of Montecatini more than brings to mind a grand palace set amid landscaped gardens. Built around nine spas, guests can expect differing treatments and approaches to wellbeing at each - with the oldest dating back to the 14th century. The nine spas are the Excelsior Spa Wellbeing Centre, Tettuccio, Piscina Termale Terme Grocco, La Salute, Redi, Leopoldine, Regina, Tamerici and Torretta, all of which base their treatments around the mineral waters. Book into the four-star Hotel Adua and Regina di Saba, which has its own wellness centre boasting massage, facials and reflexology. And The Hotel Torretta is another gem, where the exfoliation with thermal salt and thermal bath with damask rose is divine.
Surrounded by medieval forts, lush landscapes and eye-watering chateaus, Vichy's destination as a spa town was popularised in the 17th century, and visitors have been travelling there ever since. With 12 water sources around the town, you can drink from six, with the Halls des Sources the most prominent; and for taking the waters at the baths, try the Grand Etablissement Thermal or the Bains Callou. The Pavillon Sévigné, a grand manor house opposite the thermal baths of Bagnères-de-Luchon, is a great place to stay, boasting incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
And set amid acres of rolling parkland, Les Célestins Vichy Spa Hotel is home to a number of health and beauty specialists, with a multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare, which includes light behaviour therapy and regeneration and anti-ageing treatments.
Mariánské Lázné, Czech Republic
Nestled in the Karlovy Vary region, Mariánské Lázně is built on 100 mineral springs, which feed the curative drink and restorative bath industries that have flourished there. With different springs geared towards aiding different complaints or conditions, the Křížový pramen (Cross Spring) is the most famous, with its impressive pavilion of 72 Ionic columns. Elsewhere, the Rudolfův (Rudolph's Spring), Karolinin (Caroline's Spring), Ferdinandův (Ferdinand's Spring), Křížový, Ambrožovy (Ambrose's Springs), Lesní (Forest Spring) pramens and Zpívající fontána (Singing Fountain) are further must-stops on your spring trip. Check into the Spa and Wellness Hotel Harmony, the fruits of whose botanic gardens serve the treatment rooms, and plump for the dry gas bath CO2, hydrotherapy and reflective massage. While the four-star Orea Hotel Bohemia features Roman steam baths and paraffin treatments.
Reece Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Amitabh Bachchan and Keira Knightley have all spent time in Bath during filming movies including Vanity Fair and The Duchess.