Most folks love the sound of waves when getting a massage. At Bota Bota, you’re on the waves—floating on a barge-turned-1960s-showboat that morphed into a luxury spa in 2008. It’s anchored in the Saint Lawrence River in the port of Old Montreal. Clients typically start with the “water circuit,” a series of pools, showers, sauna, and a steam bath, and then indulge in a body treatment like the Cocoa Wave or Honey Ocean. Hang on to that blissful post-treatment feeling by swaying on the boat’s hammock overlooking the city skyline.
Talk about a full immersion experience. At this spa on the grounds of a family-run brewery, you slip into a bath of dark beer, mineral water, and beer yeast with seven dehydrated curative herbs. The mixture supposedly improves body immunity and helps skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Start with 20 minutes in a 93-degree beer bath, then recuperate wrapped in a fleece quilt during a 25-minute bed rest. The spa suggests pairing the bath with a massage—and a few of its beers, naturally.
3. Galos Caves, Chicago
You no longer have to visit Poland to experience salt caves built with crystals from the Black Sea—thanks to the Polish and Ukrainian specialists who came to Chicago to construct the first U.S. salt-iodine caves (opened in 2005). Visitors spend about an hour in the dim caves, relaxing on lounge chairs amid kitschy decorations of seahorses and mermaids, listening to calming music, and breathing in the salty air. The environment is supposed to ease asthma and digestive issues. Kids make a beeline for the “saltbox,” where they can play with brightly colored beach toys.
4. Chiang Mai Women’s Prison Spa, Thailand
You don’t need to have seen episodes of Locked Up Abroad to be fearful of entering a foreign prison. But people actually do come to this women’s prison to relax. The spa is equipped with a large room with mats and chairs for your choice of Thai or foot massages. Inmates run the spa as part of a massage school prison rehabilitation program, and the cost of a massage is set aside for the inmates for use after their release.
5. Clinical-Salon Ci:z.Labo, Tokyo
Launched last year by Clinical-Salon Ci:z.Labo in Tokyo, the facial incorporates several snails that are given free reign to wander around your face and leave slime in their wake. Snail-based creams are available for those who don’t plan on visiting Tokyo anytime soon (or who simply have no desire to pay to be slimed).
6. The Spa at The Firehouse, Iowa
More than a century ago, this Greek Revival-style firehouse employed award-winning horses, both named Jack, which won fire-wagon races and dashed out whenever there was an emergency. Now, instead of putting out fires, the staff come to the rescue by alleviating stress. Folks check in by the old brass fire pole and check out the operational fire gong and a large collection of historic firehouse memorabilia on display.
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7. Zuri Kumarakom, Kerala Resort & Spa, India; Spa at Sandy Lane, Barbados
At this Caribbean spa resort, treatments are drawn from wellbeing traditions across the world, from the Caribbean, North America and Europe to the Ayurvedic Philosophy from The Far East, all combined with a Barbadian sense of warmth. One of their spa treatments in particular leans more toward the unique. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for thousands of years as a traditional form of medicine, and its alternative treatments continue to be popular around the world. Less popular is shirodhara (from the Sanskrit words for head and flow), which involves pouring a drizzle of warm oil on your forehead for about an hour from a pot-like contraption.
8. Ada Barak’s Carnivorous Plant Farm, Israel
Ever since biblical times, recoiling has been the first instinct when a snake slithers near. But in the Holy Land, of all places, Ada Barak is convinced that her snakes can be a soothing influence. If you dare, Barak will watch over the creatures as they writhe along your back, legs, stomach, hair—even your face. The nonvenomous snakes vary in size, with the largest ones providing a kneading feel and, at most, a little nibble on your eyelashes.
9. Mais Oui Spa Train, California
When you board this authentic 1920s luxury Pullman railcar, go for the “roundtrip”: a massage, an herbal facial, and a body scrub. The boutique spa is stationed at Napa Valley’s Calistoga Train Depot, the second-oldest depot in California. Opened in December 2010, the train has only three cabins, with room for up to six—so be ready for an intimate trip. Staff up the kitsch factor by giving you train tickets when you enter the spa.
10. Lime Spa, Maldives
The Maldives are famous for luxurious over-water bungalows with glass floors—and now for the world’s first underwater spa, part of Huvafen Fushi resort in the North Malé Atoll. Clown fish, parrot fish, blacktip reef sharks, eels, and many other creatures swim by as clients enjoy treatments like the Marine Wave, an aromatic body and scalp massage, or Pulp Friction, a full-body exfoliation with mineral sea salts and botanical oil. The spa brings sea life indoors with décor inspired by coral and sea sponges.
11. New York Spa Castle, New York
Most spa excursions last only an hour or two, but you can easily spend the whole day at Spa Castle, a 100,000-square-foot oasis among warehouses in Queens. It’s modeled after a Korean bathhouse (jimjilbang), complete with plunge pools, igloo-shaped saunas lined in gold and jade, and a food court. When you arrive, you’re issued a uniform of shorts and a T-shirt, plus an electronic bracelet that works as a locker key and a charge card. Before slipping into your new getup, spend time in the all-nude steam rooms and baths (separated by gender). Then head to the rooftop for a dip in the coed heated pool, with whirlpools, massage jets, and a view of Long Island Sound.
12. Marienkron, Austria
Get a massage by a habit-toting Austrian at this nun-run spa. After years of operating a chicken farming business, the sisters made over Marienkron Abbey as a wellness center in 1969. The menu ranges from lymphatic drainage massages to colonics. One signature treatment created by a 19th-century priest involved being hosed with hot and cold water. You can always cap it off with a little holy water by attending a mass during your stay.