The Caribbean's Hottest Spas
Published: April 2009
By Shane Mitchell
The Caribbean spa scene is heating up, and it's like nothingyou've seen before: sugarcane body scrubs, dolphin therapy, and yoga on some of the world's most spectacular beaches
THE CARIBBEAN HAS ALWAYS BEEN A PLACE OF NATURAL HEALING.
ITS GENTLE HUMIDITY IS TONIC FOR DEHYDRATED SKIN. Its soft sand
is a natural exfoliant (free body scrubs!). and its sea is like a huge hydrotherapy tub. Now the region's resorts are putting a new spin on the existing holistic experience by opening spas whose treatments borrow from bush medicine and incorporate native ingredients. Consider Jamaica, a pharmacopoeia in itself where your body scrub or facial might be performed using homegrown papayas, unfiltered honey, sugarcane, even Blue Mountain coffee. (On islands that lack this tropical bounty, remedies are imported from Europe, Asia, and India.) After your massage, wrap, and yoga class, practice stress management by sipping a rum punch and singing Bob Marley's meditation mantra: "Every little thing gonna be alright." Here, the best of the new spas.
TURKS AND CAICOS
SHAMBHALA, PARROT CAY At Parrot Cay, a private-island resort owned by Christina Ong—the force behind London's groovy Metropolitan hotel—the healing is global. Ong hand-picked every therapist at the resort's newly opened spa, Shambhala (Sanskrit for "utopia"). One of them is Song, a former Buddhist monk who administers mind-altering Indian head massages. Peemai, from Chiang Mai, is a master of Thai massage. Sydney-born yoga instructor Julie Veloskey teaches in a pavilion above an isolated mangrove inlet. Design enlightenment comes in the form of Japanese cedar soaking tubs, airy treatment rooms overlooking the North Caicos channel, and bougainvillea blossoms floating in a coconut shell under your massage table. Between treatments, guests sip ginger-honey tea from Italian ceramic cups by the infinity pool. 877/754-0726 or 649/946-7788, fax 649/946-7789; doubles from $360, not including treatments.
GOLDEN DOOR SPA AT LAS CASITAS VILLAGE Those who have been to the original Golden Door may have skewed expectations of this spin-off, located in a villa-only retreat that is part of a 900-room mega-resort on Puerto Rico's northeast coast. The Asian aesthetic that permeates the venerable California spa is absent. (No paper fans! No kimonos! No golden doors!) But the staff has been trained to the same exacting standard, and signature treatments—a Pineapple Polish scrub and Ambrosia facial—employ GD products. Cap off a dynamic session of Yo-Chi (a hybrid of yoga and tai chi) with a low-fat pineapple-papaya smoothie in the spa café. Wyndham El Conquistador Resort & Country Club, Las Croabas; 800/468-8365 or 787/863-1000, fax 787/863-6831; doubles from $425, not including treatments.
AVEDA CONCEPT SPA AT STRAWBERRY HILL If the ascent up narrow switchbacks from Kingston makes you dizzy, regain your equilibrium on Strawberry Hill's spa deck, with its lofty view of the coffee estates in Jamaica's Blue Mountains. A tranquil bamboo-shaded courtyard leads to the spare, white spa rooms. The coolness of the soft upland mist will send you snuggling under your cottage's down comforter after a series of calming Aveda essential-oil treatments. Boost your energy level with a marvelous Himalayan Rejuvenation steam and massage, a drenching Body Elixir Vichy shower—or a jolt of the famous island brew. Then get psyched for trail hikes among torch ginger and wild orchids. Irish Town; 800/688-7678 or 876/944-8400, fax 876/944-8408; doubles from $595, not including treatments.
RITZ-CARLTON ROSE HALL Scarlett O'Hara goes to the tropics at this new Ritz-Carlton resort, which plays up the plantation mistress theme on the grounds of a historic sugarcane estate outside Montego Bay. One actual lady of Rose Hall had the unnerving habit of poisoning her husbands, but you can expect gracious hospitality. The yellow, blue, coral-pink, and lime-green spa taps Jamaica's natural resources in a creamy sugarcane scrub, special relaxing blends taken tubside, and an allspice essential-oil wrap. While there isn't much Caribbean flavor to the décor, it's a mellow place where first-time spa-goers are put at ease. St. James; 800/241-3333 or 876/953-2800, fax 876/953-2501; doubles from $345, not including treatments.
BUNTY'S COTTAGE AT ROUND HILL A former manager's residence was recently converted into a three-room spa and Wellness Center with all the classic treatments that Round Hill's pampered guests—a mix of titled Euros and entitled Easterners—are accustomed to back home. The Decleor facial perfectly matches one you can have in Paris or London, but the real draw here is Professor Efrain Bernal, a Cuban-born reflexology whiz who targets your aches and pains with astonishing accuracy. (He'll even show you a nifty wrinkle-reducing trick using pressure-point massage on the face.) Make time for Carolyn Jobson's Kripalu yoga class on the beach, or the body wrap with papaya-scented honey from bees raised by a local chiropractor. Montego Bay; 800/972-2159 or 876/956-7050, fax 876/956-7505; doubles from $390, not including treatments.
ROARING PAVILION VILLA & SPA At this lavish four-bedroom villa for rent outside Ocho Rios, a therapist is at your beck and call. With the Roaring River drowning out worldly distractions, this may be the Caribbean's most personal spa experience, and that's what celebs such as Celine Dion, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman crave when they hide out here. On a teak deck screened by night-blooming jasmine and banana trees, the therapist applies lime and basil essential oils she extracts on the spot in a copper distiller. These are also blended with papaya, yogurt, pink clay, sea salt, and sterilized sand in masks and body scrubs. On the private beach—where Ursula Andress swam ashore in Dr. No—take an exhilarating dip in the sea. St. Ann's Bay; 800/387-2726 or 416/968-2374, fax 416/968-2204; from $4,000 a night, including all treatments.
SELF CENTRE AT CANEEL BAY If Laurance Rockefeller can get hooked on meditation in his eighties, then it's likely that Self Centre founder Jan Kinder will help you do the same. A registered nurse who studied with the Dalai Lama and is a licensed instructor of Deepak Chopra's teachings, Kinder distracts hyper guests with low-impact yoga, stress management, and visualization techniques (think contemplative sandcastle building). After a session in "structural integration body techniques," you'll approach nirvana at the speed of light. Cruz Bay; 888/767-3966 or 340/776-6111, fax 340/693-8280; doubles from $400, not including treatments.
COTTON HOUSE SPA When high season kicks in, the appointment book at the Cotton House Spa looks like the A-list for a royal reception. On the small porch of the spa, in a sweet West Indies cottage, chill in a deck chair and bone up on Brit lingo with a copy of Hello! magazine. (It's a handy primer for the hotel's weekly cocktail party, open to everyone on the island.) The sound of waves lapping on Endeavor Bay beach augments reflexology sessions and vigorous scalp rubs in the all-white treatment rooms. 877/240-9945 or 784/456-4777, fax 784/456-5887; doubles from $900, not including treatments.
CUISINART RESORT & SPA Let's start with the lecherous terra-cotta heads silently whistling at a nude frieze in the stairwell of CuisinArt's Venus Spa. Okay, so the message lacks subtlety—but this place is all about the pursuit of the beauty goddess. Recharge with a cooling Repêchage seaweed body mask and hydrating hand-and-foot treatment, or get physical with hunky fitness instructor Peter Vasilis's power hike on Rendezvous Bay's incomparable mile-long beach. Rendezvous Bay; 800/937-9356 or 264/498-2000, fax 264/ 498-2055; doubles from $490, not including treatments.
EDEN ROCK SPA When the fabulous excess of St. Bart's nightlife catches up with you, sip on a diététique veggie drink, then take the cure in Eden Rock's new seawater thalassotherapy pools, carved from the rock face that juts into Baie de St. Jean. Massive teak doors, topped by marine navigation lights, point the way to this grotto where physiotherapist Nicolas Wormser guides you through detox with a series of jet showers, plunges, and massages. But who really needs treatments?From this vantage, the sea view alone is a terrific pick-me-up. St. Jean; 888/576-6677 or 590/29-79-99, fax 590/27-88-37; doubles from $340, not including treatments.
ESPACE BEAUTÉ AT THE GUANAHANI If you book a massage in your gingerbread bungalow with a private plunge pool, Pernilla, the six-foot blond Swedish therapist (guess her specialty), will untwist knotted muscles with a cold-pressed avocado massage oil. Look sleek in that new Hermès beach sarong with a perfect Parisian pedicure from the Guanahani's Clarins specialists. Grand Cul de Sac; 800/223-6800 or 590/27-66-60, fax 590/27-70-70; doubles from $480, not including treatments.
MAYA TULUM Founded 20 years ago, Maya Tulum is a bare-bones, down-to-Mother-Earth spa next door to the Sian Ka'an biosphere on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Prepare to go barefoot, sleep under mosquito netting, and suffer frozen-margarita blackouts (eco-friendly electricity shortages equal blender rationing). In exchange, you get an awe-inspiring juxtaposition of white sand and blue Caribbean sea, dirt-cheap yoga sessions, and up-to-date treatments. Try the papaya and algae facial or a nitty-gritty clay body mask: a therapist slathers you with mud, lets you bake under the sun, and then washes it off in the ocean. Let Daniel, a local Mayan healer, work his intuitive magic on your meridians. Tulum; 888/515-4580 or 770/483-0238, fax 770/785-9260; doubles from $70, not including treatments.
ONLY IN THE CARIBBEAN
Dolphin Therapy The staff at Our Lucaya (242/373-1333), a mammoth new resort on Grand Bahama Island, will arrange for guests to de-stress by swimming with Flipper and friends. Don't laugh—it works.
Blast into the Past Place yourself in the mystical hands of transpersonal and past-life regression therapist Diana Bourel on St. Barts (590/27-98-10). Cap Juluca flies Bourel to Anguilla for private sessions at the resort.
Bush Medicine Hike Guests at Antigua's Cocobay Resort (268/562-2400) can learn the traditional uses of Caribbean plants such as aloe vera from Dr. Amu, who leads island treks.
PORTABLE SPA: PRODUCTS TO TAKE HOME
MANGO BUTTER FACE CREAM Roaring Pavilion Villa & Spa, Jamaica. Naomi Campbell and Sophie Marceau swear by Ligne St. Barth, Birgit Brin's natural body care products. Also available at the Ligne St. Barth store on St. Bart's (Lorient; 590/27-82-63) or through the company's website, www.lignestbarth.com.
SELF CENTRE CD Caneel Bay, St. John. Yoga breathing and meditation techniques. Works great in traffic jams.
STARFISH CANDLES Strawberry Hill, Jamaica. Aromatic Jamaican ginger oil and Blue Mountain coffee extract infuse pure beeswax candles.
SHAMBHALA MASSAGE OIL Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos. Includes exquisite jasmine essential oil from Bali.
BEST SPA FOOD
CUISINART RESORT & SPA A colossal on-site greenhouse supplies CuisinArt's kitchen with fresh produce. Head for the open-air Hydroponic Café to munch on confit of eggplant in a balsamic vinegar reduction or Moroccan couscous. In the main restaurant, indulge with grilled Anguillan crayfish. You can always burn off the calories swimming in the sea.
RITZ-CARLTON ROSE HALL Sous-chef Dennis McIntosh grew up outside Kingston, which means there's a little Rasta flavoring in this Ritz-Carlton's spa cuisine. Try his coconut-jelly-and-papaya soup or red snapper steamed in a banana leaf.
PARROT CAY After three chefs in two years, Parrot Cay on Turks and Caicos has finally gotten it right. Amanda Gale, who honed her skills with Neil Perry at Rockpool in Sydney, brings a passion for light, inventive Asian dishes such as tea-smoked spiced duck and green curry of mahimahi. Even the pool snacks and spa cuisine are sublime: crab-and-green-papaya salad, tofu burger with tomato-eggplant relish.
2001 SPA OPENINGS: STAY TUNED
OCEAN CLUB Paradise Island, Bahamas; 800/321-3000 or 242/363-2501, fax 242/363-6464. Word has it that the Ocean Club's soon-to-be unveiled spa will live up to the hyped revamp that includes Jean-Georges Vongrichten's Dune restaurant and modern décor by Christian Liaigre.
CAP JULUCA Maunday's Bay, Anguilla; 888/858-5822 or 264/497-6779, fax 264/497-6617. When it opens in late 2001, Cap Juluca's spa overlooking the bay will have rooftop decks for outdoor massage or private yoga sessions. Treatments will draw on the Arawak Indian culture's healing traditions.
SANDY LANE St. James, Barbados; 246/444-2000, fax 246/432-2954.
Sometime this year, the scaffolding will come down to reveal a 47,000-square-foot spa complex that will pamper princesses from Park Avenue to Paris. Expect 14 VIP treatment suites (some with private hydrotherapy pools), a spa garden surrounded by outdoor massage showers, fitness and aerobics studios, and a global treatment menu.