Long a part of cultural and religious rituals as well as famed for therapeutic benefits, there’s no denying being enveloped in water has been a key ritual for centuries. But somewhere along the way, a busy life, smaller homes and even water scarcity has meant bathing has become a luxury many of us no longer pursue.
However, as we return to prioritising health, wellness and a little balance in a busy life, bathing has re-emerged as the original self-care practice.
Luxuriating in the mineral-rich waters of geothermal springs has been popular for hundreds of years. Thanks to the unique geology of each location, thermal springs may vary in what they offer but generally it is believed skin absorbs minerals and nutrients that are believed to smooth and heal skin. It may help relieve symptoms of conditions like psoriasis, eczema and dry scalp.
Globally, the appeal of thermal springs is well recognised, but increasingly more spas are making the most of locations that allow them to offer standard spa treatments as well as full-immersion benefits. In New Zealand, the geothermal hotspot of Rotorua is a popular destination for its warm and soothing mineral waters. Polynesian Spa is an icon of the Rotorua tourism industry. The natural mineral bathing and spa treatment facility was built on the site of historic bath houses for which the city first became famous in the 1800s. It now has a number of bathing pools fed from two natural springs – the slightly acidic Priest Spring purported to relieve tired muscles, aches and pains, and the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring, said to nourish the skin as it features the antiseptic action of sodium silicate.
The new Alba Thermal Springs & Spa in Victoria, Australia.
The newest luxury opening to add to an Australian itinerary is Alba Thermal Springs & Spa. Located on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Alba introduces visitors to the art of ‘contemporary bathing.’ The thermal springs, day spa and restaurant, due to open fully by October, is the epitome of a modern wellness sanctuary. You can access the therapeutic benefits of bathing in a number of pools, including a mineral-rich geothermal spring, as well as enjoying healthy meals, snacks and juices and a range of face and body treatments. Along with the warm geothermal waters there are rain pools, botanical pools, forest pools, cold plunge pools and even private salt pools.
The latter offer skylights allowing you to quiet your mind and minimise your visual distraction, simply gazing at the sky, while another in the dark offers a complete escape. Hot pools for one or two allow a sense of having the place to yourselves, while other larger ones provide a more social experience. There’s even one designed to make the most of the sunset, surrounded by the beauty of the coastal woodland.
Also on the Mornington Peninsula, Aurora Spa & Bathhouse is expected to open in the coming months in the newly refurbished, heritage-listed hotel The Continental Sorrento. The location will feature state-of-the-art bathing in stunning purpose-built hydrotherapy pools with ‘an array of curative water therapies and immersive contrast therapy’ expected to include saunas, flotation, salt and ice experiences.
Revitalise the body and mind in Monteverdi’s frigidarium, an invigorating cold plunge pool surrounded by natural rock formations while you can experience a soaking ‘ritual’ in the spa’s outdoor tubs (top).
Further afield, Monteverdi, a sun- soaked boutique hotel and hilltop spa in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany, Italy, is capturing attention for its variety of wellness-focused offerings. In particular an underground heated pool facility inspired by ancient Roman baths so you can complete a ‘circuit’ of warm and cold plunge pools, saunas, sensory showers and a conservatory for a spot of mindfulness.
Outdoor travertine soaking tubs (Pictured at top) make the most of the bucolic views where you can experience one of four ‘bathing rituals’. They include traditional body scrubs and wraps as well as a soak prepared with a curated range of essential oils, aromatic salts and local herbs.
Clearly ‘contrast therapy’ is gaining popularity with these high-end spas, but you can also access the treatment at stylish purpose-built locations like Hana in Auckland and Slow House in Bondi, Sydney.
Inspired by traditional ‘polar plunges’ that are well known in Scandinavian countries and Japanese onsen enjoyed year round, the treatment involves subjecting your body to a warm environment like a sauna or hot pool and then plunging into a freezing ice bath for several minutes. Often this cycle is repeated a number of times. There are other ways to do contrast therapy. Many ocean-filled saltwater pools also have heated pools nearby, or a warm shower and then a dip in the sea in winter will likely have a similar effect.
The benefits? Familiar to athletes for muscle recovery, proponents of contrast therapy tout a variety of benefits including athletic performance, cognitive function, better circulation and even improved immunity. However, although the muscle benefits, like improvements in muscle soreness, have research behind them, scientific proof available for other claims are harder to come by.
If you simply love a soak at home in the tub, there are modern ways to elevate the experience. Dimming the lights, lighting a candle and locking the door are a given, but adding a modern bath soak to your tub will add further skin and sensory benefits. Purpose-designed bath salts that supply soothing magnesium as well as a mix of essential oils and even dried flowers like roses and lavender provide both relaxation and visual and olfactory delights. Sustainably sourced seaweed skin-care brand VOYA supplies its products to top spas around the world. Its home-use Lazy Days seaweed soak offers a unique opportunity to boost your bath. Once immersed in hot water, the seaweed naturally rehydrates and springs back to life, releasing what the brand says are soothing and moisturising properties for your skin.
A fragrance lover? Jo Malone London infuses a number of its famous luxury colognes into bath oils. Made from almond and jojoba oils they contain fatty acids similar to those found in the skin’s collagen, making it ideal for assisting the elasticity and vitality of the skin. Bath oils and dissolvable bath bombs made primarily of baking soda have largely replaced bubble bath products because of concerns around ingredients used to create a foaming action.