Around the World in Destination Spas

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Dutch floating gardens, the Mojave's geomagnetic vortex, and the salt caves of... Chicago: Spas that integrate their environment to create escapes in destinations that are, themselves, escapes. Get wellness all over.

Healing springs and purification rituals have drawn people to calming waters and relaxation hubs since prehistoric times. The continuing popularity of these complex bathing and meditation regimens has transformed the 21st century spa industry into a multi-million dollar phenomenon. People now have a wide range of spa treatments to choose from, but the best spas create a one-of-a-kind environment that considers the natural surroundings -- inside and out. These spas aren't as concerned with offering nightingale excrement facials, for example, as they are with creating a unique and unusual experience for their guests. We've located ten spas around the world that take an unconventional approach to tranquility.

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Historic Ferryboat Spa

Bota Bota -- which we first spotted on website Fubiz -- is a converted ferryboat that used to carry passengers between Sorel and Berthier in Quebec during the 1950s and 1960s. It was also a Richelieu River showboat, but became a spa in Old Montreal several years ago. The lulling of the St. Lawrence River relaxes and energizes guests on the ferry's five decks that boast a eucalyptus steam bath, outdoor whirlpools, relaxing gardens, and more. Fresh air, great views, and the merits of water make Bota Bota a big draw.

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Floating Garden Spa

If you're looking for an eco-friendly retreat that is not only relaxing, but also remote, look no further than your own island. This floating garden spa, created by Dutch architects Studio Noach and Anne Holtrop, features a lush blanket of greenery designed by vertical gardens expert Patrick Blanc. Within the emerald isle are healing baths, saunas, and various treatment rooms. The surrounding water makes the floating gardens a perfect hydroponic system, sustaining oxygen-producing plants and creating an inviting environment for birds, butterflies, and insects. It floats due to a buoyant material made of recycled polystyrene, which also helps regulate the island's temperature.

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Healing Salt Caves

It looks like a psychedelic candyland invented by Tim Burton, but the Galos salt-iodine caves in Chicago is a resort that provides guests with an authentic sea microclimate. The healing effects mimic that of the Black Sea. The crystalized salt has a delicate, shimmering pink hue and light flowery smell. These caves weren't naturally created, though -- apart from the salt, that is. The building process is apparently based on a technology created 20 years ago by Ukranian scientists. Low levels of iodine in parts of the US made Chicago a perfect spot for the pastel spa.

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The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a popular attraction for its therapeutic waters (over 400,000 visitors annually), allowing guests to commune with nature in six million liters of geothermal seawater. Iceland's scenic, and often extreme, environment is the setting for this mineral-rich spa, located in the lava fields of Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. "Guests actually bathe between two continents as the Euro-Asian and American tectonic plates meet at the Blue Lagoon," the spa's website reveals, which is also believed to promote healing powers.

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Underwater Tropical Spa

The Maldive Islands, located in the heart of the Indian Ocean, are an idyllic hotspot for spa enthusiasts that want a tropical experience. The Lime Spa at Huvafen Fushi has taken that concept to the extreme by creating the world's first underwater spa that offers natural treatments with a view of the ocean floor. It's an immersive environment, designed to reflect the serene, aquatic surroundings -- right down to the plush cushions that evoke a skin-friendly version of coral and sea sponges, to the ethereal fabrics created to look like kelp.

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Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm and Spa

It sounds sensational, but Ada Barak -- who operates the Carnivorous Plant Farm and Spa in northern Israel -- swears by her snakes. Yes, Barak offers snake massages amid a slew of plants that munch on insects, reptiles, small mammals, and even schnitzel. It's essentially a roadside exhibit that invites tourists to get a little closer with Barak's non-venemous California and Florida king snakes. Up to six of the slithering creatures crawl and writhe on people's bodies (including their faces) to help relieve tension. If you believe that relaxation can go hand in hand with unpredictability and adventure, seek out Barak's spa. To get a taste of the experience, watch this Time correspondent get covered in snakes. We were hoping to see more of the overall environment with plants that have the munchies, but the snakes have obviously stolen their thunder.

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Geomagnetic Vortex Desert Spa

George Van Tassel was an aeronautical engineer and test pilot who worked for people like Howard Hughes, and later became a leader in the UFO movement after having what he believed were encounters with extra-terrestrials. Eighteen-years later the Integratron was born -- an acoustically perfect tabernacle and energy machine that sits on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert. The giant dome structure offers sonic healing sessions to those seeking a one-stop shop for physical and spiritual healing. Don't just take our word for it, though. The Integratron website quotes lead vocalist of the Fleet Foxes, Robin Pecknold, who said of his visit, "The notes sound like they're coming from inside your mind... It was the closest thing to a psychedelic experience I've ever had."

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Geometric Mountain Wellness Center

The striking, geometric structures jutting from the Tschuggen Bergoase spa in Switzerland were created to resemble vegetal forms and trees. They provide an exceptional view of the rugged mountain terrain and allow natural light into the treatment rooms that spread over four floors -- some of them underground and set into the mountain. Architect Mario Botta was mindful of the surrounding villages and natural environment, so he aimed to "build without over-building." Botta hopes the distinctive, but attractive design creates a collective relaxation.

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Serbian Sky Spa

The Danube Flower was erected as a landmark on Belgrade, Serbia's waterfront. The project was funded by the communist government and endorsed by the late J.B. Tito who first ate at the Flower's exclusive restaurant in 1973. It fell into decay during the country's civil war, but architects have resurrected it as a high-end fitness center and spa. The large-scale, triangular building sits fifty feet above the Danube River. Complex geometric configurations were added to the equilateral triangular structure, making room for 390 backlit panels and more. The short description? It looks like a massive, hovering UFO inside and out.

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Oil Rig Spa 

Morris Architects hope to see their award-winning Oil Rig Resort, Spa, and Aquatic Adventure become a reality soon. In the next century, about 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico will become decommissioned, offering builders a potential 80 million square feet to play with. Removing the rigs is a costly and violent process that requires a damaging explosion, harmful to sea life. Morris envisions Dubai-esque luxury hotels, resorts, and spas that will become eco-friendly islands -- a destination for discerning travelers, business retreats, and entertainment showcases.


A version of this post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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