Natural healing: the best spas with outdoor experiences

A new breed of wellness experiences is emerging where the healing is happening outdoors, with the most au courant spas going al fresco.

The walkway at Galgorm in Northern Ireland.

Photograph by Galgorm
By Leo Bear
Published 19 Mar 2022, 15:00 GMT

Like much of the rest of the world, the spa industry has responded to the pandemic and the need for social distancing by prioritising outdoor experiences. The advent of this open-air approach to wellness has resulted in some novel and exciting prospects.

We all know it’s good for us. Endless studies show the positive effects of the great outdoors. For those who haven’t tried it, nothing beats the exquisite pleasure of sinking into mineral-rich waters under a starry sky.

Despite its inclement weather, the UK is leading the charge. Galgorm in Northern Ireland has expanded its thermal spa village with a 32ft infinity pool and a clutch of log-fired hot tubs built into the shores of the River Maine. It’s 90% outdoors and 100% invigorating. 

Wave Garden Spa, a new wellness offering from Hilton Garden Inn in Wales, features an outdoor hydrotherapy pool and deck overlooking a surf lagoon. Spa-goers can sip champagne as they watch those catching the waves. 

Closer to London, Cottonmill Spa at Sopwell House is meeting demand through its multimillion- pound new spa garden designed by award-winning landscaper Ann-Marie Powell. It strikes all the right notes with its chichi cabanas, flaming firepits and bubbling jet pools set among banks of wildflowers, scented shrubs and arty sculptures. 

The benefits of being outdoors extends beyond the doors of the spa. Canada’s British Columbia Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, functioning as a prescription service and educational resource. Through the service, licensed medical professionals ‘prescribe’ patients with detailed instructions on how to harness the benefits of being in nature.

“T here’s a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, family physician and director of the PaRx initiative.

Top three: outdoor spa experiences

1. Arctic Bath, Sweden

Enjoy a self-guided spa ritual that involves raising your core temperature in a scented sauna before plunging into a bitingly cold outdoor pool cut from the Lule River.

2. Chablè Yucatán, Mexico

Spa pavilions are built around a freshwater cenote, plus an outdoor deck for sound therapy and Mexico’s first outdoor flotarium.

3. Ocean Spa at Jamaica Inn, Jamaica

Expect bamboo-lined treatment rooms, a saltwater pool and a yoga platform jutting out over the ocean.

Published in the 2022 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK) The Spa Collection

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