IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Exotic indulgences

Debbie Snow
/ Source: Caribbean Travel and Life

At these three state-of-the art Caribbean spas -- opulent Four Seasons Emerald Bay, sybaritic Mandarin Oriental Elbow Beach and cutting-edge Blue at Carlisle Bay -- it's all about spoiling yourself.

Four Seasons Emerald Bay
Passing through the lobby and down the palace-like staircase of the Four Seasons on Great Exuma, I had the same rush I'd just experienced flying over the Bahamas Bank and its indigo and seafoam-green swirls of shallow water dancing alongside ribbonned white sandbars. At the resort, the rush was from the incongruous sight of full-on Four Seasons opulence set down on one of the Out Islands that, up until now, was a laid-back retreat more accustomed to dive lodges and fishing boats than world-class resorts.

I followed a series of walkways winding through lavishly planted grounds where every variation of hibiscus basked in the bright Bahamian sun. Luxurious suites were strung along the pristine sandy shore while rooms were arrayed in multi-story hotel buildings overlooking the pools and the beach. Golfers were playing on the Greg Norman-designed championship course running atop the peninsula that embraces one side of Emerald Bay; other guests were sporting on the blue water and alabaster beach or bouncing balls on the clay courts. But I, of course, had come to visit the spa.

Set apart from the main resort area is the tranquility garden, with private pools and Jacuzzis for spa guests to use pre- and après-treatments. Rising behind the garden is the two-story, 32,000-square-foot grand spa. Glass walls bring the outside in; visions of yellow hibiscus, lantana and allamanda followed me into the lobby..

I was led upstairs by Deanne, a Bahamian who exuded warmth and just the right nurturing undertones. My first stop was at adjacent "wet" rooms Day Lily and Orchid (all 17 treatment rooms have flowery names). Vases filled with shells were topped with lighted candles, and peaceful photos of water and sky hung on the walls. A hydrotherapy tub was already topped off with buttermilk orange aromatic bubbles. Deanne helped me down into the deep water and turned on the jets. As the steam rose, she layered cool compresses on my forehead, offered sips of water and massaged my head, neck and back.

Debbie Snow

Properly softened, I was then escorted to the other room and laid beneath the arms of a Vichy shower. Papaya and mango compote was rubbed onto my skin then rinsed off as part of the cleansing ritual that was followed by an application of warmed aloe oil. Deanne then sprinkled sea salt (gathered from the ponds on Little Exuma) up and down my body, working it into my skin using circular motions. After another rinse, a final soothing massage began with a generous application of oil and ended with me floating in a supremely blissful zone.

When I roused, it was time for lunch and a nap surrounded by the technicolored blooms of the tranquility garden. The only thing worth moving for was to follow Purni, a Balinese masseuse, who took me on my next sensory journey. I lay on my stomach covered in orange and gray batik sheets while her knowing and healing hands gently rolled my skin, centering me in preparation for longer, smoother strokes and caring presses. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I had no idea if I had been there for an hour or a week.

Orange Blossom Buttermilk Bath, 25 minutes, $55; Little Exuma Salt Scrub, 50 minutes, $125; Balinese massage, 80 minutes, $180. Four Seasons Resort & Spa at Great Exuma at Emerald Bay: 242-336-6800; fourseasons.com.

Mandarin Oriental at Elbow Beach

Poised above the shoreline at precisely the right elevation for breathtaking views of the turquoise Atlantic surrounding Bermuda are the six suites of the new Mandarin Oriental Spa at Elbow Beach. Spa suites -- oases where clients can spend hours or even the entire day in total comfort -- are the pampering world's latest trend. Mandarin refined their take on the concept at Miami and New York properties, bringing it to Bermuda when they collaborated with Elbow Beach to convert a collection of ocean-view hotel suites into these spacious, Zen-like retreats that are booked by time, not only per treatment.

A Mandarin Time Ritual begins outside your suite, in the spa lounge, where a staff member brings you a pot of tea infused with Bermuda honey. Your shoes are removed and replaced with spa sandals in Cinderella fashion. Once you've decided on your range of treatments and the amount of time you want to indulge, it's off to your private sanctuary.

The suites are composed of natural elements -- bamboo floors, granite soaking tubs, showers lined with river pebbles -- and provide all the necessary details: a full bathroom, shower, closet and dressing and sitting areas, all decorated in soothing colors and warm textures.

Many treatments begin with a ritual foot bath and foot massage designed, according to the principles of reflexology, to awaken the senses. During this time, your therapist assesses your needs and conditions, health and vitality. If your program includes a soak, the tub will be filled with warm bubbles and hibiscus petals along with an essential oil picked specifically for you.

Debbie Snow

At the massage table, the possibilities include a wide range of stone work, wraps and rubs. Treatments commence with the sound of Tibetan chimes. If you've selected an Ayurvedic regimen, the oils used will promote healing and rebalancing according to your dosha, or mind and body type. Other offerings include chakra balancing and Purva Karma, a four-hand synchronized massage. The Mandarin's holistic treatments have their roots in ancient Chinese, Indian, Balinese and Thai medicine and are designed to activate the senses of sound, scent, sight, taste and touch.

When the chimes sound again, it's time for reflection. Outside, your private balcony has been readied. Wrapped like a newborn in a soft robe and blankets, you're free to curl up on the daybed with another soothing cup of tea and take in the view of the ornamental grasses bending in the breeze and the afternoon sea spreading beyond.

Time Rituals: two hours $320; three hours $480. Elbow Beach Spa: 441-239-8900; mandarinoriental.com.

Blue Spa at Carlisle Bay Resort

Antigua's Carlisle Bay Resort is designed to seamlessly blend with the Caribbean's natural beauty. Situated along a secluded crescent of bronze sand edging a calm sweep of water, buildings here welcome the frangipani-and gardenia-scented breezes that flow between the shoreline and the forested hills rising behind the property. An African tulip tree blooms in a soft explosion of reds and oranges and hummingbirds flit amid tropical blossoms. It's a serene setting, ideal for a sublimely relaxing experience.

Many guests awaken their bodies with yoga, scheduled each morning at 9:15. The passage into peacefulness then leads down the Blue Spa's long entrance hall, flanked with plantation shutters and offering views of the lush tropical foliage. Celtic music plays quietly in the background as spa clients are escorted to the dressing area, where robes and slippers await. The resort's signature flower, an orchid, lies on top of rolled towels that are arranged just so for those who are about to visit the shower, sauna and plunge pool to initiate the stress-releasing process.

The six treatment rooms are upstairs, each with shaded windows that allow just the silhouettes of travelers palms edged in blue sky to show through. Nature is never very far at Carlisle Bay.

Debbie Snow

Before any treatment begins, guests are asked to select an aroma. Lying on a massage table face-up, eyes closed, they simply breathe while therapists dip four ribbons representing the elements (fire, earth, water and air) into four distinct combinations of fragrances and then waft them through the air. The correct aroma is simply the one that affords the greatest pleasure. These essential oils are incorporated into subsequent treatments and will relax, revive or nurture according to particular needs. Three inhalations and an acceptance of surrender, and the tailor-made therapy begins.

The Living Nature products used at the spa are 100-percent natural, and Blue Spa's menu includes Awe Tami, which translates as "Soul Food," a unique combination of body polish, mask and moisturizing. First, the body is cleansed and brought alive with a gentle body brush rolling over the skin. The next step is exfoliation with sea salts, followed by the application of warm honey and oils, which are sealed in the skin by a wrap and bundles of warmed towels. As the oils work their magic, the therapist works the pressure points of the head, neck and back. After a rinse, the final stage is a massage using the pre-selected essential oils. Inhale one, two, three times to fully awaken, and the treatment is complete.

In Blue's chill-out zone, therapists deliver their clients specially made tea -- perhaps a honey-sweetened mixture made with slices of ginger and freshly cut lemongrass. Stillness fills the air as you sink into serenity.

Awe Tami, $240 for 120 minutes; body treatments include Shiatsu, reflexology and Reiki; wraps and scrubs incorporate local ingredients. Blue Spa at Carlisle Bay: 268-484-0025; carlisle-bay.com.

is the magazine for anyone in search of the perfect tropical getaway. Each issue presents expert insider’s advice on where to find the Caribbean’s best beaches and attractions, its finest resorts and spas, liveliest beach bars and activities, and its friendliest people.