The sea draws us in — but the allure of the ocean goes far beyond its sparkly waters and wave-lulling acoustic. It’s also incredibly healing. Because seawater contains the same minerals we have in our bodies, it is said to be absorbed into our skin (especially when warm) working to rejuvenate and balance the body and ease joint and muscle pain. Many theorize this is why we ‘crave’ the sea. While thalassotherapy dates back to the Greeks, it was French cyclist Louis Bobet (first to win the Tour de France) who put ‘seawater therapy’ on the map. After using it in his recovery from a car accident, he went on to open France’s first thalassotherapy institute in the mid-1960s. Today, thalassotherapy has a devoted following (this writer included) around the globe. Here are a few of our favorite thalassotherapy retreats where bathing is key to the wellness journey.
Miramar la Cigale Hotel Thalasso & Spa, Brittany, France
In the same region where Bobet’s seawater journey took root, you’ll find this stunning resort and spa overlooking Brittany’s wild coast on Rhuys peninsula, uniquely situated between the ocean and a salt lagoon. Surrounded by water, and featuring art deco-inspired architecture — with large glass surfaces, bridges, and decks — you’ll feel like you’re aboard a luxury ocean liner.
Rooms, in soothing neutral colors, come with balconies and stunning water (ocean or marine lake) views. Meals are deliciously French — think locally harvested oysters, fresh grilled sole, and leg of lamb, accompanied by a crisp glass of bubbly (when in France). We love the high-tech gym overlooking the sea and of course, the heated seawater swimming pool, which acts as the centerpiece.
While short stays are available, most guests (particularly the French) come for the customized, thalassotherapy programs (healing, toning, slimming, beautifying) which range between six and nine days. For the ultimate cocooning experience, book the six-night “Intense Thalasso and Spa Treatment” featuring 18 treatments including ‘lagoon water’ baths, seaweed body wraps, massages (Abhyanga, Balinese, Shirotchampi), steam sessions, scrubs, and facial massages.
Body Holiday, St. Lucia
Don’t be fooled by the fringed-palm beach, burgers served alongside organic green juice, or (gasp) the swanky cocktail and piano bars. Body Holiday is a full-on health resort. The family-owned property opened in the early 1980s, long before wellness vacations were a thing. The concept then (and now) was to create a wellness escape — a place guests could come to relax and rejuvenate over spa treatments and a glass of wine with dinner, in an incredibly beautiful island setting.
Travel with friends and book into a villa or sojourn alone and cocoon in one of the tranquil ocean-view rooms. The beauty of a stay here is that guests can be as social or as insular as they want. A hand-written chalkboard (which changes daily) highlights the endless fitness, yoga, and mind-body offerings. Guests can also opt for themed programs like Ayurveda (BodyHoliday has one of the most authentic programs outside India), and of course thalassotherapy.
The private thalassotherapy session takes place in an enclosed pool — warm seawater is pumped directly from the Caribbean Sea. For 30 minutes, a therapist (in the water with you), carefully positions feet, hands, arms, thighs, calves, stomach, buttocks in front of high-pressure jets to relieve tension areas and rebalance the body. The seawater immersion works as a stand-alone treatment but is even more effective when coupled with infrared sauna and marine-based facials, body wraps, scrubs, and massage — a regimen that is repeated over consecutive days.
Castel Clara, Belle-Île-en-Mer, Brittany, France
The romantic island of Belle Île-en-Mer — said to have inspired French Impressionist Claude Monet during his visits here — is a love letter to the sea. A 45-minute ferry ride from the tip of Brittany’s Quiberon peninsula, the island is known for its rugged coastline, turquoise coves, and Relais & Chateaux Castel Clara island spa.
Overlooking sparkly Goulphar Bay, the crown jewel of the island is the 63-room Castel Clara, known for both its fine cuisine and healing thalassotherapy spa. The guest rooms — instantly soothing thanks to their ocean palette of neutrals, blues and greens — come with balconies overlooking the water, perfect for morning coffee and quiet introspection. Bike the coastal pathways and explore the island’s four small towns (Bangor, Sauzon, Le Palais, and Locmarai) before returning to dip into the heated seawater pool, and sample the hotel’s incredible seafood buffet.
The core principle of French thalassotherapy is alive and well at this spa which is close to the sea, fresh seawater is drawn through pipes. Mud is never used in France’s traditional thalassotherapy spas, only warm seawater, dispersed in various forms. Castel Clara’s thalassotherapy spa incorporates them all: Seaweed wraps in iodine-rich kelp, warm seawater baths, cellulite treatments, Scotch showers (super hot water, followed by a quick ice-cold rinse), seawater massages, and marine facials using the French Thalion marine-based skincare line. Many guests customize their ‘kurs’, throughout the week, the most popular being the slimming marine treatments and skincare therapies.
Gurney’s Montauk Seawater Resort & Spa, New York
Set on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, Gurney’s Montauk Seawater Resort & Spa is one of the only places in the U.S. to offer authentic thalassotherapy treatments. Set directly on the beach, the 158-room hotel and spa opened nearly a century ago (1926) and through its many incarnations has retained its laid-back beachy vibe and devotion to seawater.
Blissfully, the ocean is always in sight. Each beach-chic room (and their dreamy beachfront cottage) offers dramatic sea views. We love the watery color palette, large balconies looking out to sea, the hardwood floors, and touches of Mid-century modern decor. At night, enjoy cocktails in the vibey fire pit lounge, followed by dinner at Scarpetta Beach, serving Italian classics, fresh-caught fish, and locally sourced farm produce.
Gurney’s legendary Seawater Spa is currently being reimagined by Alonso Balaguer Designs (creator of NYC’s famed Aire Ancient Bath Spas) and set to reopen later this spring. Alongside its signature ocean-fed seawater pool and marine-based treatments, the renovation will include additional water features: a caldarium (warm), vitality pool (hot), plunge pool (extremely cold), and a cooling bath.
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