We can thank the English for seaside wellness retreats. According to historians, their 18th- and 19th-century doctors were among the first to suggest patients venture to the coast to partake of the briny, mineral-infused air, to bathe in the waves (the colder the better), to drink the seawater (often in a cocktail with ingredients such as milk and honey), to exercise and to consume healthful menus (which at the time sometimes meant no fruit or vegetables and a modicum of alcohol).
Whether it was just the respite from grimy city life or truly a cure, patients seemed to improve from ailments as diverse as tuberculosis, eczema, depression, leprosy and infertility. To wit, oceanside resorts were built on shores worldwide as the trend spread, and a habit of taking to the sea was born. We know many ancient cultures, from the Romans to the Hawaiians, turned to the ocean’s trove for medicinal purposes, as well. Because we all feel better oceanside, here is some beach therapy for your travel list.
NEWQUAY, CORNWALL, UK
A massive Victorian jewel, perched on a cliff above Fistral Beach, this five-star retreat was conceived in 1900 to capture turn-of-the- century wellness questers, who traveled to the coast by rail. Since then, it has welcomed A-listers and royalty aplenty.
Today, it continues to be an ideal place to base for exploring the Cornwall Coast. However, most come for the exceptional spa, the heartbeat of the curative hotel. Relax in the Cornish Salt Room and among the various water features. Sports enthusiasts can take to the sea with the hotel’s own beachside Surf Sanctuary.
Forever simply “The Empress,” this grand dame hotel rules the charming British Columbian town of Victoria, a buzzy place on otherwise unspoiled, nature-dominated Vancouver Island. Built in 1908 in chateau-style, its catalogue of famous visitors, from Shirley Temple to Winston Churchill, wasn’t always in attendance for health reasons. Regardless, the adjacent sea, fringe of snow-capped mountains and fresh air surely restored them—as it does modern, wellness-minded guests. Stake out a spot in the tony Willow Stream Spa, an outpost known for embracing local ingredients and vendors.
Just a breath of Anguilla’s seaborne air, awash in minerals, or a moment on any of its 33 transporting beaches feels like a bona fide spa treatment. But check into Zemi Beach House, a boutique sanctum on Shoal Bay Beach, and well-being soars to new heights. A paradigm for this generation’s spa style, the savvy hotel features a 300-year-old structure, transported from Thailand as its Thai House Spa. Offering guests a blend of global healing motifs, it honors the island’s First People with its Taino Bathing Ritual.
CORONADO, CALIFORNIA, USA
Debuting in 1898 to be the “talk of the Western world,” the Del (as those in the know call it) welcomed a slew of deep-pocketed wellness seekers to its crescent of pearly sand. Frequented by glitterati for more than a century (think Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe), minutes from downtown San Diego, it sports both original Victorian architectural bones, plus a few contemporary add-on wings, which the hotel refers to as neighborhoods. Partake of the ocean-inspired spa, with treatments such as the Restorative Ocean Facial, awash with algae.
HAMILTON PARISH, BERMUDA
Legend has it, this is the island that inspired Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Bermuda might be best known for its ballet-pink beaches, undulating, narrow island roads and British sensibilities. However, its unique location in the Atlantic between the continental United States and England has ensured its popularity as a decades-old wellness getaway for untold global travelers. At Rosewood Bermuda, on the Castle Harbour coastline, save time for Sense, A Rosewood Spa’s treatments that reference the ocean. Try the comprehensive Sea of Life Ritual, powered by algae extract.
LITTLE TORCH KEY, FLORIDA, USA
Touted as the only private island in the United States, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa specializes in “Get Lost” adventures, meant to spark virtual detox, relaxation and reconnection. As part of the Florida Keys coastline, the 4.5-acre playground nurtures reset with no in-room telephones, alarm clocks or televisions. Remote, only accessible by boat or seaplane, it conjures Robinson Crusoe fantasies. Wellness buffs can hide away further in its SpaTerre. Yield to the Ocean Wave Four Hands Massage to further harmonize with the setting.
Just north of Copenhagen, this classic wellness hotel on the Øresund, a strait between Sweden and Denmark, dates back to 1852, when King Frederik VII purchased the property to be his personal retreat. In 1898, Danish physician and physical therapist Carl Ottosen turned the grounds into a “sanatorium” to heal the sick. Danes continue to follow his salutary program of light, air, water, movement, rest and diet. Check in to remedy modern maladies— stress?— with dips in the frosty sea, 16 diverse bathing pools and a multifaceted spa menu.
BIG ISLAND, HAWAII, USA
For the ancient Hawaiians, the Big Island represented fire and ice: both passion and peacefulness, which exists in us all. It remains a terrain that brims with palpable “mana,” the word the Hawaiians use for spiritual energy. Set where Hawaiian royalty turned for healing rites, the Mauna Lani honors Hawaiian traditions in manifold ways, none the least of which happens in the luxury property’s Auberge Spa. From beachside yoga to petroglyph hikes to cultural workshops, immersive activities embrace the outdoors. Inside, don’t miss the Hawaiian cure for everything: a lomi lomi massage.
Originally the Imperial Residence of Napoleon III and Princess Eugenie, lavish Hotel du Palais, circa 1854, drew royalty and jet setters to Biarritz on France’s Basque Coast, setting the standard for salubrious getaways for decades to come. Known to be exemplar for its marine therapies, Biarritz, a former whaling village, grew to be one of the world’s most respected thalassotherapy hotspots. As the town’s crème de la crème, palatial Hotel Du Palais continues the marine traditions at its water-based, 26,000- square-foot Imperial Spa.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
Frederick William Vanderbilt knew his Gilded Age friends would come for the sun, when he envisioned what he predicted would be the ritziest hotel in Puerto Rico a century ago. Arriving in droves, they found repose in the Spanish Revival masterpiece on the beach in San Juan’s prestigious Condado District, designed by the same architects responsible for New York City’s Grand Central Station. Find quietude and more grandeur after play at the spa, which offers various treatments, including a stunning, sea glass-sheathed hammam.