Canadian winter has a way of turning us into a nation of muffin tops, with carb-bloated waistlines and walking-dead complexions. Unless you're in Banff, March in this country is not a pretty sight. One way to reboot your system and give you enough juice for that final, blustery lap? A spa break in a sun-filled destination. Unlimited vitamin D included.
CASA DE CAMPO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Back in the day, the Dominican Republic was the go-to budget destination for ruddy Canadians looking for an all-inclusive Caribbean bender. These days, the country has much more to offer, including sinfully decadent spa stays.
Casa de Campo, a cloistered world of Architectural Digest-worthy villas, is a favoured escape for media moguls, political power brokers and Hollywood's A-List. The spa is a big draw, giving stress bunnies a chance to shiatsu back into shape. My mission for the week? Boost my lymphatic drainage and sweat it out on the championship clay tennis courts. Then flop into a cabana.
The spa menu is extensive – a whopping 54 pages. For sporty types who prefer to chase tee time with "me time," Casa de Campo offers escapes with names such as Golfer's Massage, Polo Stretch and Tennis Pro. Treatments consist of 100-per-cent natural ingredients, made on-site daily in the spa pharmacy. My top pick is the Cana del Azucar Remedy, which uses Dominican sugar cane and treacle. At first it's a bit of a rough ride – we're talking brisk exfoliation – but then the tracle kicks in to soothe and polish your rough patches.
Situated on the southeast coast of the island, the estate features more than 1,700 privately owned villas managed by Casa de Campo, ranging from $500,000 to $24,000,000 in value, making it one of the most celebrity-favoured villa rental inventories in the world. For Jay Z's unbridled 40th birthday bash, Beyonce hosted a Moet-fuelled throwdown with the likes of Oprah, Kate Hudson, Sean Combs, Kanye West and Alicia Keys in tow.
While spagoers may assume hefty prices comes with such celeb company, Casa de Campo can be surprisingly accessible. In a market savvy move – not unlike a Lanvin capsule collection at H&M – Casa de Campo's starter rooms tick all the desired boxes while remaining within reach of mere mortals (with a healthy slush fund). Casa de Campo at Carretera La Romana, Higuey, Dominican Republic; 800-877-3643; casadecampo.com.do; rooms start at $350.
SUGAR BEACH, ST. LUCIA
What's on your treatment wishlist? Anti-ageing, firming, inch loss? How about all three in one sun-kissed week? Tackle that middle-aged spread at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, located at the foot of St. Lucia's UNESCO-listed Petit Piton.
Spending an afternoon at its Rainforest Spa is a little like hiding away in a childhood tree house, but with lush terry-cloth robes and top-shelf facial serums. Other grown-up perks include a relaxation pavilion and a monolithic Mesoamerican steam dome, known as a temazcal, that is a nod to the island's earliest settlers. The steam is said to cleanse the respiratory and digestive tracts, improve blood circulation and ease muscular concerns.
With volcanic springs and cocoa plantations nearby, the venue is a natural fit for a more earthen approach. All-natural treatments leverage the bounty of the island. Who knew the humble banana could tighten and smooth slackened skin? The spa also uses aloe vera to soothe, coconut to exfoliate, and creamy cocoa butter to hydrate.
To enhance your break, splurge on one of the beach villas, complete with hammock. The ivory sand is stunning and the water is impossibly translucent, with a long, meandering seabed full of coral and marine life. With not a swell in sight to contend with, which staff says is the norm, snorkelling at Sugar Beach is the meditative exercise it's meant to be. Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, at Sugar Beach, Val des Pitons, Soufriere, St. Lucia; 758-456-8000; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/sugarbeach; rooms start at $382.
WHAREKAUHAU LODGE, NEW ZEALAND
High on my list of long-haul must-dos is Wharekauhau Lodge in New Zealand. A 90-minute drive from Wellington, this luxury hotel – and 2,225-hectare working sheep and cattle farm – is a chance to truly unwind off the grid.
When Canadian winter is at its worst, New Zealand summer is at its best. December breathes new life across Wharekauhau: Nearly 10,000 spring lambs bound across the paddocks. While colleagues back home de-ice windshields, you're splashing in Wharekauhau's champagne surf and waking to the chatter of endemic birds.
Sarah Beesley, a medical herbalist in the region, has worked with Wharekauhau to create a range of treatment elixirs. One of the most requested is the chili oil, infused for months and crafted into an ingenious massage wax, the perfect salve after a hearty horse trek.
Other activities on the property include clay target shooting and archery, but the ravishing Palliser Bay (only 10 minutes by car from the lodge) is bound to be the greatest temptation.
Take a spellbinding drive along coastline tracing the original stock route used to drive cattle, established in 1844. The landscape of windswept tree lines is a cinematographer's daydream, paper-white cliffs framing pomegranate-red sunsets. As you take a bracing stroll, contemplate whether you fancy your rub down with sea salts, lavender or lemongrass.
After two days of impeccable service, I become blasé about the luxe life. I start to expect handmade truffles at turndown and a porter to carry anything heavier than an issue of Monocle. Wharekauhau is the hotel equivalent of a dreamy first date: promising, rousing to the senses and without a hint of tedious bad baggage. Wharekauhau Lodge on Western Lake Road, Palliser Bay, Wairarapa, New Zealand; 64-6-307-7581; wharekauhau.co.nz; rooms start at $695.
BANYAN TREE UNGASAN, INDONESIA
Arriving in Bali – leaving behind a Toronto blizzard – is nothing short of stepping through the looking glass. A sweet wall of heat greets me on the tarmac, dissipating into the most gorgeous climate as I travel to Banyan Tree Ungasan, a new resort perched on the island's southernmost peninsula.
The therapists here are among the top practitioners working in Bali, which makes them gold medalists of their craft: This is one of the most competitive spa capitals in the world. One of 13,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali emerged in the late 1980s as the apex of aspirational tourism, thanks to an influx of Westerners who established yoga retreats and artist colonies.
Today, the spa scene is celebrated with an ever growing tower of drool-worthy coffee-table tomes.
My therapist describes her training at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy (a kind of finishing school for top-tier talent) with evangelical glee as she lathers my feet in an herbal foot bath, the "initiation rite" to the Rainmist Spritz treatment. Next, she expertly applies a soybean scrub and avocado conditioner to cleanse the body before the main event – a soothing rain shower along the spine and pulse points. A warm honey milk splash follows, and then it's onto your choice of massage styles.
This is a spa for guests who long to soak in petal-strewn tubs, stirring only to dine on succulent morsels by the light of a gauzy moon. The owners have pulled off not a mere hotel, but more of a series of grand architectural gestures. Design junkies to the core, they browsed the world's showrooms and bazaars, filling Banyan Tree with interesting conversation pieces – rugs from Mongolia, textiles from Tibet and pots from Burma.
You won't regret going the distance for this gratifying gem. Each day tumbles spiritedly into the next, and little perks pile upon bigger perks: young-coconut and lime smoothies, a dash into the sea, charming nights with the cunning head bartender. I transition from super-stressed to dozily serene, flopping from sea to shade like an aquatic dachshund. Banyan Tree Ungasan at Jalan Melasti, Banjar Kelod, Ungasan, Bali; 62-361-300-7000; banyantree.com; rooms start at $529.
The author stayed as a guest of the spas. The resorts did not review or approve this article.