Sign up for a signature spa treatment on the balmy island of Jamaica, and you may find your esthetician strolling into a garden and gathering pimento and burdock bark to soothe aching muscles, fevergrass to prevent the flu, and maybe even a sprig of a local "love bush" to encourage restful sleep. (Folklore suggests waving this romantic-sounding yellow vine overhead three times and throwing it onto a neighboring plant. If the love bush grows there, romance will prosper.)
Jamaican hotels with spas are mostly found dotting the bustling port city of Montego Bay, the seven miles of beach spanning the town of Negril, and several smaller facilities in rural Ocho Rios. Steeped in local legend, these pampering retreats feature healing herbs, local produce, and island elixirs not found elsewhere. In fact, most spas here are also built with indigenous materials from the West Indies (Jamaican mahogany, cottonwood bark, and pottery from local mills) yet feature Colonial-style columns and remnants of a bygone British rule.
Surfside massages are one of the benefits of spa-ing in the balmy Jamaican climate. Here, a client enjoys one at the spa at Beaches Royal Plantation Hotel.
Beaches Royal Plantation HotelSpanish, African American, Creole, Indian, and European influences can be found here, from the spicy foods to the soothing interiors. Just a 20-minute flight on Air Jamaica (or a 1.5 hour bus ride) from the Montego Bay airport, the Beaches Royal Plantation Hotel is tucked into the verdant cliffs of Ocho Rios. All 72 rooms face the sea and go for $350 per night. The Plantation is popular with Hollywood's jet set: Alan Arkin, Richard Dreyfuss, and Paul Sorvino have recently been pampered here.
Since Jamaica gained independence only in the 1960s after several hundred years of British influence, the intimate, boutique-sized property resembles a gabled manor house more than a hotel. Designed for princely privacy and first-class service, expect to see regal columns, ornate candelabras, brocade settees, sculpted English gardens, and, yes, even 24-hour butler service.
The Beaches spa and fitness center.
The brand-new spa was built during a $10 million property renovation completed in late 2001 and now houses five treatment rooms, a sauna, a 500-square-foot fitness center, and a full beauty salon. Each voluminous treatment area-accented in Italian marble and plush amenities-has its own shower and relaxation lounge so one never has to leave the privacy of one's room. "Our team of in-house architects ensured total isolation, and the 2,600-square-foot spa has no communal areas," says spa manager Tanya Vassell. The spa's busiest season runs from December through late April.
The couple's suite at The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall offers a romantic retreat for spa-going couples.
The spa receives 60 guests per day, and the clientele is 70 percent North American and 30 percent European. "We import European estheticians to train our local spa personnel," says Vassell. "We use Pevonia products from Switzerland, which don't contain chemical fillers, artificial colors, or alcohol." Other treatments include Swedish massage, mineral salt baths, vitamin-C facials, and Moor Mud masks.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose HallOne of the biggest spas on the island is located at this 427-room beachfront hideaway, which just underwent a $150 million renovation. Rose Hall has five restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, a full-service salon, and a state-of-the-art fitness center. The 8,000-square-foot spa has 11 treatment rooms (including a new couple's suite), a retail shop, a cold-plunge pool, a sauna, a steam room, lockers, and full amenities. Hotel rooms range from $155 to $365 during high season, which is December through April.
Associate spa director Rachel Crosskill is a Jamaican native who helped re-create the indigenous treatments also used by bush doctors and island elders. "These tonics and elixirs-like the Matrimonial Fruit Bath with star apples, yams, and orange blossoms-are handed down from generation to generation and are the heart and soul of Jamaica," she says. "We are a warm-hearted culture who truly believe in the healing powers of the island, and our spa reflects that."
There are several standout examples: the Sugarcane Body Scrub treatment ($65, 30 minutes) combines powdery beach sand, papaya, honey, and mashed mango to exfoliate and soften the skin; the Island Aroma Massage ($110, 60 minutes) mixes the essential oils of patchouli, lemongrass, sweet orange, and lavender; and the Jamaican Bath Elixirs bath ($50 for a 30-minute soak) features Jamaican custard apple, aloe, indigenous peppermint, and red clover blossom. The herbs and oils in most treatments have been selected from carefully tended medicinal gardens.
The women's Relaxation Lounge.
The property and spa attract a wide mix of Asian visitors, Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, according to Susan Callia, spa director for several Ritz-Carlton properties and the person who hires and trains the 36 spa personnel, including front-desk staff and local estheticians. "The pride and genuine hospitality from the staff makes the spa at Rose Hall very authentic and welcoming," says Callia. "Flawless service makes the spa especially competitive."
Adjacent outdoor hot and cold plunge pools add to the amenities of the Signature Spa at the Sandals Negril Beach Resort.
Another unique feature is the mostly vegetarian spa menu based on the distinctive spices and lowfat cooking style of Rastafarian cuisine. Called "Ital" cooking, the cuisine's feather-light flavors can be served at every meal in such dishes as vegetable stew with coconut, red pepper linguine with vegetables, sweet potato pudding with sour soy sauce, and Caribbean fruit flan.
Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Signature SpaJust a 5-minute express flight from Montego Bay ($140 round-trip according to carrier Air Jamaica) or a 60-minute drive from the airport, the Sandals Negril Beach Resort & Signature Spa offers a casual, personalized atmosphere. "At least 60 percent of our hotel guests are first-time spa participants-mostly North American honeymooners-and we want their experience to be intimate yet non-threatening," says Karen Sprung, group spa director for Sandals.
A potential spa-goer checks out the retail offerings at the spa's reception area.
Constructed of large golden stones and Jamaican mahogany, the 2,900-square-foot spa cost $675,000 to build. The two most popular treatments are the sunset Moon and Stars couples massage ($172, 50 minutes), which occurs surfside complete with tiki torches and sultry music. The other is the Sunrise Sea and Scrub (50 minutes, $70 per person), in which swimsuit-clad adventurers start with an exfoliating honey and sea-salt scrub that's followed by a quick dip in the Caribbean Sea and an application of fevergrass (similar to lemongrass) moisturizer.
Sprung says that 120 hotel guests pamper themselves in the spa daily during "high honeymoon season," which runs from April through September. The sauna, steam room, and hot/cold plunge pools are free for hotel guests even without a spa appointment. "One of the most unique draws to Spa Negril is an antiquated Colonial law," explains Sprung, who's been with Sandals since 1981. This law forbids construction higher than the neighboring coconut trees, so the hotel and spa (and everything else in Negril) remains quaint and informal, says Sprung. Hotel room rates average $225.
A client gets a relaxing facial at the Signature Spa.
A low-calorie menu is offered at Spa Negril. It's called the Coconut Cove Calorie Counter and features vegetable stir-fry, fresh-caught tilapia, wild pineapple rice, jerk chicken dishes, and other low-fat options.
Whether visitors choose to soak up island elixirs in Montego Bay, laze under a coconut tree in Negril, or take tea and crumpets on a balcony in Ocho Rios, Jamaica is waiting to help them relax, instantly, in exotic island style.