Slavic Spa-ing

DESPITE A TURBULENT PAST, CROATIA HAS emerged in recent years as a prime tourist destination. Eager to explore this now peaceful and captivating country, visitors are flocking there like never before. The Dalmatian Coast, particularly the historic city of Dubrovnik, is responsible for much of the fanfare. Dubrovnik's nickname, Pearl of the Adriatic, is a testament to the region's appeal. As enchanting as they are, Croatia's assets are not limited to those found along the popular Dalmatian Coast. Recently, the rest of the country has begun to reveal its many charms, including a thriving spa industry focused on health and wellness.

Zagreb

In the capital city, The Regent Esplanade Zagreb woos visitors with its lavish decor and historic roots. The luxe hotel was originally built to accommodate travelers arriving in Zagreb on the infamous Orient Express. Throughout the years, it has attracted a multitude of historical and entertainment figures, such as Louis Armstrong, Henry Kissinger, Charles Lindbergh, Sophia Loren, President Richard Nixon, Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth Taylor, and Orson Welles, to name just a few. Catering to an exclusive clientele, the hotel's TT Exclusive Health Club has two treatment rooms, in which a variety of face and body treatments are available. Although the club is part of a chain in Zagreb, it operates under a different set of policies, on account of its locale in the infamous hotel. "We are an exclusive health club based on VIP membership and great service," says spa director Tajana Trtanj. "You can only join if recommended and if we have availability." Membership is limited to 30, and there is a waiting list for recommended applicants. Hotel guests, however, are always welcome. According to Trtanj, men make up the majority of the clientele, although it does vary according to the time of year. Women frequent the club more often in the summer when the hotel is more likely to cater to leisure travelers. The club is staffed with six full-time employees, although that number is reduced to three or four in the low season.

 The Regent Esplanade Zagreb attracts guests from around the world with its lavish design, which is evident in the inviting lobby
The Regent Esplanade Zagreb attracts guests from around the world with its lavish design, which is evident in the inviting lobby

Although fitness is a key focus of the club, skincare and bodycare also play a major role. "Our members and guests never miss an opportunity to enjoy facials and body treatments offered here exclusively," says Trtanj. In keeping with the elite nature of the club, Trtanj chose the Advantage Pharmacy product line. "It has incredible natural essences and herbs, which are organically grown and specially processed without any chemical additives," says Trtanj. "We are the only spa in Croatia allowed to use these products." The menu offers a variety of treatments incorporating the products. Other treatments include The Regent ($64, 60 minutes), a full-body massage using muscle-relaxing oils that is designed to help relieve stress, and the Mediterranean Salty Massage ($92, 50 minutes), a full-body exfoliation using a mixture of sea-salt and aromatic oils followed by a 25-minute massage.

Grand exterior
Grand exterior

For guests not interested in leaving their rooms, the hotel offers an extensive bath menu. Morning bathers can get a jump on the day with the Good Morning, Zagreb bath ($36), which contains avocado oil along with lemon, mandarin, and peppermint essential oils. Guests are also treated to freshly squeezed orange juice and the day's newspapers. The Great Gatsby bath ($55) is designed for male hedonists. Containing cypress, fennel, sesame, and vetiver essential oils, the bath is enjoyed with a glass of cognac and a cigar. For couples, the 1001 Nights bath ($91), containing jasmine, jojoba, geranium, and grapefruit essential oils and served with oysters on ice and champagne, sets the mood for a romantic evening. For the height of luxury, guests can indulge in the Regent Esplanade Zagreb bath ($136), which is filled with rose petals as well as geranium, neroli, and lavender essential oils. Strawberries, sparkling wine, and praline chocolates accompany the bath. Scented candles add to the overall ambience.

A waiting list exists for membership to the hotels exclusive health club
A waiting list exists for membership to the hotels exclusive health club

Guests who do venture out to experience the club will find the service to be topnotch. From the treatments to the fitness offerings, the highly educated staff is focused on helping its guests achieve optimal health. "Our main goal is to satisfy the most demanding customers," says Trtanj. "The word 'no' does not exist."

After checking in to the TT Exclusive Health Club at The Regent Esplanade Zagreb, members and guests can relax in the reception area (top and bottom left) before their treatments. Guests who want to relax in their rooms can choose from the hotel's extensive bath menu (top and bottom right).
After checking in to the TT Exclusive Health Club at The Regent Esplanade Zagreb, members and guests can relax in the reception area (top and bottom left) before their treatments. Guests who want to relax in their rooms can choose from the hotel's extensive bath menu (top and bottom right).

Opatija

In the seaside town of Opatija on the Istria coast, Croatia's spa scene is flourishing. It should come as no surprise considering that as far back as the late 1800s, Opatija had developed a reputation for being a place of healing. In fact, in 1889, Opatija was proclaimed an official health resort of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy by Emperor Franz Joseph. In addition to being a playground for the social elite, the town became a mecca for those suffering from various health conditions. They, along with numerous medical specialists, would flock to Opatija for its mild climate and seaside location, both of which made it ideal for thalassotherapy. Today, the longstanding tradition continues with a host of spa and wellness offerings.

Accents of color and product displays make this sitting area a pleasant place to kick back with a beverage at Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija.
Accents of color and product displays make this sitting area a pleasant place to kick back with a beverage at Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija.

Visitors to this picturesque town have no shortage of options with numerous hotel spas, such as the Wellness Centars at the Grand Hotel, Hotel Milenij, and Miramar, within walking distance. Another alternative is the popular Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija, which opened in 2005. The 8,202-square-foot center features nine treatment rooms; a Spa Relax Zone, complete with Aromarium, Finnish sauna, Roman bath, Turkish sauna, Kneipp leg bath, cold water barrel, whirlpool, and relaxation area; an indoor pool with heated saltwater, counter-current swimming, and underwater jets; a manicure and pedicure area; a solarium; and more. The spa was built as an addition to Thalassotherapia, a renowned medical center founded in 1957 that specializes in cardiology, rheumatism, and physiology. Despite the close proximity to one another, guests of the two facilities don't typically interact, although patients at Thalassotherapia can indulge in a treatment by visiting the Wellness Centar like any other guest.

Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija opened in 2005.
Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija opened in 2005.

For guests wanting to stay nearby or those participating in one of the spa's lengthier programs, Villa Dubrava serves as an ideal home base. Connected to the Thalasso Wellness Centar through a heated corridor, the 43-room hotel is a popular choice for those interested in various medical programs. Room rates actually include a complimentary consultation with a doctor. According to Thalasso Wellness manager Sandra Martincic, 35 percent of the spa's clientele are guests of Villa Dubrava, and locals make up most of the rest. Many take advantage of the spa's membership program, which includes various packages, such as a monthly Swimming Pool and Whirlpool Card ($64), a Monthly Fit Card ($46), a Monthly Relax Card ($164), and more. "Local business people take advantage of member cards," says Martincic. "They have stressful lives, little free time, and here they find everything in one place."

After checking in at the front desk at the Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija
After checking in at the front desk at the Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija

Catering to an international clientele, Martincic has found that spa-goers of the same nationality are often drawn to similar types of treatments. According to her, Americans are interested primarily in the center's spa and beauty programs whereas Italians tend to prefer to experience the Spa Relax Zone, massages, and specialty anti-cellulite treatments. Austrians and Germans also gravitate toward massage in addition to cosmetic treatments, and the center's fitness offerings. Massage and cosmetic treatments are also popular with the spa's Scandinavian clients, who also take advantage of the Spa Relax Zone and medical programs.

Spa-goers are escorted to a treatment room
Spa-goers are escorted to a treatment room

Ranging from three to 14 days, the medical programs treat a variety of conditions. For instance, the seven-day Antirheumatic Programme ($369) includes two exams by a rheumatologist, two Fango wraps, five Partial Manual Massages, five Electrotherapy sessions, five Seawater Baths, five Individual Kinesitherapy sessions, and five morning exercise classes. Other programs are available for osteoporosis, back pain, slimming, and more. The spa also features numerous beauty programs, such as the Body and Spirit Relax ($208). The one-day program includes a facial, hot stone massage, wellness treatment for legs, and use of the Spa Relax Zone. More comprehensive programs are available for two, three, five, and seven days.

Post-services, they are free to unwind in the relaxation area
Post-services, they are free to unwind in the relaxation area

Just as different nationalities favor certain types of treatments so, too, do different genders. According to Martincic, the Spa Relax Zone is especially popular with male spa-goers. In fact, 70 percent of those taking advantage of the area are male. Not surprisingly, cosmetic treatments are favored by female spa-goers, 70 percent to be more precise. Massage is the one type of service that garners equal billing from both men and women. As such, the spa's most popular treatment is the Thalasso Wellness Massage ($53, 60 minutes), which uses essential oils to treat the entire body.

On account of Opatija's seaside locale (bottom right), water plays a key role in the center's many offerings (left and top right).
On account of Opatija's seaside locale (bottom right), water plays a key role in the center's many offerings (left and top right).

Playing a major role in the menu, seawater is incorporated into many of the treatments. "All of our programs have a connection with seawater, sea salt, sea algae, or sea mud," says Martincic. Thal'ion Thalasso Cosmetics, a France-based skincare line featuring a high concentration of active marine ingredients, is just one of the spa's chosen product lines. For facial treatments, the spa relies on products from Avène and Maria Galland, both French skincare lines, and Comfort Zone, an Italian line. For nail treatments, the spa uses Alessandro, a nailcare line from Germany.

With 16 full-time employees, the spa can accommodate up to 200 people in a typical day. According to Martincic, one of her greatest challenges is keeping up with demand as the center's reputation continues to grow throughout Europe. As for the future, there are plans to expand hotel capacity with an additional building, as well as add dermatological services, such as laser technology. Continuing to grow and evolve, Thalasso Wellness Centar Opatija is sure to keep not only Opatija but also Croatia on the map for its all-encompassing approach to health and well-being. —Heather Mikesell

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