Curious curatives: Unusual spa experiences

A massage, pedicure or facial may be part of some people’s usual routine, but for others it might be a special indulgence when they travel. Whatever the case, people are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to get pampered — and spas are looking for ways to bring in new customers.

Snake massage

If you thought getting a fish pedicure was weird, take note that it’s not the only way to get up close and personal with the animal kingdom. How about letting snakes slither across your bare skin and face?

It sounds like an ophidiophobe’s worst nightmare but at Ada Barak’s “Snake Spa” in Northern Israel it’s a way for humans and animals to form a deeper connection. This unique massage treatment uses six non-venomous species — including California king, Florida king, milk and corn varieties — to deliver deep and light massage. Barak, the spa’s owner, got the idea from people who reported that handling snakes was a pleasant experience.

While having snakes crawl all over you isn’t everyone’s idea of a relaxing experience, Barak reports that most clients find it quite soothing once they get over their initial misgivings.

If you happen to be in the neighbourhood (Talmei Elazar, to be precise), the snake massage costs about $70-80. However, t his is one treatment you have to see in action — click here to see the video from Time Magazine.

The Geisha Facial

Ever wondered how Geishas got their porcelain perfect complexions? It might surprise you to learn the secret ingredient in their skin care regime was nightingale excrement (i.e. bird droppings). Now the Shizuka New York Day Spa in Manhattan is using this Japanese tradition as the central part of its Geisha Facial. The treatment incorporates a mask made from uguisu no fun (the excrement has been dried and sterilized, of course). The natural enzymes in uguisu no fun exfoliate nourish and brighten the skin.

The treatment lasts about 60 minutes and has a $180 USD price tag, but also includes a hydrating camellia oil massage and a Green Tea Collagen mask. Afterwards, clients get to relax in the lounge with Japanese tea and cookies.

See the spa’s press release for more information.

Facials for… well, everywhere else

The term “facial” is a bit of a misnomer when it applies to other parts of the body, but the idea is still the same even if the location isn’t. The Smooth Synergy Spa in New York is one of a few spas that offering a treatment package for your other “cheeks”. Their Fanny Facial involves exfoliation, detoxification, and pore cleansing for this often neglected part of the body. Microcurrent therapy is also incorporated to tone the skin and smooth out the texture. The treatment costs about $220 USD. (See their website for the full details and yes, pictures). Within the last year, many other spas across Canada and the US have started offering similar treatments.

If you’ve got your skin care sights set a little higher — or want to bare more skin — many spas now offer facials for your back. Times and prices vary depending on what the treatment includes and where it is performed.

Perhaps one of the latest and priciest new trends is pampering for the arm pits. For a price tag of $1500 USD, the Shizuka New York offers the Underarm Overhaul. The process starts the deep cleaning and moisturizing aspects of a facial, and proceeds with waxing to remove unwanted hair removal. The finishing touch: a series of Botox injections to reduce sweat production. (And yes, this treatment is marketed to men as well).

Beer Bath

You may have heard that beer is good for the hair, but the whole body?

Yes, according to the Chodovar Brewery in Chodova Plana, Czech Republic. They created their “Real Beer Spa” in converted cellars next to the local inn and pioneered an herbal bath based on the local brew. Visitors indulge in a twenty minute dip in dark beer mixed with carbonated mineral water, yeast, hops and aromatic herbs. Afterwards it’s on to some relaxation time or an optional massage or treatment involving hot stones or being packed in hot grains.

If you’re looking for good value for a spa treatment, their prices are pretty reasonable. A single bath costs 600 CRK (Czech Republic Koruny) — that’s less than $40 Canadian. Double baths are available for couples for 1200 CZK ($75 CAN), and other treatments range from $28 for a complete massage to about $40 for a hot stone massage. (Prices may vary according to exchange rates).

The beer baths aim to sooth muscles and joints, and the brew improves the skin and hair. As an added bonus, all guests get to sip on a mug of dark brew while they relax.

See the Chodovar Brewery website for more information.

Swim with the dolphins — but not really

It’s part sound therapy, part light therapy, and part virtual reality. As the name suggestions, Virtual Dolphin Therapy simulates the experience of swimming with dolphins while never actually setting foot in the water. Offered at the La Quinta Healing Arts spa in Old Town La Quinta, California, this unique experience combines many sensory elements, including soothing music coupled with the sounds of echolocation that dolphins use in the wild, a vibrating mattress, a large screen showing dolphins swimming and a light show to mimic the sensation of water.

The sessions usually last for 45 minutes with a fee of $75 USD.

Still sceptical? See the Virtual Dolphin Therapy website for more information on this therapeutic treatment and some of the science behind it.

Cactus Massage

If the name has you conjuring up images of masseuses armed with prickly cactus plants, you’re half right. The Mexican-themed Hakaki massage does involve nopal paddles (don’t worry, they’re spine-free) — but it’s to apply a warm meringue made from the prickly pear cactus, pulque (an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila but made from agave) and tuna (the cactus blossom, not the fish). The nopal is know for it’s healing properties and will help remove toxins as well as moisturize the skin.

This exotic massage is offered through the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Moita, Mexico and will run guests about $160 USD for a 50 minute massage or $225 for the 80 minute version.

Another massage offered onsite is the Punta Mita, which uses local sage oil and tequila. (See the hotel’s websitefor more information).

A little (too much?) luxury

There seems to be no end to the extravagance and cost of some spa treatments — for customers who are able and willing to pay for that exclusive experience. For example:

– At the Rome Cavelieri’s Grand Spa in Italy you can be smothered in caviar for a facial or a 90 minute full body treatment.

<!—– Live like Cleopatra (for an hour or so) with a 24 K Gold Facial. The process involves covering the face with either gold leaf, a dusting of gold powder or a layer of gold-infused skin care products. Gold is thought to remove blemishes and purify the skin, and it apparently has anti-aging properties. Variations of this facial can now be found at various luxury hotels and spas around the world. Some price tags can go as high as $400-$500, depending on what's offered, but at the La Donna Fina Spa in Vancouver, the treatment is listed for $199.—>

– If one set of hands isn’t enough for you, there’s the Dieci Mani, available at the Qua Spa at Caesar’s in Atlantic City. For three hours and $5000 USD, 10 hands go to work pampering your entire body — including a Roman bath ritual, facial, massage and gift basket.

Sounds great? Well, maybe not… If you’ve read this list and are wondering “who would ever do that?” or “who can afford that?” chances are you’re not alone. These treatments clearly aren’t for every taste and budget, and some may just be fads that will pass as soon as the next innovation comes along.

For some pampering ideas you can use at home, check out European beauty secrets and The healing power of water. (Live animals and unusual ingredients aren’t required).

Additional sources: Forbes Bizarre Spa Treatments and Oddball Spa Treatments

*Prices are current at the time of publication, but are subject to change.

Photo © Vasiliki Varvaki

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