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BEST POOL: ISIKA Day Spa
Oh, the views! Only, shock-horror, you don't get to see them from your treatment room. What you do get, however, is to spend time in one of the best designed treatment rooms around – there are well heated bathrooms for you to get changed in.
ISIKA is on level 27 and you can absorb the view from one of the best infinity pools in Melbourne after your treatment, as bookings for one-hour treatments (or longer) include access to the hotel's extraordinary pool.
Keep some time for change room indulgence: each contains a wonderful glass steam room and vitality spa. And in the ultimate "stay and play" scenario, you can stay in a room with a private staircase leading to the day spa.
What we tried: Classic Relaxation Massage (60 minutes $140)
Level 27 Crown Metropol Melbourne, Whiteman Street, Southbank. Crownmelbourne.com.au; 9292 8327
Don't be afraid of being naked. Honestly, if we're baring everything to a beautician for a brazilian/manzilian, why are we still expecting modesty towels and disposable underwear for massages?
BEST SURPRISE: Deep Water Spa & Baths
Just out of Warrnambool's CBD, down by Lady Bay, is the most remarkable regional find, and it's literally in the basement of a hotel. It's an indoor, rectangular-shaped geothermal mineral pool.
You might find the local footy team healing their injuries here, or you might find yourself alone, gliding up and down in the orange-tinged waters, absorbing the goodness (sulfur, bicarbonate, sodium, magnesium, potassium and chloride) into your body. The water comes from 850 metres down and the pool is kept at 38-41 degrees Celsius. Press the button and it turns into a spa.
The hotel's day spa also offers private mineral baths and treatments. Deep Blue Hotel & Spa has winter accommodation rates from $99, and if you need another reason to check it out, from now until September is Warrnambool's whale season.
What we tried: An hour in the public pool ($15)
Worm Bay Road, Warrnambool deepwaterspa.net; 5559 2000
Onsen Retreat + Spa
After a hard day of skiing what better way to unwind than a hot bath? What if said hot bath was a Japanese-style outside Onsen? And what if it was part of a modern luxury spa complex offering treatments where you get wrapped up in a doona? Next time you're up skiing high-country way (it's closest to Mount Hotham, which is 4.5 hours drive from Melbourne), consider jumping in. If you're really lucky, snow will fall on you while you're indulging in the 39-degree Celsius waters. It's open every day during the ski season, which begins on June 6. There is also a heated pool inside if you've had enough fresh air.
What we tried: Casual bathing pass including sauna and gym ($45)
1 Big Muster Drive, Dinner Plain www.onsen.com.au; 5150 8880
BEST COMBINATION: Salus Spa at Lakehouse
Salus is the spa part of Alla Wolf-Tasker's Lake House, and overlooks Lake Daylesford. Hidden in the trees, looking out over the lake, are two private treehouse spa rooms. They're made for one, and you choose your scented salts, step into the bubbling hot mineral water, look out into the deciduous trees (all bare branches when we visited) and slug back a couple of coldies (Lake House Mineral Water, of course). Follow this half-hour treat with something fulsome. If you like variety, Salus' Signature Bliss wins hands (and feet) down. You'll be brushed, hot stoned, scrubbed with deliciously large chunks of Elemis salts, wrapped up and massaged. Then it's shower time in a shower that is anything but ordinary. Masseur Ben has worked there for nine years and, well, in very un-Lake House terms, he's da bomb.
What we tried: Private Treetop Spa (30 minutes $105) followed by Salus Signature Bliss (90 minutes $225)
King Street, Daylesford (90 minutes from Melbourne) Lakehouse.com.au; 5348 3329
BEST HAMAM: Peninsula Hot Springs
If you've driven here before, you may recall involuntarily breathing a deep breath of contentment when you see the first "Peninsula Hot Springs" sign. It's celebrating its 10th year this month, and guests still never know exactly what they're going to find. Co-owner Charles Davidson is always powering ahead with brilliant new concepts gleaned from his "spa country" travels. This time, new (for me) is a hilltop spa with 360-degree views of the Mornington Peninsula. Interestingly, look to the adjacent farmland: that's what the springs looked like a decade ago. Today it's alive with native trees, chatty birds (both flying and bathing) and steaming pools of hot mineral springs: all the products of an entrepreneurial mind.
What we tried: Turkish Steam Bath ($100, minimum of 4, for an instructive and interactive session)
Springs Lane, Fingal (80 minutes from Melbourne) Peninsulahotsprings.com; 5950 8777
BEST FOR COUPLES: Mansion Hotel and Spa at Werribee Park
One of the pleasures of this spa is that as soon as you zip past the lions and tigers, you find yourself in true mansion territory. Change rooms are on ground level, and once you've donned your robe and slippers you descend into beauty central. The magazine selection in the Spa Lounge gets five stars, and while beauty therapists dart around, you secretly hope you'll get through your herbal tea AND the article in Cleo before they approach you. This is a really couples-friendly place. It's also delightfully clock-free until you leave the treatment area and hit the pool. All treatments include the use of the pool (which looks out towards the mansion), gym and steam rooms, so you can almost make a whole day of it. Oh, and if you're lucky, you'll get strawberries dipped in chocolate after your treatment, which gives you more time to finish that article...
What we tried: Wave of Relaxation Massage ($125) and Princess Royal Body Wrap ($185).
K Road, Werribee www.lancemore.com.au; 9731 4140
BEST SCENTS: The Lyall Spa
When the spa menu mentions "a cocktail of magical elixirs", it's easy to ho-hum it. But one Hypnose treatment and you'll be working overtime to go back. You may even realise that "chakras" is not a rapper, but something surprisingly profound. If there is a treatment that will stop you washing for days after, this is it. The scent will linger until you eventually have to take that shower. Lyall Spa is a small, intimate space at the rear of the South Yarra hotel, but it's modern, shiny and clean, and its treatments pack a punch.
What we tried: Hypnose ($250)
16 Murphy Street, South Yarra www.thelyall.com; 1800 338 234
Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa
Catherine, my masseuse, kept reminding me that I needed to start stretching properly after I exercise, but there was something so lovely about her doing it for me as part of my 90-minute massage that I'd just prefer to go back there. My Royal Moroccan Indulgence began with 30 minutes in a private 100 per cent mineral water bath, and I watched a jug of milk and rose petals being poured into it before I got in myself. Bliss. The great thing about Hepburn Bathhouse is that anyone can swim in the famed mineral spring water. Adults can play in the 50 per cent strength waters for two hours for $32/40 off peak/peak (BYO towels).
What we tried: Royal Moroccan Indulgence ($300)
Mineral Springs Crescent, Hepburn Springs Hepburnbathhouse.com; 5321 6000
BEST VALUE: Onsen Ma
Here you are, sitting back in a large hot pool of water (40 degrees Celsius), bathed in light that is pushing through industrial-style windows and wondering if you want to spend a little more time in the dry sauna. This is the good life, and it's almost impossible to believe that you're actually in the middle of Melbourne's CBD. Onsen Ma is cute, well organised and easy to understand if the world of Japanese-style hot baths is new to you. Everything is provided, and no, you don't wear bathers. Leave your shoes at the door, don slippers, head into the male or female change rooms, get naked, wash in open air showers and slide into the single-sex bath. Simple. The sauna looks out on to the spa and the Shiatsu here takes place in private rooms. Best of all, it's two hours of bliss for less than $100.
What we tried: 60 minute hot bath and 60 minute Shiatsu ($98 midweek special)
Level 1, 12-18 Meyers Place, Melbourne Onsenma.com.au; 9663 8777
Japanese Bath House
Incorporating a "Tatami Lounge" (with beer and snacks and old magazines) into the hot bath and Shiatsu duet gives a session at Collingwood's Japanese Bath House a social aspect. Like Onsen Ma, there are separate baths and saunas for men and women, and it's naked all the way (except for the Shiatsu, which is mingled and you're provided with comfy, well-worn robes to wear). The shiatsu here is performed in a communal space above the women's bath (as women will note by all the bossy "Shhhhh" signs on the wall). The Shiatsu is an experience that feels so fantastic (especially after an hour of soaking and spending time in the sauna) that you'll wonder why you don't do it weekly.
What we tried: 60-minute hot bath and 60-minute Shiatsu ($110)
59 Cromwell Street, Collingwood Japanesebathhouse.com; 9419 0268
There's a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theme to this spa at The Langham, which comes through in its treatments. The rooms are private and dim, and you can take advantage of mixing a treatment with the "tri-bathing ritual" – which includes time in the saltwater pool and Jacuzzi (hello, city views). The menu here is vast (28 pages), with most treatments having a TCM element. My treatment involved having my wrinkles smoothed out with a piece of jade (OK, so I think they're back now, but it was a nice idea) and I kept the three pressure points that my therapist taped to my ear there for as many days as I could.
What we tried: Chuan Signature Facial Chuan Yu (75 minutes $199)
The Langham, 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank www.chuanspa.com; 8696 8111
BEST "ALL-IN-ONE": Aurora Spa Retreat
Aurora ticks so many boxes: director Lyndall Mitchell launched it in St Kilda in 1997; it has its own product range which has been refined over that time (you'll find it in the fancy parts of Qantas now); and its spa treatments are so perfectly considered for Melbourne's climate and its people's needs that its treatment menu is just two pages long. Its Kitya Karnu treatment is, as Mitchell says: "Like taking the body through a car wash". It takes place entirely in a private steam room and involves massage, exfoliation, incredible scents, a facial cleanse and masque, hot and cold water, cold river stones and, my favourite, hair goo, which you can keep in your hair overnight. There is a solar-heated pool too, which is free to use before and after treatments.
What we tried: Signature Kitya Karnu (60 minutes $195)
The Prince Hotel, 2 Acland Street, St Kilda aurorasparetreat.com.au; 9563 1130
Getting Your Spa On
Visit spas between Tuesday and Thursday for cheaper rates and more space.
Don't be afraid of being naked. Honestly, if we're baring everything to a beautician for a brazilian/manzilian, why are we still expecting modesty towels and disposable underwear for massages? A great place to start reclaiming the nude is at Melbourne's Japanese Onsens.
Get clean! If there is a sauna, bring an exfoliating mitt. Hamams are meant to be social, slightly noisy and sloppy. Grab a few friends and learn the art of the Hamam at Peninsula Hot Springs. You won't look back.
Concentrate on your breathing during a massage. It will help stop the "What's next on my to-do list" brain chatter.
Do the whole "stay and play" package if it's on offer.
Arrive in plenty of time and use transport that you find most relaxing: car, taxi Uber, bike, whatever. Most spas offer valet parking with treatments.
Plan well so you're not in a rush to be anywhere after a treatment.
Drink plenty of water.
Expect miracles. During my month of massages, I was told by friends and colleagues that I looked 12 and 20 (though I'm much closer to Rebel Wilson's real age).