By Jo Foley
This story originally appeared in the Hotels, Resorts and Spas issue of Elite Traveler.
Water helps us work, rest and play. And that’s before we even consider its benefits to out well-being.
Water is essential to life. We need it to live. Our bodies are 60 percent water, even though we lose 6–10 percent each day – you could lose up to 12 pints running a marathon – hence the need to keep replenishing our supply. Dehydration can cause headaches, lack of energy and loss of concentration, so the old adage about drinking plenty of water should be kept in mind.
Water is literally the stuff of life; we cook in it and clean in it, we cannot grow food without it or, indeed, generate electricity. The National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator estimates that 2,000 gallons of water per person per day are necessary to support the average American lifestyle.
We look to water for other things, too. We play in it – swimming, surfing, fishing et al; we relax in it – how soothing is a warm bath or how invigorating a cool shower; we exercise in it – from aqua aerobics to water polo, sailing to scuba diving. Then there is health and well-being. We take ourselves off to spas for rest and relaxation, to de-stress and chill, and to heal our tired bodies and overworked minds. The very word “spa” relates to this healing, with one theory suggesting it derives from an acronym for the Latin salus per aquam, or health through water.
All over the world, nature provides healing waters from natural mineral rich springs gushing from the ground – from Calistoga in California through the Rockies to Banff in Canada, or south, to Brazil and a city named for a hot spring; Caldas Novas. Head for the Caribbean, where you can bathe in the sulfurous springs in St Lucia’s drive-in volcano, or head for the midnight sun and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, where recovery from a long-haul flight is guaranteed after 30 minutes of bathing in its bright-blue warmth.
The onsen (hot spring) is central to Japanese culture and available throughout the country, either in luxury ryokan resorts or in public baths. The different minerals in the springs are said to bring different health benefits… but all onsens have a soothing and relaxing effect on both mind and body.
Europe has myriad mineral-rich springs. Over the centuries, these gave rise to the elegant spa towns of Germany, France and Italy, places where the rich, the royal and the overindulged went to seek a cure and a break from their opulent lifestyles. Gradually, it was discovered that certain minerals were good for respiratory diseases, while others helped with joint and muscular disorders. Alongside such treatments, other more pampering and beautifying therapies were introduced, such as underwater massage, hydrotherapy baths, Vichy showers (combining water with manipulation), through to watsu (underwater shiatsu), mud wraps and salt scrubs. Water treatments gave rise to a whole new meaning in spa therapies.
But it was French doctors in the mid-19th century who researched the health benefits of seawater and, after the first international congress of seabathing and water therapy held in Boulogne-sur-Mer, offered the world thalassotherapy, a whole new menu of treatments incorporating not just seawater but algae, seaweed, sea minerals and mud.