Pampered in paradise
If there's a single yardstick for Macau's development over the past 10 years that combines both business and pleasure, it has to be the spa industry.
No major hotel worth the name nowadays is without a holistic pampering zone, serving up everything from straightforward - but expertly delivered - massage to a host of treatments that range from top to toe of the human body and delve, if the hype is to be believed, into the soul as well.
Best of all, spa treatments have progressed from being regarded as little more than an upmarket body rub to a luxurious indulgence and, most recently, to a regular part of people's lifestyle.
While a few independent spas continue to provide a small yet highly professional range of services, it is the new spa emporia, concentrated around the larger casino hotels, that have reshaped the template. Foremost among them will be the Isala at the Grand Hyatt.
Faheem Ebrahim, manager of the spa and leisure centre at the Altira Hotel on Taipa, is a keen observer of the spa scene's recent developments. 'For customers, the amount of choice can be a little overwhelming,' he says.
'However, with the emergence of great spas found at such hotels as Wynn, Crown, Hard Rock, MGM Grand and, of course, the Altira, Macau has started to create more of a lifestyle choice for people living in the city.
'With the money that has gone into some of these spas, locals and visitors alike have access to services with the best products and wet facilities like the MGM's snow cabins, as well as highly skilled therapists. Like everything else in Macau of late, world-class spas have emerged overnight - it's impressive and surreal at the same time.'
Ebrahim admits that the new breed of spas might not provide the tranquillity and space found at spas in some other parts of Asia.
'To be honest, there isn't much of a retreat environment, so people looking to get away for a completely organic experience will not yet find that here. However, spa goers can find a wide variety of therapies and impressive spa facilities that are highly recommended when enjoying a 'Macau experience'.'
The huge choice of spa treatments, set amid inspiring surrounds, is more than evident at the Altira's spa. 'Peter Remedios, who designed the spa and hotel, has struck a really pleasant balance between the masculinity and femininity of the spa, using textures, colours and materials to suit most people, with an eye on our ratio of 55 per cent male guests,' Ebrahim says.
'We consider the spa a lifestyle facility, sporting one of the best pools in the world with the sounds of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett audible under the water, while floor-to-ceiling glass panels grant the most stunning panoramic views of Macau.'
One of the hallmarks of the Altira spa is that all therapies are result-oriented, based on themes of 'Replenish' and 'Invigorate'.
'This makes all services easily accessible to our guests, as they have an opportunity to understand the results of the programmes they choose,' Ebrahim says.
'Another highlight of visiting us is our 1,000-square-metre retreat that incorporates three private treatment suites and wet areas that are perfect for a 'spa-rty'.'
All treatment rooms at the spa are self-contained, with steam, experience showers and changing facilities, while the brace of couples' chambers contain vitality pools.
'The client never has to be towed from place to place - everything can be done in the comfort of the room,' Ebrahim says.
'One of our commitments is to let guests spend a good amount of time in the room to get settled and enjoy their time.'
This philosophy is strongly echoed at one of the most impressive new treatment rooms in Macau, which is part of the Crown Towers spa. A private swimming pool and jaccuzzi, luxurious treatment beds set beneath a golden chandelier, power showers, and a double bed draped with lace curtains make up the mini spa palazzo that's dubbed 'Love', aimed at couples, who are encouraged to spend an hour or so after their treatment relaxing within its seductive confines.
There's a similar aura of exclusivity at MGM Grand's the Six Senses. Here, the VIP suite includes a steam bath, multiple cooling shower experiences and a colour-therapy area with infused herbal fragrances to ensure that guests' senses are suitably stimulated. Of course, access is via a private lift to add that extra touch of privacy. As with many other spas, the MGM Grand offers wellness activities, such as tai chi, yoga and meditation, and personal training programmes. And on the main menu, specialist traditional Chinese medicine therapies such as tui na and shiatsu are offered along with Balinese and Thai inspired therapies.
The concept that spa treatments are simply part of a healthy lifestyle has seen many hotels adding more sophisticated equipment to their fitness rooms to provide a greater range of holistic choice. At the Four Seasons' gym, the Kinesis Wall is the only one of its kind in Macau.
Billed as a new way to work out, Kinesis takes traditional exercises, such as chest presses or rowing, and combines them with functional movements, such as reaching, bending and squatting, helping to develop balance, strength and flexibility at any fitness level.
The Kinesis Wall is made up of panels of grips, cables and weight stacks that allow for three-dimensional movements and multiplane motion. Devotees claim it works because the system follows the body in its movements, rather than having to follow the machine's pattern. Kinesis is deemed highly suitable for rehabilitation therapy, sport specific training, yoga and Pilates.
Rather less strenuously, the Four Seasons also has a number of tempting offers that combine spa treatments with a similarly sybaritic lifestyle. The Ladies' Escape Package includes a night's accommodation, an hour's massage, afternoon tea and a private shopping excursion to the hotel's designer label-oriented mall. It's a sure sign that spas have become an integral part of life in Macau.