My friend and fellow Value Luxury writer Andy Hayes is an expert on Scotland (he wrote the book on it. No, really). You don’t usually think of Scotland as a spa destination, but he’s uncovered a few finds for those heading north of Hadrian’s Wall (hint: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the famed monster theater festival, is coming up, August 3-27).
While Scotland is more notable for dreary weather and surreal nature scenes, you can take a vacation here just to relax. Join a local walking group for the day or wander down century-old streets. Flip through a novel while sipping hot tea in the same cafe as where the author wrote the book. And while Scotland’s spa scene is mostly frequented by Britons in the know, they can provide a touch of luxury after being on your feet at festivals and attractions all day. Here’s a quick guide on some of my favorite places for spa breaks in Scotland.
Edinburgh is Scotland’s gateway city for tourism, and if you’re looking for spa and relaxation, you’ll find it, even on the most hectic of days. My favorite spa hotel there is One Spa, in the Sheraton Grand in Edinburgh’s West End. With the best swimming area in town as well as signature spa treatments (try the “One… of a Kind” package) and very reasonable day/weekend prices, it’s hard to beat.
Looking for something truly unique? Head to the Stockbridge neighborhood where you can soak in complete sensory deprivation at the Edinburgh Floatarium, It costs 35 pounds for one hour; 45 pounds for 90 minutes. If the idea of complete silence weirds you out, they have a full lineup of more traditional treatments.
As befits Scotland’s largest city, there are actually more options for spa days in Glasgow than in Edinburgh. Glasgow has a number of hotels where you’ll find a whole menu of spa options. The spa at Blythswood Square is the most modern in Scotland, with fabulous relaxing pools, a charming little cafe area, and some very unique treatments – consider the chocolate rhassoul, where you’re essentially covered in a chocolate body mud before taking a 30-minute steam. It’s 42 pounds for 30 minutes.
Another option for getting-away-from-it-all is Mar Hall, a luxurious spa (and golf) retreat found just outside of Glasgow, not far from the airport. Mar Hall is the only Aveda Destination Spa in the UK, and the services live up to the brand expectations, from the relaxing Vichy shower to the fantastic footbaths & foot massage. Be sure to check online for promotional packages, which can result in a couple of hundred pounds in savings!
Scotland’s spa hotels are pricey, but almost all allow day guests not staying at the hotel to use spa services. It is always better value to go with a package that includes facilities use plus treatment(s) – ask what’s on offer or check websites before you make a final choice.
The Scottish Highlands are relaxing by their very nature – you’ll find nothing but unspoilt views, and it is one of the few places in the world I’ve found it is actually possible to find yourself totally, utterly, alone. (Hint: The further north and west you go, the less there is.)
As far as comfortable highland spas, you’ll find many of them more towards the southern edge of the highlands, close enough for city dwellers to make an easy weekend trip. My personal favorite is Atholl Palace in Pitlochry. It has somewhat of a touristy feel, but I love this area for the forest hikes – lots of easy options, and everything is so well signposted you don’t need to be an experienced adventurer to have a lot of fun. The Palace’s Lavender Spa uses natural spring water and has a number of value-priced pampering treatments, many which include lunch at the on-site restaurant, also a popular option.
Last but not least is the Macdonald Aviemore Resort, located in the Cairngorms National Park. Aviemore is more known as Scotland’s most popular ski destination, but this Macdonald property is the perfect getaway spot at any season. It’s surrounded by world-class dining and interesting shops, as well as the resort’s on site spa. Splash around in the wave pool (or speed down the tube slide, if you don’t mind queuing up with the kids), then bliss-out with one of the signature Decleor Aroma treatment packages.
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