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Float away: How the superyacht spa took centre stage

28 February 2019 • Written by Charlotte Hogarth-Jones

The latest launches are making wellness a priority, with large relaxation areas taking centre stage. Charlotte Hogarth-Jones uncovers the rise of the superyacht super-spa...

Not long ago, “spa” was a term used loosely in the superyacht world. A spa could be an unloved sauna shoved in the bowels of a boat or a massage table set aside in an awkward corner. Meanwhile, gyms were frequently no more than a stationary exercise bike and a few token dumb-bells. How times have changed. Today, we’re making fitness more of a priority than ever – in fact, the health and wellness market in the UK has increased from €22.6 billion in 2013 to more than €26 billion in 2018. We’re spending serious time and money on where and how we improve our bodies, whether it’s on land or at sea. Enter: the super-spa.

These beautifully designed spaces often occupy up to 300 square metres on a superyacht, and could compete with a spa in a moderately sized high-end hotel. A series of rooms combine every possible facility – think infrared sauna (whose rays reportedly penetrate skin tissue more efficiently and even burn calories), hammam, Vichy water massage tables, heated marble massage tables, experience showers with multiple lights, sounds and pressures, hydrotherapy pools, plunge pools and snow rooms for starters – and they come with their own dedicated spa manager, along with a communal space for guests to relax in, too.

The spa’s increase in popularity is partly down to having simply too much space to fill. As Ronno Schouten, head designer at Feadship, puts it, “As you grow in size you realise that you just don’t need three lounges – there’s got to be a better use for that space.” If you’ve got the room to accommodate it, a destination spa – be it in the heart of the yacht or as an expanded beach club area – gets big brownie points in the charter market, and it looks pretty impressive, too. A case in point is the recent refit of the 71.1 metre luxury yacht Haida 1929, whose owner decided to remove a much-needed storage closet in order to create a spa for charter guests.

Spas are quickly becoming more important than practical concerns such as storage

This isn’t an example of style over substance, however. For the rise of super-spas can be partly attributed to a fundamental change in the way that we’re enjoying our yachts.

“Most of our charters these days are less about drinking copious amounts of champagne and more about a different kind of lifestyle,” explains Frances Edgeworth, a broker for Fraser. “Guests these days want to come away from a trip feeling healthy and revitalised – not like they’ve put on 10 kilos.” It’s not just charter guests who are making health and relaxation a priority. Andrew Winch of Winch Design reveals that the owners of Amels’ 74 metre Plvs Vltra regularly spend four or five hours in their spa, while Feadship has also noticed a shift in how and where people spend their time. “These spaces are being used for a serious number of hours per day now,” notes Schouten, “especially if they’re combined with an enormous gym.”

And so, designers are hastily re-evaluating what role a spa plays on board, as well as putting thought into how each area of it connects. On the 72 metre Abeking & Rasmussen explorer yacht Cloudbreak, designer Guillaume Rolland of Studio Liaigre referenced classic Korean spas that have steps up into each room, to give a sense of stepping away from reality. “You need to have plenty of small details in order to create layers,” he explains. “You don’t want something that looks like an enormous bathroom anymore – you’re supposed to feel like you’re entering this special, spiritual place.”

Of course, what feels sacred and serene to one owner can be another owner’s idea of hell, which poses a tricky challenge for designers. “There’s nothing quite as personal as the way different people relax,” says Willem-Jan Kuipers of superyacht spa specialists 4SeasonsSpa. Valentina Zannier of Nuvolari Lenard, who designed the magnificent area on board the 90 metre Oceanco motor yacht DAR, agrees. “We often collaborate with professionals from high-end hotels who tell us exactly what our owners will want and expect,” she says. “The spa’s role in a superyacht has evolved massively over the past few years; I never could have predicted how fast this part of my job would evolve.”

The plunge pool on Areti

Creating a super-spa from scratch is quite the task, then, with designers often having to second-guess the owner’s style and needs, balance a requirement for privacy with a desire to entertain guests, and then having to integrate the whole thing seamlessly into the rest of the yacht. Get it right, however, and the results can be spectacular – not only a triumphant design statement, a well-designed super-spa can change the way that owners and their guests can enjoy a yacht forever.

The kit

While you might expect the latest spas to be jam-packed with the latest tech, that’s not necessarily the case. “We’re going back to basics,” explains Schouten. “Of course, you can add more and more technology, but we discovered the best ways to relax back in Roman times, and the human body has stayed the same.”

If you’re looking to invest in the newest kit, you’ll want to look at spa therapies that focus on cooling rather than heating the body. The beach club on board Tankoa Yachts’ newly launched 72 metre Solo, for example, was designed by Francesco Paszkowski and features a shower that is chilled to an icey five degrees Celsius. You’ll also find a full-depth plunge pool that is kept chilled to eight degrees Celsius, along with an ice fountain, on board the 85 metre LürssenAreti. In this instance, the yacht’s owner is a former Olympic cyclist, so a properly kitted out and supremely high-tech sports spa was the order of the day.

However, one of Feadship’s latest private yachts also featured a cryotherapy chamber, which can reach minus 100 degrees Celsius. Promising to help the body recover faster after exercise, boost circulation, reduce inflammation and soothe injuries, these cooling treatments reflect an increased interest in fitness on board. Getting cooler, it seems, is getting cool.

The spa on Plvs Vltra has become a favourite spot for her owners

The look

If there’s one thing that many of the new super-spas have in common, it’s their use of wood. In general, there’s a move towards spas that look and feel lighter and more natural, and in many cases a textured wood that gives a warmer feel is being used in place of cooler marble, tiles and stone.

Provenance is important, as evidenced in Solo’s sauna, made of wood sourced from a medieval castle in Finland, while there were shades of black and grey oak used for the spa walls. Cloudbreak, meanwhile, played with proportions by using very large, natural planks of wood cladding to unify both the wet and dry spaces of the sauna and plunge pool. “I think the smell of natural wood is very important,” says Rolland – perhaps going some way to explain why Areti’s sauna includes birch and eucalyptus twigs for smoking on the brazier. “Wood adds depth to the walls. Personally I find glass tiles and mosaics a bit old-fashioned.”

With more yachts expanding the beach club into a spa area, lighter woods and teak – as seen on the 83 metre Amels Here Comes The Sun, the 85.1 metre Lürssen Solandge and the 90 metre Lürssen Phoenix 2 – are a natural fit and give a more relaxed, fresh feel. “There’s far less of the ‘classic shiny stuff’ and much more of the ‘cool nature stuff’,” sums up Laura Pomponi, CEO of interiors specialist Luxury Projects. Schouten of Feadship agrees – there’s a move towards things that look and feel more eco, from the materials being used through to organic spa products.

Discrete, custom units are also now standard. In fact, Kuipers of 4SeasonsSpa estimates that about 90 per cent of their spas are fully bespoke – and the emphasis is on hiding what you have, rather than showing it off. “Clients still want the same bells and whistles,” he explains, “but they don’t want to see where they’re coming from or how they work.” Schouten agrees: “In the past you were happy if you had the technology, and you had to work around it – now so much time and effort goes into how you hide everything.”

Modern spas tend towards natural materials and earthy tones

The gym debate

Don’t go drawing up those big spa plans just yet, for one thing stands in the way of the super-spa: the gym. While we’re demanding bigger and better spas, we’re also prioritising space for where we work out. On the 70 metre Joy, for example, the gym was given pride of place, and Feadship was challenged with creating higher ceilings for the space with glass all the way round. “I’ve found a lot of people to be more active and spend less time relaxing on deck,” says Edward Thomas, director of yacht gym company Gym Marine, while discussing the difficulties of combining an area to relax and to work out. “A Zen area on one of the upper decks and a more active energy zone in the beach club area can work extremely well.”

For many, a mixed “wellness” area or beach club is the happy medium, but on smaller yachts you can find yourself forced to choose between making the gym or the spa the priority.

“The other day one of our owners finally decided to cancel his steam room and extend the gym into one clean, beautiful long space instead,” says Rolland of Studio Liaigre. “You really need four or five rooms to have a proper spa – to have both that and to have a proper gym, you have to have a truly incredible yacht.”

A superyacht spa concept by Luxury Projects

The future

If you’re working with limited space, don’t despair; multi-function spa facilities are having a moment too. Saunas can be both classic and infrared; hammams are transformed into steam showers with the flick of a switch. Owner suites are also now housing hydrotherapy baths and hammam showers almost as standard, and even on the largest yachts, private massage rooms for owners that are set aside from the spa are popular and desirable. On Feadship’s 92 metre Aquarius, for example, there’s a private owner’s massage area, while on Solo there’s a separate deck above the upper and owner’s decks with a small sunbathing area that also could be used for massages. Heesen’s 51 metre MySky was ahead of the game when she was built in 2014, featuring a huge steam room shower in the owner’s suite.

A beneficial knock-on effect of our obsession with relaxation is a rise in the number of crew that are spa therapists. “In the past, you might have had four stewardesses on board, and one was a trained massage therapist,” says Edgeworth. “Now you will increasingly find that two or three of the team are qualified in this field with at least one team member dedicated to wellness, and there’s often a personal trainer on board too.” Good news, then, whatever yacht you’re sailing. And relax...