Belgin Aksoy, who is from one of Turkey’s prominent families, could spend her days and nights shopping, enjoying five-hour dinners at Istanbul’s jet-set restaurants or lounging till nearly sunrise at clubs overlooking the Bosphorus where revelers arrive by boat.
Instead, the model-gorgeous brunette, 39 this month, gets up before dawn to work out and to oversee her family’s Richmond Nua Wellness-Spa, the country’s first destination spa. The modern six-story stucco resort on tranquil Lake Sapanca is about a 90-minute drive from Istanbul.
Aksoy, a single mother of one who is dubbed “Miss Spa” by local media, is also on a mission to promote wellness and fitness. In June, she hosted a second Global Wellness Day at Richmond Nua, offering panels, talks, and demonstrations of yoga and healthy cooking.
Aksoy, a single mother of one who is dubbed “Miss Spa” by local media, is also on a mission to promote wellness and fitness.
“For us Turks, a vacation is more sea and sand, with lots of food possibilities and not moving at all,” she says, taking a break poolside while tents and chairs are set up for the big day. “A vacation for your body and your soul” is not a widespread concept, Aksoy adds.
Another roadblock to wellness spas: “Turkish women like instant (beauty and health) results. They say: ‘What magic are you going to do?’ ”
The trim and toned Aksoy, whose interest in living well intensified after battling thyroid cancer a decade ago, is trying to spread the word that spas are about more than weight loss or pampering. “Our bodies are such treasures that are given to us,” she says. After her illness, “I felt I had to make changes in myself. I’m still learning every day.”
Richmond Nua reflects her travels to the world’s top spas—from the USA’s Canyon Ranch and Miraval to Thailand’s Chiva-Som and COMO Shambhala Estate in Bali—and incorporates therapies from around the world. The retreat, which turns 10 in November, continues to expand its programs and consistently wins awards from TripAdvisor and Spafinder.
Its 131 rooms and suites (starting at about $200 a night, double, with breakfast, with packages available) surround an airy atrium. Most boast superb lake views, all are done in sleek and soothing contemporary style. Some have balconies or jetted tubs. Toss on a soft, white kimono and take an elevator down to the spa area.
The 29,000-square-foot facility boasts 21 treatment rooms and an impressive circuit that includes more than a dozen stops: cold and heated pools, Jacuzzis, steam rooms, relaxation areas and a two-story sauna made of century-old Finnish wood (it’s super-hot upstairs), all of which are gratis. In the “Day Dream” room, guests lie on a recliner, listen to soothing music, and zone out while gazing at a wall of simulated twinkling stars. There’s an Ice Grotto, where slathering on chilly chips is an antidote to the searing sauna, and a Tepidarium with heated stone chaises.
The 29,000-square-foot facility boasts 21 treatment rooms and an impressive circuit that includes more than a dozen stops: cold and heated pools, Jacuzzis, steam rooms, relaxation areas and a two-story sauna made of century-old Finnish wood…
Treatments include being scrubbed with a coarse cloth while lying on a stone slab in a traditional Turkish hammam. The massage menu is varied (one nit is that in the land known for fluffy bath linens, treatment body coverings are sometimes-scratchy towels).
Shiatsu here goes deeper because therapists—some trained in Bali—suspend themselves on metal bars so as to dig toes deeper into tight muscles.
A gentler option is the caviar anti-aging facial, using products from the Kerstin Florian line. Post-treatment, therapists offer ginger tea.
Those looking for quick weight-loss opt for “Hypoxi” therapy, designed to burn fat fast by increasing blood circulation. In one phase, guests don space suit-like “vacunaut” gear that applies pressure to problem areas while they exercise under supervision. Participants are put on a special diet that emphasizes lean protein, vegetables, and nuts. Two U.S. guests who tried the regime recently lost four and five pounds in just a few days.
Richmond Nua restaurants serve “beautyfood”—lots of raw cucumber and tomatoes, various kinds of olives and smoothies, antioxidant juice mixtures, fennel and celery salad with agave nectar and avocado. Lunch might include broccoli soup, grilled sea scallops on olive tapenade, and a flour-free chocolate cake with berry sauce.
Still, because of the country’s culture, Richmond Nua is not only for serious spa-goers. Smoking is allowed on property and in some rooms. There’s a full bar in the lobby, and the resort lacks the abundant daily classes seen at most destination spas. For many patrons “this is someplace to go for a weekend” and relax, Aksoy says. “I would want the average stay to be a week, do less (corporate) meetings, and be able to use the hotel as a (true) destination spa. But we have to take baby steps.”
“Some people are so closed,” she continues,” her brown eyes passionate. “They think a spa is just for pampering … they don’t know what they’re missing.”
Kitty Bean Yancey
Kitty Bean Yancey is a former USA TODAY travel writer specializing in spas and exotic destinations.