I grew up on Long Island, a suburban nirvana where youths eagerly spend their summers building sandcastles on Jones Beach and playing Marco Polo in round, above-ground pools that look exactly like their neighbors.’ As other kids wrapped swimmies around their biceps, floated on inflatable rafts, and daringly jumped off decks, I was likely oblivious to these antics, curled up in the living room armchair reading. Not learning how to swim, and never desiring to acquire this life skill, amid such an aquatic-fueled environment was deemed a strange, perhaps even perverse, liability by my peers.
My fear of water—oh, how I tremble when boarding small, ramp-devoid boats—coupled with extreme anxiety over illuminating my not-so-svelte hips in a bathing suit only intensified through the years. That is until I moved to Budapest, home to an abundance of public thermal baths. Forego dips in these oases and you’re missing out on a rich element of Hungarian culture. And so I go now, my imperfect thighs on full display, awkwardly shuffling through the pools’ safe, shallow zones.
This does not mean I now relish a spa’s hydrotherapy treatments. In fact, I often feel frustration, not relaxation, when I am interrupted from the soft cocoon of a bed to rinse off a gritty scrub underneath a rainfall showerhead. Admittedly, I am not overjoyed, then, about the time carved aside for me at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, Monaco’s prized wellness center that is part of the expansive Société des Bains de Mer hospitality portfolio. Yet just as the posh principality enchantingly surprises me with its landscape of stunning hills, unpretentious locals, and spirited cuisine, so does the spa.
The fabled, heated seawater pool, which pulsates with underwater jets, is the centerpiece. Set underneath a sculptural seashell ceiling, its white trim reflects the glimmering Mediterranean beyond the wall of arched windows.
This multi-level complex, which was revamped in 2014, has a decidedly clinical feel. While this spare, modern approach is a departure from my usual preference for cozy, candlelit rooms, I eventually fall for the no-nonsense aura of balance and improvement it conjures. After all, many guests come here for progressive “technological” services like slimming, tissue-targeted ultrasounds; romps in the frigid cryotherapy chamber; and wrinkle-reducing face peels instead of mere dime-a-dozen eucalyptus-scented massages.
A day spent luxuriating at Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, according to director and general manager Christine Zoliec, should leave guests “feeling completely rejuvenated.” Here, scheduling one facial—although the La Prairie caviar version is heavenly—doesn’t quite do the place justice. There are mosaics and plaster bas-reliefs to gawk at, a sauna and steam room to relax in, and seafood salads to savor on the intoxicating terrace of the health-conscious restaurant L’Hirondelle. So at ease are diners, many of them roost at tables clad in the spa’s comfy robes. The fabled, heated seawater pool, which pulsates with underwater jets, is the centerpiece. Set underneath a sculptural seashell ceiling, its white trim reflects the glimmering Mediterranean beyond the wall of arched windows.
“Saltwater has many healing effects, so we always recommend that our guests take advantage of the pool,” adds Zoliec. “It can improve blood flow and the functioning of one’s immune system.”
The 90-minute Monte Carlo Luxury by La Prairie Experience I am scheduled for is also beneficial, I am assured. There are different versions of this ritual. One might feature Dead Sea minerals, another detoxifying green tea in the form of a wrap. Mine luckily revolves around the ritzy elements of gold and Champagne. “Our goal is not just to offer unique spa treatments, but to also use the best and most effective ingredients. We do a lot of research when determining which ones to use in our treatments,” explains Zoliec. “Champagne is known for being a great exfoliator and for having high anti-oxidants, ideal for anti-aging.” Now in my late 30s, this nugget of info particularly piques my interest.
First, I am buffed with an invigorating, gold-flecked La Prairie scrub. So energized do I feel after this swank sanding session, that even when it is time to rinse off the stubborn grains I didn’t mind. The bath comes next. Once I am seated in the deep-soaking tub, my hands gripping the sides in order to control an unwanted state of levitation, my therapist dims the lights and generously sprinkles in Champagne crystals that glow against the ripples of water. “Enjoy,” she demands, and I am left alone with just a barrage of pummeling jets and my thoughts—until she returns bearing fresh strawberry juice and a box of elegant chocolates. A 35-minute massage is the finale to this otherworldly bliss, and although it is brief, my therapist’s hands are mighty, digging into my always-tense muscles with her La Prairie cream-covered hands. Water, I think, as I lay on the squishy waterbed table in a hypnotic state, is slowly unfolding its treasures to me. If only I hadn’t accidentally knocked that half-eaten box of bonbons into the bath.