Snakes, man-eating fish, below-freezing cryogenic chambers. It's the stuff of nightmares ... and it's also the stuff of spa menus around the world.
Turns out spas aren't all about aromatherapeutic oils and soft music. A handful of innovative spas have created original treatments based on local culture and customs — be it a provincial food or a small-town tradition — that shake up conventional notions of spa-going while purportedly offering a host of amazing health benefits. You might find these unusual treatments gimmicky, silly or even medieval ... but don't knock it till you try it. Read on to see our top seven extreme spa treatments from around the world.
Frozen to (near) death: Porvoo, Finland
Spas in European countries like Finland and Slovakia, where winters are long and cold, offer an Arctic-inspired treatment called cryotherapy. Here's how it works: You enter a cryogenic chamber in which the temperature is typically set at around negative 184 degrees Fahrenheit. You can't spend more than a few minutes inside the chamber, as too much time in such frigid temperatures will quickly cause hypothermia and death. What are the benefits of trapping yourself in a below-freezing icebox, you ask? Cryotherapy is said to remove toxins and strengthen the immune system. The Haikko Spa in Porvoo, Finland is a popular spot for travelers seeking the chill of cryotherapy treatments.
Eaten by fish: Sivas, Turkey
The good news: The fish nibbling on your feet don't have teeth. The bad news: There are fish nibbling on your feet. Of course, this probably won't be bad news to spa-goers concerned with the unkempt state of their well-traveled hoofs. (Ichthyophobiacs, however, should stay out of the water.) In need of a pedicure? Stick your feet in some "doctor fish"-infested water, sit back and relax as hundreds of tiny mouths consume the dead skin off your dogs. This treatment originated in outdoor Turkish pools, but spas offering doctor fish pedicures can be found around the world, including in the United States. For an authentic doctor fish experience, travel to Sivas, Turkey, where travelers can literally swim with the doctor fish in natural thermal pools.
Faced with feces: New York, NY
Manhattan's Shizuka New York Day Spa garnered a wave of publicity in 2008 when it announced its Geisha Facial, also known as "the bird poop facial." The spa claims that nightingale droppings have properties that "brighten, heal and retexturize the skin due to their natural enzymes and guanine, which imparts a pearly luster to the skin." The bird poop is powdered and sanitized with a UV light, so the experience shouldn't feel icky — this is a luxury spa. The whole shebang lasts 50 minutes and costs $180, which covers a facial cleansing, a pore extraction, a light massage, an antioxidant face mask and a slathering of bird droppings. This treatment, at first glance, may not appear to have anything to do with regional culture or customs. But look closer: Expensive, attention-grabbing marketing ploys just scream New York.
Bathed in beer: Chodova Plana, Czech Republic
The Czechs take beer seriously ... very seriously. They have beer festivals, beer gardens, breweries galore — heck, they even bathe in the stuff. Don't believe us? Take a trip to a Czech beer spa, where the yeasty brew is used for more than just quenching thirst. At beer spas, you can soak your bones in a warm, foamy beer bath, emerging slightly sticky yet fully relaxed. The baths are brewed from a combination of mineral water, beer and various beer ingredients such as hops and yeast. According to the Web site for the Chodovar Brewery, a popular brew house and beer spa located in Chodova Plana, "The procedures have curative effects on the complexion and hair, relieve muscle tension, warm up joints and support immune system of the organism." We'll drink to that.
Covered with snakes: Talmei Elazar, Israel
Ada Barak's Carnivorous Plant Farm and Spa in Northern Israel sells a slithering, slinking massage featuring one of the planet's most feared creatures. Travelers who've got the guts for it can experience a snake massage in which a half dozen of the things will crawl and writhe across one's back. Why snakes? TIME.com reports that "many of Barak's regular clients claim that the snakes help ease migraines and soothe sore muscles."
Massaged with fire: Beijing, China
Fire cupping, a traditional Chinese method of acupressure, is purported to alleviate scores of ills, from muscle pains to respiratory afflictions like the common cold. Glass cups are heated and placed onto the client's body, creating a suction effect on the skin (the heating reduces the pressure inside the cup and generates the suction). The results, honestly, are quite scary looking. People who've undergone the therapy are typically left with circular bruises where the cups were placed. Have we convinced you to try fire cupping? Book an appointment at the upscale Oriental Taipan Spa in Beijing, which offers a Chinese Meridian Oil Massage that features fire cupping.
Covered in chocolate: Hershey, PA
You know you're in Hershey, Pennsylvania — "The Sweetest Place on Earth" and home to one of the world's most famous candy companies — when you're floating in a bath of whipped chocolate milk or wrapped in layers of chocolaty fondue. The Chocolate Spa at Hotel Hershey offers a unique menu of cocoa-themed treatments—- a heavenly indulgence for chocoholic travelers. There are also plenty of conventional spa treatments, like aromatherapy massages and anti-aging facials, available here. But the spa's claim to fame, naturally, is its distinctive chocolate-themed treatments, which spoil visitors with the chance to luxuriate in chocolate sans all those unwanted calories.