Though its origins go back to the very birth of civilisation, the enduring popularity of the spa reflects a deep-seated human need for pampering and relaxation.

In the days of the Greek and Roman Empires the spa was valued as a place where citizens could gather to cleanse and socialise. Such public places evolved over time, taking in elements of distant cultures as they gradually became luxuriant havens of sweet pampering indulgence and relaxation. Even in classical times, therefore, visitors could enjoy a range of advanced treatments that not only felt good but rejuvenated body and mind.

The Roman bathhouse, for instance, was a complex structure, with rooms devoted to disrobing, bathing, hot and cold immersion, massage and rest. By the eighteenth century European spas came into their own again as it became fashionable to visit spa towns to drink and bathe in the waters. Jane Austen chose to set her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in the famous British spa town of Bath, one of a growing number of fashionable health spots in Europe.

Let’s face it, there are few experiences that feel more self-indulgent and decadent – in the best sense of the word – than spending a few hours in a five-star spa. Here is our guilt-free guide to some of the world’s best.

Four Seasons George V Spa
As befits one of Paris’s most famous hotels, the Four Seasons George V Spa is less a display of sparkling modernism than a reminder of the days when a five-star lifestyle meant taking one’s time and enjoying a few hours of relaxation in opulent surroundings.

Remembering Marie Antoinette’s alleged instructions to the masses, “Let them eat cake,” the treatments involve an abundance of enjoyable substances. A favourite is any chocolate-lover’s fantasy; starting with an energising body scrub in your choice of chocolate with mint or cranberry, the two and a half hour experience includes a Swiss chocolate and toffee body wrap and ends with a deep tissue massage using cocoa oil.

Grand Resort, Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Bad Ragaz’s To B. Water World harnesses the health-giving properties of the local waters in two distinct pools; the 28°C Sportbad and the 34°C Helenbad, while the To B. Beauty & Care centre is the other component of Bad Ragaz’s spa experience, offering clients personalised pampering programmes and treatments.

Try a scented Japanese bath before enjoying a facial that can include skin peeling, massage, nourishing treatments and expert make-up application. The To B. Beauty & Care experts use the finest quality products. Enjoying such pampering attention while gazing out at the magnificent natural world outside is a rare treat indeed.

Sense, A Rosewood Spa, The Carlyle, New York
New York’s famous Carlyle Hotel is one of the Big Apple’s iconic buildings and houses one of the city’s best spas. Designed by Mark Zeff, the spa is real jewel, guaranteed to impress, from the spectacular reception area to the space-age treatment rooms.

Sense features five treatment rooms, a relaxation room, the special Duet suite and separate men and women’s changing rooms each with their own steam bath. One of the most popular treatment rooms features a Kohler DTV shower, which immerses visitors in a total sensory experience that includes water, light, sound and steam.

Amathus Beach Hotel, Rhodes, Greece
Located in the Elite Wing of the five-star Amathus Beach Hotel, the Rhodes Spa covers 1,300m2 and is the only one of its kind on the island. Guests can enjoy a Turkish hammam, steam bath, sauna, Jacuzzi and 14 fully equipped treatment rooms including a special couples’ aquaveda room.

The multi-function massage rooms can accommodate a huge variety of techniques, including Swedish, hot stone and pregnancy massage and Indian head massage. Reiki, Shiatsu, aromatherapy, reflexology, hydrotherapy and algotherapy mud wraps complete a very comprehensive range of options.

Four Seasons Bora Bora Resort
With a reputation as the world’s most laidback location, it comes as no surprise to find that the Four Seasons Bora Bora Resort offers a spa service par excellence in its Kahaia Spa Suite.

Adding to the paradisiacal surroundings, the treatment beds stand directly over two glass panes, so clients can enjoy views of the water below even when lying face down. Virtuoso, the renowned luxury travel network, recently named Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora the world’s best spa in the 2009 Best of the Best awards at the annual Travel Mart conference in Las Vegas, so if you needed encouragement to go…