I've been prodded and pummelled on a Bali beach by a tiny woman with the strength of two men.

I've been repeatedly doused with water and crunched in Istanbul. I've been rubbed down with crushed grape seeds and skins at a vineyard spa in southern France.

Closer to home, I've been massaged with hot rocks while a stone's throw from Uluru (at Voyagers Ayers Rock Resort's Red Ochre Spa). Oh yes, and the most ticklish rub I've ever experienced was a foot massage at a new-age Blue Mountains retreat.

Massages are addictive and expensive, so maybe the "casino rule" should apply: never do it in your home town. Instead, make every holiday an excuse for a massage, or at least some sort of body wrap.

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When on holiday, I look out for exotic rub-downs, preferably involving local clays, oils, flowers or agricultural by-products.

Truthfully, I'm not sure I could pick between what method or ingredients are being employed. They're peripheral to the massage essentials: a peaceful room, fluffy towels, a bit of whale song in the background, and a masseuse with warm hands, oil and a soft voice. But frangipani, ginger, sugar, Dead Sea salt, hot rocks and grapes all add immeasurably to the sense of luxury.


I recently stayed at the , on the Coral Coast, and saw a warm seashell massage on its Bebe Spa Sanctuary menu.


I recently stayed at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, on the Coral Coast, and saw a warm seashell massage on its Bebe Spa Sanctuary menu. This award-winning spa is high on a hill, so a golf buggy whisks clients there from the resort's front door. There are divine views after you walk through the spa's double wooden doors, which feature an enormous butterfly carving. ("Bebe" means "butterfly" in Fijian.)

My therapist first scrubbed me down with coconut oil and sugar, then she picked up two smooth, round pearly shells and set to work with deep, silky strokes. As always, I drifted off.

1 TURKEY

A traditional Turkish hammam is no place for vanity or privacy. In a public room (mercifully single-sex), your attendant will wash, slosh, massage and scrub you. Dead skin is sloughed off, so you emerge rubbery and shiny.

2 THAILAND

This land of lithe, light people is the place to go for a massage that includes someone walking on your back. A traditional Thai massage focuses on circulation and compression, and doesn't feature oil. In fact, it can be pretty merciless, unless you make it clear you want to be treated gently. For a luxury version featuring essential oils and the works, check into a five-star hotel spa.

3 BALI

Don't expect a traditional Balinese massage to be delicate and gentle: the street or beach experience involves a lot of pressure and kneading that will be felt in every muscle. Day-spa versions are likely to be more relaxing and gentler.

4 JAPAN

Shiatsu is the go here. It's not just a massage but a therapy that's said to rebalance the body and enable it to heal itself.

5 SWEDEN

The West's most famous massage involves lots of sliding movements (known as effleurage), kneading, rubbing, bending, stretching, percussion and vibration. If you have chronic muscle pain, get the deep-tissue version.

5 HAWAII

The Polynesians have been all over massage (or "lomilomi", as they call it) for centuries, using long, flowing strokes and lots of oil to heal, aid digestion and bring pleasure. A traditional lomilomi is hard to track down, but spa massages here usually feature some of the techniques.