Downhill Dreams? Travel Spas in Top Ski Resorts Are Great for Winding Down after a Day on the Slopes, Says Mike Pattenden

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Byline: MIKE PATTENDEN

What better way to unwind after a hard day out on the piste than with a relaxed, unhurried session in a top spa? Hotels in Europe's best ski resorts offer world-class pampering to help soothe away aches from the slopes - and some resorts even offer health-giving natural mineral baths and other revitalising treatments.

In France... visit Meribel, a bustling ski village that remains a popular destination for Brits. Sited in the heart of the Trois Vallees, Meribel offers 375 miles of ski slopes, 197 ski lifts and 1,400 snow cannons, many of which have been renewed for the coming season. There's something for everyone, from beginners - with the easy Altiport circuit, much improved for 2003-2004 - to adrenaline junkies looking for thrills in its impressive snow park and Board-X circuit.

The 65-room Aspen Park Hotel offers guests an impressive full-board package.

This includes entry to Club Aspen, which has its own spa, offering tired skiers a steam bath and sauna. Physiotherapy, beauty and bath therapy treatments, including a remodelling package with exfoliation, cellulite-attack wraps and lymphatic draining, a smooth skin package or, for men, facial scrubs, seaweed wraps, marine mud applications and massage are available at extra cost.

Book with www.clubmed.com. The hotel quotes [pounds sterling]1,978 for two adults for a week's full board, flight and transfer from London to Chambery or Geneva.

In Italy... try Pejo, in the heart of the Stelvio National Park in the Dolomites. A ski pass for the southern Dolomites includes resorts such as Folgarida, Marilleva and Paso Tonale - totalling 220 miles of slopes, with plenty of variety for seasoned skiers and boarders.

The local spa in the centre of Pejo is an absolute must. It produces its own naturally effervescent mineral water high in carbon dioxide and rich in iron.

This makes it both very drinkable and highly effective for water and bath therapies. Treatments available include a special cabin for bath phototherapy (useful for skin complaints such as eczema), lymphodrainage, pressotherapy, mesotherapy, carbogasseos baths and cellulite treatment. The three-star Hotel Alpino in the centre of town has just 44 rooms, avoiding the impersonal feel of many up-market resort hotels. It offers a week's half board in mid-January from [pounds sterling]210 per person, per week, in a double room. Call 00 39 0463 753 212, or visit www.hotelalpino.com. Fly to Verona from Gatwick or Heathrow for about [pounds sterling]100 return in January on British Airways using www.opodo.com, then hire a car from www.autoeurope.com for the 100-mile drive, or take a train to Male and a bus.

In Austria... why not try Bad Gastein, a Victorian spa town oozing old world charm? Bad Gastein's houses are packed on steep, wooded slopes, and there's a spectacular waterfall in the town centre. The village itself is only 3,000ft up, with a cable car running further up the hill from Stubnerkogel.

Links between Bad Gastein and Bad Hofgastein make for skiing across four mountains with 25 runs covering 125 miles, from a top lift height of 6,700ft.

There are plenty of challenging long runs and good off-piste skiing, although it's not especially beginner-friendly. Boarders should head for the snow park at Dorfgastein.

The four-star Gruner Baum is a former hunting lodge just outside town with an English-speaking kindergarten and its own chapel. …