When on business abroad, escaping to the gym can be a welcome respite from a hectic schedule. But the fitness centers in major foreign hotels offer far more than a standard workout. On top of machines galore, they boast such unusual touches as a pool with an underwater sound system and an indoor palm oasis to adjourn to post-exercise. While the centers are often free to hotel guests, access isn't cheap: Room rates start in the low $100s but can top $400 a night.
Jet lag is usually a good excuse for avoiding the health club. Not so at the Hotel Ritz on Paris' Right Bank, home of the Ozotherm. Known as the "jet-lag machine" for its revitalizing effect, this cylindrical contraption encapsulates the entire body except for the head. You are first sprayed with steam, then pure oxygen. Next come oils of lemon, lavender, and eucalyptus. Finally, there's a hot, then cold, shower. A 20-minute session is $59.50.
WATER MUSIC. The Ritz's club includes a pool, a squash court (they'll videotape your game if you like), exercise machines, saunas, whirlpools, and steam baths. It also offers water beds to snooze on and classical music piped underwater in the pool. It's free for guests, but outsiders pay $109 a day.
Near the popular jogging paths of the Parc Monceau is the Hotel Royal Monceau's health club. Built around a circular garden, it's airier than the Ritz's subterranean club, and the ambience is less formal. But the facilities, for guests only, aren't as well maintained or extensive.
In London's exclusive Hyatt Carlton Tower, a short walk from Harrods, guests have a superb view from the luxurious Peak Health Club's huge windows. Although it doesn't have a pool, it features aerobics classes, saunas with TVs, and a fully equipped gym. For a healthy snack, there's the Club Room.
Champneys, in Le Meridien London near Piccadilly Circus, has a pool, squash courts, exercise machines, a whirlpool, steam baths, and six-foot-deep "plunge pools"--cold-water tubs meant for an invigorating, pore-closing dip after you've sweated it out in the sauna.
For racquet buffs in Dusseldorf, the Lindner Hotel Rheinstern is located next door to a sports center that has six squash courts and 24 tennis courts. The massage-minded will like the private fitness club in the Arabella Grand Hotel in Frankfurt. It offers a menu of massage techniques 15 hours a day. In Berlin, at the Grand Hotel Esplanade you can relax in a palm oasis after a swim. (The tree trunks are real, but the leaves are fake.)
A RARITY. When you're in Rome and plan to do as the Romans do, you probably won't be in a gym. But one hotel that has a good fitness center is the Cavalieri Hilton, located on the Monte Mario overlooking all of Rome. It offers two clay tennis courts and an Olympic-size pool. But the best gym is the independent Roman Sports Center. Its squash courts, exercise machines, whirlpools, and weights make it one of the largest and best-equipped gyms in Italy. A day pass costs about $23; call in advance.
If business sends you to Tokyo, work out in front of a stunning 28th-floor view at the Hotel Century Hyatt in Shinjuku; hotel guests pay $11. And in Seoul, the Hyatt Regency offers the best facilities. It also has squash courts--rare in Korea. The hotel, a 15-minute walk from downtown, also draws visitors with nearby jogging courses around Namsan mountain. But, the management cautions, you'll be jogging in smog.