Heading for a winter vacation in the Alps. Here's our guide to enjoy Europe's ski village spas.

After an exhausting day on the slopes, plunging into a whirlpool or relaxing in a steamy sauna can offer the ultimate après-ski experience - both pleasurable and beneficial.

Dr. Rudolf Radlmueller, physician at health resort Alpentherme Gastein, explains, "Sauna, massages, and whirlpools are excellent to accelerate the metabolism by activating the cardiovascular system. Thus, regeneration after sports is supported and sore muscles are more likely to be alleviated much faster." Helping your muscles to relax and recover after the physical strain of skiing also reduces the odds of an accident of injury too.

However, not every hotel with a sauna or a relaxation room can be considered a "wellness oasis." A whirlpool and basic spa amenities are almost minimum requirements now for a top hotel. Before you book a wellness hotel or "ski and wellness" package, it certainly pays to take a closer look at the facilities on offer.

Ideal for a combined skiing and wellness holiday are winter resorts with public spas on therapeutic hot springs. Tourism offices aim to offer competitive packages that contain free access or at least discounts on entrance fees. Often public spas offer better services than so-called wellness hotels, as this is their core business and they have tremendous expertise.

There are public spas in almost all provinces in Austria. The majority of them are ideally situated near a ski resort.

The Aqua Dome in Tirol is set in the vicinity of various ski resorts, such as Soelden, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, and Hochoetz-Kuehtai. Two public spas are to be found in Gasteiner Valley, Salzburg. Here there are four ski resorts with more than 200 kilometres  (124 miles) of linked pistes: Schlossalm Angertal Stubnerkogel, Sportgastein, Dorfgastein, Grossarl and Graukogel.

Likewise Bad Kleinkirchheim in Carinthia boasts two public spas and calls itself the "First Austrian Alpine Wellness Town." Close by, skiers enjoy the varied slopes of [R518R, Bad Kleinkirchheim] or Turracher Hoehe.

Styria, Austria's leading wellness province, the spa Grimming Therme is located right outside the ski resorts of Tauplitz and Bad Mitterndorf.

Two spas are to be found at Berchtesgadenerland in Southern Germany, where Rupertus-Therme and Watzmann-Therme benefit from their close proximity to five German ski resorts: Hochschwarzeck, Jenner-Koenigssee, Goetschen, Rossfeld/Zinken, and Oberalzberg as well as the Austrian resort of Lofer. In Oberstdorf, 120 kilometres (75 miles) of slopes challenge skiers of all levels before they indulge in the comforting waters of Obersdorf-Therme. Another public spa with access to ski resorts is Baden-Baden.

Numerous therapeutic spas and hot springs with ski resorts close by exist in Switzerland. Some of the most popular are Charmey with its Gruyère baths, Leukerbad (the biggest Swiss wellness destination), or [R1104R, Engadin] with Bad Scuol.

Skiers at the Italian resort of Meran 2000 can unwind at the new public spa of Meran. The South Tyrolean resorts of Schnastal, Pfelders, and Vigiljoch are not far away for additional skiing. The French ski resort of Brides-les-Bains, with its Grand Spa des Alpes, is linked to Méribel and The Three Valleys.

It can be tricky for ski-spa enthusiasts to evaluate the quality of a so-called wellness hotel before booking. Kirstin Gau, spa manager at Gstaad Palace, says if a hotel claims to have a spa, there are certain facilities it must offer: "A spa has to be certified with an accredited institution; employees must be perfectly trained in order to give proper information upon a phone call; and a good spa needs to remain open seven days a week."

Reputable certificates, such as seals of quality, guarantee extraordinary facilities and well-trained staff. Among them are the Austrian cachet "Best Health", the "German Wellness Association", and the Swiss seal of quality "Wellness Destination."

Dr. Radlmueller at Alpentherme Gastein insists that spas must meet certain medical requirements too: "Sound knowledge and excellent training of staff is of utmost importance. A spa must be supervised by a physician and needs to adhere to highest hygiene standards." He advises clients to call a wellness hotel before making a reservation to get a good understanding of their know-how.

The wellness facilities of a hotel must exceed a certain size. This way it is guaranteed that well-trained staff is available all day long. Facilities of a good wellness hotel include numerous warm pools, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms, an extensive wellness area, a modern fitness centre, a beauty centre, sufficient space for massages and treatments, and spacious relaxation rooms.

Further clues for a serious wellness hotel are sophisticated menus with healthy, light food, sufficient non-smoking rooms, and lots of information already at booking.

Professional well-being has its price, otherwise it must be assumed that the staff is either not well-trained or not well-paid and that the hotel lacks first-class wellness amenities. As a rule of thumb a treatment should not be less than U.S. $1.50 per minute.

The Swiss resort Gstaad is one of the leading examples for a wellness destination - even without access to hot springs. Holding the official Swiss seal of quality "Wellness Destination", it has continuously received excellent reviews and awards. Apart from that, plenty of good wellness hotels are available - guests just have to take a close prior to booking.

OnTheSnow's top five ski and spa resorts:

1.              Gasteiner Tal (Austria)

2.              Leukerbad (Switzerland)

3.              Bad Kleinkirchheim (Austria)

4.              Oberstdorf (Germany)

5.              Gstaad (Switzerland)