From forest bathing and honey massages to women-only surf trips and yoga under the Northern Lights, Sally Howard gives the lowdown on the latest feel-good escapes worldwide
The global wellness industry has come of age since the fly-and-flop beach holiday was the last word in taking a break. Today, wellness is worth around five per cent of the global economic output (that’s a breathtaking $3.7 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute), and escapes are on offer to suit all tastes – even those of picky celebrities. Beyoncé beats tour burnout by bathing in a green quartz pool at Brazilian hotel and spa Uxua; Madonna heads to Chiva-Som in Thailand for colonics in the tropics; while mind-body guru Gwyneth Paltrow has done it all, from jungle shiatsu at Mexico’s Imanta to Native American new moon manifesting of desires and wishes, with Mii amo in Arizona.
Fancy a unique retreat, too? If journeying inward is your thing, how about practising yoga in the pristine silence of the Arctic tundra as the Northern Lights dance above your downward dog? Yoga and meditation sessions combine with optional ice-hole dips at Off the Map Travel’s ethereal getaway in Kilpisjärvi, Finland. Otherwise, perfect your asanas in balmier temperatures against a jungle backdrop of ancient evergreen forest at Jungle Yoga in Thailand, or before tropical boughs on the remote African island of Príncipe at Sundy Praia. To still the mind, join Queen of Retreats’s fashion stylist-turned-yogi Shannon van Staden in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, where the echoing call of native macaques accompanies lakeside meditation sessions.
Prefer to get the blood pumping? On the Caribbean island of St Lucia, try Health and Fitness Travel’s BodyHoliday ‘spoga’ class (a hybrid of spinning and yoga) in a glass-walled treehouse. For something high octane alongside your spiritual high, plump for one of the profusion of combined yoga and surf retreats. Founded by semi-pro surfers Ben and Ollie, Surf Maroc offers breaks at four Atlantic-lapped Moroccan beachfront locations. Or practise yoga amid fragrant orchids and surf in bathwater-warm sea at the women-only Salti Hearts in Bali. For a break that gets you moving (and gives you a party trick back home), learn Zulu dancing, complete with bamboo sticks, among lush vegetation on a Karkloof Safari Spa getaway in South Africa.
As well as your backdrop, nature can also be your therapist. Popular in Japan, shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is proven to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Try the arboreal tonic of Umbria’s ancient holm oak groves at wellness wilderness Tenuta di Murlo, a private, wooded Italian estate that has remained in the same family since the 14th century; or trek through the towering Douglas firs and white pines of Canada’s Sunshine Coast. Best of all, at hotel Forsthofalm in the Austrian Alps, near Salzburg, you can sleep in a bed in the woods and have breakfast delivered to you under the pines. If water is your favourite element, dip your toe into the Danish tradition of winter bathing in the invigorating 5˚C Baltic Sea during a stay at spa hotel Skodsborg, or look to Icelanders for the convivial (and less chilly) therapy of group water-floating in heated or natural pools, wearing a stylish Flothetta (floating buoyancy cap); Iceland Beyond tailor-makes trips. Heard of api-tourism? It’s set to be the next big thing, with api-spa guests in Slovenia indulging in honey massages and bunking down in beehive-style accommodation; find out more at ApiRoutes.
Meanwhile, at Castel Porrona in Tuscany, Italy, guests can experience nature’s edible (and drinkable) bounties in the form of massages with local olive oil and red wine. Austria and Germany, similarly, give new meaning to the term ‘old soak’ – at in-vogue beer spas such as Moorhof and Kummerower Hof, where spa-goers loll in barrels of specially crafted, mineral rich ‘bathing beer’. Take a tipple at the same time if you’re game.
Reckon laughter is the best cure? Indian laughter therapy may be your thing. Find your inner mirth beneath the banyan trees at Karnataka’s SwaSwara ayurvedic resort, where yogi Raj puts you through a series of deep breathing and chortling exercises that are believed to lower your blood pressure and boost your mood. If that’s not wacky enough, there’s always the sand-dune treatment at Dunes by Al Nahda in Oman, where you’ll be buried up to your neck in sand before fresh fruit is applied to the face, and milk, wine and oils to the body. Good for stressed-out muscles, tricky for saying ‘om’.
Photography courtesy of Getty Images, Iceland Beyond, Jungle Yoga, Surf Maroc, Uxua