1. Lošinj, Croatia
Eva Wiseman visits a traditional ‘wellness island’ reinvented for the 21st-century traveller
What is a holiday for? Once, I would have confidently said: “For a break from work”, or if I was being paid by the word, “For reading bestsellers, in the sun, slightly drunk on local wine and weather, in a bikini and area of patchy phone reception, just bad enough that you have no choice but to fall behind on world news.”
But it has become clear that the point of a holiday is a fluid and changeable thing, a thing that tells us much about our seasonal anxieties and spiritual ambitions. Consider for instance the inner workings of the period when a holiday was about “travel”, about journeying and exploring, broadening our minds through a long plane ride to somewhere hot. Or the focus on “eco-tourism”, where tourists were encouraged to believe they were saving the world by camping.
Today, according to Lonely Planet, “wellness tourism” is the fastest-growing sector in travel, having seen a 10% rise last year to make it a market worth over $500bn. The Global Wellness Institute predicts that by 2020 it will rise to $800bn. Across the globe, retreats and resorts are opening or rebranding, whether it’s yurts in Cornwall or medical clinics in Greece, places to improve oneself, ideally while also getting a tan. And all because a holiday is never just a holiday.
It is for this reason that I’m sweating on a six-seater plane with my family, juddering over the Adriatic and pretending to our four-year-old that everything is completely, totally fine. Until now, the island of Lošinj in Croatia has been accessible to many only via a five-hour road and ferry trip from Zagreb, so it’s remained a holiday destination for tourists driving from Hungary or Germany. But this year the scattered five-star hotels have started chartering these tiny, terrifying flights to bring a wealthier clientele from Russia and the UK, people attracted by its historic “wellness” credentials.
In the late 1800s, after Croatian botanist Ambroz Haračić helped reforest this previously rocky port, the Austro-Hungarian government declared Lošinj a health resort. Today, having dusted off the title “wellness island”, Lošinj is welcoming a new influx of tourists visiting to enjoy air quality so pure (a combination of salt-spray from the sea, hundreds of thousands of Aleppo pines, and a unique geographical micro-climate) it’s been proven to improve lung health. That and the blue water, the heat, and its relative affordability. Typically, visitors have rented mobile homes or stayed on the campsites, all of which are metres from a stony beach, and most of which have their own massage facilities – health drills deep here, wellness is not just for the wealthy. But one draw of the newly renovated luxury hotels is the scale of their offerings, vast modern spas, air-conditioned to a gentle chill. We are greeted at the Bellevue, its midcentury furniture suggesting a dozen new ways to relax, with the coldest glasses of water I’ve ever tasted.
The spa here stretches across the basement of the white 1960s hotel – one end is dark-walled and soothing, with colour therapy and steam rooms, the other clinical and spare, offering Botox and cryotherapy.
After checking in I walk through the piped music of its hallway, be-robed and dazed – perhaps it’s the Lošinj air or perhaps the flight, but I feel almost medicated, floating.
The island is only 21 miles long and just under three miles wide – a coastal path wraps around the bay of Čikat, and a guide walks us along it into a forest to pick herbs and plants, which we take back to the spa to blend and distil into a balm. It smells like the island, a rich green scent which follows us as we trot around the cove that evening to a fish restaurant, Konoba Cigale, where the proximity to Venice shows in the menu – they stuff their homemade pasta with seafood caught that morning. Again, that blissful feeling overwhelmed me as our daughter danced to the accordion player and my partner and I looked at each other over our Istrian wine with a sort of stunned disbelief at the glory of it all, at the possibility of a holiday that feels like the photos.
Morning came with birdsong. But, a moment here to discuss the breakfast buffet. Too often, I think, hotel guests become jaded by the intense joy delivered to them daily – this, too, is a side-effect of the holiday experience. A couple of days in and you no longer marvel at the blueness of the sea or the blueness of the sky, or the crisp affordability of the local wine, or, in the case of Lošinj, the smell, that leafy smell of health and wellness. But if you are four years old and enjoying your first hotel, the breakfast buffet in a grand lobby is by far the most exciting element of any holiday, and remains so every time you emerge from the lift, into this oasis of omelettes and fruit. For the stressed and old, wellness is a simplifying of one’s polluted urban life; for children, it’s cake for breakfast.
A freediver ferried us on a speedboat around the bay, stopping to show us secluded caves where we could swim, eventually pulling up to a restaurant on the shore of the tiny car-free island of Ilovik. On the way back, our daughter slept by the engine of the boat in a nest of towels.
There was much we didn’t do. We didn’t visit the Museum of Apoxyomenos in the town of Mali Lošinj, which boasts a single exhibit – a Greek bronze statue of an athlete dating from the 1st century, found in the sea. We didn’t cycle into the forests, or see a dolphin, or stumble into the naturist colony. We did, however, eat ice cream in the island’s two fishing villages, Veli Lošinj and Mali Lošinj, and we did eat at the obscenely romantic Lanterna restaurant, in the shade of an old lighthouse, and we did take a taxi up to the Providenca at sunset, a viewpoint carved into a mountain top. And we did lie motionless on sunloungers with local aloe vera pulp smeared across our sunburned shoulders in the bloated afternoon sun.
Though some wellness tourists expect to come home thinner, instead it felt as if we’d returned with a gorgeous weightlessness, the result of a week on this perfumed island with its daily catches and clear water. We braced once more on the tiny plane, our teeth rattling as we insisted, dry-mouthed, that the wings were meant to wobble like that. At home it took some time to rejoin our old commuting routines, our school runs, our doom. Some time to recover from the undiluted joy of a holiday like this, one that left us feeling… better.
• A week’s half-board stay in the four-star Family Hotel Vespera costs from £708pp. A week’s half-board at the five-star Hotel Bellevue costs from £1,514pp, losinj-hotels.com. British Airways and Croatian Airlines fly to Zagreb. Silver Air has launched summer-only scheduled flights to Lošinj from Zagreb, Venice and Lugano, silverairtravels.com
2. Califa Hamam, Vejer de la Frontera, Spain
This year the “white town” of Vejer de la Frontera will see the return of a traditional hamam after an absence of several hundred years. Communal bathhouses were a common feature of Andalusian towns under Moorish rule. The Califa Hamam will combine a Roman-inspired caldarium, tepidarium and a frigidarium (hot, warm and cold baths) with a Moroccan steam room, massage room and a domed atrium where mint tea will be served. The company behind the new venture, the Califa Group, will also open a boutique hotel in Vejer’s medieval old town this spring. Plaza No 18 will have six stylish guest rooms set within a 19th-century merchant’s house with courtyard and roof terrace. Hotel and hamam packages will be available for a cosseting break.
• Double rooms at Plaza No 18 from £179. Prices for the hamam have yet to be released, califavejer.com
3. Fitness festivals, UK
Fitness is the new rock’n’roll, if the recent proliferation of exercise-themed festivals is anything to go by – think Glastonbury with 5k runs instead of all-night raves. Love Trails is a family-friendly running festival in Dartmoor with scenic races and marathons for all ages and levels, forest school for children, yoga, wild swimming and live music (2-4 August, weekend tickets from £20pp). The Love Trails Festival on the Gower Peninsula (4-7 July, tickets from £62pp) takes a more hedonistic approach with pub-crawl runs and a line-up of bands alongside the race programme, campfire talks, wood-fired hot tubs and wellbeing workshops. At the Big Retreat in Pembrokeshire, you can choose from more than 200 fitness and wellbeing classes, plus creative workshops (24-27 May, early-bird adult weekend tickets with camping from £144).
4. Tamina Therme, Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
People have been coming to take the waters at Bad Ragaz for almost 800 years, ever since Benedictine monks first discovered the healing properties of the warm spring water. The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is home to one of the leading medical spas in the world, but a night at the hotel here will set you back at least £300. However, you can bathe in those same mineral-rich waters for the less terrifying price of £22. The Tamina Therme is a contemporary public bathhouse which opened in the town nine years ago. Forget any negative notions of municipal baths: this place is stunning, with soaring ceilings, marble floors and mountain views. The entry price gives you access to various indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, steam baths and saunas and, for an additional fee, you can book treatments such as Haki – a relaxing cross between massage and yoga.
• Entry to Tamina Therme costs from £22 for up to 2 hours (taminatherme.ch). A double room at the Hotel Garni Torkelbündte, a 500m walk from the Tamina Therme, costs from £76 per night, torkelbuendte.ch
5. Soul & Surf, Algarve, Portugal
Soul & Surf, which has gained a devoted following for its laid-back yoga and surf holidays in Kerala and Sri Lanka, will open its first permanent European base in Portugal in April. Following a series of successful pop-up retreats in the Algarve, the British founders Ed and Sofie Templeton will set up shop in a rustic Iberian farmhouse on the outskirts of Lagos, a 40-minute drive from Faro. This stretch of coastline is known for its great surf conditions for all abilities. Families are welcome and the company will launch some kid-friendly breaks later this year.
• A week’s retreat costs from £712pp full-board, based on two sharing, including surf tuition, yoga and meditation sessions. Three-night breaks start from £370pp (soulsandsurf.com)
6. Yoga, Ulpotha, Sri Lanka
It would be hard to conjure up a more enchanting setting for a retreat than the village of Ulpotha, surrounded by jungle in central Sri Lanka, with a lotus-strewn freshwater lake for swimming. Despite its location and rustic accommodation – off-grid wattle-and-daub huts – its reputation attracts burned-out travellers from all over the world. Retreats run for a fortnight at a time for six months of the year (from November to March and June to August) with each one being led by a different yoga teacher.
• Two-week programmes cost from £2,335pp including accommodation on a twin share basis, vegetarian meals, snacks, two yoga classes a day, a consultation with an Ayurveda doctor, a full day excursion per week, a massage per week (ulpotha.com)
7. Hiking and swimming, Caribbean
Hike Caribbean has launched two new “hike and swim” trips for 2019, combining challenging hikes with an open-water swim from Nevis to St Kitts. The group tours depart in March and will give participants the chance to summit the peaks of Nevis, Antigua and St Kitts. Tours will be timed to coincide with the annual 4km swim from Oualie Beach on Nevis to Cockleshell Beach on St Kitts on 31 March. It finishes with a breakfast party on the beach.
• Prices start from £1,299pp for the seven-night Double Summit and Swim trip (departs 27 March). Includes accommodation, based on two sharing, transfers and inter-island flights (hikecaribbean.com)
8. Winter and spring wellbeing breaks, Ibiza
The White Isle has reinvented itself in recent years as a wellness destination, a canny move given that its original clubbing clientele have (mostly) grown up and are more interested in soaking in a hot tub than dancing on a podium. At the forefront of this reinvention are two of the island’s most iconic hotels. Atzaro – one of Ibiza’s best-loved agroturismos, whose celebrity fans include Kate Hudson and Rihanna – has upgraded its spa facilities as part of a major revamp and launched walking and cycling breaks for winter and spring. Packages include guided hikes or bike rides with a nature guide, foraging for medicinal wild herbs and access to spa, yoga and wellness classes. In the evenings, chill out in the brand new Scandi-inspired garden sauna pod, or in front of one of the hotel’s log fires. And for further proof that times are changing: Pikes, the party hotel where the video for Wham’s Club Tropicana was famously shot, will host its first-ever fitness retreat this spring. The Rockovery Retreat is being billed as an extravaganza of “fun, frolics and fitness”.
• A three-night nature walking or biking package at Atzaro costs £595 (plus tax), based on two sharing a double room and B&B (atzaro.com). The three-night Rockovery Retreat at Pikes (12-15 May) costs £1,352pp, including accommodation, meals, fitness training, yoga, talks and workshops (pikesibiza.com)
9. Mindfulness retreats, Sharpham Trust, Devon
Mindfulness and environmental sustainability are the cornerstones of the Sharpham Trust, an educational charity based just outside Totnes in Devon. Most of the retreats are in the charity’s Grade I-listed Georgian mansion, or in a barn set in its grounds, but if you really want to make a connection with nature, opt for one of the Woodland retreats which include accommodation in bell tents. The days include guided meditations, sensory exercises and periods of silence, with evenings around the campfire. For something more active, the popular Walking Retreats feature daily guided walks through the countryside, along the Devon coast path or in the Trust’s Capability Brown-designed gardens.
• A three-night Nature Connection retreat costs £335, with full-board camping, next retreat 25 July; a four-night Mindfulness and Walking Retreat costs from £385pp including single-occupancy accommodation in the mansion, 13 May (sharphamtrust.org)
10. In:spa retreat, Tuscany, Italy
An estate in Tuscany, surrounded by lavender fields, vineyards and orchards is the new location for luxury retreat company in:spa. The family-run Locanda Cugnanello, which is 20 miles from Siena, features a luxurious villa alongside an 800-year-old farmhouse that blends rustic style with modern comforts. There are 12 comfortable guestrooms, a saltwater pool, outdoor sofas and a large hammock. Its rural location offers guests a peaceful retreat in which to detox and de-stress, with a combination of yoga and fitness classes, hikes, spa treatments and nutritional consultations. Also, new for this year, in:spa is offering guests the chance to sign up for a pre-retreat consultation with a health screening company who will check blood sugar, cardiovascular function and cholesterol levels and give recommendations on ways to improve health during the retreat.
• A week-long retreat costs from £2,095pp, based on two sharing on an all-inclusive basis. Retreat dates are 4-11 May and 7-14 September. Pre-retreat health consultations cost £499 (inspa-retreats.com)
11. Beach bootcamp, Marbella
Genevieve Fox defies her sons’ scepticism – and her own expectations – on a fitness retreat
Ten days before my fitness bootcamp in Marbella, a friend came over and glanced at my fitness schedule, pinned to the fridge.
“It says ‘hit’ here,” she said, “but with two i’s.”
“Must be a typo,” I said. I hadn’t looked at it.
Seven days before I was due to meet my fitness fate, my 17-year-old son also looked at the schedule. He promptly telephoned his older brother, who then rang me.
“About this fitness thing,” he said, “I hear you’re doing something called ‘insanity’. Are you sure about all this?”
My sons expressing concern for their unfit mother. I was touched. And secretly alarmed. From Thursday afternoon until Sunday lunchtime, a new world awaited: of beach runs and burpees, fasted HIIT and tabatas, circuits and squat jumps.
I emailed James Davis, who runs 38°N – specialising in luxury fitness retreats in Marbella and Ibiza – with his wife Claire.
“Am worried that I am too unfit to benefit from a weekend and that everyone else will be super-fit,” I wrote.
“Please don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll do a fitness benchmark. From there, we adapt the training to the individual.”
In case he was lying, and because I dreaded the public humiliation more than the heart attack, I did some emergency pre-training: two jogs with the dog, one on my own, and two cycling and running sessions in a gym.
The day before departure, I emailed James again: “Am slightly dreading being so hideously unfit.”
“Everyone is at their own level,” he replied, “on their own journey, and we’ll have a great time.”
And I did. In the words of the late artist Louise Bourgeois: “I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful.”
It really was. I did one form of high-intensity exercise after another, on the beach, on tarmac, in the gym. Just as Sisyphus pushed the rock up the mountain, so James and Claire pushed me on, and on.
At 8am, for three mornings running, I did “Fasted HIIT: Metcon”. This translates as, skip breakfast, then do high intensity interval training and metabolic conditioning. I jumped through the rungs of a ladder on the sand, like footballers do; did star jumps and wished I had a pelvic floor; I saw, and swung, my first ever kettle bell, thrusting my hips outwards in what looked like a misguided mating call. I picked up two ropes thick enough to moor a tanker and tried, and failed, to wiggle them up and down. By Sunday morning, they were, if not ribbons in my hands, at least airborne.
Two boxing sessions with James and I was hooked. I’ve since bought my own gloves and joined a boxing class. During the spin sessions, I slid off the saddle, swore volubly, sweated more, and felt like my legs were being ripped apart. But Claire got me through the pain barrier. She is dynamic, fun and magically motivating.
I reported my triumphs, as well as the three-course lunches and sumptuous breakfast banquets overlooking the sea in this fabulous hotel, to the family. “I’m glad (and surprised) you’re still alive,” wrote my older son.
I am surprised I’ve since joined a gym, go to this gym, and have signed up to a 38°N bespoke, 28-day HIIT home workout plan – short bouts of exercise won’t disrupt my day, so there’s a high chance I’ll do them, armed with my new, can-do mindset. I even fancy a 38°N pop-up fitness weekend in London later this year. I know I sound as if a cult has got me, but feeling energised is a revelation. Count me in.
• 38°N’s Body: Reset Weekend at the Puente Romano Beach Resort and Spa, 7-10 March, costs £1,399pp based on two people sharing (thirtyeightdegreesnorth.com)
12. Baby spa break, New Forest
Are babies and relaxation incompatible? Séamas O’Reilly finds out on a family spa break
“Oh right… wow,” replied one pal, when we said we were doing a spa break with our four-month old. “Good for you,” they added, in the strained, halted speech you’d use if someone had announced their intention to eat the contents of a vacuum bag. Undeterred by such scepticism, we pledged to give it our all. The experience on offer seemed idyllic, two nights at a hotel and spa that catered specially to families, even babies. Taking a 90-minute train from Waterloo, we set out to do the unthinkable.
“Not much nightlife around,” our cabbie said, just in case we’d come to Brockenhurst in search of an active local grime scene. “But families love coming here for the views.” On that point, he wasn’t wrong. Around 15 miles southwest of Southampton, New Park Manor Hotel & Spa is set within the decidedly toothsome environs of the New Forest, and we hadn’t been within its gates for 60 seconds before we sighted deer striding through the open park.
The manor itself is a grand old house that dates, in some form or another, to the 11th century. Since then it’s been inhabited by lords, landowners and, at one point, Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II. It’s only been operating as a hotel since 1970, which rather dashed my fond imaginings of William the Conqueror towelling down in the sauna after a busy day of mutton and jousting.
While our room was prepared, we took in one of the nearby forest trails and found the effect so calming it took us a minute to realise our son was similarly transfixed himself. Ordinarily more of a picking-up-spoons-and-throwing-them guy, the perpetual fall of orange-red leaves had placed him in a state of cherubic hypnosis.
New Park Manor is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group, which specialises in providing plush but unfussy breaks for families, and we entered our room to find a cot, changing mat, baby swimming togs and a rubber duckie. Even better were the bright and colourful creche facilities, to which we delivered the boy for two hours on both days of our stay. Fears he would fret once we parted were, in the end, unfounded. One glance at his charming new handlers was enough to scrub us from his memory, allowing us to take in the luxuriously appointed spa while he was lavished with attention.
Leaving the fickle brute to his new pals, we made our way to the spa for the pool, treatment rooms, sauna and sanarium. This last concept was previously unknown to me, and comprised a room that’s basically a sauna, but at a lower temperature and slightly increased humidity. I found it had a gloriously balmy effect on my weary joints and, better still, the information plaque which listed the difference between it and a sauna was slightly obscured from view, so I could inform everyone who came in like some kind of spa connoisseur.
My wife and I both had deep-tissue massages, and were rendered pleasantly cross-eyed by Jeanette, who worked our tired muscles until our brains dissolved into warm goo. Upon collecting him from the creche, we took the boy for his first ever swim, an activity to which he took such an immediate and ecstatic liking, it might be the highlight of our entire trip. Better yet, the easy come and go of other families meant we never felt in anyone’s way, and made us think a stay here would be truly ideal for slightly older children, as both the spa and the upstairs nook filled with books and toys, are perfect diversions for curious and mobile kids.
We ate in the restaurant both evenings. I particularly enjoyed the chowder and my wife nearly screamed at her menu, the first she’d read in a while where vegetarian was not synonymous with “you can have mushroom risotto or some leaves”. The restaurant even offered baby monitors in case our little Michael Phelps rose from his slumber. He did, on both evenings, but the process of jaunting upstairs to settle him was so pain-free, it made us reflect on the true success of what was a wonderful weekend. Holidaying with a baby isn’t about having the work done for you; it’s about providing the tools and environment to make that work more worth it than ever.
• The Baby’s First Stay Away package costs from £469 for two nights, with dinner, including two 30-minute spa treatments, a two-hour creche session each day and welcome hamper (newparkmanorhotel.co.uk)
13. Aqua Sana Spa, Center Parcs, Nottinghamshire
Center Parcs is known for many things – the weatherproof “sub-tropical swimming paradise” and a mind-boggling array of child-pleasing activities – but it’s not necessarily the first place you’d head to in search of a zen-like state of relaxation. Which is a shame as its Aqua Sana spas are pretty good. The pick of the bunch is the spa at Center Parcs’ Sherwood Forest site, which recently underwent a multi-million pound overhaul, resulting in a grown-up Scandinavian-inspired space which has been designed to make the most of the woodland environment and boasts the world’s first “treetop sauna”. The spa at the Longleat Forest location will undergo a similar revamp this year.
• Spa day packages start from £89pp and include access to the spa, with its heated outdoor pool and hot tubs, thermal suites and treetop sauna, plus lunch and refreshments. Overnight spa breaks with apartment accommodation cost from £169pp (aquasana.co.uk)
14. Surf, yoga and spa, Paradis Plage, Agadir, Morocco
If you want a dose of sunshine with your soul-searching, but don’t want to travel long-haul, Morocco provides an affordable alternative to the five-star Asian spa resorts. Just north of Agadir, near to the surfing village of Taghazout, Paradis Plage offers surf tuition, yoga classes and an impressive spa. Start your day with sun salutations in the beachfront yoga shala, before testing your surf skills on one of Morocco’s most famous breaks. Finish by unwinding in the spa with traditional Moroccan hamam treatments.
• Health and Fitness Travel offers a three-night Body Break from £435pp, including a choice of fitness classes and spa treatments (healthandfitnesstravel.com)
15. Revive & Renew, the Retreat, Costa Rica
Founded by American chef, wellness coach and author Diana Stobo, the Retreat offers an intimate “home from home” experience, surrounded by jungle on a mist-wreathed mountainside. There are a handful of different healthy living programmes to choose from, but the most popular is the four or six-night Revive & Renew package, which includes daily yoga classes and nature hikes, a massage, healthy cooking classes and meals made with organic food grown on the hotel’s own farm. Accommodation is in charming casitas with balconies overlooking the lush Nicoya peninsula and guests have full access to the steam room, pool, gym and a spa that offers locally inspired treatments, such as a Costa Rican coffee scrub and fruit smoothie facials.
• Health and Fitness Travel offers six nights at The Retreat from £1,600pp, based on two sharing on a fullboard basis (healthandfitnesstravel.com)
16. SOS Sleep Kit, Princesa Yaiza, Lanzarote
A good night’s sleep is the 21st-century holy grail: elusive for many, but essential to our wellbeing. The Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Lanzarote claims to have the answer – magnesium. Research has shown that the mineral plays a key role in regulating melatonin levels, the hormone responsible for our sleep patterns. The five-star hotel’s Thalasso and Spa centre has recently launched a series of magnesium-based treatments for guests to help get their sleep cycle back on track. Sign up for a two or four-day SOS Sleep Kit programme that includes acupuncture or reflexology, a massage and magnesium body wrap and bath.
• The two-night SOS Sleep Kit programme costs £225pp and the four-day programme £468pp. Rooms at Princesa Yaiza from £169 per night B&B (princesayaiza.com)
17. Pause Retreats, London
Not everyone has the luxury of taking a week or more out of their life to indulge in a far-flung spa break or retreat. It was for this reason that pyschotherapist and author Danielle Marchant launched her Pause Retreats to give busy people a chance to step off the treadmill and take stock. In Danielle’s own words, the retreats “are not about finding answers, but about asking the right questions” and combine meditation, yoga and “sacred circle” rituals, with life coaching. Her one-day Instant Pause retreats take place in London and Somerset a couple of times a year. You can also opt for a two-and-a-half-day Wild Pause that includes camping in Cornwall and a five-day Deep Pause retreat which takes place in Cornwall and Bali once a year.
• Instant Pause day workshops cost £129pp. The two-day Wild Pause in Cornwall costs £389pp (5-7 July) and the five-day Deep Pause in Cornwall costs £849pp (lifebydanielle.com)
18. Raw Horizons retreat, Yorkshire
A breast cancer diagnosis in her 30s was the catalyst for Claire Maguire to retrain as a life coach and yoga instructor and to open up Split Farthing Hall, her Georgian home near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, to detox, yoga and emotional wellbeing retreats for women. As the name suggests, Raw Horizons retreats incorporate a diet of gourmet raw food, complimented by kundalini yoga, meditation and personal-growth workshops and exercises. Among the retreats on offer are weekend rejuvenating breaks, three-night juice detoxes and five-night life-coaching retreats.
• A three-night Juice Detox and Holistic Retreat costs from £575pp, based on two sharing (rawhorizons.co.uk)
19. Anahata Retreat, Goa, India
If signing up for a full-blown yoga or wellness retreat feels a bit daunting (or expensive), Goa has no shortage of affordable, low-key places where daily yoga classes and ayurvedic treatments are available, but you’ll still have most of the day free for lounging on the beach, learning to surf or sightseeing. One such place is the charming Anahata, a rustic collection of thatched beach cottages set in a palm grove just behind Mandrem beach. Morning and sunset beach yoga sessions are available, as well as a choice of martial arts and mindfulness classes. Authentic ayurvedic massages are offered in a thatched cabana and the restaurant serves healthy, home-cooked food.
• Retreats cost from £88. Anahata is closed from May to October during the monsoon (i-escape.com)
20. Trill Farm, Devon
Romy Fraser has been offering healthy living, nutrition and creative courses on her 200-acre organic farm in Devon for 10 years. The ever-popular Seasonal Nutrition weekends, led by chef and medicinal nutritionist Daphne Lambert, are all about harmonising your diet with the changing seasons, with lots of practical advice on using home-grown and foraged seasonal foods. The spring workshop will examine the relationship between soil and gut biodiversity, and will feature ingredients and recipes that support digestion. Communal meals are taken around the farmhouse table and accommodation can be booked in the on-site guesthouse. Other workshops include beekeeping, creative writing, herbal medicine and singing.
• The Seasonal Nutrition weekends cost £395pp, including two nights’ accommodation, and take place four times a year. Non-residential courses cost £295 (trillfarm.co.uk)
21. Avani, Koh Samui, Thailand
The Thai hotel group Anantara is a leader in the field when it comes to luxury spa hotels. Six years ago it launched Avani Hotels & Resorts – an affordable spin-off brand designed to appeal to younger travellers, which has gone from strength to strength. The latest opening is on Koh Samui, a sleek, contemporary seaside hideaway on the quiet side of the island, which offers gorgeous design and top-notch facilities at a fraction of the price of many luxury Asian spa hotels. As well as the spa and well-equipped gym, there are regular yoga and fitness classes, plus nature hikes and stand-up paddleboarding tuition.
• Doubles from £131 per night, pool villas from £235 (avanihotels.com)
22. The Campus, Algarve, Portugal
Whether you’re looking to brush up on your golf or tennis game, perfect your swimming technique or simply get into a better fitness routine, the Algarve’s state-of-the-art sports and fitness centre will have something to suit. Work recently finished on the final phase of the Campus in Quinta do Lago, a high-performance training facility pitched at elite athletes and enthusiastic amateurs alike. Book some professional-level tuition on the tennis courts (Judy Murray runs a tennis camp here), sign up for one of the dozens of daily classes in the gym or exercise studios, from ballet to boxfit, or make a splash in the 25m outdoor pool. At the Bike Shed, you can rent a bike or book a guided cycling tour through the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Children’s classes and tuition are also available. The nearby Magnolia Hotel – a cool, contemporary retreat with motel-style rooms overlooking an outdoor pool – offers a free transfer service to the Campus.
• Adult group tennis coaching £18 per session; fitness classes £18 (quintadolago.com). Double rooms at the Magnolia Hotel from £88 on a B&B basis (themagnoliahotelqdl.com)
23. Body Camp, Mallorca, Spain
Since launching three years ago, Body Camp Ibiza has gained something of a cult following, attracting celebrity endorsements from the likes of Emma Willis, Donna Air, Caroline Flack and Mel C, for its blend of holistic wellbeing and fitness with a relaxed, Balearic vibe. This summer will see the opening of a permanent site in Mallorca, allowing the camps to operate year-round (Ibiza is March to September only). Like its sister camp, Body Camp Mallorca will offer a full timetable of exercise classes and activities, but there will be a slightly stronger emphasis on fitness and nutrition and, unlike Ibiza, guests will have the option of taking the afternoon off for relaxing by the pool, hiking, mountain biking or booking a spa treatment if they want some downtime.
• Body Camp Mallorca opens on 3 May. A seven-night programme costs from £1,150pp based on four sharing. Three and four-night breaks are available from £600pp (thebodycamp.com)
24. Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre, Yorkshire
For a friendly and accessible introduction to meditation, the beginners’ weekends hosted by the Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre in the Yorkshire Wolds are hard to beat. Housed in a sprawling Georgian mansion, the retreats are aimed at all levels, with introductory talks on modern Buddhism. As well as the beginners’ courses, there are year-round Rest and Reflect weeks where you can drop into as many meditation classes you like or, if you just want some time out from the rat race, you can book a bed in a dorm or one of the single or double rooms on a B&B basis and soak up the peaceful atmosphere. Check the calendar for special workshops such as the Overcoming Stress Anxiety and Depression weekend (3-5 May).
• Learn to Meditate weekends cost from £105pp, based on shared dormitory accommodation, including all meals and classes. The next one is 15-17 March. B&B from £40pp (madhyamaka.org)
25. Pool therapy, Sardinia
Circling six thalassotherapy pools gives Harriet Green the blissful relaxation she is after
I push one toe into the murky-brown water. It’s hot, really hot, with a gloopy, oily consistency making it move strangely – less like water than a thick milkshake. Wading in, I find it is also ridiculously buoyant. Infused with magnesium salts, it’s three times denser than the Dead Sea. Why struggle to keep upright? I drop back and float. Blimey, it’s relaxing. I feel weightless, and spend the prescribed 10 minutes watching clouds drift overhead.
I’m at the impressive Aquaforte spa, within Sardinia’s Forte Village. When the resort built its six thalassotherapy pools 25 years ago, it was something of a pioneer. The pools become successively cooler and less murky as guests progress through each 90-minute circuit.
The second pool has a lower concentration of sea oil, plus anti-inflammatory aloe vera and mint. The third, is a sodium-rich pool with sea salt. The fourth is pure sea water with vigorous hydrojets. Pools five and six are the coldest – a refreshing 20C. They’re all in an idyllic setting surrounded by trees.
“The term thalassotherapy comes from the Greek and means sea treatment,” says Dr Angelo Cerina, who created the spa in the 1990s. “It brings together a number of factors: climate, sun, wind, iodine-laden air, sand, muds and seaweed.”
Each pool is designed for a different effect: buoyancy in the first pool is to help post-traumatic recovery, and the salt level promotes powerful draining effects. The full circuit is recommended for skin disorders, such as psoriasis, and joint problems – and for people like me for, simply, wonderful relaxation.
(Note: it’s less relaxing if you shave your legs immediately before coming to the spa, because the salty water will sting like a thousand bees – but, happily, the sharp pain soon passes.)
Forte Village is a giant beach resort 45 minutes from Cagliari airport, but arranged to feel small – intimate and exclusive. It has variety of room options in its eight hotels dotted around the lush gardens, from the bijou to palatial villas. During high season there are 21 restaurants (Sardinian, Mexican, Brazilian, pizza, gourmet…)
Also, in high season, however, Forte Village is expensive, the shops packed with slick designer labels and restaurants run by celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay. We went in October when it was blissfully – sometimes eerily – quiet. Perfect for a spa break, and much easier on the wallet, though quite a few of the hotels, restaurants and facilities were closed.
I was knackered and needed time-out, but others come for the high-tech medical centre, offering expert sports medicine, nutrition advice and osteopathy.
Indeed, Forte Village is quite a magnet for top-ranking tennis players. While I was there, many up-and-coming pros worked out in the gym and relaxed their muscles in the pools after matches. Professor Pier Francesco Parra, medical specialist to the Italian Davis Cup national team who has treated the likes of Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams, is on hand during key periods to sort out the bad backs of the tennis players – and normal guests alike.
The 90-minute pool circuit is as active as I get during our short stay. When I’ve dried off and wrapped myself in a fluffy bathrobe, I relax in the spa’s beautiful reception, sipping herbal tea, and reading from the tempting menu of hands-on body treatments. Salt exfoliation, followed by Ayurvedic massage using warm Sardinian honey? Or a water-based massage while floating in pool three?
I went for the first: wonderful. But the best thing about being at Forte Village is to visit those magic pools every day, wade into that murky-brown water, and repeat the restful circuit again and again.
• Forte Village Resort, Sardinia (fortevillageresort.com) offers three nights from £689pp, half board including return flights from Stansted with EasyJet (available April, May, September and October). Spa packages can be arranged in advance or directly with the hotel. To book, visit citalia.com
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