10 wellness retreats to recharge post-pandemic
If the holidays – or a global pandemic – have derailed your healthy habits or have left you in extra need of a serious unwind, check out these dreamy detox destinations and wellness retreats to restart travel, and the rest of your life, with your best foot forward.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel. Check the latest guidance before departure, and always follow local health advice.
1. Mountain Trek, Canada
Ideal for: boot-camp lovers
For most people relaxation means a few more hours in bed, but at this no-nonsense mountainside retreat in the Canadian Rockies it’s more about invigorating exercise than it is about catching more z's. So expect dawn starts and crisp mountain air as the team attempt to deliver you to optimal health.
A staff-to-guest ratio of 40 to 16 ensures the focus is on you, so it might not suit those who like to hide at the back of the class. “Mountain Trek is hard but it works,” says Alexander Timmons, owner of the resort. “It’s not a week-long vacation; it’s an experience that changes the rest of your life.”
But before you go brushing up your granola-eating skills, take solace in their success: having recently been voted the top health retreat in the US and Canada by Travel and Leisure, and with a string of other accolades under it’s belt, Mountain Trek boasts the highest guest success rates of any health retreat.
So lace up your boots for a busy week that includes sunrise yoga overlooking a lake, hours of guided alpine hikes through the snowy peaks of British Columbia, spa treatments and a dietary regime that’s low-calorie but nutrient dense. Tough love never felt so good.
2. Euphoria, Greece
Ideal for: mental wellbeing, weight loss
This retreat in the Greek Peloponnese fulfils the promise of its moniker, as you’ll discover a mere day or two in when your blood pressure goes down, your posture straightens and you’re practically levitating from your bed with positive endorphins.
The very reason Euphoria exists is a tale of recovery. Forced to rethink her life after a cancer diagnosis, founder and the first female chairman of a Greek bank, Marina Efraimoglou, retrained in Chinese medicine and opened her ‘dream retreat’ last July. Everything here, from the architecture to the treatments, is based on the five elements of ancient Greek philosophy: water, air, fire, metal and wood, (try the Five Elements Balancing massage) as the foundation for healing and spiritual development.
Wellness practitioners use a pinprick blood test – a sort of physiological scanning – to devise an appropriate meal and exercise plan for you. But, as Marina says, the aim, ultimately, is to become your own healer. So, even if you don’t buy into the spirituality (or the blood test), you’re certain to find the ‘cure’ in the spectacular four-storey spa carved 25 metres into a private pine forest, rooftop yoga studios, outdoor pool, generous rooms and blue blue Greek skies.
3. SHA Wellness Clinic, Spain
Ideal for: all-round MOT
It’s a favourite of Vladimir Putin, but don’t let that, or the high-end hospital feel, put you off: SHA Wellness Clinic is one of the world’s most stylish (and serious) spas. Everything has been designed to bring your stress levels to zero, from the room-temperature setting to the sheets on the beds. But what sets it apart is its crack team of experts and a 360-degree approach to wellness, blending traditional Chinese medicine and genetic testing, with a macrobiotic diet at its core.
When you arrive, staff will listen to your woes and design an individual wellness programme specifically for you. “Our guests come here to make lifestyle changes,” says wellness director Pedro Catarino. “The defining difference is the number and variety of treatments we offer. The scope of clinical and holistic experience makes SHA very special.”
Healthy eating is the cornerstone of the SHA recovery method but forget limp lettuce leaves; former head chef Pablo Montoro spent time at Michelin-starred El Bulli and, although the mantel has now been passed to Javier Salas, it still shows in the thoughtful, flavoursome food — even if it is on the light side.
Since doctors orders also include communing with nature, guests are encouraged to get outdoors and enjoy the incredible setting, perched on the hillside overlooking the sea in Southern Spain, but it’s really the expert medical advice and physical treatments that make SHA a life-changing experience.
4. Little French Retreat, France
Ideal for: some quiet self-reflection
The pace is unhurried and the peace palpable at this charming country house in rural Gascony with year-round retreats that focus on cleansing, physical movement and relaxation.
Little French Retreat founder Tamsin Chubb ditched a high-flying corporate career for her late mother’s rural home in France in an attempt to overcome her grief and refocus her life. She draws on her experience as a yoga instructor, Ayurvedic cook and interior designer to create a space that accommodates guests’ all-round health. The result is a welcome antithesis to five-star sprawling wellness resorts, with Chubb offering just six guests “the space to see and think clearly, to re-examine current habits and reset their course” through thoughtful balanced programmes: it’s intimate and personal with “no ego, standards or expectations”.
Food is one of the trump cards with recipes riffing on Ayurvedic principles with a French twist, all made with organic local ingredients. The programmes, which range from beginner’s yoga to seasonal Ayurvedic cleansing, mountain hiking, sunset meditation and workshops, are designed to reset your inner switch. “It’s a very open, non-judgmental atmosphere,” says Chubb. “You don’t need a new yoga outfit, or even an expensive mat, just an open mind and a willingness to learn. All the health benefits will follow.”
Note: Little French Retreat is closed until further notice due to the pandemic, but has shifted to virtual offerings until it's safe to accept guests again.
5. Hotel Post Bezau by Susanne Kaufmann, Austria
Ideal for: anti-ageing
Don’t be fooled by the Heidi-style chalet exterior: it may be chocolate-box charming, nestled at the foothills of Austria's Alps with added cow-bell-tinkling sound effects, but this is no twee mountain cabin. Hotel Post Bezau is owned and run by skincare expert Susanne Kaufmann – who has developed the alpine retreat once owned by her great grandfather into a modern destination spa – and the focus is less gruelling detox, more rejuvenation retreat in slick, Scandinavian-inspired digs.
Since she launched her first product line in 2003 – and earned herself a cult following – Kauffman’s premise has always been about natural ingredients, holistic principles and highly-developed techniques to promote graceful ageing. Detoxes here are well thought out and swing from the activity-focused family and tennis packages to the more po-faced three- and six-day body detoxes run with some of Europe’s best doctors and experts.
The hotel, too, is based on what makes Susanne feel good, from the espresso down to the bed sheets and, while sugar is banned if you’re detoxing, the food is hearty and healthy, to be enjoyed after your forest hike, yoga class, sauna or plunge in the outdoor pool, all of which afford magnificent views of snow-dusted mountains.
For a full refresh try the TCM Detox which straddles the gamut of treatments, from liver wraps and lymphatic drainage to alkaline facials and personalised meals and exercise.
6. Samahita, Thailand
Ideal for: yoga and sun lovers
Samahita is refreshingly stuck in the '90s, not so much in aesthetics but with its charming, low-key pace. It's located in Thailand on Koh Samui’s sleepy southern tip, and owner and internationally renowned yogi and stress management specialist Paul Dallaghan is less in pursuit of profit, more in pursuit of peace. He believes everything you do should be “based in joy and carried out with fun”, whether that’s a YogaCoreCycle session – a combination of yoga and fitness classes – or one of their detox retreats.
There are no off-the-shelf wellness packages here. Instead, guests are encouraged to choose their own experience based on their wellness goals. Daily yoga classes and simple menus that include juices and salads are a given and, while the detoxes themselves are challenging, the atmosphere is relaxed, with open-air yoga and dining – sans alcohol – but there’s coffee and wi-fi. Either way, you’re likely to return tanned, toned, lighter and enlightened.
Note: Samahita is closed until early 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic
7. The Raw Retreat, Cornwall, UK
Ideal for: stress, weight loss
According to Beverley Bird, founder of the Raw Retreat in Cornwall, we can all benefit from a regular detox. “Lack of energy is one of the main ills of modern society and many people don’t realise how much energy it takes to digest food; humans are not designed to have food constantly available. Raw food places less strain on the body.”
Retreats here are probably the most personal of anywhere, with Beverley and her husband Simon overseeing individual menus and offering a personalised service to each and every guest, while also respecting personal space. As the name suggests, programmes focus on delicious and expertly prepared raw food: think nori rolls, courgette spaghetti and chocolate roulades (that’s right, chocolate. It’s sugar, dairy and gluten-free but it’s delicious) washed down with a vegetable juice.
Accommodation is a cosy renovated barn with a wood-burning stove and views of the rolling hills. One-to-one yoga sessions, therapeutic massages, colonic irrigation, hypnotherapy, food workshops, seaweed baths and long walks in the Cornish countryside complete the detoxing process. It’s a nurturing, cosseting way to cleanse, in the arms of skilful and knowledgeable owners who will send you home feeling lighter and lovelier.
8. Reclaim Yourself, Iceland
Ideal for: nature and adventure lovers
You might spot a whale or the aurora borealis while riding your Icelandic horse through the wilderness. But if that sounds too much like a scene from Game of Thrones, perhaps the idea of soaking in the geothermal hot springs after an invigorating yoga class will do the trick. “I’ve run retreats in countries all over the world but this is, hands down, my favourite,” says Jools Sampson, who, together with Adam Hustler, leads Reclaim Yourself, a yoga-travel retreat in the Icelandic wilderness. “It’s a chance to get back to nature and back to ourselves; I love that it’s so remote,” Sampson says.
You couldn’t get more remote than a luxury heli-skiing cabin in Northern Iceland. Daily Vinyasa flow yoga takes place in the private yoga barn and if you want to add some oomph to your om you can opt for the more adventurous pursuits of three-or-six-hour hikes, horse riding, or whale watching on the nearby fjord. Then spend the evening watching the Northern Lights over snowy mountain peaks from the luxury of the sauna and outdoor hot tub (naturally).
An expert team of yoga teacher, chef and therapist work alongside each guest. The plant-based menu is surprisingly hearty, like “Christmas on a table” and, while they don’t serve alcohol, Sampson encourages a little tipple while soaking in the local geothermal pools. “It’s not a bootcamp, the guests can choose to have a hot chocolate or a glass of wine, or go online to read the news. But, the location and retreat work to remove you from the stresses of everyday life so it’s much more likely you’ll want to be far removed from it all.”
Note: Check ahead of time to see if travel restrictions have impacted the retreat you're hoping to attend.
9. Aro Ha, New Zealand
Ideal for: outdoorsy types
The setting alone, with its pure alpine air and glassy lake views, is enough to make anyone feel better. But New Zealand’s eco retreat Aro Ha – the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – happens to have a bona fide track record in achieving radical results, despite being a newish kid on the block.
The five-to seven-day detoxes are aimed at rejuvenation through a fairly gruelling, if not rewarding, schedule. You will be pampered but not necessarily in the way that you know (no mani-pedis here). Instead you are encouraged to connect with nature, mindfulness and physical activity. “Most who come to Aro Ha are looking for an adventure that addresses the neglected parts,” says co-owner Damien Chaparro.
A typical day might start with sunrise Vinyasa flow yoga, followed by a green smoothie and a hike through alpine trails. The plant-based lunch, while on the light side, is reportedly delicious. High-octane exercise classes are reserved for the afternoon, along with deep-tissue massages and decompressing in the sauna or plunge pool, followed by restorative yoga, mindfulness practice and dinner. On the forbidden list is cigarettes, alcohol, sweets of any kind (no surprises there) and complaining is ignored, so don’t bother.
If losing weight is a goal, you'll no doubt shed some pounds, but and you’ll also gain some friends as bonding is a highlight, and a nourished soul.
10. Haramara Retreat, Mexico
Ideal for: laid-back beach yogis
For a Robinson Crusoe-style experience with added luxe factor, head for Haramara Retreat in Mexico. Located in the coastal jungle of Riviera Nayarit, it's near the surfing town of Sayulita, where the vibe is barefoot and beachy and, according to owner Sajeela de la Borbolla, seems to be a place “suspended in a state of meditation”.
Go as deep as you like with one of the more structured programmes, opt for a more nurturing retreat or, better yet, build your own itinerary. The appeal here is the loose, laid-back approach with yoga at its core. “People can disconnect, come together or be by themselves; the environment as a whole helps them explore themselves,” notes de la Borbolla. The melodic chirping of birds and the sound of the ocean are all that you hear from your luxury open-air cabanas, which are scattered throughout the hillside property and lit only by oil lamps to help you fully disconnect.
When you’re not settling into downward dog, head for the poolside bar for a homemade Kombucha or, if your programme allows, a colourful cocktail. The menu is light, zingy and packs a punch with local ingredients, and can be tailored to suit guests’ needs. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, learn how to make the perfect Margarita at a cooking class or try the Temazcal – a drug-free trip of the senses that symbolises the cycle of death and rebirth, which takes place in the retreat’s Sweatlodge. We can already hear you exhaling.
You might also like:
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.