Unplug, Unwind, Renew: Five top spots around the world to let go and better yourself
Remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy exits her black and white world and emerges into a land of color and wonder? Though she goes back to her real Kansas life at the end of the story, she takes the lessons of her visit to the exotic land with her. When you think of it, this is what a vacation destination should be.
There may truly be no place like home, but these spellbinding spa, wellness and adventure travel destinations will do far more than charm you with their ambiance. You will meet a lot of interesting people, and thanks to their unique amenities and programs, you will return home refreshed and renewed, with a better sense of yourself.
To get a head start on your road to bountiful, find out about what countries are the world’s healthiest and why. Some of our picks are located in the top 10 countries on this list (Iceland, Norway, Australia). Others reconcile time-tested, indigenous wellness practices with innovative ways to put those ideas into practice during and after your trip.
The Blue Lagoon Spa, Iceland
While spas around the world lay claim to having a fountain of youth on their property or within their products, the Blue Lagoon Spa (www.bluelagoon.com)
has both—a sprawling mineral water lake packed with healing, nourishing components and a prolific line of beauty products that makes the benefits of its silica and algae-rich waters accessible anywhere else in the world. Indoors and out, the Blue Lagoon’s lava formations, steam rising off the lagoon, herbaceous aromas and the brilliant colors of the landscape are calming and hypnotic. Furthermore, the water has an antibacterial effect that helps clean the skin and draw out impurities.
The spa also boasts an exclusive executive lounge with its own private entrance to the lagoon, fully appointed dressing rooms, light refreshments, a roaring fireplace and a private concierge. Even with all the creature comforts, however, the real magic is experienced venturing out into the lagoon, applying nourishing formulas of mud and silica to face and body unselfconsciously, and being enveloped by the aromatic vapor rising above the water. There is also nothing quite like receiving a massage in the therapeutic waters by the spa practitioners, and emerging with rose-petal soft skin, tightened pores and a kind of relaxation as buttery and mellow as the silica and algae masks.
Chiva Som, Hua Hin, Thailand
While Phuket is regarded as Thailand’s ultimate resort town, if you’re searching for Paradise on a more personalized scale, Chiva Som (www.chivasom.com) should be on your list, as it pares luxury down to its most basic and calming level. Though the resort seems a little more compact than you would expect at first inspection, it opens out into a multi-dimensional sensory experience. After you check in and are served your first glass of lemongrass iced tea, a counselor will have you fill out a simple assessment form and promptly set your personal wellness plan into motion. She will probably steer you away from what treatments you may select if left to your own devices with a spa menu. You may want a body scrub and a line-erasing facial, but the counselor may feel reiki, a Thai massage and a digestion-focused massage are more appropriate for your long-term well-being.
Fitness classes (including yoga and stretching, Thai boxing, mountain biking, hiking, aqua fitness, pilates, Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin Wushu) are all modifiable to a variety of fitness levels, and made more enticing through both the lush jungle greenery and laid-back fitness instructors. The foodis both delicious and informatively presented, with cards that explicitly state calories and nutritional benefits in detail. Through its Thai menu selections are not as hot and spicy as street food, they flavorful, satisfying and sophisticated, and you can of course add more peppers as desired.
Guinganna Lifestyle Retreat, Tallebudgera Valley, Queensland Australia
An hour outside of Brisbane, the “Gold Coast” takes on a new meaning with a retreat stay at Guinganna (http://www.gwinganna.com/), an enlightening, activity-driven spa that operates with a “Yin and Yang” philosophy. Every day begins with watching the sun rise over the Pacific during a Qi Gong restorative session. Next, you choose one of 16 different hikes and walks before breakfast, exploring the 200 hectares of bushland and rainforest scenery and wildlife.
Yin” activities include yoga, Pilates and dance, many of them conducted in an outdoor pavilion built from reclaimed timbers with views of the surrounding valley and ocean. “Yang” activities include fit ball, hikes and boxing. The indoor/outdoor Spa Sanctuary encompasses 1,500 square over three levels anchored by three towering ancient gum trees. “Dreamtime” treatments feature their house line of products with certified organic ingredients, and are performed in one of the 33 individually designed rooms. Post treatment, there’s the serene Whisper Lounge, an elevated outdoor deck, a crystal steam room, outdoor rain shower and locker rooms. One of the oldest buildings on the property has been restored into a dispensary for herbs and supplements and consultation space for naturopathy, nutrition and various wellness therapies.
Grand Hotel Abano & GB Hotels, Abano Terme/Padua, Italy
While Venice is bustling and busy most of the year, the “Veneto” region offers a more easy-going way to experience Italy. In fact, the tiny town of Abano Terme has been a “spa” town for generations. The five hotels that make up the GB Hotel Group (www.gbhotelsabano.it/) preserve the old world spa traditions that shaped this town’s destination appeal 100 years ago while integrating newer body treatment innovations and techniques.
Although Grand Hotel, established in 1998, has an old-world feel, it is the baby of the family. Its main attraction is its Anti-Aging Thermal Spa, offering personalized programs including treatments using nutrient-rich mud and local thermal waters, as well as sessions to help guests readjust their nutritional, hormonal, fitness and stress-reduction needs. The Hotel Metropole, meanwhile, fuses Italian, Indian and Thai treatments, ambiance and cuisine. Its spa, which infuses Ayervedic elements into Italian hot spring and mud treatments,offers a “Mud en Forme” extended stay program. It includes light exercise classes with spa treatments and specially prepared light fare as well as doctor consultations covering nutrition and weight loss maintenance. All the hotels feature thermal pools with water from the local springs, as well as customizable menus (though the regular buffet and fine dining restaurants offer splurge-worthy cuisine).
62°Nord, Ålesund, The Sunnmøre Alps and The Geirangerfjord Region, Norway
Norway is one of the most inspiring places on Earth—especially with its consistent standing in the top five of the Legantum Prosperty Index’s “World’s Happiest Country,” with three consecutive years at #1. It is also one of the world’s great places for outdoor adventure travel and clean, simple and unpretentious food.
Adventure travel company 62ºNORD (http://www.62.no/) offers a taste of that Norwegian good life. Hiking, skiing, mountaineering and havarafting are among the activities that deliver maximum appreciation for its soaring terrain as well as a blast of adrenaline. It also offers Geocatching, the ultimate environmental scavenger hunt (hiking or on snowshoes), and a Wildlife Sea Safari that delivers a surprising workout. The journey by speedboat, which has you standing up and holding on for dear life, is alternately bracing and breathtaking, taking you past sea lions, remote island homes, native birds, Maritime folklore and the fjords of the Hjørundfjorden. The historic Hotel Union Øye (build in 1891 as a lodge for literary figures and royalty), Hotel Brosundet (a repurposed codfish warehouse) in Ålesund and Storfjord Hotel, which straddles the fjords and mountains of Geiranger, Hjørundfjorden and Sunnmøre, completes 62ºNORD’s lodging trifecta.