A happier, healthier you: 5 fantastic wellness retreats
From sunrise hikes to moonlight yoga and indulgent spas that can massage your cares away, wellness vacations are a chance to reset and reconnect. | By Joanna Tweedy | February 10, 2022
Looking for a trip that soothes mind and body? There's a wealth of wellness retreats that help travelers return home healthier and happier. A new global trends report from Hilton shows that travelers in 2022 are redefining wellness beyond the gym, while they look for grounding and balance in their lives and travel plans.
Whether you're looking for a health retreat that fires up the feel-good endorphins, a spa retreat replete with new-fangled spa treatment to re-energize or soak in ancient hot springs, here are maxiumum relaxation and memories that last:
Soak it up: Visit the thermal springs at Cascate de Mulino, Tuscany
Massage cares away: Enjoy an invigorating Thai massage in Southern Thailand's beach resorts
Take the high road: Hike Ka'ena Point Trail for a spectacular view in Oahu, Hawaii
Say Aloha to a new you
The eight main islands of this Pacific Ocean paradise prescribe stressed-out souls the remedy of crystal clear waterfalls, spectacular sunsets, honey-colored beaches and tropical foliage. Island hopping — usually by plane — is east and ensures you can plot wellness adventures on diferent locales. Perfect for calming wellness retreats and health retreats alike, hiking is plentiful and offers an inspired way to engage with these volcanic Polynesian lands.
Head to O'ahu's north coast, mute your cell phone and join the Ka'ena Point Trail, an almost four-mile coastal path near Waialua. It's moderate walking on mostly flat terrain (although bring your hat and suncreen as shade is rare) and promises serene mountain and ocean views with monk seals, whales and sea lions bobbing up to say hello. Prefer to take in your views at night? Stop by Mauakea - the highest point in Hawaii - for an evening of stargazing at the Visitor Information Station.
If dipping into some of Hawaii’s most tranquil waters appeals, head to Molokini, a tiny crescent-shaped islet just off Maui’s southwestern coast (the boat from Maalaea Harbor takes about an hour). Swimmers and snorkelers can submerge into an underwater wonderworld that’s full of colorful marine life.
For absolute relaxation Hawaiian style, book in for a traditional Lomi Lomi (literally, ‘rub, rub’) massage. This healing treatment, widely offered across Hawaii, is centuries-old and nourishes the skin through a series of compressions, stretches and other soothing strokes - the Ho’omana Spa on Maui (1550 Piiholo Road Makawao) stays authentic to the restorative treatment’s origins and is the perfect complement to any spa retreat.
Perfect for wellness retreats, the Far East excels when it comes to rebooting burned out souls, with meditation, nourishing food, massage and lush scenery conspiring to elevate your mood. In the sparkling beach resorts of southern Thailand (including Koh Samui, Krabi and Koh Phi Phi) you'll find the offer of a traditional Thai massage everywhere — often right on the sand. This ancient practice uses gentle pressure to release stress and rejuvenate the body. Perhaps even more relaxing is the knowledge that you'll pay a fraction of what you would at home.
Meditation remains an important part of Thai culture, and there’s plenty of opportunity to appreciate the sound of silence in the country’s many meditation temples. How to go on your own journey? Rise early to practice mindfulness on stunning Chaweng Beach (located in Koh Samui) at sunrise with your partner, join a beginner’s class at a local meditation center or sign up for a day-long silent retreat to really immerse yourself in your environment. The beach idylls of the Gulf and Andaman coasts also offer the chance to island-hop (ferries are efficient and affordable), spending reflective days swimming in the ocean, eating delicious, fresh food - (bring on the steamed fish, papaya salads and fragrant curries) and feeling the sun on your skin.
Progressive, colorful and vibrant, ‘The Magic City’, as Miami is nicknamed, is an inspired place for a vacation to re-energize both body and soul. South Beach, the city’s iconic neon-lit tourist spot, is home to the famous outdoor fitness park, Muscle Beach South Beach, and offers countless other active pursuits including full moon yoga and cruising down the beachwalk (note: you can rent skates, scooters and more at local favorite Fritz's Skate, Bike & Surf).
Head about an hour west by car into the Everglades National Park for a gear-change (quite literally); you can cycle the paved 15-mile loop through Shark Valley Bike Trail, which is strewn with wild flowers in spring and summer. Closer to home, Oleta River State Park is just a 30-minute drive from Downtown Miami. Florida’s largest urban park spans more than 1,000 acres of greenery along Biscayne Bay. Visitors can hire a kayak and paddle out on the calm waters spotting ospreys, herons and sometimes manatees amongst the mangrove trees.
For those in search of a more serene wellness break, consider a sunrise beach walk looking out across a horizon of glittering turquoise water - the city’s rich natural beauty makes it a meditative experience.
Italy's middle third is about as easy-on-eye as European landscapes get. Rolling hills that take on a lavender hue at sunset are dotted with soaring cypress and olive trees, with beautiful historic cities — Florence, Siena and Lucca among them — inviting you to stroll their medieval streets and enjoy a morning espresso in the piazza. Just residing in Tuscany for a week or two might be considered a wellness break.
One way to immerse yourself fully in the Tuscan way of life is via "la cucina," or kitchen. At the ambient Castello Tricerchi castle and vineyard in Montalcino, amateur cooks can learn how to rustle up a four-course Italian feast at sunset and then devour the fuits of their labor, taking in spectacular vineyard views during a candlelit dinner on the terrace.
Other ways to lift your soul? The thermal pools and cascading waterfalls at Saturina's Cascate de Mulino bubble up to almost 100 degrees (37.5°C) and spill over natural tiers of rock to create a fabulous photo opportunity — particularly at dawn or sun-down. They're open year-round and free to enjoy, so, join your fellow bathers and soak in mineral-rich waters warmed by Earth's core.
For sprit-boosting sunshine and wellness influenced by the region's ancient civilization, retreat to the Riviera Maya on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The Caribbean coast will not only boost your natural Vitamin D levels, but there are also numerous pampering opportunities available at the area's luxe spa resorts.
Influenced by the elements, traditional Mayan treatments rely heavily on indigenous herbs and even chocolate, which they considered (rightly so) to be a sacred food. If rural sanctuary is top of your list, head to the protected jungle reserve of Sian Ka'an Biosphere, about two hours south of Cancun, near Tulum. Float down ancient Mayan canals while taking in the 1.3-million-acre reserve's stunning natural beauty - home to howler monkeys, pumas and rare Jabiru storks, among other wildlife.
From inspiring hikes in Hawaii and Miami to rejuvenating treatments in Thailand, Tuscany and the Riviera Maya, these restorative destinations set the scene for memory-making days and nights.
Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.