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The World’s 7 Best Wellness Escapes

by Kate Gibbs
Posted: September 18, 2015

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Our travel writer Kate Gibbs delves into the discussion about the world’s best wellness destinations. These days your holiday could actually add to your wellbeing. Here’s how. 

Once upon a time a holiday was a time to form new bad habits: cocktails at breakfast, waffles and whipped cream for dinner, wine for lunch, sunbaking by the pool for even sunburn. But in the last few years a surge of wellness properties and escape offerings have entered the market and more travellers want healthy habits and new abs as the ultimate souvenirs. 

Whether the focus is fitness, nutrition, digital detox, spiritual enrichment or overall wellbeing, more destinations cater to travellers who haven’t had a holiday until they’ve woken with the sun, turned out a few downward dogs, surfed the point and slipped in a score of burpees before the day begins.

International wellness travellers now spend an average of $1639 per trip, 59 percent more than the average traveller, according to US-based The Global Wellness Institute’s Global Spa and Wellness Economy report. A growing number of travellers now list wellness as a reason to get away, and the market is growing twice as fast as other international travel between 2012 and 2017, according to the report.  

The hospitality industry has responded with a flurry of fresh offerings, from spas to adventure escapades, yoga retreats and surf schools. Gone are the days when a healthy holiday involved asking for extra pineapple in your third pina colada.

Luxury boot camp: The Ranch Malibu, USA

Goats and vegetable patches, the scrubby Santa Monica Mountain surrounds and wood-decked acqua pools; it may look like the place to unwind and put your feet up, but The Ranch at Live Oak involves at least seven days of intensive four to five hour sessions of group hiking, core and ab work, weights and daily yoga, designed to help visitors shed the kilos. Everything is done off the grid, so there’s no chance of visitors calling in for emergency pizza. It’s a place for detoxing, getting back to nature and healthy weight loss followed up with massage and garden-grown organic food, but only 1400 calories per day. Alcohol, caffeine and processed sugars are off the menu. Seven-day program, meals, activities and massages: US$6,800

Raw vegan living: Fivelements, Puri Ahimsa, Ubud

The day begins with sweet banana crepes wrapped around avocado, mango cream, sliced bananas and chocolate cream, followed by a flower facial and virgin coconut oil body scrub. This resort in the hills of Ubud dispels the myth that all health retreats are gruelling. Each of the nine luxury suites face the lush jungle, but there’s little time to hang around. A comprehensive list of programs includes the sacred arts, personal growth, yoga, meditation, pottery, drama and the martial art Aikido. A new state of consciousness here is the ultimate escape. Suites start at AUD$530.

A-list escape: Sha Wellness Clinic, Spain

Celebrities fighting the flab, models, even Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Vladimir Putin have been spotted at this luxury resort. The macrobiotic retreat is about fine tuning the body, and offers everything from laughter therapy to customised vegetarian, dairy- and caffeine-free diets, anti stress and tobacco programs. The all white, minimalist resort can do genetic testing and have nutritionists, doctors and alternative therapy masseurs on hand. There’s a private helipad and cloth napkins monogrammed with guests’ initials. Rooms from AUD$720 per night, treatments not included.

Mindfulness: Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Thailand

More a yoga retreat than a boot camp, this idyllic resort caters its wellness package to travellers looking for healing. Guests look for inner peace via crystal sound healing, mind-body guidance and passion mapping. The views to the limestone mountains rising from Thailand’s Andaman Sea, the surrounding virgin rainforests and the local waterfalls do enough healing on their own. The resort encourages a raw food diet and even offers turndown nibbles of chilli and ginger betel leaves instead of the traditional chocolate on the pillow, should guests be tempted to stray once they return to their rooms. Four-day package rates start at AUD$24,500. Rooms start at AUD$14,000

Ancient Chinese escape: Amanfayan, China

Aman Resorts pride themselves on picking up on the local environment, bringing the outside in, and Amanfayan is no different. It embraces the layout and spirit of a traditional Chinese village, with winding stone footpaths and shaded courtyards through which the rooms, some dating back over a century, are accessed. But guests come here too for the resort spa, shrouded by bamboo, tea bush and magnolia. There’s a bathhouse, a reflexology house, a Pilates studio, a tai chi room, a gym and a swimming pool. Going back in time never felt so good. Rooms start at $1400 a night.

Hot spring bathing: Kai Matsumoto, Japan

Japanese bathing rituals are well known, and any discerning visitor will dip into an onsen, communal baths sourced by local hot springs and rumoured to heal all sorts of ailments. At Kai Matsumoto in the Japanese alps, the spa offers 13 different onsens, the alkaline water drawn from nearby Asama Hot Springs and said to boost metabolism. There are in-room onsen as well. Sleep on tatami mats, essentially on the floor, and dine on authentic kaiseki meals, designed to offer a deeper understanding of onsen culture. Rooms start at $750 a night. 

Body and soul: Raffles Praslin Seychelles

An all-rounder in beachy Praslin in the Seychelles archipelago, this resort blends spa treatments with rigorous fitness, personalised workouts and classes such as Zumba and pilates. There are rise-and-shine jogs and morning beach stretches, hiking, biking, stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking. The personal training sessions are intense and include a fitness assessment. Calorie and nutrition information is included in all menus. There are also great views of the stars from each room’s private villa, and the luxury villas include privite butlers who can do everything except all the exercise you have planned for the next day. 

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Kate Gibbs

Kate is a Sydney-based food writer, author, photographer and cook. She is known for her passionate stories about food, writing three cookbooks and hosting food events including Taste of Sydney, Regional Flavours Brisbane, and Tourism Australia’s recent food trade event.

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