The Wellness Wander List: Top 10 spa breaks for 2019
Restorative retreats are in high demand as we seek to embrace change in body and mind, says spa and wellness expert Kate O'Brien
Looking to plug out and restore in 2019? Here are our Top 10 wellness picks for the year ahead...
1. Best for: Personal Transformation
Arrigo Programme (UK, India and Spain)
London-based psychotherapist and biodynamic psychologist Fiona Arrigo runs precisely curated Arrigo Programme retreats in Somerset (UK), India and Spain. Exhausted clients undergo deeply powerful bodywork and emotional recalibration under the care of truly expert healers. At the Wild Woman Retreat, for instance, guests are immersed in a schedule of intense body therapy, hiking, wild swimming and nourishing food, to re-emerge with "greater feminine vibrancy and aliveness".
Details: Choose between a Feminine Wisdom Retreat at RAAS Devigarh, India, from March 19-25, or a Wild Woman Retreat at Gaucín, Spain, from Sept. 12-19. A week costs from €5,540pp inclusive (ex. flights); thearrigoprogramme.com
2. Best for: Ayurveda
Essential Ayurveda (UK)
India's traditional healing system is an antidote to our chaotic world - though you no longer need to travel long-haul to benefit from a healing combination of dosha-specific meals, yoga, meditation and hands-on treatments. Tucked away in a 400-year old farmhouse in the heart of the Lincolnshire countryside, expert Ayurvedic practitioners Andy and Laura Shakeshaft offer bespoke retreats (with a maximum of three guests). Client-centred to the core, the emphasis is on a structured physical detox with food (mostly organic and local), herbs, daily massages, steam therapy, yoga, creative counselling and meditation.
Details: Essential Ayurveda is in Spilsby, a three-hour drive from London. Retreats run from £860/€955pp for three days inclusive. See essentialayurveda.co.uk
3. Best for: ME time
Cliff at Lyons, Co Kildare
Just 30 minutes from Dublin, traffic permitting, Cliff at Lyons estate is the spot for an indulging mini-break. A sister property of the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, it made its name as an idyllic wedding venue - with historic, rose-clad buildings on the banks of the Grand Canal home to super cosy cottage-style bedrooms, restaurants and the dedicated Well in the Garden Spa, using the Cliff's own natural products. Highlights of the spa menu include the signature Peat for the Feet foot therapy and Muscle Warming Hot Stone Massages to soothe and calm both body and mind.
Details: A Winter Warmer package costs from €135pps for one night's accommodation with dinner and 50pc off a spa treatment, until the end of February. See cliffatlyons.ie
4. Best for: Yoga, Cycling & Souks
Zephyr Wildman at Azaren, Morocco
Nestled at the base of the Atlas Mountains, this decidedly modern private residence is the place for active couples or friends to enjoy twice-daily yoga and meditation, with an added mix of cycling, hiking, massage, souks and traditional hammam experiences. London-based yogi Zephyr Wildman is a powerful teacher and she cleverly weaves deep yogic wisdom between asanas, breathing exercises and meditation. Although cycling is not obligatory, the scenery is worth the pedalling, and the best of authentic Moroccan cuisine is assured to replenish hungry muscles. You can also succumb to a massage or hammam in true Moroccan style.
Details: Azaren is 30km south of Marrakech (Ryanair flies from Dublin). From £1,800/€1,995 sharing for five nights, full-board from March 25-30. See azaren.ma
5. Best for: Natural Highs
Kurhotel Skodsborg, Denmark
Twin Scandi-style healing with hardy outdoor challenges at Kurhotel Skodsborg. With five-star interiors and deliciously fresh, seasonal menus, the real highlight is the spa, featuring an inclusive menu of facials and body therapies, daily yoga (Svaroopa yoga is great for creaky backs) and 16 water-based cooling and warming experiences. Participating in the SaunaGus is a must as the Gusmester cooks up a potent blend of herbs and oils on the hot coals, before hypnotically flicking a muslin cloth over your body to create an intense heat. Then, wrapped in a fluffy robe, you are led across the snow and into the Baltic Sea. Not for the faint-hearted, but that euphoric feeling is addictive!
Details: The hotel is a 20-minute drive from Copenhagen Airport. Three-night inclusive spa breaks from £999/€1,100; healingholidays.co.uk; skodsborg.dk/en
6. Best for: Alpine Healing
Castel Fragsburg, Merano, Italy
Organic is the order of the day at this 17th-century hunting manor overlooking an imperial spa town in the Dolomites. Authentic healing sets Fragsburg apart - master herbalist, nutritionist and healer Renate de Mario Gamper forages the nearby hills, extracting potent energy from medicinal plants and flowers for spa treatments, while resident yogi and dance mentor Isabel Hahn (aka Bellé Flora) brings guests through a restoring fusion of yoga, intuitive dance, breath work, sound healing and meditation in her tiny wooden Sanctuarium on the mountain ledge. Don't miss out on one of Hahn's private Gong Bath rituals in the Sanctuarium as the sun fades deeper into the mountains.
Details: Fly into Venice, Munich or Salzburg and rent a car, or take a train to Bolzano, where the Fragsburg team will meet you. Castel Fragsburg reopens in April, with prices from €230pp per night, full-board. See fragsburg.com/en
7. Best for: Dreamtime
Preidlhof, South Tyrol, Italy
Surrounded by orchards, vines and a catalogue of medicinal plants, most guests visit Preidlhof to lose weight, get fit, relax and recuperate. That said, the hotel works its magic on anyone craving deep, restful sleep and a full recharge, with comprehensive mattress and pillow menus and a dedicated 'Dream Well' Suite. Days can be as gentle or demanding as you wish, with yoga, Nordic walking, biking or swimming followed by medical appointments, prescribed spa treatments and quiet time in the super comfy relaxation zones. Meals are bursting with flavour and freshness, with vitamin-infused slushies, freshly baked breads with local butters and cheeses, and the most delicious apple strudel.
Details: Transfers can be arranged from Innsbruck Airport in Austria (2 hours) or Verona in Italy (2.5 hours). A five-night Detox Light experience costs from €2,070 inclusive (but ex. flights). See healingholidays.co.uk
8. Best for: Gut Makeovers
Utterly Ibiza Wellness Retreat
Nutritionist and gut health expert Jeannette Hyde's retreat at Es Cucons is based on her best-selling Gut Makeover book - the objective is to help guests lose weight and enhance energy and immunity, amongst other benefits. Hyde's superb cooking demos offer a real insight into how we can practically nourish our gut with everyday foods (think aubergine tagine with cauliflower cous cous or chicken baked in wild rosemary and lemon, with fresh tomato and olive salad). But vibrant health isn't just about the food, so a typical day here includes yoga, Pilates, meditation, guided hikes in the Santa Agnès valley, and motivational talks. With just 13 guests, personal attention and time are guaranteed.
Details: Es Cucons is a 30-minute drive from Ibiza Airport. Five-night all-inclusive breaks start from €2,280pp, based on October 7-12. See jeannettehyde.com/retreats
9. Best for: Unleashing inner power
Cliffs of Moher Retreat, Co Clare
This small collection of retreat buildings, gardens and yoga studio situated in the wilds of West Clare, just minutes from the Cliffs of Moher, has become something of an icon in Ireland. While yoga is at the heart of the experience - with seasonally focused retreats led by founder Michelle Moroney and a team of visiting experts - the new three-day, two-night Wim Hof Experience with Moroney and Níall Ó Murchú combines precise breathing practices and theory with stretching and obligatory ice baths and wild swims. Rooms are cosy, with the best of wholesome vegetarian meals keeping hunger at bay. Between sessions, guests can enjoy the hot tub, schedule a massage or simply sit in the yoga shala overlooking the stunning coastline.
Details: A Wim Hof Experience from March 29-31 or October 4-6 costs from €570pp. The centre is located 7km from Lahinch. See cliffsofmoherretreat.com
10. Best for: Ski and Spa, Swiss-Style
Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland
For a hotel with just 56 suites, the Alpina is flush with amenities. Sitting above the picture-perfect Gstaad village, a large outdoor pool and three fine dining restaurants are the resort's focal point during the summer; but as the snow falls, life retreats to the glorious Six Senses Spa and the vast indoor thermal facilities. With daily yoga and a fully inclusive menu of face and body treatments, it's the Winter Wellness packages that bring guests back. The four-night Tibetan Healing Retreat, for example, comprises a time-tested blend of Tibetan yogic techniques, pulse readings, Ku Nye massage and Tibetan singing bowl meditations, to rebalance and rejuvenate wayward energy levels.
Details: Winter Wellness packages are available until March 17, and the resort is a two-hour drive (or train ride) from Geneva Airport. Three-night retreats in deluxe rooms from CHF 3,345/ €2,970pp, fully inclusive. See thealpinagstaad.ch
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.