In the countryside 30 minutes outside Siem Reap is the idyllic Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat, run by an amazing team of local and international yogis. What sets it apart, for me, is the sense of community: all guests arrive and leave at the same time and are encouraged to participate in all the available activities as a collective, creating a bond with fellow guests.
There are two yoga sessions a day: morning practice consists of 90 minutes of yoga asana and 30 minutes’ sitting meditation and an evening practice consists of 20 minutes of yoga and pranayama and 30 minutes’ sitting meditation. Free time is time to relax, integrate and explore. It is also possible to take out bikes, explore the village, sit by the lounge pool, play games, read a book or just lie in a hammock. The best bit is the homemade vegan food, with breakfast, lunch and dinner daily: the cinnamon porridge with coconut shavings, palm sugar and dried fruits is particularly good. All the activities, meals and other refreshments are covered in the weekly price of £200 for a dorm room or £240 for a private room.
One of the best-value day spas I’ve encountered, these baths (which used to be a brewery) feel like a step back in time, offering a series of hot- and cold-water experiences, to be enjoyed individually or in the communal baths. On the upper floors are treatment rooms and a bistro serving healthy food and juices, and the pinnacle of the experience is the hot and bubbling infinity pool, which takes up the entire rooftop, offering panoramic views of the cit.
• Day admission £27, thermalbad-zuerich.ch
When I first met my husband I didn’t know where his home country, Slovenia, was on the map. Somewhere in eastern Europe? Wrong; slap bang in central Europe and cuddled by Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia. From the breathtaking lakes and mountains (Bohinj is more tranquil than touristy Bled) to the quaint Venetian-feeling coast, it is such a small yet varied country and I come away from each visit feeling healthy, refreshed and full of life.
One of the biggest surprises I had was a day at a thermal spa in Podčetrtek, eastern Slovenia. As a wedding gift, we spent a day exploring the saunas, pools and relaxation rooms at Terme Olimia. I was stunned by the fact that all guests were naked, but soon I just went with the flow. The huge outdoor hot tub was a wonderful way to enjoy the surroundings of the spa, which is nestled in the countryside. One of the highlights was the chocolate steam room where, amid much giggling from us all, we eight strangers poured melted chocolate on to our naked partners and … proceeded to sweat it out in the steam room.
• One-day package from €22pp, terme-olimia.com
Last year I won tickets to Soul Circus in the Cotswolds, a three-day yoga, mindfulness and wellness festival. It was something I had never considered trying before: the meditation side of it, yes, but not the yoga. My friend and I tried everything and it was fun, though the yoga made me feel like my limbs were about to break off. The music was great but the most important thing was that we tried something new and had an interesting experience.
• Tickets from £79pp, soulcircus.yoga
After two hours at the meditation centre outside Chiang Mai, my mind was screaming for me to get back to the buzz of the city. At the monk chat two-day meditation course, you learn methods of meditation from real monks (who have an unexpectedly wicked sense of humour). You’ll learn about their lives and how best to apply the practice of Buddhism to everyday life. It felt like incredibly hard work: simple food, no talking and only white clothes, but a year on I still feel the benefit. What’s best is that the course is affordable for those on a budget, at a minimum suggested donation of £5.
Wanting a break from the daily grind but not daily classes of yoga and the like, we opted for peace and seclusion in northern Spain on the Galicia Retreat. On a hill surrounded by forests and near the beautiful Morouzos beach, we stayed in a 15th-century stone cabaña. We spent time hiking, foraging for mushrooms and took a day horse riding in the countryside. The highlight was the tranquillity of the setting in what I think is an overlooked part of Spain.
If you need a break from the pace of modern life, this cliff-face hideaway with its private beach in Ibiza is the place. The Soulshine Family provides a six-day experience that nourishes mind, body and soul. Every day you can expect yoga, meditation, wellness talks and healing workshops, plus pamper and healing remedial treatments. The hosts are always ready to assist, so if you don’t want to lift a finger you don’t have to.
• Retreats from £1,185pp, ibiza.soulshineretreats.com
Unlike may spas, the Gellért Baths in Budapest has the big plus of being affordable and easily accessible. From £15 a day you can get a private cabin and relax or swim in a variety of thermal pools – indoors and outdoors. Walk or take a taxi there from anywhere in the city. The grassy banks are great – no need to book, just turn up. A dusk swim in mid-summer, with views over the elegant Budapest skyline, will lift anyone’s spirit and the fading rays highlighting the blue-tiled art nouveau architecture are a great sight.
• Adult from £15, gellertfurdo.hu
I spent an amazing four days in the western Carpathian mountains in Romania, surrounded by forests, wildlife and even some fossils. I stayed at the rustic three-star family-run B&B Vidra de Sus, where they served local organic food. At the time, they were building their own trout farm, which would supply the restaurant with fresh, sustainably farmed fish. The B&B has a lovely garden where you can either relax or eat in a purpose-built wooden structure housing a traditional oven where some of the food is cooked. Nearby, is a lovely waterfall, amazing walks and many caves to explore, including the Scărișoara cave that houses a glacier. Double rooms cost £20 a night and the food was very cheap. Breakfast in included and is plentiful and fresh, consisting of local cheeses, cold meats, homemade jam and organic milk and butter. This place is a little corner of paradise that’s sure to have you restored and revived in no time.
• Lunca Bisericii, 31, DJ762, Vidra, +40 742 889 302
In exchange for a donation, spend 10 days discovering the culture behind Buddhist India at the Tushita Institute, which is a short distance from the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala. There are daily talks and discussions and you can learn meditation techniques from experienced teachers and monks. It’s in the forested hills of McLeod Ganj, and the only other inhabitants are daily passing troupes of brown and snow monkeys. Most of the 10 days is spent in silence as you immerse yourself in a friendly and encouraging environment. A suggested donation of around £75 for 10 days includes dormitory accommodation, three vegan meals a day, afternoon chai tea and all classes.
MoaAlm is high in the Austrian Alps and is a perfect place to unwind. Our stay was good value (seven nights for €990, food and activities included) and combined fantastic views, great company, reinvigorating physical activities such as yoga, (cross-country) skiing and guided snow-shoe hikes, a delicious three-course vegetarian/vegan meal every evening and peace and quiet. And, let’s be real, there is nothing better than sitting in an outside hot tub being served a cold beer during a blizzard.
Lotte Nitetis Wendt
Dancing with horses may sound like a step too far for some wellness seekers but the Peaceful Acres sanctuary in Amsterdam, New York State, provides exactly that. The horse sanctuary also offers reiki, yoga, meditation and guidance in emotional healing. The setting is awe-inspiring with classes taken in one of its two beautiful yurts. The founder established the resort nearly a decade ago to assist women who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. It offers a place to seek stability with other people who understand what you are going through.
At the heart of Poseidon Thermal Gardens in Forio are 20 thermal pools of different temperatures. The whole island is a wellbeing paradise: in the past Roman emperors, Hollywood divas and European literati have graced Ischia’s volcanic springs and beaches for health breaks. Citara beach faces the westering sun and behind it lush soils produce delicious fruit. German humanist doctors have developed spa treatments for all budgets since the 1960s. Book any hotel on Ischia and choose where to go and explore.
• Half-day visit €27, giardiniposeidonterme.com