Mind & Body

7 of the best spas to reboot and recharge

Scloss Elmau, Bavarian Alps

From braving the Baltic to scaling mountains in the Middle East, these luxury retreats will raise your heart rate and your spirits

Hot to trot
Relax in Schloss Elmau's scenic sauna before indulging in the hotel's legendary wurst for dinner

THE SAFE HAVEN Schloss Elmau, Bavarian Alps

WHAT TO EXPECT: You might expect a German spa hotel to advocate a traditional detox, but here at Schloss Elmau ‘reducing’ is not their focus (President Obama’s favorite dish during 2015’s G7 Summit at the hotel is rumored to have been Elmau’s weisswurst sausage). Instead, gentle alpine exercise, such as group hikes, mountain bike rides and outdoor tennis, is positively encouraged to offset the delicious freshly baked bread and evening BBQs. I found unplugging my laptop and phone and losing myself on an eight-hour hike in the mountains left me lifted and relaxed, without the need for meditation or deeper soul-searching. Although I didn’t lose any weight, I returned feeling much lighter as I had off-loaded my worries high up in the mountains.

NEED TO KNOW: Plan your treatments for a relaxing wind-down at dusk, so that you can make the most of the magical mountains during the day. Schloss Elmau only recently introduced traditional Chinese medicine, but Dr. Imke Konig (the medical spa director) has been practicing it for years, and she quickly identified the root cause of the kind of issues that were bothering me in my initial 45-minute consultation. I was amazed by the quick effect that the acupuncture had. Not only did I fall asleep on the table, I had my first pain-free cycle for years – a complete life changer.

THE MUST-TRY: Don’t miss the Qigong classes (a gentle traditional Chinese exercise similar to tai chi with roots in Chinese medicine, philosophy and martial arts), which take place in the pavilion in front of windows that open out to reveal the breathtaking mountain views. Tailored to every individual’s specific needs, it was a revelation how quickly I could open up my breath and feel truly balanced – something that I have never managed to achieve with yoga in the past. Karla Shield.

Sunrise Springs channels the natural beauty of Santa Fe in its restorative breaks

THE RESET RETREAT Sunrise Springs, Santa Fe

WHAT TO EXPECT: Like many of Sunrise Springs’ guests, I came out to this wellness resort near Santa Fe in need of a physical and lifestyle reboot: I felt some things in my life should change – stress management, for one. Each program can be as loose or structured as you want. I chose my own activities and went for pure relaxation, such as Roll & Release with Anjali in which exercises with unpressurized tennis balls help to relieve the tension in different parts of the body. I also recommend Dixie as a spa therapist for adept deep tissue massages. Their animal interaction activities were also a revelation: helping to train the puppies bound to be service dogs and stroking the ‘silkies’ – chickens with feathers as soft as rabbit fur – was incredibly soothing. By day three, I was beginning to feel that I was learning the basics of getting stress under control. By the end of my stay, I was feeling positively tranquil and equipped with many de-stressing techniques (such as lying down and scrunching hands, arms and legs as a tension release) to take home with me.

THE MUST-TRY: The restaurant is excellent with substantial portions of well-executed dishes, including creamy gazpacho, crunchy organic green salad, rib-eye filet, crab croquettes, Colorado rack of lamb, grilled salmon and roast chicken, plus desserts such as the Elvis (chocolate torte, banana brulée and peanut butter ice cream – no deprivation here). Laurie Werner.

Crafted from local Omani stones and inspired by ancient forts, the luxe Alila Jabal Akhda melds the traditional with the modern


WHAT TO EXPECT: At a lofty 6,500 feet above sea level, overhanging a dramatic canyon and commanding the most breathtaking views over the Al Hajar mountain range, nature becomes the awe-inspiring backdrop to Alila Jabal Akhdar. This oasis in the middle of a desert is the sole reason ex-pats and Emirati elite retreat to the mountains in a bid to escape the overwhelming city.

NEED TO KNOW: The mountain and its surroundings are the core of Alila’s Mystical Mountain program, which includes daily sunrise yoga, meditation on the summit, and exhilarating (and optional) abseiling from the hotel’s viewing platform to the gorge below. The healthy menu features freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from the groves below the hotel, while spa treatments use soothing Jabal Akhdar honey from the mountain bee hives across the canyon.

THE MUST-TRY: The regular guided stargazing sessions with Alila’s resident astronomer, coupled with the unpolluted skies, offer an otherworldly experience. You can request any spa treatment to take place on the private and tranquil Spa Arbour, a treatment bed perched on the edge of the canyon, delivering epic views across the gorge during the day, and an otherworldly vista of shimmering stars at night. Danielle Fox

Surrounded by mountains, forests and fruit orchards and framed by an alpine lake, San Luis is the place to come to reconnect with nature

THE FOREST HIDEAWAY San Luis, South Tyrol, Italy

WHAT TO EXPECT: The focus here is all about nature. San Luis is made up of a little ‘village’ of chalets and tree houses (with saunas and fires for winter skiers), and you can choose between looking out over the stillness of the lake or the gentle swaying of the pine trees. But with nature also comes nurture; tea and cakes are served at 3.30pm; a tray of cocktails brought to the pool at 5pm; and menus of local food are available throughout the day.

NEED TO KNOW: San Luis almost works by stealth; there are no consultations, no programs to follow, no diet and no regime. In fact, beyond the slick wooden spa there is nothing of a typical retreat about this unique place. But set in the mountains of the South Tyrol, the stunning views, clean air and total serenity provide the perfect antidote to city life.

THE MUST-TRY: Days can slip past in a relaxed haze of wild swimming in the lake (or the two pools) and simply being rather than doing – here, mindfulness doesn’t have to be taught, it just happens. But do hike along the local alpine trails, which are rugged enough to work the body while the peace of the forests calms the mind. Newby Hands. For more information, visit the South Tyrol Tourist Board.

Situated in Kenya’s spectacular Northern Frontier, Sasaab combines spa time with safaris

THE SAFARI BOOTCAMP Sasaab Wilderness Wellness Retreat, Samburu, Kenya

WHAT TO EXPECT: Home to the elusive ‘Big Five’, Kenya’s sun-bleached plains are where some of the best safaris can be found. They are also, surprisingly, somewhere you can get fit. Its remote location, in Samburu’s natural conservancy, makes it ideal for the Wilderness Wellness Retreat: a four-day, full-on fitness immersion, combined with sunrise safaris, that promises to get you feeling trimmer and thinking clearer.

NEED TO KNOW: The retreat is hosted by Karina Hübsch, an infectiously perky German trainer with killer abs and a grim determination to make us sweat. Classical, core-strengthening Pilates is taught in the dry river bed; cardio takes place in the pool (cooler than the African bush but harder, thanks to the resistance of the water); circuits are done next to the muddy waters of the Ewaso Ng’iro river.

THE MUST-TRY: Fitness fanatics can push themselves out of their comfort zone on runs with the traditionally dressed, and aggressively fit, Samburu warriors. The hour-long route through undulating hills definitely raised my heart rate – but not because of the incline; you’re running where lions prowl in the tall grass and, although our guide reassured me he was ‘reading’ their tracks, I was unnerved. Viviane Lomond

A treatment in Euphoria Retreat’s beautifully designed byzantine hammam is not to be missed


WHAT TO EXPECT: Located seven and a half miles from ancient Sparta in the heart of the fortified town of Mystras, Euphoria Retreat marries the ancient with the modern, and the spiritual with the scientific, in a way that’s rarely seen in a spa.

NEED TO KNOW: The Inner and Outer glow program begins with an appointment with the Medical Director Ioannis Dimitriou for a full body check-up and to discuss any existing health issues. A blood test follows with a nutritionist to check for glycogen, glucose and glutathione, which together indicate how well the body is able to cope with damaging free-radicals. A hammam and a massage then relieve painful muscle tensions and ease your body into the next stage of the program. After just two days, the combination of massage, mindfulness, energy treatments and many hours spent floating in the outdoor pool looking at the forest means that sleep comes effortlessly. The surroundings, the food, the treatments – even the music that subtly accents the air everywhere you go – is conducive to a total emotional and physical re-set.

THE MUST-TRY: Euphoria sits in a forested UNESCO World Heritage site and the views are breathtaking, so pack sturdy sneakers. Post-exercise, book in for the Signature Royal Euphoria Bodywork treatment: 80-minutes of heaven that consists of a massage technique where the pressure and focus areas are guided by your elements. There’s also a lot of work on acupressure points and meridians, as well as a vigorous manual scrub. Suzanne Scott

Enjoy chic farmhouse accommodation in the heart of rural Devon at Yeotown retreat


WHAT TO EXPECT: Yeotown isn’t your average boot camp; its five-day program is developed to mentally and physically detox and reboot guests. While you’ll work your body until it aches, the retreat is equally concerned with clearing busy minds.

NEED TO KNOW: The program requires a moderate degree of fitness, but it’s the perfect place to pull back from the brink when you’ve let your health slip. You’re on the move every day: hiking the glorious, rugged South West Coastal path between Cornwall’s surfer havens of Croyde and Lympstone; cycling the river-hugging Tarka Trail; topped and tailed by various forms of yoga and relaxation. Cosseting and colonics are replaced by awe-inspiring walks along the wild North Devon coastline, delicious dairy-, gluten-, sugar- and caffeine-free cuisine, and everything from surfing to archery, with mindfulness and nutritional advice as optional add-ons. Bring nothing but sweats and don’t ignore the instruction to give up caffeine before your arrival, or you’ll waste a valuable day in bed with headaches and nausea.

THE MUST-TRY: Every evening there are massages to cajole your aching muscles back to life, from shiatsu to deep tissue, conducted in candle-lit out-buildings, one boasting a crackling wood burner. Mariella Frostrup


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