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Travel

5 of the best places to vacation in January

Islas Secas, Panama

Whether you’re seeking sunshine, solitude or somewhere snug to get cozy, these are the places to regroup and beat the January blues. By KATE WILLS

Lifestyle
Island life at Islas Secas offers a heavenly haven of rest and relaxation on Panama’s Pacific coast

ISLAS SECAS, Panama

Panama has shot straight to the top of the must-visit-destinations list with the opening of eco-lodge Islas Secas. This much-buzzed-about off-grid escape, some 20 miles from the mainland, consists of just four casitas on a cluster of islands on Panama’s sun-drenched Pacific coast. Three-quarters of this remote archipelago has been left entirely untouched, so it’s teeming with wildlife – from turtles you can snorkel with to migrating humpback whales that regularly pass by. When you’re not going full David Attenborough, there are also outdoor movie nights, beach barbecues and a coconut-scented spa nestled deep in the forest. Sustainability is taken seriously here: 100 per cent of the energy used is solar-generated and guest facilities were constructed using sustainable wood. For the ultimate Robinson Crusoe fantasy, a boat will drop you off on one of the uninhabited islands with just a picnic and a parasol.

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THE PLACE, Bali

If you want to actually keep your new year’s resolutions, you could try some serious intention-setting at The Place. Going way beyond the remit of your average spa, this ‘total care’ retreat offers everything from one-to-one therapy sessions, with founder and psychotherapist Jean-Claude Chalmet, to Kundalini yoga, equine therapy and Watsu, a form of water treatment that gives you the feeling of being in the womb. Forget spartan treatment rooms: here, you’ll find four-poster beds, Balinese hand-carved furniture and outdoor showers, all set in lush gardens. Sumptuous meals are prepared by the resident chef using seasonal, organic ingredients. Those who have experienced The Place’s 90-day retreat say it has totally transformed their lives. But even if you manage to do little more than have a Balinese massage and lie by the pool, you’ll leave feeling a whole lot better than when you arrived.

The Place is an idyllic Balinese retreat, where you can reboot, replenish and revitalize your mind, body and soul
Give your new year a magical boost with Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary's customized therapies – and the serenity of an indoor pool with the most magnificent view

BHUTAN SPIRIT SANCTUARY, Bhutan

When it comes to sustainability, this tiny slice of Himalayan paradise is light years ahead. The only carbon-negative country in the world, the Kingdom of Bhutan is also set to be the first fully organic nation by next year. At this exclusive new hotel overlooking a valley and a monastery, guests are met by one of the sanctuary’s traditional Bhutanese doctors. After he reads your pulse and checks your tongue, he’ll prescribe a customized program that might entail meditating with monks, a soak in a traditional hot-stone tub and daily Kunye (Tibetan massage). Minimalist rooms are filled with light and accented by local tapestries alongside organic toiletries made by Bhutanese artisans. Plus, visiting a country that measures Gross National Happiness instead of GDP has to be a surefire way to ward off the January gloom.

Jalakara's infinity pool is the perfect spot for taking in this tropical hideaway’s breathtaking views

JALAKARA, Andaman Islands

The Andaman Islands are fast becoming India’s worst-kept secret. Of the 572 postcard-perfect, pristine islands, just 38 are inhabited and only a handful are open to visitors. For decades this atoll’s serious remoteness meant that only intrepid backpackers and a few in-the-know A-listers made it here; Jacques Cousteau called them the ‘invisible islands’. But things have changed since the opening of the Andamans’ first luxury hotel, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, last year. The cool set heads inland on Havelock island to Jalakara. This boutique hotel has only seven rooms, but they’re packed full of style (think House of Hackney cushions and polished concrete). Run by British chef Marko Hill and his wife, fashion designer Atalanta Weller, the site was an overgrown banana plantation when they bought it in 2016. They’ve lovingly restored the land and it’s now surrounded by parrots and mangroves, which at night are full of bioluminescence. Go now before the Andamans become the new Koh Samui.

The newly revamped Thyme offers a contemporary take on classic country life in the Cotswolds with all mod cons

THYME, Gloucestershire

This historic manor house and farm in one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, Southrop, has just had a major revamp, including a new spa that uses Aurelia Probiotic Skincare products, and the launch of The Piggery, an exquisitely curated shop of linens and tableware. The big draw here, though, is the cookery school, which offers seasonal courses – January’s highlights include ‘winter salads’ and the ‘modern vegetarian’. Many of the rooms have roll-top tubs almost big enough to swim in and tub-side chess sets should you fancy practicing your Queen’s Gambit. Opt for a room in The Lodge for the best views of an ancient cedar tree and the rolling fields beyond. The on-site restaurant, Ox Barn, serves up inventive seasonal dishes – we sampled leeks with fried Wiltshire-truffled egg and hazelnut cake with poached pears and cream. Be sure to don your wellies (provided by the hotel, of course) to pop across the green to The Swan, an ivy-clad 17th-century pub. It’s the perfect place to hole up by the fire with an ale.