Six Wellness Destinations We’re Visiting in 2018Alicia-Rae Olafsson
While we’re big fans of staycations, carefully curated self-care routines, and at-home yoga and meditation nooks, we thrive on venturing out into the world for new experiences and discovering some of the most enticing wellness getaways. So this year, ditch the all-inclusive resorts, and focus on these health-and-wellness destinations across the globe. Because, let’s face it, who wants to come home feeling like you need a detox? All you need to decide is where to go next…
Where To: Play in the Snow
Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, Colorado
The powder-dusted cascading mountains, towering white aspen clones and spectacular log-cabin architecture are reason enough to check yourself into this rustically luxurious oasis nestled in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, just an hour from Eagle Vail airport, is an action-packed adventure and tranquil wellness vacation all in one staggeringly enviable location.
Wake up, step onto your patio and let the crisp mountain air fill your lungs while you gaze at Beaver Creek Mountain and the impeccably placed Bachelor Gulch Express chairlift—providing ski-in, ski-out access steps from the hotel’s roaring outdoor fire (where guests will gather for live music while enjoying cozy blankets, warm drinks and steaming bison chili).
Stretch out with a Pilates, barre, or yoga class in the fitness studio, or get in a few laps in the heated outdoor pool at the base of the mountain, then head to WYLD for a breakfast made with natural ingredients. Try the strawberry-banana smoothie and the avocado toast topped with fromage blanc and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. After fuelling, you’ll be ready to spend your day cross-country or downhill skiing the mountain’s myriad runs or snowshoeing to a wine-pairing lunch (not forgetting to stock up at the little wooden candy cabin pre-hike—the chocolate-covered Swedish fish are surprisingly tasty). All that exercise leads to free, après-ski chocolate chip cookies served every day at 3 pm. It’s all about balance, right?
First stop after a long day on the slopes? Head to the 21,000-square-foot spa for undoubtedly one of the best treatments you’ll ever have: the Miner’s Mineral Mud Wrap. It’s like a full day at the spa packed into a 90-minute treatment. It includes a full-body exfoliation, a body wrap with activated charcoal mud foraged from the depths of Colorado’s mines, a hydrotherapy bath, and a full-body massage (we recommend you ask for Adam as your therapist). And it doesn’t end there, spend the next couple of hours rotating in a total wellness haven: the relaxation room, hydrotherapy circuit (with a steam room, sauna, and hot and cold plunge pools), and in the hotel’s pièce de résistance, the grotto: a cave-like, rock-lined warm pool with a gushing waterfall reminiscent of Colorado’s mining past.
Where To: Connect With Your Spiritual Side
Papaya Playa Project, Tulum, Mexico
Tulum is a health-conscious traveller’s mecca, with endless juice bars, yoga classes, sweat lodges, vegan restaurants, and some of the most jaw-dropping and luxurious (yet eco-friendly) resorts and spas in Mexico—but Papaya Playa Project is something extraordinary.
The historic Mayan culture gives Tulum a palpable spirituality. Whether you’re snorkeling in one of the many open-air and underwater cenotes (which translates to “sacred well”). The cenotes are swimming holes and caves filled with cool, mineral-rich water; the Mayans used them as water sources and as important spiritual centres. We recommend visiting Dos Ojos cenote with Quelonian Divers—come by 8 am, when it opens, to beat the crowds and have it all to yourself. After your dip, consider being guided through jungle by a shaman for an ancient tradition, the temazcal ceremony, in a Mayan sweat lodge.
At Papaya Playa Project, you can sleep in a luxurious treehouse, a rustic jungle cabana, or an oceanfront casita complete with its own private rooftop pool (the perfect perch for a morning dip as you watch the pelicans and quetzal birds fly overhead with views of the ocean to the east or the jungle to the west). In all of the accommodation options, you’ll enjoy open-waterfall showers with delightful local honey-based body products. The Project aims to be as sustainable as possible, using filtered clean jungle water in the showers and locally sourced materials to create all the rooms and structures, as well as working towards being a wholly solar-powered hotel in the future.
While there’s Wi-Fi almost everywhere on the property, (including the main open-air lobby and beach club complete with softly-pumping electro music, endless puffy pillows, and a luxe hippie vibe), we recommend that when you wake up in the morning, instead of checking your emails, you slide open the door, grab a good read and settle into your hammock with an unrivalled view of the Caribbean Sea before heading to the daily outdoor yoga class. (Don’t forget to bring some kind of insect protection—try essential oil of lemon eucalyptus spray.) Post class, grab a fresh-pressed concoction from Prana, the on-site juice bar. We like the punchy, Exotic-K, packed with mango and kiwi, or the Niña Fresa full of fresh-pressed strawberries.
Later, hop on one of the hotel’s cruiser bikes and make the 25-minute trek into town to get your fix of authentic Mexican food at the market. Finish off your day with a seaside spa treatment, (we recommend the Mayan clay treatment—just plan it on a sunny, still day as the open oceanfront treatment room can get quite breezy) at the spa that resembles an ancient Mayan village.
For dinner, while there are so many options in town, stay at the resort for meals made with ingredients sourced from the local organic market. In the open-air restaurant facing the ocean, you can enjoy plant-based options or fresh seafood. We recommend the surf and turf—the giant prawns are to dive for.
Where To: Celebrate the Darkness
Just Outside Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland has been on everyone’s list for the past few years, and rightfully so—at every bend in the road, it’s a country with awe-inspiring natural beauty not found anywhere else in the world. While hotels fill up a year in advance for peak season (June through September), they’re also filling up during the winter months, a time we think is extra special to visit. While there are only about three to four hours of daylight this time of year, make the most of the darkness and stay warm in one of Hey Iceland’s self-catering apartments or experience the real Icelandic hospitality with one of their farm stays, and stay cozy under the star-filled skies in the geothermal waters Iceland is known for.
Skip the crowds at the Blue Lagoon and head an hour outside Reykjavik to Flúðir and pay a visit to the Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin), Iceland’s oldest natural swimming pool, built in 1891. It feels more like the unmarked natural geothermal hot spring pools you’ll find around the country—filled with magnesium-rich mineral water that stays at 38-40 degrees all year, and comes straight from the source—but with comforts like a changing room, showers and towels. It even has a small geyser that spouts every five or so minutes near the edge of the pool. Looking for something a little more rustic? Make sure to leave time to hike to the hot river in Reykjadalur Valley located in the town of Hveragerði 40 km from Reykjavik). Craving a more upscale experience? Check out Krauma, a new, natural geothermal bath and spa nestled upon Europe’s most powerful and largely undiscovered hot spring, Deildartunguhver. Dart between the five baths of varying temperatures, a cold plunge pool, two steam rooms, and a relaxation room with a modern wood-burning fire. Order a local craft beer or glass of wine to enjoy while you watch the winter sun set over the mountains.
On a clear night (mostly between September and March), you might even catch a glimpse of the legendary northern lights from any of the above, remote spots. Finding them usually requires getting away from the light pollution of the city and into the countryside, along with a perfectly clear night, and, according to the locals, cold temperatures.
Based on NASA observations and forecasts, the northern lights are expected to appear less frequently and with less intensity over the next eight years (the aurora runs on a 11-year solar cycle, and as we move into 2018 we’re well into the downswing). This means fewer night skies filled with the aurora borealis, an effect that will likely last until around 2025 or even 2026—so get out there now.
Where to: Relax in a Green Capital
Somehow, Slovenia’s beloved capital, Ljubljana (pronounced lube-lee-yah-na), has managed to stay off the beaten path of most European travel itineraries. It’s the perfect city break, culinary journey, wine-tasting experience, and outdoor adventure destination all packed into one delightfully green city (Ljubljana was named the green capital of Europe in for 2016, as well as one of the top 10 most environmentally-friendly cities in the world, and is working towards having zero waste).
Nestled along the river, there are endless tree-lined paths, cafés and restaurants serving Slovenian dishes like freshly-foraged mushroom soup, goulash, sir za žar (a delicious cheese grilled in olive oil). To taste the best of everything, look to Iva from Ljubljananjam, who takes you on a walk through her hometown to her secret spots, from ethically sourced coffee at Buna to hidden ice cream stands. A highlight is a unique and delicious spot, Druga Violina, which has incredible dishes. It’s a project for people with disabilities, who produce much of the food on a farm near Ljubljana and work as wait staff in the restaurant.
While you could spend the entire time walking through the historical city center, chatting to chefs, and sampling local cuisine at upscale food markets like the Friday Open Kitchen (Odprta Kuhna), drinking incredible wines like the white rebula or red refošk that are native to the region—it gets even better when you take to the countryside and get to know the locals.
Join a culinary and cycling tour led by young entrepreneur and cycling enthusiast, Tine Zupančič, and ride with him through the stunning Soca Valley, along the river, stopping at eco-farms along the way that produce their own meats, cheeses, and apple juice. Learn how to forage local mushrooms and visit an eco-friendly apiary where you’ll taste local honey products, spreads and liquers infused with flowers, nuts, and local herbs. End the day with a hearty traditional meal of steak drenched in mushrooms at Zupančič’s family’s restaurant and hotel, Vegov Hram (vegan and vegetarian options are available).
Take another trip outside the city to the small village of Slivna for a thrilling night in the wilderness with Geoss Adventure Park and Experience Treetops. You’ll get your sweat on in a Japanese Wipeout-style (aka Most Extreme Challenge) obstacle course, complete with zip lines, rope swings, ladders, tight ropes, and climbing walls. After you’ve worked up an appetite, you’re led to a meadow where there’s freshly-cooked goulash waiting for you, being heated in a cast iron pot over an open fire and paired with a local wine. After dinner climb into your treehouse platform bed in an oak, spruce, or ash tree (the less adventurous option), or a wooden bed suspended from a tree. Spend the night looking up at the stars and listening to wild animals, protected by a harness you have to sleep in, and a mosquito net. Talk about being one with nature, it doesn’t get any closer than this. In the morning you’ll wake up to breakfast in a basket brought up to your bed by a pulley system.
Where to: Get in Tune with Nature
Bruma, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
Picture an infinity pool overlooking sprawling vineyards, cutting-edge, modern architecture, giant boulders, and arguably some of the finest organic wines in the world and you’ll paint a picture of Valle de Guadalupe—an easy two-hour drive South from San Diego along the coast—and our new favourite wellness destination.
Check into one of the five modern rooms, or two suites in the desert complex’s Casa 8, then head straight head for the outdoor fire pit, that one of the incredible staff will light and tend to for you while you sip on the delicious house red, Casa 8 Plan B, and watch the sunset over the vineyards. There are coolers full of drinks throughout the property, and everything is on an honour system (you just mark down what you take). There are no room keys or locks on doors with the intention of making guests feel at home. It works.
In the morning, after refreshing in your nearly 15-foot shower with a seemingly open-air rooftop take few steps from your bedroom, slide open the glass door, and walk right into the vineyard where rustic picnic tables are set with beautiful Oaxacan textiles under a giant tree. Your breakfast changes daily based on the chef’s inspiration and what’s in season—we savoured every bite of the machaca con huevo (a Mexican classic dried, shredded, and rehydrated beef, cooked with pepper, onions and served with eggs) with freshly-pressed corn and flour tortillas on the side, and a plate of fresh papaya, cantaloupe, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Vegetarian and vegan options are available, just let the kitchen know.
Spend your day riding one of the bikes around the property (or to a nearby vineyard), going for a run around the perimeter, lounging by the pool with fresh tostadas and guacamole, or order a massage right to your room. You’ll find peace and quiet throughout the property, almost everywhere you look there’s a cozy chair, bench, pillow or perch to take space to go inward and meditate.
Later, you can’t miss paying a visit to the winery for a tasting—a true work of art designed by renowned Mexican architect Alejandro D’Acosta. Built into its local surroundings (literally from top to bottom around a 300-year-old oak tree), nearly all construction materials were locally sourced. Try the unfiltered, organic white wine, it’s exquisite.
End your day with dinner at the rustically-luxurious Fauna, a one-of-a-kind culinary adventure, with a farm-to-table concept and vegetables freshly-picked from their own vegetable garden. Try the oysters and blood clams from nearby Puerto Madero and Ensenada served on copper platter. Must-tries also include the roasted calabaza (butternut squash marinated roast beef drippings), grilled octopus served with black beans, radish, and blue corn tortillas, and the marinated and charred cabbage. All served in a family-style dining room with every detail planned to perfection and chairs draped with cozy sheep skins.
Where To: Travel with Purpose
San Juan, Puerto Rico
While the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year, the colonial town of San Juan hasn’t lost any of its charm. While most tourists shy away from areas effected by hurricanes, they are the destinations that need your tourist dollars the most (and many hotels and tour operators are offering discounts to guests who combine vacation days with a volunteer stint in the recovery effort). It’s a place where history meets modernity, and where colour and culture still ooze from every colonial style home, cobblestone street corner, and tiny rum and cigar bar. Wellness is at the forefront of people’s minds as the city gets back on its feet.
La Isla el Encanto (the Island of Enchantment) is being rebuilt and in the meantime, it’s the perfect place to visit and support relief efforts: pack an extra suitcase full of water, medical, and hygienic supplies or lend a hand volunteering while in town. Two-thirds of the city’s hotels have reopened (although not all amenities are necessarily back to their usual standard), including Hotel El Convento, the stunning sun-drenched yellow, art deco convent-turned-hotel right in the heart of Old San Juan, and the azure beaches are as enticing as ever.
Throw on some sneakers and go for a run along Paseo del Morro. Built in 1853, the seaside promenade overlooks the Caribbean Sea on one side, with shady trees, cafes on the other, and is punctuated by the San Felipe del Morro fortress, a national historic site. Hit up the nearby farmer’s market, Mercado Agrícola Natural, on Saturday for the juiciest mangos and guavas you’ll ever taste. Later, head to the artsy district of Santurce to grab a fresh juice and acai bowl at BeShanti to go (owned by our ambassador César Candia), then pick up some fruit at the local vegetable and fruit market (you’ll also find the biggest avocados you’ve ever seen) and enjoy it while relaxing on nearby Ocean Park or Condado Beach.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Ritz-Carlton and Tourism Ljubljana. Images courtesy of Alicia-Rae Olafsson, Ritz-Carlton, Papaya Playa Project, Krauma, Tourism Ljubljana, Bruma and Scopio.
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