This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, winter 2019, issue 111
For a wellness trip that combines cultural exploration with a little personal hibernation, we uncover some of the best locations that can offer sightseeing, and spa time.
Everyone looks forward to vacations as a time to rest, relax and take a break from the stresses of everyday life. However, a holiday itself can be stressful. Racing from one site to the next and taking in an endless amount of history and culture can be exhausting. Interspersing the sight-seeing with a range of relaxing wellness activities is a great way to enjoy a destination but also achieve some down-time. From exploring the ancient wonders of the Peloponnese one day and indulging in a spa treatment the next; enjoying a sunrise yoga class before hiking the Inca Trail; or rejuvenating in a traditional onsen after visiting the Kinkaku-ji Temple – here are some ways to combine a wellness trip with a cultural visit.
Cultural highlights: Ancient Greece effectively spawned Western civilisation as we know it, with the European nation teeming with significant artefacts, ruins and sites. Athens was the birthplace of seminal philosophers and writers Socrates, Plato and Pericles and is considered the centre of arts, politics and culture. The Peloponnese region, which includes Athens, has seen countless settlements, conquests and wars, and as a result offers endless cultural experiences for travellers. Famous archeological sites in the region include Olympia, Sparta and the Acropolis of Athens.
Stay: Euphoria Retreat, in the town of Mystras, offers an ideal base to explore the Peloponnese while enjoying a personalised wellness experience too. Ancient Greek philosophy and Chinese medicine are at the core of Euphoria Retreat’s wide range of treatments and programs. Guests can indulge at the four-storey spa, built directly into the mountainside, or take part in a multi-day detox or yoga program.
Find out more: euphoriaretreat.com
Cultural highlights: The South American country’s mountainous landscape is ripe with ancient history and wonder. The bewildering mystery of the Nazca lines and the veritable enigma that is Machu Picchu are just the beginning. Peruvians have a rich tradition of oral-storytelling, with ancient stories and legends that have been passed from generation to generation. Many believe that the Andes mountain range and city of Cusco are deeply spiritual places, and as such, people flock to them to take part in ancient healing ceremonies.
Stay: Travel with G Adventures on their 7-day ‘Wellness Peru’ tour. The tour begins with stand-up paddleboarding on the Piuray Lagoon, which offers unparalleled views of the Andean scenery. Experience a traditional Incan healing ceremony in the Sacred Valley, enjoy a sunrise yoga class amongst the mountains or relax in the Lares Hot Springs before a guided tour of Machu Picchu.
Find out more: gadventures.com.au
Cultural highlights: There is still much of Mexico’s roots of Maya civilisation to be found throughout the Central American nation. Tulum, on the east coast, is the site of an impressive Mayan walled city that is said to have been abandoned in the 16th century. Mexican cuisine also plays a huge role in the nation’s identity; the much-loved dishes of flavour-laden tacos and enchiladas can be found in nearly every corner of the world today. Mexico’s blend of historic artefacts and modern beach-side culture make it an ideal wellness holiday destination.
Stay: Sea-side Be Tulum uses native materials, designer furniture and contemporary design features to create a relaxing sanctuary for guests. Its in-house wellness centre, Yäan Wellness Spa, offers a traditional pre-Hispanic Indigenous Temazcal Ceremony. Led by a Mayan healer, the ceremonies are held periodically to align with every new moon and full moon. The ceremony, held in a traditional sweat lodge, is designed to help form a deeper connection to the earth through a process of cleansing and healing.
Find out more: betulum.com
Cultural highlights: Much of Japan’s cultural heritage stems from its spiritual roots; stunning Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are found in cities and towns throughout the country. Kyoto, in the Kansai region, is considered the cultural centre of Japan. Having been largely spared from the bombings of World War II, Kyoto is home to many historical sites – 17 of which have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As well as the thousands of religious sites found in the city, Kyoto is also home to an array of beautiful traditional palaces and gardens.
Stay: Luxury hotel group Aman will open its third Japanese property on 1 November 2019. Aman Kyoto is a secluded resort, tucked away amongst 32 hectares of forest and gardens. Inspired by traditional ryokans, the property will aim to deliver an authentic but modern experience. Aman Kyoto’s Spa Pavilions draw on the time-honoured onsen tradition – relaxing and healing hot spring baths. The resort’s surrounding forest and gardens make for peaceful spaces to practise yoga and meditation, or to simply enjoy a quiet stroll away from the city streets.
Find out more: aman.com
Cultural highlights: Officially declared the Kingdom of Happiness, this small Himalayan country allows travellers to not only immerse themselves in a peaceful, loving community but to experience some out-of-the-way five star wellness visits that leave the distractions of the modern world far behind. This is made all the easier thanks to Bhutan’s virtually unspoiled natural environment and stunning landscapes.
Stay: The Six Senses hotel group has opened three new lodges in Bhutan: in Thimpu, Punakha and Paro. The lodges offer unique experiences centred around wellness and sustainability, including sunrise meditations, holistic spa treatments, private astrology readings and butter lamp lighting ceremonies. Follow these activities with hikes and treks through untouched forests, all the while discovering what the secret to Bhutanese happiness is.
Find out more: sixsenses.com
Cultural highlights: Thailand’s popularity as a tourist destination can be put down to its friendly locals, beautiful beaches and divine cuisine. But its cultural heritage is another facet of the country that makes it such an attractive holiday option. Thailand is a veritable melting pot of influences from all over Asia. Today, it has a unique culture that draws upon many of its neighbours, as well as a unique folklore that’s been passed down through generations. The stunning and distinct architecture of the many Buddhist temples also make it a memorable place to visit.
Stay: Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary is a newly opened wellness retreat in Phuket. The resort has a unique offering of four wellness programs for guests to choose from: Wellbeing, Fitness, Awareness or Detox. The Wellbeing program incorporates Thai cultural activities, designed to help guests gain an understanding of Thai culture.
Find out more: banyantree.com
Cultural highlights: Tradition, spirituality and history are thriving at every turn in India. The country’s rich culture varies from region to region and each destination offers something beautiful and unique. India’s cuisine is diverse too, from the roasted spices and coconut flavours of the south to the thick, rich curries of the north. Being the birthplace of yoga makes India an ideal wellness escape. The health system of Ayurveda – which has been incorporated into many modern wellness programs – also originates from the subcontinent.
Stay: Travel with Abercrombie & Kent on its 13-day ‘India: Ancient Traditions & Inspiring Icons’ tour, which includes stays at The Oberoi, Amanbagh and Brijrama Palace. Visit Sikh and Hindu temples in Delhi, enjoy an introduction to Ayurveda in Jaipur, discover the resplendent Taj Mahal in Agra and witness a moving pitru tarpana ceremony on the Ganges.
Find out more: abercrombiekent.com.au