Not so long ago, wellness options were stark, either some far-flung resort or a serious bootcamp in the wild, peppered with the occasional hippie offering in some pristine, off-the-radar hideaway. In all of these places (hippie hangouts excepted), the unifying aim was weight loss and the accompanying suntan of course! But a major shift has occurred as the concept of really looking after ourselves, both in body and mind, has gone mainstream. And the growth is staggering: The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) 2017 benchmark report states that the wellness industry is now worth close to US$4 trillion and growing.
It appears that as overworked time-poor folk continue to lose connection with the natural rhythms of life, they are seeking more restorative retreats and more focused time out. As distinct from spas, retreats like these take a more reflective, longer-term approach to wellbeing and instead of coming home a few kilos lighter and beaming with vitality, their programmes are finely tuned, with outstanding super-charged food, teams of exceptional therapists, tailored therapies and above all, time to embrace change not just in body, but life too. So profound is the shift that people no longer view a week’s wellness retreat as part of their annual holiday allowance, but more an essential part of their physical and emotional maintenance, with benefits lasting far longer than the tan.
“I don’t believe there is a historical precedent for the pace of change in our lives today,” says Sheila McCann, general manager of Thailand’s Chiva-Som that over the past 20 years has paved the way to this current boom. “There are stressors everywhere and uncertainty is fast becoming the norm,” she adds. “We notice people increasingly define their quality of life by what makes them feel good. When we factor in the ageing populations around the globe, we start to see why wellness has become such a megatrend.”
Singapore-based spa consultant and wellness commentator Maggie Gunning believes that for people to truly embrace wellness it has to be a natural integration into their everyday life, without it feeling like a chore. “Food is playing an increasing role in people’s lives and the ability and ease of making healthier choices is crucial. When you start to see supermarkets full of real healthy and tasty food that isn’t full of sugar, salt and preservatives, there’s a chance that wellness will have become a bit more mainstream.”
Chiva-Som’s focus on food, via personalised nutrient profiling and its immensely popular cooking classes has long been a key component of its ethos. Food is also at the core of the wellbeing philosophy of the minimalist SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain’s idyllic Alicante. According to SHA Wellness vice-president Alejandro Bataller, the year-on-year market forecasts are far exceeding estimates. “We follow a modern and flexible macrobiotic diet, with organic whole grains, pulses and lots of locally-sourced vegetables,” he explains.
Food, rather than a digestion overhaul, is the main ingredient at the growing number of bespoke gut-centered retreats sprouting up in the UK, France and Spain in particular. As science is showing that our gut is the control centre of our general health, it makes sense that improving gut health will have knock-on benefits body wide. The pop-up Gut Makeover Retreat in Spain’s Menorca is led by London-based nutritionist and author Jeannette Hyde. “This retreat is based on latest research into the gut microbiome,” Hyde explains. “Getting your gut bacteria in good shape not only helps reduce weight, but also improves mood, strengthens the immune system and skin health too.” The five-night programme includes delicious gut-restoring meals, spa treatments, performance-based Pilates and consultations, all in a glorious 100-hectare estate.
Europe’s burnt-out high-flyers are turning to Bodhimaya in the south of France for a hardcore overhaul based on the latest nutritional medicine. Held in a 16th-century fairy-tale château, just under an hour from Saint-Tropez, the six-day programme combines individually prescribed juice cleanses, anti-inflammatory meals, yoga, meditation, genetic profiling, cooking classes and a host of wellness talks.
“We are learning more about how to prevent disease and live in a state of optimal health,” says Bodhimaya founder Daniel O’Shaughnessy. “Rather than simply eat well and look after ourselves, more and more people want to implement the latest science, tailoring their diet through advanced genetic testing and targeted wellness holidays.”
As statistics go, 2016 was the best yet for Australia’s lifestyle retreat Gwinganna, nestled in the peaceful Queensland hinterland.
“Over the years, Gwinganna has progressed from being a place to lose weight to the go-to retreat for stressed and weary bodies. Across all age groups the common theme is exhaustion as the busy-ness of peoples’ lives drives Western society into lifestyle sickness,” explains general manager and wellness director Sharon Kolkka.
Gwinganna’s emerging market is the under 35s. “Their connection to technology has given them a front row seat to social media and images of meditation and healthy foods eliciting the perfect holiday. There is a freshness and willingness to engage on retreat rather than a more reactive approach based on the need to make changes due to health issues.”
For Gregg Cave, general manager of New South Wales’ Gaia Retreat & Spa, it’s the team of top-notch healers and therapists that sets Gaia apart. “They all come to work each day with open hearts and spirits. As more and more people seek a tailored journey to reconnect with their inner peace, we have created grounding and restorative experiences drawing on holistic wisdom to realign their heart centres and bring balance back into their lives.”
Intense bootcamp is still a highlight at other leading retreats, but in a far more considered and holistic way. At New Zealand’s cutting-edge hydro-and solar-powered eco retreat Aro Hā for example, emphasis is firmly on a radical lifestyle change with intense sessions combining cardio, stretching, strength training, yoga and a restricted diet designed to push guests to their limits, all in super-luxe surrounds.
Across the globe, it’s emotional and spiritual healing that is coming to the fore as overworked urbanites realise that some time alone provides space to re-evaluate their lives. London-based healer Fiona Arrigo is founder of the life-changing The Arrigo Programme. She feels that as more people are searching for answers, they need places to go where they can get deep care and healing to cope in these difficult, turbulent times.
“With a global rise in addiction, mental health and anxiety, we need time to process our lives, time to think and settle,” she adds. Arrigo knows who and what is required to bring about this deep transformation and her retreats in Somerset (UK), India and New York are very precisely curated. In Somerset for example, a team of up to 25 healers (some flown in especially for the sessions) work with grief, addiction, trauma, depression, exhaustion and much more, to bring clients through a journey of themselves in a deeply nurturing environment (think cosy cottages, log fires, hot baths and fresh soul food).
Anti-ageing skincare continues to play centre stage at many pioneering medical-style retreats. With good reason too, as the GWI estimates that 25 per cent of the overall wellness industry worth comes from the beauty and anti-ageing markets. The heart of Switzerland’s Clinique La Prairie on the shores of Lake Geneva is anti-ageing medicine, peppered with some traditional holistic healing. Here, a team of more than 50 specialists practice a plethora of disciplines neatly packaged to boost waning vitality, immune function, libido and much more. What sets the clinic apart however, is the comprehensive hi-tech cosmetic procedures on hand to completely rejuvenate both face and body.
The one-stop Lanserhof Lans near Innsbruck in Austria, brings anti-ageing skincare to the next level too. This medical retreat has been transforming bodies for more than 30 years and recently reopened after an extensive makeover of its own. Here, the teachings of Dr. F. X. Mayr live on with medical expertise covering everything from heart, internal medicine, rheumatology, sports injuries, sleep issues, nutritional medicine and to-the-minute cosmetic skincare to nip, tuck and revitalise weary lacklustre faces.
In the US the business and lifestyle brand Even, part of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), is the first in a new breed of dedicated wellness hotels. Their four pillars of wellness – Eat Well, Rest Easy, Keep Active and Accomplish More – are built in, making it the perfect overnight stop for health-minded business travellers. Launched in 2012, Even is rapidly expanding with five hotels in the US (six more in the pipeline) and plans for close to 15 properties in Australia and New Zealand, over the coming years.
So while today’s bodies dig deep in preparation for the next triathlon, advanced warrior pose or some serious soul searching, Gunning is adamant that for real change to happen, the wellness industry as a whole, businesses and governments need to start looking at the bigger picture. She cites the soon-to-be-published report ‘The Origins of Happiness’ by Lord Richard Layard and his team from the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics. “The evidence in the survey shows that the things that matter most for our happiness (and misery) are our social relationships and our mental and physical health and, according to Lord Layard, ‘this demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’. This is where the industry, governments and businesses should be focusing their efforts to really improve our overall wellness.” •
Photography by various establishments.
• Chiva-Som: chivasom.com
• SHA Wellness Clinic: shawellnessclinic.com
• The Gut Makeover Retreat: cugogranmenorca.com
• Bodhimaya: bodhimaya.com
• Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat: gwinganna.com
• Gaia Retreat & Spa: gaiaretreat.com.au
• Aro Hā: aro-ha.com
• The Arrigo Programme: thearrigoprogramme.com
• Clinique La Prairie: laprairie.ch
• Lanserhof Lans: lanserhof.com
• Even Hotels: ihg.com/evenhotels/hotels