10 best destinations in Europe to find your inner zen
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Consumers seem to be in desperate need of a wellness boost when it comes to travelling, spending more than ever on travel experiences that improve their health and help them to relax and rejuvenate.
According to a study by American Express, 76% of consumers want to spend more on travel that improves their wellbeing. And whether it’s a post-Covid detox, a break from the kids, a romantic spa escape or simply a holiday away from everything, travelling is an excellent way to channel that inner zen.
From spa resorts to yoga retreats to walking trails to embracing hygge, there’s a destination for you in Europe for optimal rejuvenation, regardless of whether wellness means sweaty hikes, ayurvedic detoxes or deserted beaches.
If you’re in the market for a wellness holiday where you can pay with points, check out these nine wellness resorts bookable on points.
1. For luxury zen: Ibiza, Spain
Hedonism doesn’t have to be wild. Crazy nightclubs and wild parties might come to mind when thinking of Ibiza, but the island has rebranded itself as a wellness destination with an influx of vegan restaurants, yoga retreats and the recently-opened Six Senses Ibiza.
The hotel, located on a former olive farm offers a luxury island experience focusing on guests’ well-being, where visitors can take part in growing their own food, attend transformation retreats or take part in the hotel’s holistic anti-ageing program.
And don’t forget about the island’s mystical rock, Es Vedra. Various legends surround the rock, many believing it’s a vortex, or the birthplace of the Phoenician goddess Tanit, but one thing is for certain: it’s one of the best spots in Europe to view the sunset.
2. For nature and fitness zen: The French, Austrian and Swiss Alps
The Alps are one of Europe’s most idyllic destinations — think towering, snowcapped peaks, crystal clear lakes, hiking and biking trails, and quaint mountain villages. Whether you prefer Chamonix, Hallstat or Interlaken, this magnificent natural landscape is one of the best places to relax, breathe fresh air and get outdoors.
Skiers may feel particularly rejuvenated after a stay at a ski-in, ski-out resort. Spa-goers can enjoy resorts like Austria’s Ayurveda Resort feature detox and ayurvedic programs to improve health and well-being. Nature enthusiasts should consider a day or week-long treks through spots such as Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, or the jagged peaks of France’s Mount Blanc.
3. For yoga, detox and equestrian zen: Andalusia & Valencia, Spain
Andalusia has always been a favourite for British travellers, but there’s actually a thriving wellness scene once you get past Marbella’s busy beaches or Benidorm’s nightlife. Thanks to year-round pleasant weather, escape for a yoga retreat at Suryalila, which offers yoga and horse-riding retreats year-round in the rolling Andalusian hills. For spa and detox, Sha Wellness offers programmes like Rebalance, Optimal Weight and Post-Covid to help recovery from long Covid.
And the area has plenty of adventure and nature too: Carefully hike the Caminito del Rey, a precipitous platform that winds around the edge of a rocky mountain, kitesurf in the windswept beaches of Tarifa or ride horses at Epona, a horse-riding centre, hotel and dressage school outside of Seville.
4. For sunny zen: Crete, Greece
There’s really never a bad time to escape to a Greek Island, but those searching for zen should consider Crete, Greece’s largest island. No matter what kind of zen you’re in the mood for, this island will provide it, from outdoor adventures like hiking the Samaria Gorge to viewing some of the world’s most epic sunsets (catch these at Chania Harbour or Elafonissi Beach) to lounging on some of the top beaches in Europe such as Balos Beach.
There’s zen accommodation for everyone, too, from luxury spa retreats like Marriott’s Blue Palace Elounda, a Luxury Collection Resort that features family spa packages and private plunge pools to the eco-friendly and affordable spa packages at the historic Elia Hotel.
5. For spa and lake zen: Lake Garda, Italy
Italy‘s Lake Garda inspires a special kind of zen. The lake’s intense blueness, the green of the surrounding trees and rocky, greyish mountains form a special serene trifecta. Whether it’s lake sports like kayaking or wakeboarding, hikes and walks around the lake, cycling adventures or sunbathing along its shores, Lake Garda offers the ultimate relaxation.
When it comes to spas, the area has around 20 spa hotels and resorts, one of the most impressive being Lefay. The resort’s wellness approach and programmes stem from combining both medicine, techniques and energies from both the East and West, and the resort refers to its 3,800-square meter spa as a ‘temple of wellness.’
6. For far-flung zen: Azores, Portugal
Escaping somewhere as exotic as the Azores is already zen in itself. After all, the Azore’s remote location in the middle of the Atlantic is as far-flung as it gets. One of the most unique ways to find zen in on the Azores islands is soaking in some of the natural thermal spas such as the Termas das Caldeiras located on Sao Miguel, the main island in the archipelago. Some of the thermal pools have hotels built around them, like the Terra Nostra Resort.
Travellers can connect with wildlife on boat trips to spot whales and dolphins, and connect with the natural landscape by swimming in volcanic calderas and hiking the highest mountain in the archipelago, Montanha do Pico.
7. For adventure zen: Iceland
Getting out into the great outdoors is an easy well to replenish energy and inspire zen. And Iceland has plenty of outdoor activities from admiring the Northern Lights, ice caving, snowmobiling, star gazing, and sleeping chilly igloos in winter to hiking, diving into waterfalls, puffin spotting, enjoying the midnight sun and whale watching in summer.
For some hydration-inspired zen, bathing in the mineral waters of the Blue Lagoon is especially therapeutic for both the mind and body. And for the ultimate access to the lagoon’s geothermic magic, stay at The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon, a luxury hotel where some suites have private lagoon access.
8. For pilgrimage zen: Camino de Santiago, Spain
The Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, is a pilgrimage that takes walkers through France and Spain (though you can even start in the U.K., Portugal or Germany), ending up at the tomb of St. James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Religious, spiritual or otherwise, those who do the Camino can connect with whatever higher being they want, or simply with nature or themselves by hiking, walking or even cycling part or all of this special route.
If you want to make things official, you’ll have to get stamps in your pilgrim passport from albergues or pensioners (small hostels/hotels) along the way, as well as complete a minimum of 100 km in order to get a certificate (called a compostela) stating you completed the walk. Cyclists must complete a minimum of 200 km to get the official certificate of completion.
9. For walking zen: Wicklow, Ireland
Walking is excellent for your physical health, but can also help clear your head and improve mental health, too. And, according to the previously mentioned study by American Express, 43% of U.K. travellers consider walking a top travel wellness activity. One of the best spots for walkers is Wicklow, Ireland, known as the ‘Garden of Ireland’. The county is full of natural wonders that can be explored on foot, like verdant rolling hills, blustery beaches, historic monuments and stone castles. Wicklow’s mountains are part of Ireland’s largest national park, and the area even has the country’s biggest waterfall, Powerscourt.
Walk on your own, or amble down one of the Wicklow’s specific walking trails. Official walks are separated into various categories, meaning you can do an easy two-hour walk, a full-day walk or even take an entire walking holiday.
10. For solitude zen: The Faroe Islands, Denmark
If you really need to get away from well, everything and everyone, head to Danish territory the Faroe Islands. You’ll likely spot more puffins and sheep than people on at least some of the 17 islands, and highlights include birdwatching, hiking and watching waterfalls rush down steep cliffs. The misty, fog-engulfed islands aren’t really for sunbathing or luxury hotels (though the island’s first points hotel has recently opened), but rather those looking to really get off-the-beaten-path and for a true escape away from civilization.
For anyone hoping to travel sustainably, the island is dedicated to promoting an eco-tourism strategy to be implemented by 2025. The islands are taking measures such as limiting cruise ships, emphasising longer stays and working towards a four-season tourism model.
In this day in age, wellness has many meanings. Wellness can pertain to getting out in nature, reading a novel by the fireplace or doing physical activity. For others, wellness is about spa sessions, doing adventure activities with loved ones or quiet strolls in solitude.
This year, combine travel and wellness by choosing a destination and a holiday that makes you feel good. Whether that be sunbathing on a deserted beach, viewing a breathtaking sunset, having a spa day or breaking a sweat by hiking, walking, yoga or biking, incorporate a little wellness into your next holiday and come back home feeling rejuvenated, relaxed and completely zen.
(Feature image of a cyclist in the Alps courtesy of DieterMeyrl/Getty)
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