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Revitalizing Travel Destinations

Combine a healthy getaway with luxurious pampering at these premier destinations

Aerial view of the resort Castello di Casole.

Faster than you can say “om,” the concept of healthy vacation travel has evolved from spartan weight-loss camps to a fast-growing, global wellness tourism industry. Hotels, spas and resorts have become an immersive headquarters for life-changing, longevity-promoting experiences that promise to add vigor and vitality to body and soul.

Wellness tourism now represents 14.6 percent of all global tourism expenditures (about 1 in 7 tourist dollars) and wellness-focused travel is forecast to reach $678.5 billion this year, according to the Global Wellness Institute. Unlike travel to seek cures or recover from illness, wellness tourism is focused on enhancing quality of life and well-being through practices such as meditation, exercise, anti-aging treatments or personalized counseling about diet or health.

“Many destination wellness retreats are getting much more customized,” says Beth McGroarty, research director of the Global Wellness Institute. “Some of them are really medical, and begin with a nurse’s or doctor’s assessment, and others are more alternative.” Expect to find personal trainers or diets based on your blood type, your ayurvedic doshas or your mind-body type.

“We’re seeing so many new combinations of travel experiences that focus on, or blend, physical, social, mental, spiritual, emotional and environmental ‘healthy’ experiences,” McGroarty says. Destinations may offer healthy eating and cooking classes, nature hikes that also teach about wildlife protection, or immersions in natural hot springs, all with the goal of accomplishing an integrative lifestyle change.

Today’s wellness traveler can expect luxurious pampering on the route to good health. A 21-day, $80,000 global tour of spiritual sites via private jet offered by TCS World Travel recently sold out well in advance of the February departure date. That high-flying opportunity may have passed, but luxurious wellness resorts near and far are rolling out the welcoming yoga mat, ready to receive and revive the fit and fitter.

Kamalaya Koh Samui
This 75-room beachside hotel in remote Thailand is a wellness sanctuary and holistic spa set in thick, luscious foliage. Kamalaya offers diverse traditions of healing, spirituality and culture to help clients achieve balance and reach their potential. Co-founded by former art dealer and monk John Stewart and his wife, Karina, a veteran practitioner of Eastern medicine, the resort focuses on offering structured holistic wellness programs and a detox diet that address stress, emotional balance, sleep, weight, fitness and detoxification (three-night retreats begin at $1,615). The fitness facilities include a lap pool, yoga pavilion, exercise studio, open-air yoga platform and state-of-the-art gym where guests can receive personal training or implement new fitness regimens.

What’s different: You can meditate in an incense-scented, candlelit cave once used as a spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks.

A sample: Though the resort’s stress and burnout treatment programs are ongoing favorites, a series of yoga retreats this year and next features Simon Low’s Yin & Yang Yoga Immersion for four-night immersions (all-inclusive rates begin at $2,385). :: kamalaya.com

Aja Malibu
Described by its founders as “an energetic tune-up station,” Aja Malibu is a wellness resort set within 23 acres of lush hillside about 75 miles north of Newport Beach. Founder Inannya Magick, an Australian mystic and artist, spent seven years creating the seven guest rooms and the seven chakra-theme gardens, each offering a harvest of medicinal and therapeutic plants. Opened in June, the property looks like a luxe boutique B&B with private accommodations for up to eight guests. Each all-inclusive, seven-day stay is $10,000 and includes daily workshops, naturopathic supplementation, hikes, spa treatments and meals.

What’s different: Guests experience the trademark Magick Process, a detoxifying, healing series of daily workshops, rituals, spa treatments and cleansing meals, plus no access to telephones or television to complete the unplugging process. A tea sommelier guides guests through the on-site apothecary of healing herbs, roots, barks and flowers for custom tea and elixir blending.

A sample: The plant-based, low-fat, low-glycemic Aja Chakra Tune Up Diet is free of gluten, wheat and dairy and is culled from the property’s biodynamic gardens and orchards. The fusion of modern and ancient healing therapies may include aromatherapy, meditation, yoga, outdoor tea ceremonies and spa, light, sound and vibration therapies.  :: ajamalibu.com

Blackberry Farm
A 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee began as a family retreat but has emerged as an ultra luxury resort where wellness derives from the clean living, fresh food and immersion in unspoiled nature. With 68 guest rooms tucked into cottages, suites and even five-bedroom homes ($845 to $9,000), Blackberry Farm rewrites the history of American agriculture as an exercise in pure living where chefs pluck heirloom produce from on-site plots and barns are a showplace for wine dinners and visiting chefs.

What’s different: The new Wellhouse spa and wellness center utilizes its picturesque mountain and forest location in its “Deep Healing Woods” activities and treatments that focus on Japanese forest bathing – shinrin-yoku. Sessions take yoga, meditation and endurance hikes into the woods.  

A sample: The 30-minute Learning Lectures ($35 per person) cover topics such as “The Science Behind Deep Healing Woods”; Aromatherapy 101; and “What Color is Your Diet.” The farm-to-treatment-table body wrap  ($185) contains gluten-free sorghum to help firm, brighten and hydrate the skin. :: blackberryfarm.com

Six Senses Douro Valley
A 19th-century manor house with 57 guest rooms offers a holistic wellness program deep in northern Portugal’s Douro Valley, an esteemed wine region and UNESCO world heritage site. Guests receive a personalized health screening that guides their progress through programs for improved digestion, weight loss, stamina, immunity and stress relief. If your wellness approach includes great food and wine, gourmet meals are based on the estate’s organic garden, and the sommelier hosts tastings of local vintages.

What’s different: The new Six Senses Integrated Wellness program resulted from a two-year collaboration with wellness professionals such as author and television personality
Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiac surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry and sleep expert Michael Breus that addressed common health and wellness issues. Handmade, organic beds with a choice of toppers help aid sleep.

A sample: An adventurous wellness program could include kayaking along the Douro River, climbing a tree, forest circuit training or meditating in a giant wicker pod suspended above the forest floor, followed by a nearly three-hour detoxifying spa session. :: sixsenses.com

Castello di Casole
Spending time in a Tuscan castle surrounded by verdant vineyards, pastures and rolling hills is a great start to anyone’s wellness prescription. The castle, which dates to 998, is now part of a Timbers Resort that includes 41 private suites, villas and a former wine cellar transformed into a spa where treatments include local ingredients such as grapes, olive oil and rosemary.

What’s different: The 4,200-acre estate offers restored farm buildings and villas constructed over centuries from materials gathered on the property and renovated to standards of modern luxury.

A sample: The resort offers a digital detox package that sequesters electronic devices during a program offering sessions of meditation, Pilates, tai chi, massage and other holistic and spa treatments (about $1,116 per night, double occupancy). :: castellodicasole.com

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