52 Dream Destinations: Wellness

Geothermal joys in Iceland. Digital detoxing in a 1300s Umbrian monastery. Sunrise trekking before a treehouse breakfast on Indonesia's "lost-world" island. For frazzled souls seeking a reboot, the planet offers evermore intriguing solutions.



The Retreat at Blue Lagoon

THE EXPERIENCE: Iceland has long been delivering spectacular scenery with a side order of whimsy, but the Nordic nation has only recently entered the global travel consciousness. 

Today Iceland is enjoying an Instagram-fuelled, aurora-seeking tourist boom. Demand is so strong it's mandatory to pre-book your soak at the Blue Lagoon, an iconic spa attraction of milky-blue geothermal waters in a black lava field – and you'll be sharing that experience with loads of others. 

The opportunity was ripe to expand and so The Retreat at Blue Lagoon opened this month. Here, the common spaces and 62 suites radiate exclusivity. Floor-to-ceiling windows take in other-worldly views of steaming pastel-blue waters and dramatic black-lava horizons. A private geothermal lagoon encircles the property and a subterranean spa beckons with treatments such as in-water massage. But should you begin to feel waterlogged, you can join a yoga class, take a group hike, or sample farm-totable fare at the restaurant. 

With the retreat 50 kilometres from Reykjavik, there are few distractions other than spa time.

IDEAL FOR: Cashed-up couples, honeymooners, empty-nesters.

PRICE: $1850-$4430 a night; bluelagoon.com.


LIKE THIS? Try the visually spectacular Arctic Bath, near Harads in Sweden, a floating hotel opening towards the end of this year; arcticbath.se.

Eremito, Italy.

A  Wi-Fi-free world: the restored 14th-century monastery in Eremito, Italy. Photo: Marco Ravasini



THE EXPERIENCE: Enter an eco-steeped, luxurious and painstakingly restored 14th-century monastery and be prepared for detox, of both the digital and spiritual kind. A labour of love for Marcello Murzilli, founder of the of '80s and '90s Italian fashion label El Charro, Eremito (Italian for "hermit") is surrounded by a 3000-hectare sea of protected forest, a scene-setter for serenity and solitude.

With no Wi-Fi or TV and a polite request to resist using phones, this boutique wellness destination pursues an ethos in line with the property's original purpose of reflection and connection to spirit.

Rituals on offer include fasting and colon detox, Gregorian chant workshops, icon painting, horse riding and walks along the nearby riverbank. Eremito also organises fishing and other activities aimed at strengthening the relationship between parents and children.

Checking in here means a shift into a much lower gear. Meals (all vegetarian and organic) are taken in the arched refectory in silence, as they have been for centuries. There are also a sauna, steam room, hot tub, relaxing oil massages and yoga classes. The 12 guest rooms – upgraded versions of the rooms the monks once occupied, known as celluzze – are stone-bound, with sustainably grown hemp bed sheets and heated flooring. (Eremito is a member of Design Hotels, so think rustic chic.) 

Largely illuminated by candles and fi replaces, with the minimal electricity used provided by state-of-the-art photovoltaic cells, the atmosphere is tranquil and old world.

IDEAL FOR: Individuals or couples in need of time out.

PRICE: From €196 a night, all-inclusive; eremito.com.


LIKE THIS? Try L'Albereta in Italy's Lombardy region, a 2000-square-metre wellness centre run by the award-winning Chenot group; albereta.it.

The Six Senses resort, Fiji.

The Six Senses resort, Fiji. Photo: Supplied



Six Senses

THE EXPERIENCE: This luxurious, eco resort is set to raise the bar in the Fijian archipelago when it opens next week. Located on an expansive bay on volcanic Malolo Island, it faces a sweeping white sand beach and is flanked by rocky headlands and giant baka trees. The 26 spacious and sumptuous pool villas and 60 residential villas were designed by award-winning New Zealand architect Richard Priest. 

The resort has one of the largest off-grid solar installations in the southern hemisphere. Other sustainability initiatives include worm-based septic tanks, a reverse osmosis plant to purify water and a herb, fruit and vegetable garden. Local craftsmen have recycled fallen trees for furniture and resort construction. 

But what about the spa? Tailored treatments feature native medicinal plants and promise to rejuvenate even the most tired of bodies. There's mindfulness training, an elevated tree-top yoga pavilion and more active pursuits such as surfing, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and sailing.

At the end of the day, settle into the Tovolea Bar and enjoy the sunset with a cocktail.

IDEAL FOR: Honeymooners and families (a kids' club is available).

PRICE: From $1800 a night; sixsenses.com.


LIKE THIS? Try the five-star Amatara Wellness Resort in Phuket, Thailand; amataraphuket.com.

The Kamalaya
Wellness Sanctuary
in Thailand.

The Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary in Thailand. Photo: supplied


Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa

THE EXPERIENCE: Yes, there are wheatgrass shots on the breakfast buffet, but also plenty of quality coffee. Which pretty much sums up the Kamalaya philosophy – the emphasis is on nurturing and encouraging rather than lecturing. No wonder, then, that this ease-yourself-into-it spa set amid jungle-like gardens wins awards around the world. 

There are two ways to tackle Kamalaya. If you only have time for a quick break, check in for a couple of days and order treatments as you go. For a mindand-body overhaul, however, book one of the holistic packages that focus on a range of issues from burnout to relaxing and revitalising.  

Each program is packed with treats. The seven-day basic program, for instance, includes nine massages – from ayurvedic to Chinese – as well as one-on-one sessions on stress management, wellness and diet. In between appointments, you can join a free yoga class, have a session in one of the steam caves, or lounge by one of the pools munching on frozen grapes.

Kamalaya's food is perhaps the aspect that its devotees are most passionate about. The resort's tome-like menu includes everything from seared scallops to chicken tikka masala, not to mention the I-can't-believethey're-not-bad-for-me desserts such as mango sticky rice and chocolate mousse.

IDEAL FOR: Spa addicts and stressed-out executives.

PRICE: From 56,542 Thai baht for a three-night stay, including meals and beverages, airport transfers and a wellness program; kamalaya.com


LIKE THIS? Try Escape Haven, a women-only retreat in Bali where a personal trainer will get you into shape when you're not surfing, taking a yoga class or enjoying spa treatments; escapehaven.com.

the Nihi
in Indonesia, offer a
variety of healthy
tropical treats.

The Nihi is set in Sumba, known as Indonesia's "lost world" island, and fronts a cult surf break.


Nihi Sumba Island

THE EXPERIENCE: A world of wellness awaits at this five-star resort, a former surf lodge transformed into a culturally immersive enclave of bespoke experiences and indulgence. Indonesia's Sumba is known as the lost-world island, where Nihi fronts one of the world's cult surf breaks. There are 32 decadent pool villas, a beach club, a professional equestrian centre, daily yoga and a "spa safari". The latter begins with a sunrise trek across Sumba's dramatic west coast and through rice paddies to the secluded Nihi Oka Valley. Staff await bearing scented towels, fresh coconuts and a bush-cooked breakfast served in a tree house. 

The day unfurls with unlimited spa treatments – perhaps a salt scrub or reflexology – dips in the plunge pool and healthy meals cooked over an open fi re. At day's end, return to Nihi or stay in the new clifftop Villa Rahasia, complete with attentive Sumbanese butler.

Nihi also operates the Sumba Foundation, which supports education, employment and health-care initiatives such as malaria clinics for locals.

IDEAL FOR: Spa-loving couples with a conscience.

PRICE: Villa Rahasia is $US2295 all-inclusive a night for a three-night minimum stay; nihi.com.


LIKE THIS? Try the phenomenal "Dusk to Dawn" experience at Shangri-La's Fijian Resort and Spa; shangri-la.com.

Alila Jabal Akhdar is
all about the vistas.

Oman's Alila Jabal Akhdar is all about the vistas. Photo: supplied



Alila Jabal Akhdar

THE EXPERIENCE: Surrounded by soaring cliffs and deep valleys, Alila Jabal Akhdar is all about the vistas. From March until May mountain roses carpet the Al Hajar Mountains creating a beautiful panorama of dusty pink. 

Guests can tour the rose gardens or unwind with rose-inspired treatments: rose-scented oil, rose milk and rose petal facial masks are just some of the products made from the local damask roses.

The resort opened in 2014, with the seven-room Alila Spa at the core of the wellness offerings. In 2017, the Arbour Spa – an exclusive double treatment room situated high on the edge of a gorge – was added. Three treatments were designed especially for the new facility, each of them drawing on the surrounding mountains as inspiration. Guests can dine on an extensive range of healthy fare crafted from local ingredients by the chefs at Juniper Restaurant, or soak up the views from the infinity pool, practise yoga on the deck overlooking the gorge, or simply relax in their well-appointed room. 

There are 86 low-rise luxury suites and villas, with many of the exterior walls assembled using hand-chipped stones from the surrounding mountains.

IDEAL FOR: Couples looking to unwind.

PRICE: Rates start from OMR 130 a night, including some meals and activities; alilahotels.com.


LIKE THIS? Try Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, Salalah, Oman; gha.com.

Gwinganna is the  Rolls-Royce of lifestyle retreats.

Gwinganna is the Rolls-Royce of lifestyle retreats. Photo: Paul Broben



Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

THE EXPERIENCE: A year after it celebrated its 10th anniversary, this Rolls-Royce of lifestyle retreats founded by Tony de Leede, the man behind the Fitness First gym chain and part-owned by actor Hugh Jackman, is upping the ante. 

A $1.7 million education centre designed by Sydney-based Poune Design is set to be unveiled this year. This follows the recent addition of two sumptuous Boorabee Villas with plunge pools and private steam rooms, and three luxe meditation suites. 

The meditation suites are bathed in natural light and offer private deck with daybed, deep bath, king-size bed, yoga mat, meditation cushion and iPod loaded with guided meditation sessions and music. The remaining guest rooms are located either in restored heritage accommodation or buildings constructed from reclaimed timber. 

While there are new additions, the much-lauded approach to wellness remains the same. Mornings start with a gentle knock on the door at 5.30 for qi gong or bushwalking, followed perhaps by aqua jogging or tribal dance. Afternoons give way to "dreamtime", with treatments in Gwinganna's spa, reading, swims in the infinity pool or napping. Nutritious, organic meals punctuate the day.

IDEAL FOR: Frazzled corporate types; spa devotees.

PRICE: From $1045 for two-night fully inclusive packages; gwinganna.com.


LIKE THIS? Try The Well at Bondi, co-founded by fashion retailer and Ingham chicken heir Robby Ingham; thewellbondi.com.au.

Immerse yourself
at Aro Ha
Wellness Retreat
in New Zealand.

The Aro Ha, overlooking Lake Wakatipu, offers a raw-food menu plucked straight from the garden.


Aro Ha Wellness Retreat

THE EXPERIENCE: You'll find this shrine to wellness on the edge of Lake Wakatipu which sits like an amphitheatre amid soaring alps – the very same Southern Alps a mere 16 guests and their guide trek for three to four hours each day for a week in search of soulful rejuvenation.

New Zealand's South Island serves up some of the most picturesque trails in the southern hemisphere with turquoise waters, swinging bridges, roaring waterfalls and forested-inclines so that urbanites will feel their city stresses ebbing away.

Bed down in a series of eco-friendly stand-alone villas with sweeping views of the lake, a welcome haven after those treks. Relieve tired limbs at sunrise or sunset with a yoga class or soak in outdoor spa pools and dine on a nutritious raw food menu plucked straight from the garden.

There are also meditation classes, water therapy and massage. And then there is the fresh alpine air if none of that succeeds in clearing the cobwebs.  

IDEAL FOR: Stressed-out urbanites who love the great outdoors.

PRICE: From $NZ4550 for 5-day/4-night visit; aro-ha.com.


LIKE THIS? Try Split Apple Retreat, also on New Zealand's South Island, sitting on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park; splitapple.com.

Four Seasons Resort in
the Seychelles.

Four Seasons Resort in the Seychelles. Photo: Supplied



Four Seasons Resort

THE EXPERIENCE: Fourteen kilometres of beaches; 15 kilometres of forested cycle pathways; a chef who takes you fishing during the day, then cooks up your catch at night. If you look up the definition of "barefoot luxury", you will probably find yourself gazing at a picture of the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island. 

However, the biggest selling point of the newest five-star resort in the Seychelles – that tropical archipelago floating in the Indian Ocean north-east of Madagascar – is its organic spa, which aims to ramp up the relaxation in the most soothing way possible. 

Guests can stretch their bodies and calm their minds with complimentary morning stretch sessions and evening meditations. Then there are all the naturally inspired pampering treatments such as a detoxifying papaya and pineapple facial, or a skin-stimulating massage using pink and black pepper, coriander and cardamom. 

Still to be unveiled is the anti-gravity yoga pavilion, where guests can do an acrobatics-inflected yoga class using hammock-style slings for support.

IDEAL FOR: Indulgence seekers.

PRICE: From €950 a night, inclusive of breakfast and dinner; fourseasons.com.


LIKE THIS? Try more tropical treatments at LUX Maldives South Ari Atoll, luxresorts.com, or for a digital detox, Denis Island, Seychelles; denisisland.com.



Four Seasons Hotel

THE EXPERIENCE: This hotel is the tallest residential building Manhattan's downtown, an area now dubbed boomtown thanks to a flurry of new restaurants and apartments. Though the Four Seasons was only completed in 2016, its classic architectural profile hints at 1930s glamour.

Ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island are on its doorstep, as is the Brooklyn Bridge walk and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Step out, too, to the nearby Fraunces Tavern, which dates back to 1762 and is where George Washington once roused with revolutionaries.

The hotel spa has a 23-metre indoor pool – a rarity in New York hotels – and offers a vinotherapy Luxury Champagne Ritual ($US455). Vinotherapy is based on the theory that polyphenol, contained in grapes, has powerful anti-ageing properties.

The two-hour experience starts with exfoliation with chardonnay seed extracts (chardonnay is a grape variety often used to make champagne), followed by a wrap and then a massage with chardonnay oil whipped with champagne. The treatment finishes with a glass of chardonnay.

IDEAL FOR: Couples, wedding parties, families.

PRICE: From $US495 a night; fourseasons.com.


LIKE THIS? Try the "wine therapy" spa treatments at Borgo San Felice in the Chianti region of Italy, re-opening in May after a renovation; borgosanfelice.it.  

Lindy Klim.

Lindy Klim. Photo: Christian Blanchard


LINDY KLIM, Bali-based model, fashion designer and retailer

Favourite holiday activity? I try and experience as much of the local culture as possible. But if I'm on holiday at, say, a resort in Palm Springs, I love to just relax, sunbathe and indulge in a bit of me time. A meal, massage and sleep.

Preferred reading material? I will stock up on magazines. This makes me truly feel like I'm on a vacation – getting off the phone and enjoying the look and feel of a magazine.

Cook in or dine out? Always dine out. I love the whole experience: deciding what to wear, the journey to the restaurant, the restaurant itself, the people you meet and, finally, the meal, all become part of the holiday memory. 

Favourite travel gadget? Just my iPhone. I try not to clutter up my space or my bag with too many options.

On the plane: to drink or not to drink? Well, it depends on what sort of trip it is. If it's a holiday, my holiday starts on the plane, so, yes, drink.

Worst holiday? I'm not sure I have one. I think that very first trip with a new child is an eye-opener. That's the first time you realise that when travelling with kids, holidays will never be the same again.

Favourite travel hack? I always travel with my Bose noise-cancelling headphones – they are a must. I also take La Mer mist spray to keep my skin hydrated.


This article 52 Dream Destinations: Wellness was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.