When did you last feel really alive? Maybe it was an early morning yoga class overlooking the sea. Perhaps you were snorkelling a pristine coral reef, or enjoying a horseback ride through the desert. Wherever it was, chances are you were a long way from home. One of the joys of travel is that it opens us up to extraordinary experiences, moments in which we shake off the stresses and strains of the everyday and remember that it is good to be alive.
For this, our inaugural feel good 50 list, we asked the Traveller team to nominate their most memorable feel-good experiences of the past year. Some opted for activities that amped up the adrenalin. Others chose slow-lane experiences, more reflective and reviving.
From high-tech ocean-going gyms to Vedic walks through Indian towns, from swimming with dolphins to snowshoeing through icy white wildernesses, our list includes dozens of different ways to recharge your batteries. There is also something to suit every price point.
For a blow-the-budget special occasion, you might want to book in for an entire day of spa treatments in an exclusive Asian resort. Looking to keep it affordable? A soak in an outback thermal pool will cost you exactly nothing.
Contributors: Andrew Bain, Julietta Jameson, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Sally Macmillan, Sheriden Rhodes
SNOWSHOE THROUGH YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK IN WINTER, US
Winter wonderlands don't get more magical than Yellowstone, with its frozen waterfalls, snow-covered plains and geothermal hotspots puffing steam into the sky. The best way to explore these icy landscapes is on a guided snowshoe tour. Never snowshoed before? No problem; your instructor will show you how it's done. Tours leave daily from Old Faithful Snow Lodge. See yellowstonenationalparklodges.com
INDULGE IN A MANI-PEDI AT ONE & ONLY PALMILLA LOS CABOS, MEXICO
Manicures and pedicures are usually the poor cousins of spa treatments, but not at One & Only Palmilla. This ultra-relaxing mani-pedi has two therapists working simultaneously on your feet, legs, hands and arms while you lounge in a recliner with your feet elevated. The only downside is that the treatment is so relaxing that you may drift off to sleep. Never mind; your hands and feet will look and feel amazing by the time you wake up. See oneandonlyresorts.com
HIKE A SECTION OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA'S CAPE TO CAPE WALK
Photo: Mark Boskell
Karri forests, rugged sea cliffs, tranquil bays: Western Australia's Cape to Cape Track is one of Australia's great walks. If you don't have the time or the energy to hike all 140 kilometres of it, you can do a day trip with Cape to Cape Tours. As you walk, the guides will explain the area's unique geology and its surprising bio-diversity. See capetocapetours.com.au
RETREAT TO SHIMLA'S WILDFLOWER HALL, INDIA
This turreted fairytale castle in the Himalayan foothills is home to one of India's most decadent spas, offering everything from restorative massages and Tibetan singing bowl therapy, to yoga and meditation classes and an alfresco spa overlooking the mountains. It's hard to one-up the spa, but a hike and picnic in their cedar forest, or a hit on their tennis court which converts into an ice-skating rink in winter, are certainly in the running. See oberoihotels.com
HIKE THE VALLEY OF THE GODS, ICELAND
There is no way around it: to visit the glacial valley known as Thorsmork, you need a Superjeep. No other vehicle can handle the rugged terrain of the place known as the Valley of the Gods. The reward is the opportunity to hike some of Iceland's loveliest landscapes. Protected by swift-flowing rivers and tall cliffs, the canyons of Thorsmork offer one highlight after another, from tiny flowers fringed with frost to cascading waterfalls. See inspiredbyiceland.com
CYCLE THE BLUE DERBY PODS RIDE, TASMANIA
After a day on the superb mountain-bike trails at Derby in north-eastern Tasmania, your body will probably thank you, since cycling is so much kinder on joints and limbs than hiking. It'll also be tired and hungry, which is where the soft-edged delights of the three-day Blue Derby Pods Ride are so welcome. With unique sleeping pods, and menus prepared by one of Tassie's top chefs, it's an entirely new spin on cycling. See bluederbypodsride.com.au
SOAK IN A DESERT HOT SPRINGS, JORDAN
Secreted in a lush desert oasis at the bottom of a rocky canyon, 20 minutes' drive from the Dead Sea, Ma'in Hot Springs resort and spa will see you soaking in sulphurous hot spring pools fed by dramatic waterfalls pouring off the towering mountains. Post stress-melting soak, you can indulge in a tranquillising massage, Dead Sea mud wrap, scrub or facial at the excellent Cascade Spa, set within this Arabic palace-style 97-room resort. See mainhotsprings.com
FIT IN AT THE KERRY HOTEL, HONG KONG
Hong Kong's new waterfront hotel comes with health and fitness in its DNA. The Kerry brand, a funkier offshoot of the classy Shangri-La group, comes with its own sub-brand, Base Camp – an extensive 24-hour fitness compound which, in the case of the Hong Kong property, includes one of the biggest gyms in the city, a 25-metre outdoor infinity pool right on the harbour's edge that's heated in winter, steam and sauna, and, taking advantage of the hotel that's next to a waterside promenade that reaches to Tsim Sha Tsui, a variety of other outdoor activities such as a running club. See shangri-la.com
BE PAMPERED AT CANYON RANCH SPA, CELEBRITY SOLSTICE
The famous Arizona-based wellness vacation brand Canyon Ranch delivers a holistic approach that, across its branches, in places ranging from high-rolling Las Vegas hotels to 20 vessels on the high seas, includes various wellbeing professionals across multi-disciplines. Aboard Australia's favourite cruise ship, Celebrity Solstice, the Canyon Ranch Spa Club includes acupuncture and reflexology among the more standard offerings of massages and facials. Afterwards, kick back in The Persian Garden with its solarium pool surrounded by relaxing greenery and waterfalls. See celebritycruises.com.au
RIDE A HORSE IN THE AL WADI DESERT, DUBAI
It's a 45-minute drive from downtown Dubai to the Al Wadi Desert, where the super-luxe Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah resort is on a 500-hectare nature reserve. Riding a pure-bred Arab horse over sand dunes surrounded by mountains is your Lawrence of Arabia moment – heart-stoppingly beautiful – and watching the falconry displays later in the day reveals another aspect of a culture that goes back thousands of years. See latitude33.travel
WALK AND FEAST IN BASILICATA, ITALY
Eat, sleep and walk your way through spectacular and little-trodden walking areas in southern Italy on a moveable hiking feast through Basilicata. The views from the limestone peaks behind Maratea, and along the heights of the Pollino massif, which forms the spine of Italy's largest national park, are as satisfying and filling as the local podolica beef, buffalo mozzarella and aglianico wine on a nine-day southern Italy hiking trip with Hedonistic Hiking. See hedonistichiking.com
SOAK IN EL QUESTRO'S ZEBEDEE SPRINGS, KIMBERLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
One of the Kimberley's most unforgettable destinations, El Questro caters for any budget, with accommodation options ranging from simple campsites to the five-star Homestead. No matter where you are staying, it is the natural attractions that are the real highlight, with Zebedee Springs at the top of the list. Naturally heated water cascades from one palm-fringed pool to the next; choose a perch and let yourself unwind. See elquestro.com.au
BATHE IN AN ONSEN IN HOKKAIDO, JAPAN
Hokkaido is home to some of Japan's best natural hot springs, and those in the know head to the remote hot spring village of Yoroushi Onsen. At Daiichi Lodge you can soak your weary bones in 40-degree mineral-rich spring water flowing from the volcanic mountains, the stress melting off your shoulders faster than the falling snow. The river rushing by below, an endangered Blakiston's fish-owl hooting in the distance – we can already hear you exhaling. See yoroushi.jp
CLIMB A WATERFALL, LAKE WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND
As terrifying as it can be for those not comfortable with heights, you're guaranteed to finish Wildwire – a "via ferrata" protected climbing route that sees you ascending 300 metres alongside Twin Falls waterfall in New Zealand's Lake Wanaka – a stronger person, both physically and mentally. The wild mountain views and sense of I-can-do-anything accomplishment you'll be rewarded with at the top make the tough climb worth it. See wildwire.co.nz
HIKE TO RAINBOW MOUNTAIN, PERU
It takes five days of high-altitude hiking along the Ausangate trail to get to this mountain, surely one of the world's most stunning with its stripes of turquoise, turmeric and terracotta. But the lush valleys, centuries-old glaciers and windswept, alpaca-dotted plains you'll pass en route are a tonic for the world-weary. And the lack of Wi-Fi? Perfection for those sorely in need of a digital detox. See crooked-compass.com
TAKE A VEDIC WALK THROUGH PUSHKAR, INDIA
Take this three-hour spiritual walk through Pushkar, one of the most holy cities in India, and you'll not only learn about the country's four main religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) and get access to a handful of the 500 temples smattered around town, you'll also have your sins washed away in a puja ceremony conducted by a local priest at the holy Pushkar Lake. A soul cleanse like no other. See vedicwalks.com
FLOAT IN THE DEAD SEA, JORDAN
A soak in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, is actually prescribed by doctors due to the healing properties of its waters. Roughly eight times saltier and more mineral-dense than the ocean, it is particularly beneficial for ailments including psoriasis, arthritis and allergies. The hyper-salinity suspends bathers in the water and if you lay back, ears submerged and eyes closed, you'll experience the closest thing to being back in the womb. See wildjordan.com
GET FIT ABOARD OCEANIA INSIGNIA, MEDITERRANEAN
Fitness classes on Oceania Cruises' fleet are now complimentary aboard Oceania Insignia for a Mediterranean cruise. Instructors are attentive and enthusiastic and after every morning stretch you may be inspired to walk a (nautical) mile around the track on deck 10. More than 24 expert-led classes are now free, including boot camp, yoga, Pilates and strength training. See oceaniacruises.com
HIKE ON FLINDERS ISLAND, TASMANIA
Photo: Andrew Bain
Science has officially decreed that the world's cleanest air blows across Bass Strait, so fill your lungs with goodness as you hike the rugged mountains or colourful coasts of Bass Strait's biggest island. Almost as large as Mauritius, but home to fewer than 900 people, restorative space is plentiful here. Popular hikes include the enormous Castle Rock and the summit of Strzelecki Peaks. Tasmanian Expeditions runs a six-day Flinders Island Walking Adventure trip. See tasmanianexpeditions.com.au
TAKE A YOGA CLASS ON JOIE DE VIVRE
Club L'Esprit, on Uniworld's newest river ship Joie de Vivre, is a spa and fitness centre by day and turns into Claude's Supper Club at night. It has a respectably sized pool, complete with resistance jets, which is covered to create more floor space for early-morning yoga classes. The resident massage therapist leads the classes in this lovely, calm space – a great way to start the day. See uniworld.com/au/
SWIM WITH DOLPHINS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Although the trip to Sodwana Bay, a spectacular coastal national park on South Africa's east coast, was primarily to swim with whale sharks, the big fish weren't coming out to play that day. However, a pod of dolphins obligingly turned up and swimming within touching distance of these graceful, friendly – and surprisingly big – creatures is one of the highlights of my life. See atitude33.travel
CYCLE AROUND SEVILLE, SPAIN
Andalucia's dramatically beautiful capital city is one of the hottest spots in Spain – temperature wise as well as culturally – and a guided e-bike tour allows you to take in the key attractions without wilting. Feel the warm wind in your hair (no helmets required) as you breeze past historic buildings and through shaded parks while other visitors slog it out on foot. Stops for information sessions are part of the package. See elecmove.com
SNORKEL EVERY DAY IN FRENCH POLYNESIA
When your ship – motor-sailer Wind Spirit – has an on-board marina stocked with water-toys and snorkelling equipment, it's rude not to use them. And when every port call offers the chance to snorkel in coral gardens full of tropical fish, you can't help doing it every day. Hand-feeding sting rays, swimming with black-tip reef sharks and seeing manta rays gliding by in clear, warm water is sheer balm for the soul. See traveltheworld.com.au
DO A DIGITAL DETOX IN PORT DAVEY, TASMANIA
Having no internet access when you're cruising on a 10-passenger vessel in one of the most remote places in Australia is a huge bonus. Why would you want to look at emails when you're surrounded by vast tracts of uninhabited bush and ocean wilderness anyway? Bird-watching, bush-walking and exploring the tranquil waterways of Port Davey take you to a place far from the madding synthetic crowds on social media – and the world in general. See tasmanianboatcharters.com.au
SWIM IN SCENIC SPIRIT'S POOL, INDOCHINA
If river ships have pools at all, they are usually minuscule and only good for a token dip. Scenic Spirit, which sails the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam, is the newest ship on the river and one of its standout features is its pool. Not only can you swim a few (shortish) laps, it's conveniently close to the bar, which serves Billecart-Salmon champagne among other top drops that are included in the fare. See scenic.com.au
WATCH MONTGOMERY REEF RISING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
As the water cascades off Montgomery Reef when massive tides – up to 10 metres – fall, all manner of soft corals and sea creatures are exposed as the reef appears to rise from the water. Green turtles sometimes get stuck there and seabirds flock around to take their pickings from the marine goodies. Observing the phenomenon from a strategically placed Zodiac is quite simply mesmerising. See silversea.com/expeditions
STEAM YOUR CARES AWAY ON THE PACIFIC DAWN
A spa treatment while cruising is always a good idea, but the Thermal Suites aboard the newly refurbished Pacific Dawn – offering sauna, steam, relaxation and tropical shower rooms – are an even better option in my book. Tucked away in the ship's bowels like a cosy cave, the suites' heated mosaic-tiled beds envelop the body in comforting, stress-reducing warmth. An unlimited access pass means you can go whenever it takes your fancy. See pocruises.com.au
CONNECT IN A FIJIAN EYRIE
Atop Vakalomalagi Hill (or Heavenly Hill), the traditional Fijian-inspired timber and glass eyrie that is Bebe Spa appears to hover above the magnificent coastline. On a private open-air balcony therapists wash and scrub your feet in a copper basin, before delivering a traditional Fijian bobo massage; leaving a glorious post treatment glow that lasts for days. See outrigger.com/Fiji/Resort
GET FIT PURSUING THE PERFECT LORD HOWE ISLAND SHOT
Signing on for Pinetree's Photography and Walking Week on Lord Howe Island also means signing for a serious workout. Climb mountains, scramble over rocks, and descend into lush valleys in pursuit of the perfect shot on the World Heritage-listed island. See pinetrees.com.au
STAY IN SINGAPORE'S FIRST WELLNESS HOTEL
Checking in to the Downtown Oasia Singapore, a "wellness" hotel, actually makes you feel better. Vertical and rooftop gardens, open air public spaces, fresh coconut juice at check in, complimentary mineral water in the mini bar and free daily yoga mean you're more inspired to make healthy choices. The hotel's exterior green "living" skin also reduces the need for air conditioning meaning you sleep better too. See stayfareast.com
INDULGE IN QUALIA'S SIGNATURE SPA EXPERIENCE, QUEENSLAND
Photo: ANDREA FRANCOLINI
Entering Spa Qualia is like entering a world within an ethereal world, tucked behind imposing gates on Queensland's Hamilton Island. The signature Whitsunday Escape is three hours of pure bliss, beginning with a sea mineral salt exfoliation and mud wrap in an open-air treatment room, before taking a private rain shower to the waft of eucalypt. The treatment continues with a full body massage, heat therapy, sleep inducing hair and scalp treatment and marine mineral facial. To say you'll float back to your pavilion overlooking the Coral Sea is no exaggeration. See qualia.com.au
EXPERIENCE THE SPIRIT OF ALOHA HEALING, HAWAII
Ho'omana Spa Maui run by native Hawaiian Jeana Iwalani Naluai wraps guests in the spirit of Aloha. Taught the ancient healing art by the woman largely responsible for the spread of lomi lomi throughout the globe, Jeana in turn trains therapists, and treats guests, at her simple, tropical studio. Treatments are delivered using spa products made from the retreat's organic garden, while guests can select their own aromatic plants for a herbal tea bath. See hoomanaspamaui.com
DO A SPA SAFARI ON SUMBA, INDONESIA
The epic Nihi Oka spa safari begins at dawn with a trek through rolling countryside, verdant rice fields and a traditional Sumbanese village. At Nihiwatu's private beach club, a fleet of staff await bearing cold towels, fresh coconuts and breakfast served overlooking the rugged coastline. Afterwards, dive into unlimited treatments ranging from body wraps to organic facials, interspersed with refreshing ocean swims. At sunset return to Nihiwatu in open air safari vehicles, or check into the new Nihi Oka Bale Number 4 for an all-inclusive overnight spa safari. See nihihotels.com
SALUTE THE SUN AT TURTLE COVE, HAWAII ISLAND
This no-frills class on the lush lawn at Turtle Cove at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel offers one of the most beautiful settings for yoga. Framed by coconut palms, the sweet, shady spot (albeit on a slightly irregular surface) overlooks a small inlet frequented by sea turtles; a heavenly way to start your day. Classes are pitched at beginner yogis; BYO yoga mat. See princeresortshawaii.com
EXPERIENCE THE WORLD'S FIRST THAI HAMMAN
Laugh, scream, and even fall asleep in Amatara's signature Thai Hamman. The blockbuster three-hour treatment at the resort's astonishing 2000-square-metre destination spa on the island of Phuket involves everything from an aromatic Thai herbal steam, Moroccan black soap massage, through to a thermal mud treatment and Himalayan salt therapy. You'll be scrubbed raw, have ice thrown all over you and stumble into the light feeling reborn. See amataraphuket.com
FIVE FEEL-GOOD COUNTRIES TO VISIT
ICELAND Breathe deep. Iceland has the world's freshest air, the world's cleanest water, not to mention the glaciers and geysers that make this a magical outdoor playground. The natural thermal water pouring out of the taps is the icing on the cake.
JAPAN It's not so much the food, the temples or even the beautiful scenery that lifts our spirits when we visit Japan: it is the exquisite attention to detail. From the wrapping of a department store purchase to the arrangement of food on a plate, Japan reminds us to value the small things.
FIJI There's no denying that tropical islands have a hold on us, with all that white sand lapped by blue sea. What most tropical islands don't have, however, is people as warm and welcoming – and prone to bursting into song – as the friendly Fijians.
ITALY Their traffic is often chaotic, their governments often corrupt, but the Italians have mastered the art of la dolce vita. With its historic cities packed with artistic masterpieces, not to mention its superb food, a visit to Italy is good for the soul.
SRI LANKA Sri Lanka's formula of beaches and Buddhist temples, hill stations and ancient cities, is a winner. A stop at one of the verdant spice gardens for some natural remedies up the feelgood factor.
FIVE FEEL-GOOD CITIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Those lucky, lucky locals. Their city is blessed with one of the largest city parks in the world, an impressive cycle network, and an enviable location surrounded by inviting lakes. Oh, and the Alps are just a day trip away.
SALVADOR DE BAHIA, BRAZIL
The good people of Salvador in Brazil's northeast love a party; so much so that they throw one every Tuesday night. The lively Terca da Bencao is a joyous celebration; throw in Brazil's best food, beautiful beaches and a vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, and it's no wonder that so many visitors fall in love with this town.
They think big in Vancouver. This hipster haven has declared its ambition to become the most sustainable city in the world, and is investing heavily in everything from cycleways to community gardens. Truly a place where the living is easy.
Dressed up but not stuck up, Antwerp's stylish yet laidback inhabitants seem to have it all. What's not to love about a city which boasts eye-catching modern architecture as well as historic streetscapes, along with heaping helpings of mussels, frites, beer and chocolate?
Perched between the fiord and the forests, it's no wonder that Oslo-ites spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. From cross-country skiing to kayaking and hiking, there are plenty of reasons to get out and about.
FIVE FEEL GOOD NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD
KEDU PLAIN, JAVA
There is something astonishingly tranquil about Central Java's lush Kedu Plain, watched over by no fewer than four volcanoes. Perhaps that is why the area is so rich in temples, from the beautiful Buddhist Borobudur to ancient Hindu temples such as Canggal.
ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA
If you want size, head for the Grand Canyon. If you want ridiculously surreal beauty, Antelope Canyon is your place. Centuries of flash floods have transformed this narrow slot canyon into a living sculpture, with mesmerising organic forms and striated rock patterns.
CENOTE IK-KIL, MEXICO
The Yucatan Peninsula is best-known for its magnificent Mayan cities, but cenotes such as Ik-kil – subterranean swimming holes formed by the collapse of bedrock – are just as spectacular. The turquoise water, filtered through limestone, is eerily transparent; floating on your back and gazing up at the sky high above you is a remarkable experience.
Forbidding and dangerous, yes, but deserts can also be remarkably beautiful, as Namibia's Sossusvlei proves. Wave upon wave of giant sand dunes crest towards the horizon, providing a magnificent sight whether you are standing at the foot of a dune or flying above this sandy sea.
KONIGSSEE LAKE, GERMANY
Straight out of a picturebook, its sides carved by glaciers, this Bavarian gem is the archetypal alpine lake. Take a boat tour to admire crystal-clear waters reflecting the surrounding slopes. The photogenic church of St. Bartholoma, topped with pretty onion domes, is the perfect finishing touch.