Holidays & Travel

Wellness tips from the world’s top health retreats to improve mind and body in 2024

Experts share their secrets for a new you in the year ahead. By Sarah Marshall.

Seaweed bathing, championed by spa brand VOYA, is great for detoxifying the body
Woman sat in a wooden hot tub with seaweed over one shoulder Seaweed bathing, championed by spa brand VOYA, is great for detoxifying the body

The start of a new year is the perfect time for a physical and mental reset, laying out goals for a healthier lifestyle in the 12 months ahead.

That trend is set to be even stronger in 2024, as more of us focus on improving moods, balancing minds and feeling more energised.

Niki Smirni, founder of leading European wellbeing retreats company Travelgems, has seen an explosion of interest in wellness holidays.

“We are seeing that retreaters are seeking transformative experiences that promote physical health, mental clarity, emotional balance, and a sense of purpose,” she says. “They are looking for special experiences that help them grow, connect with others who share similar interests and needs, and get to know themselves better.”

Multiple retreats offer programmes concentrating on different needs, but if you can’t afford to check into a clinic, take onboard some of this expert advice.

Get a better night’s sleep

A woman meditating (Krause, Johansen)

It seems as simple as breathing, but in a world filled with stress, anxiety and digital distractions, sleep is increasingly becoming a holy grail. Regarded as one of the world’s top retreats, Ananda in the Himalayas has created a programme dedicated to enhancing hours of shut eye.

Dr Chandan MC, senior Ayurvedic physician at the Indian property, says: “The time to go to bed should be also according to the circadian rhythm of our body. Ayurveda considers the first third of the night (8pm-11pm) as an ideal time to go to bed and the last third (5am-8am) as the best time to wake up and feel refreshed. Sleeping too late and waking up later does not have the ideal resting effect on our body due to various hormonal functions that follow the sun’s rhythm.

When it comes to evening routines, he adds: “Eat in a peaceful and un-distracted environment. We need all our attention attached to the food consumed to appreciate the hard work behind it and feel content with all our five sense organs. Watching television and handling mobiles while eating should be avoided.”

How: A seven-night Sleep Enhancement programme at Ananda costs from £4,972pp full board, excluding flights. Visit Ananda Spa.

Bathe with seaweed

A man harvesting seaweed

An indigenous Irish therapy, seaweed bathing has been practised for 300 years and sailors would historically use the marine algae to soothe rope burns. It’s also extremely nutritious, great for detoxifying the body, and is a rich source of iodine and vital for the health of your thyroid – the gland responsible for regulating metabolism and energy levels.

Lifestyle and spa brand VOYA are experts in the field of seaweed bathing. Company co-founder Mark Walton says: “The seaweed bath is a remedy. It’s like a poultice, it draws out toxins and replaces them with essential vitamins and minerals that the seaweed has taken from the sea.

“A hot seaweed bath is better than a wet steam sauna because the sea greens rebalance skin chemistry instead of dehydrating it. The electrolytic magnetic action of our signature product VOYA Lazy Days [featuring Fucus Serratus seaweed hand-harvested from the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland] releases excess body fluids from congested cells and dissolves fatty wastes through the skin, replacing them with depleted minerals, particularly potassium and iodine.”

How: A 50-minute bath ritual in Strandhill, Sligo, Ireland, costs from €45. Visit VOYA Seaweed Baths.

Harness the power of nature

Women on the beach (EDDIE MITCHELL MOB 07771 605974)

Get away from busy concrete cities and the tools for improved wellbeing are much easier to access. But even in urban centres, it’s possible to find pockets of calm – step into a pool of sunlight, take a walk through the park, or sit and listen to birds singing.

“Don’t underestimate nature’s positive role in your wellbeing,” says Jenny Stewart, co-founder of Isle of Wight-based Balance+Glo, who offer retreats, yoga and fitness workshops, and stand-up paddleboard yoga sessions in natural surroundings.

“Getting out and observing nature has significant benefits for our physical, emotional, and mental health. These include increased quality of rest (with a positive impact on our circadian rhythm), improved physical health, a calming effect on a busy mind, reduction of stress and anxiety, a sense of belonging, and alignment with a natural rhythm.”

How: A two-night Spring Wellness Retreat (April 12-14) costs from £725pp, including accommodation in a farmhouse room or glamping and ferry car crossing with Wightlink. Visit Balance+Glo.

Embrace hot/cold therapy

A hot tub at the Wild Spa

The art of ice swimming after a steaming hot sauna has been celebrated in countries like Finland and Lithuania for centuries. Benefits include stress reduction, mental clarity, improved circulation and better sleep. Now it’s possible to sample the benefits of hot/cold contrast therapy at Cornwall’s new Wild Spa, launched at the St Moritz Hotel in collaboration with local Nordic spa experts Water and Stone.

Sara Last, St Moritz Hotel and Cowshed Spa director of operations, advises: “The thermal contrasts offer a holistic approach to enhance both physical and mental wellbeing with the warmth serving to dilate blood vessels, increase blood flow and relax tense muscles. This is believed to aid soothing chronic pain, reducing stiffness and promoting overall muscle recovery.

“On the flip side, cold spa treatments act as a natural anti-inflammatory, reducing swelling and providing relief to sore muscles. The contrast of hot and cold therapies can create a powerful synergy, accelerating the recovery process after intense physical activity.”

How: A Wild Spa Elemental package costs from £190 per night, including a two-hour spa experience, breakfast and dinner. Visit St Moritz Hotel.

Consume less meat

Lanserhof Lans Clinic in Austria
Lanserhof Lans Clinic in Austria (Lanserhof/PA) Lanserhof Lans Clinic in Austria

Millions of products and practices promise to help us feel younger and live longer. A desire for healthy longevity is set to continue into 2024, with more attention being paid to science.

Professor Dr Andreas Michalsen, an expert in naturopathy and nutritional medicine, and a scientific advisor to longevity specialists Lanserhof Clinics, emphasises that nutrition and fasting are essential to promoting a healthy life.

“Our eating habits are closely linked to global environmental issues. We must understand that what we eat has consequences for our planet and, consequently, for our health and life in the long run. Research shows that excessive protein consumption in middle age, starting from 40 years, can lead to premature ageing. Micronutrients are as crucial as macronutrients, and it is advisable to consume a variety of foods.

“Biologically, we are not designed to consume large amounts of animal proteins and fats daily. Reducing meat consumption can promote health and also protect our environment by producing fewer greenhouse gases.”

How: A seven-night Lanserhof Cure Classic full board programme at Lanserhof Lans in Austria starts from €5,900pp, excluding flights. Visit Lanserhof.