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Wellness travel

The best health and wellness retreats across Europe

Leave it all behind, physically and mentally, with a trip that focuses on making you feel your best. Madeleine Spencer has tried myriad treatments and visited popular resorts and lesser-known gems – here she shares her top choices

Saturday 27 January 2024 15:57 GMT
Palace Merano in the Dolomites brings luxury to the world of wellness
Palace Merano in the Dolomites brings luxury to the world of wellness (Palace Merano)

The reasons to take a breather from day-to-day life and hit a wellness retreat are manifold. Perhaps you feel a little tired all the time. Maybe you find you don’t feel as inspired, as vital as once you were. Possibly you need some time alone to find a new direction or to make a big decision.

And, sure, a holiday in the traditional sense might offer opportunities to explore, reset and contemplate, but a wellness retreat, where you turn over your routine or diet or preconceptions (and sometimes all of the above) to another to organise, is designed to do so thoroughly.

The idea of these retreats is to make a shift, whether physical or mental, to return to your daily life post-trip with the motivation to make permanent changes.

They do this in various ways, depending on where you go, and through different disciplines and philosophies. This may be doctor-led retreats in Austria, regeneration in an Italian farmhouse, or a diet overhaul at an English countryside escape.

There are plenty of hotels, spas and retreats across Europe that claim to offer you the best in relaxation and restoration, but the ones below all deliver, every time.

Mayrlife, Austria

The resort is located directly on Lake Altaussee in Styria (

The focus here is to holistically return you to feeling your best through a range of methods. It’s doctor-led, so expect to have a daily check-in to ascertain that the diet, treatments and early bedtimes are doing what they ought to do to your body. The doctors here espouse the virtues of nature, too, so you’ll be encouraged to go for daily walks around picturesque Lake Altaussee.

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Goodwood, England

A quintessentially English countryside escape in West Sussex (Goodwood)

Spearheaded by Dr Stephanie Moore, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the workings of the body and how best to encourage greater health by promoting salubrious habits, these retreats involve being given healthy meals, educational sessions, and plenty of treatments.

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Shine Regeneration Retreat, Italy

Combine the romance of the Tuscan hills with a healthy diet (Shine holistic)

The setting for this retreat? A Tuscan farmhouse in the rolling Italian countryside of your dreams. During the seven days of this Regeneration Retreat you’ll be welcomed into a familial atmosphere, sharing the nutritionist-overseen meals designed to mimic a fasting protocol at a communal table. Also on offer: daily treatments including massages, osteopathy, qi gong movement sessions, and, of course, an opportunity to explore the local villages.

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The Well, Norway

Steam away your worries with Scandinavian wellness at its finest at this spa, near Oslo (The Well)

Scandinavia’s biggest spa unsurprisingly encourages wellness through the daily use of saunas, steam rooms, and various other areas in which to recline and rest. The food is superlative, and the design features are very pleasingly Norwegian. Expect to spend your days wandering (nude – it is compulsory) from sauna to ice pool to cosy nooks to read before stopping for a bite to eat and then going back for more.

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Costa Navarino, Greece

The Costa Navarino hotel has a more relaxed take on wellness (Costa Navarino)

If the idea of a draconian regimen isn’t for you, or if you’re considering travelling with others who don’t want to undertake a wellness retreat and wish to instead enjoy a more standard holiday complete with child-care options and bars, it’s well worth knowing about Costa Navarino. Their Anazoe Spa is huge (4,000 square metres) and offers treatments and areas for every proclivity, drawing inspiration from Ancient Greece. Between treatments, head to the beach, go for a swim, or devour some of the seasonal, local, and organic meals on offer.

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The Ranch, California

For fresh air and lots of exercise, this retreat delivers (The Ranch Malibu)

Hiking, lots and lots of hiking, is quite literally the order of the day at The Ranch. The rough routine? Wake early (at around 5.30am) for a stretch class, eat some vegan breakfast, then embark on either the two- or four-hour hike somewhere scenic. Once back and invariably sweaty, you’ll be treated to yet more vegan food for lunch before the afternoon massages and classes (usually strength training and yoga) commence.

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Stanglwirt, Austria

A family-run resort that has been welcoming guests for over 400 years (Stanglwirt)

Part-luxury spa, part-organic farm, the first room you’ll enter after checking in is the huge commodious bar, where one wall is lined in glass behind which Lipizzaner horses prance. But you won’t linger there for long; there’s so much to explore. Hit the gym where Arnie often goes to push himself with a trainer, or immerse yourself in the spa area, which is absolutely huge and packed with options, from five saunas to three steam baths to ice-cold bodies of water surrounded by the eco spa (in the winter, you’ll look out onto fields of snow). The breakfast here is legendary, much of it direct from the Stanglwirt’s farm.

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Vale de Moses, Portugal

At this spot, you’ll be surrounded by animals, from golden retrievers to rescued pigs (Vale de Moses)

If waking up in a forest in Portugal and then embarking on a day of yoga and vegan food appeals, this is the retreat for you. Family-run, and completely charming (think rescue pigs wandering around, and the owners on-hand to help answer questions). You’ll find it’s a real opportunity to leave modern trappings behind, as you steep yourself in nature while working your way into the corners of your body and mind through the yoga practice.

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Chewton Glen, England

This spa is inside a tree house, complete with culinary classes (Chewton Glen )

If solitude is what you’re after, book yourself into one of the treehouse suites at Chewton Glen, near Bournemouth, and spend your days walking in the nearby forest, relaxing at the seaside, or in the spa. Their “Eat, Sleep, Retreat” package is perfect for a solo break. The Treehouse breakfast buffet is excellent and you should enjoy it on the balcony overlooking the forest, if the weather allows.

Palace Merano, Italy

Treatments and diagnostics are comprehensive at this retreat (Palace Merano)

Nestled in a micro-climate in the Dolomites, this sunny spot offers doctor-overseen retreat programmes in seriously sumptuous surrounds – we’re talking palatial, complete with gold-flecked furniture and chandeliers. Treatments merge eastern and western modalities, and are designed to give a really gentle and strengthening result.

Book now

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