Wellness travel was one of the fastest-growing segments in global travel before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. During the lockdown, the only wellness pursuits available were Zoom yoga classes and steaming your bathroom into an at-home spa. Story by Jenna Berndt.
The heightened awareness of health, not only physically but mentally and spiritually too, means that more travellers than ever will be seeking wellness-inspired travel when we’re able to travel freely once more. Experts predict that “slow tourism,” deliberate trips focusing on meaningful experiences and pursuits, along with social distancing, will surge in the post-pandemic recovery phases of travel.
And it’s really no surprise. Holidays that recharge body and mind, allowing one to return with more than just a great tan, are filling the social media accounts of many a wanderlusting, stuck-at-home traveller. While no one can be sure when we’re going to be able to check in to one of these blissed-out destinations, here’s what we’re bookmarking for the not-too-distant future.
Local, lekker breaks
We certainly don’t need to travel far to find a happy and healthy holiday. South Africa is packed with amazing wellness destinations and experiences. Choose from the tranquil soaring peaks of the Drakensberg, wining and dining in the Cape Winelands or Garden Route, or find freedom on the rural Wild Coast.
Go local on a spa break in the Midlands, an amazing wellness experience in any season. Choose to check in to a luxury hotel and spa, such as the Fordoun Hotel and Spa where you can enjoy their stunning spa, flotation pool, Turkish sauna, reiki and traditional African healing treatments. Or ask a travel expert about a recommended self-catering or private cottage from some of the area’s fantastic small tourism establishments.
Another local favourite is wine farm-hopping in the Cape Winelands.
Base yourself in one of the many accommodation options on offer in Stellenbosch, for example, and enjoy a weekend of wining and dining, exploring the town on foot or simply lounging fireside in the cooler months. Many local travellers will prefer to dip their toes into travel with a road trip. Keep it local with a game of golf, days spent relaxing at the pool or restoring body and soul at the spa at the iconic Fancourt Estate in George. George makes a good base for a range of Garden Route adventures, from strawberry picking (year-round) to ziplining, cruising on the Knysna lagoon or lazy afternoons on your private patio – admiring glorious views of the Outeniqua mountains.
Find wellness by heading north and venturing off the well-trodden tourist path. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are quieter and offer a chance to slow down, soak up the culture and feast on good-for-body-and-mind healthy Thai cuisine. Visit the night markets for a staggering variety of fresh and healthy street food and take a cooking class so you can recreate it all at home.
For travellers looking for a wonderful wellness break in Southeast Asia, one that’s similar to Thailand but just a little bit different, Vietnam is just the ticket. Vietnam is considered (on the whole) less touristy than Thailand and can provide more authentic experiences, but equally fantastic in terms of delicious food, cultural attractions and friendly smiles.
The province of Ninh Binh is quiet and unspoiled, far removed from the travellers in Halong Bay and Hoi An. Staying here is to settle into a simpler lifestyle. Pick local accommodation and spend your days riding bicycles through the endless rice paddies and falling asleep to the sounds of nature outside of your bamboo bungalow.
The worries of the world seem to flee the minute you arrive in Seychelles. It’s no wonder considering the locals seem to have perfected wellness living. Hike up Mount Kempinski, take the zipline over Ephelia’s mountain, buy fresh produce at the Victoria Food Market and soak up the feel-good vibes of life in Seychelles. All activities and tours can be booked through whichever resort you choose to stay at or before you travel.
The Iberian Peninsula is a mountainous region that divides Spain and Portugal. It’s an area of rich history, a place that fuses east and west, and is notable for its mild, Mediterranean climate, sunshine and sangria (at least in Spain). This is where you’ll walk the routes for the Camino de Santiago, one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage routes. It’s a corner of the world well suited to travellers seeking a spiritual journey or meaningful adventure.
Join a tour that offers hidden, off-the-beaten-track culinary, historical and cultural delights. Heading off the main highways and travelling the scenic back roads is the key to wellness travel here. There are ample opportunities to walk, hike and cycle the countryside, keeping you healthy and happy.
Everything seems to glow a little bit brighter in the Maldives. The soft sand is blinding white, and the ocean is an amped-up turquoise. A bucket list favourite for a ‘fly and flop’ beach holiday, the Maldives offers many opportunities for mindful travel. Set your schedule to island time. Wake up with the sun and enjoy an early-morning yoga or meditation session before birdwatching (try spot the Dhondheeni bird!), walking, diving with manta rays and dolphins. You’ll depart with a true appreciation of nature and a reminder to take things slow.
Mauritius is another ‘fly and flop’ holiday favourite for South Africans, but don’t discount it as a wellness destination. The beauty of the island is that you can style your itinerary around what you are most looking for from your holiday, be it adventure or relaxation. Adventure seekers can explore the unique and natural attractions of Mauritius, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. Hop on an electro bike to explore, or, if you’re in need of a digital detox, spend your time in the water, nature or brushing up on your downward dog pose on the beach.