According to proponents, wellness is a contemporary approach to health, drawing from the holistic medical practices from around the world and in complementary medicine. Whereas health tends to focus on physical aspects, such as pain or malfunctioning, wellness looks at all aspects person’s lifestyle, environment and mental health. Health fixes the symptom, wellness tries to ensure some causes – stressful home or work situations, bad diet, psychological wounds – are adjusted to prevent long term issues and imbalances.
With the rise of wellness, many spas have notably changed. Rather than focusing on the notion of pampering and indulgence – a decidedly noughties pre-crash fixation – newer UK spas tend to embrace key wellness themes.
The environment – spa gardens; outdoor facilities; sustainable facilities such as natural pools; glass walls allowing one to bathe in the countryside scenery while in the sauna or pools; natural light; using plants and natural ingredients in food, steam rooms and treatments.
Nutrition – vegan, raw food and gut-friendly meals on the spa menu. Naturopaths and nutritionists in residence.
Mental health – meditation classes or relaxation rooms as meditation spaces; mindfulness walks; forest bathing; more use of green space (see environment above) which is said to lower stress levels. Retreats aimed at reducing stress or sleep, led by practitioners.
Education – dedicated retreats focusing on areas that we need to improve that offer expert consultations, advice and wellness talks.
Physical health – fitness sessions; classes; fitness and exercise retreats; recovery retreats for those suffering with chronic health conditions. There may also be a clinic attached to the spa to treat more serious conditions.
Spirituality – more spiritual treatments based in Ayurvedic or TCM practices. Use of crystals, herbs and energy flow or qi.
Relationships – more bespoke consultations that focus on what you need emotionally, physically and spiritually. Holistic therapists that offer intuitive, regulating treatments and support those going through difficult times. Like-minded people joining specific retreats or groups of activities such as hikes, forest bathing.
Eastern and American wellness spas tend to focus on spiritual wellbeing; European – especially Austria and Switzerland – tend to have a more austere, medical approach; in the UK, a spa may have wellness elements – such as a wellness treatment menu and classes, eco-friendly design with outdoor space, and clean eating – but may also offer more indulgent options, such as bubbly and diamond facials.
This legendary wellness destination spa attracts major celebs, including Oprah Winfrey. While it ticks the beautiful environment (think splendid desert and mountains) and delicious, healthy food boxes, the wellness ethos is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to find out who you truly are, be it with equine therapy – being alone in a ring with a powerful animal and bringing it to heel – or balancing atop a 25-telephone pole. It is most famous for its low ropes challenge course, which include a 1,000 ft zip wire. But there are plenty of other less vertiginous activities such as yoga, drumming, hiking and fascinating wellness talks. Their on-site Life in Balance Spa has pools overlooking the mountains as well as hot tubs and saunas. It offers unique, spiritual based treatments created by their therapists (our Spa Spy enjoyed a Thai treatment with the therapist hanging from the ceiling!) – some of these are performed in tents in the spa garden.
The wellness menu is impressive here, as is the striking white modernist building set in beautiful English Heritage Gardens with lakes, rare trees and an historical summerhouse -- a favourite spot of J.M Barrie. Lifehouse has a team of wellness experts to help tailor your stay to suit your needs from sports injury specialists, to more esoteric Reiki healers, TCM practitioners, yoga and Pilates teachers and a life coach. They also offer RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy – a combination of hypnotherapy, CBT and psychotherapy) to help you release your fears and achieve your goals. Nutrition is an important part of any wellness stay at Lifehouse, your menu will depend on your goals, from a juice fast to a protein-based fitness menu, or a nutritionally balanced gut health menu based on a food intolerance test.
For those used to European wellness spas, such as the Viva Mayr and Lanserhof Clinics in Austria, Grayshott Health Spa is the equivalent, with a dash of quintessentially English charm. Instead of a brutalist designed clinic, you will stay in a comfortable country house surrounded by well-tended gardens with a relaxing spa. Guests report feeling incredibly nurtured and well taken care of. As with the Austrian and Swiss wellness spas, there is a medical clinic at Grayshott, making it the perfect spa for recovery from more serious health issues. Their legendary seven-day Health Regime places digestion and digestive care at the centre of its approach. The menu is gourmet standard, packed with nutrients and designed to make your gut happy: the theory being that good digestion and good gut bacteria promotes a stronger immune system, better sleep, lower stress levels and therefore self-healing. The regime involves close monitoring throughout your stay. They also run an 8-day fasting programme based on the Mayr FX method with certified Mayr doctors.
A chic, minimalist-modern destination wellness resort in Alicante, built around the concept that a healthy diet can help generate your body’s ability to self-heal. There are three menus: the SHA (nutritious gastronomy), Biolight (slightly healthier) and Kushi (hardcore weight loss). The Healthy Living Academy offers daily talks, classes, walks and conferences with visiting experts, as well as yoga, Pilates, Nordic walking and cookery courses. The Wellness Centre and Clinic has beautifully chic indoor pools, plus an outdoor pool with mountain views, hydrotherapy treatments, baths, exercises for body and mind and spa treatments.