Escape the hectic pace of everyday life and unwind on one of these relaxing spa breaks, combining heavenly foodie experiences with a stunning natural setting.
A spa break doesn't have to mean starving yourself. From luxury Thai sanctuaries to Alpine chalet resorts and New Forest lodges, a new generation of hotels is catering to travellers who know that wellness means being well fed. So wind down the mind and stretch out the body in one of these tranquil oases, before treating yourself to local culinary specialities.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Best for... tropical spa treats and refined Thai eats
Looking for a Thai island with everything? Try Koh Lanta. Quiet, beautiful beaches and fresh fish barbecues? Check. An old town with local bustle and rich rainforest to explore? Check. Bit of nightlife? Head to Long Beach or Khlong Khong and you’ve got yourself a party! The little island of Lanta is family, backpacker and flashpacker-friendly, but it’s yet to experience the same influx of tourists that neighbouring Phi Phi and Phuket ‘enjoy’.
The southern beaches of Kantiang Bay and Bamboo Beach in particular offer an escape from tourists, and to help you expedite relaxation, beach massages here are 10-a-penny (or 500 English pennies to be precise). But the real pampering comes from the island’s handful of five-star resorts, complete with spas and fantastic food.
Where to stay
The ‘secret sanctuary’ of Pimalai comprises beautifully appointed villas that unobtrusively stud the hillside at Kantiang, one of Lanta’s most beautiful bays. With a strong commitment to preserving the surrounding rainforest and wildlife, Pimalai’s stilted villas come with private infinity pools, while the beach properties are a mere skip from clear sea waters. Pimalai’s multi-award-winning spa goes a long way in helping you find your zen. Treatments are taken in thatched bungalows, accessed via tropical forest and a network of wooden bridges.
Choose your massage oil scent for the 90-minute Pimalai Signature that concludes with a head rub that will make you forget your own name, let alone any stresses. Scrubs, wraps and facials also feature on the extensive spa list, and a dip in the jacuzzi and sauna are part of your pre-cleanse for treatments.
Local foodie finds
The influence of package tourism can make foodie gems hard to find on Koh Lanta, but not impossible. Pimalai’s beach restaurant Rak Talay serves up fresh Thai seafood and barbecues – grab a white-curtained shala complete with whirring fan overhead for the best experience.
The resort’s signature Thai restaurant delivers an authentic menu of favourites, using organic ingredients from their farm in Chiang Mai, and herbs from the small allotment on site. Pimalai’s third dining option is The Seven Seas (2016 and 2017 winner of the World Luxury Restaurant Award), set high on the hillside with spectacular sea views and an exquisite gourmet fusion-style menu.
Outside of the resort, the lauded Time for Lime offers cooking classes and an evening menu of Thai classics, with all profits going to fund the fabulous work of Lanta Animal Welfare Sanctuary (visit the centre to get your fix of kitten cuddles). Breakfast like a local at the food stalls on the road in Khlong Dao where you can get traditional rice soup and an array of sweet treats including Thai doughnuts and sweet, sticky rice surprises inside banana leaves. A little pricey by Thai standards, but still a steal for Europeans, Red Snapper in Phra Ae serves up incredible, small plates of Thai fusion food.
Towards the south of the island, Klong Nin is home to Lanta’s most hyped restaurant, Swedish-owned Yang Garden, and it does a fantastic job of living up to the acclaim. A relatively small menu boasts a global, eclectic list of meat, fish, delicious sides and indulgent desserts. Arrive hungry.
How to do it
Pimalai’s deluxe rooms start at £400 per night for a high season stay (1 November to 30 April) and include breakfast, access to the resort's restaurants, infinity pools, fitness facilities and complimentary watersports. Flights from the UK to Krabi cost around £600 with a change in Bangkok. The quickest way to get from Krabi to Koh Lanta is the Express Transfer boat and taxi service, from £50 one-way.
Review by Roxanne Fisher
The New Forest
Best for... a sleek spa experience and earthy food
With ancient woodland, open moors, heathland and clifftop walks, the New Forest National Park is a place to soothe the mind, body and spirit. Take walks where deer and wild ponies roam free, explore car-free bike trails and visit postcard-perfect villages.
Where to stay
Slap-bang in the middle of the New Forest, near the village of Lyndhurst, Lime Wood Hotel & Spa is a haven for rest and tranquillity or, if you’re so inclined, plenty of activity. There’s a lot to choose from. You can sign up to a cooking or yoga class, follow a running trail through the forest or book in for a treatment.
Named after its rooftop garden, the Herb House Spa is a feat of design, managing simultaneously to complement the 13th-century charm of the hotel and frame the wooded landscape through a chic, industrial lens. In other words, this spa is seriously cool. Swim under the stars in the outdoor pool, find your inner zen in the sauna or gaze out through the trees from the hydro-pool. Priced from around £100, treatments range from body scrubs and massages to spa day packages.
Food at Lime Wood is a top priority. The Italian-inspired small plates in the Kitchen Table restaurant (five courses from £65) include inventive seasonal dishes such as braised chicory with pickled raisins and hazelnuts, while the lavish afternoon tea (£30 per person) has standout buttery Viennese whirls.
Wherever possible, things are made in-house. Most impressively, Limewood has its own smokehouse, curing meats and salmon on site to supply the buffet breakfast feasts (£16 per person). The main restaurant, Hartnett Holder & Co, is a partnership between Angela Hartnett, Luke Holder and guest chefs, serving honest Italian fare in a relaxed environment. Dishes that will fill you with glee include guinea fowl agnolotti in a creamy sauce and fried sage, and mains (from £28) such as perfectly cooked fish stew.
Local foodie finds
For the budding chef, Lime Wood offers a variety of cooking classes, including butchery and pasta making. Sister restaurant with rooms, The Pig, a five-minute drive away, has innovative menus focused around its kitchen garden – and don’t leave Lyndhurst without a visit to the Fox & Hounds, serving local cask ales and food that celebrates high-quality Hampshire produce.
How to do it
Accommodation ranges from cosy rooms at £385 per night to entire forest cottages and cabins for a whopping £1,050. At this price point, you’re truly looked after, from the first-class shortbread with your tea when you arrive, to the wellies lined up for you to walk in so you don’t muddy your shoes. Visit the Lime Wood Hotel website to book.
Review by Sophie Godwin
Best for... Alpine treatments and summer skiing
Fresh Alpine air, spectacular scenery and fantastic food make Saas-Fee ideal for a rejuvenating break. A village full of traditional Swiss charm set against a backdrop of 13 towering peaks, Saas-Fee has one of the highest ski areas in the Alps at 3,500 metres, and its 20km of glacier pistes makes it one of Europe’s best summer skiing destinations.
As well as skiing and snowboarding, you can ride on the steepest toboggan run in the Alps, go mountain biking, scooter down the mountain (only for the brave), go fishing or play tennis – it’s an outdoor adventurer’s dream. Summer is the best time for hiking too, and with 350km of trails ranging from easy ambles to serious hikes, you're spoilt for choice.
Where to stay
The Hotel Schweizerhof, a fabulous Alpine-style spa hotel with its own free ski shuttle, has top-notch facilities with a wellness centre, pool, outdoor jacuzzi, spa suites with saunas and steam rooms, and a relaxation room with mountain views – the perfect place to unwind with a good book and a herbal tea after a day on the slopes.
There are Ayurvedic treatments on offer – try an abhyanga oil massage, or make the most of local ingredients and go for a herbal wrap using Alpine herbs (both £95). Take a stroll through the nearby pine forest where you’ll find the free Kneipp outdoor hydrotherapy spa with a water stream, arm bath and relaxation zone. For a more strenuous walk, take the cable car to Hannig and walk down the mountain into Saas-Fee – you’ll get a brilliant bird's-eye view of the village.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, opt for the hotel's six-course global fine dining menu, with dishes such as braised lamb with potatoes Pont Neuf and beetroot carpaccio. Hopefully you’ll still have room for breakfast as the buffet is substantial, with everything from pastries to omelettes cooked to order.
Local foodie finds
Beyond the hotel, traditional Swiss favourites are on offer. Indulge in a cheese fondue at Vieux Chalet, or a giant rösti with hearty beef stroganoff at Zur Mühle. If you’re visiting in September, the Nostalgic Culinary Mile (9 September 2018) – a food festival celebrating local food – runs along the main street with special menus, live music and traditional dancing.
Take a cable car and the Metro Alpin funicular to the summit at Allalin where you’ll find the glacier with a freestyle park, ice pavilion and the world’s highest revolving restaurant, Three Sixty, where you can warm up with plates piled high with sausages and potatoes. On a clear day, you’ll get an incredible panoramic view of the mountains.
How to do it
A four-night stay at the Hotel Schweizerhof Gourmet & Spa costs from £794 per person, half-board, based on two sharing, including return flights and airport transfers by rail. Visit the Inghams website to book.
Review by Fiona Forman
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All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of May 2018 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out-of-date information in this guide please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs: Getty, pimalai.com, Roxanne Fisher, Yang Garden, Amy Murrell, schweizerhof-saasfee.ch, Christof Sonderegger, Fiona Forman.