Photo: Cavas Wine Lodge/Facebook

The Best Wellness Retreats for People Who Don’t Like Yoga

Wellness Insider Guides Epic Stays
by Rebecca Toy Oct 11, 2019

Yoga is everywhere. The ancient practice is the media darling of the wellness world. And if you’re one of those people who feels anything from mild tension to gut-tightening panic at the thought of stepping on a mat, you can’t help but feel left out. But have no fear, reluctant yogis, the world of wellness still has plenty to offer. Try out this sampling of detox retreats, med spas, cultural healing, food classes, wine and beer spas, and some simply ridiculous pampering for you — all without having to break into Warrior One. Here are the best wellness retreats for people who don’t like yoga.

Detox and medical spa retreats

Some wellness retreats and medical spas take your rejuvenation very seriously. You will experience deprivation and must prepare to give up food, alcohol, cigarettes, and even loud voices. Put all precious phones and devices away. First comes the sacrifice, then comes the euphoric renewal.

1. Park Igls, Austria

As one of the world’s, and Austria’s, many Mayr Clinics, Park Igls believes good health starts in the gut. While not the original Mayr or the glitterati favorite, the “house in the park” offers therapeutic programs for prevention and regeneration with less distraction. Nutritional treatment involves eight customized stages, including “gourmet fasting.” Reviews have a common theme of at least one bout of hunger misery. But then comes the euphoria. Your personal program can also include physiotherapy, health psychology, medical massage, exfoliation, and hydrotherapy.

Mayr Clinics set themselves apart from other wellness retreats with their medical diagnostics. Park Igls uses laboratory testing and specialized medical staff to provide everything from whole wellness exams to specialty analysis. With modern diagnostics, the team creates an individualized program for you, using both traditional and complementary medicines.

2. Gwinganna, Australia

Gwinganna knows detox and restoration. South of Queensland’s Gold Coast, this mountain retreat welcomes guests who are committed to their wellness journey. Health starts with boundaries; no cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, food, or caffeinated drinks are allowed to be brought in. Internet access is limited, and guests are asked to embrace the low-tech environment, using cell phones only in their rooms. This is about resetting, and a detox from distraction is the retreat’s specialty.

But Gwinganna doesn’t take without giving back. Rest is honored, both through the spa and other meditative activities. Heart pumping activities can include scenic hikes, boxing, and cycling. Menus are designed to improve digestive health and include local, organic food. Rounding it out are seminars, counseling, and coaching. While the retreat offers many themed programs from two to seven nights, Gwinganna is purposefully vague on what exactly those will look like. Their offerings are customized and purposefully disclosed in the moment of choice. If you’re a Type A that needs to learn to go with the flow or you need to ditch some old habits, this celebrity-approved retreat might be exactly what you need.

3. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, New Mexico, US

More than just your average mineral springs, Ojo Caliente is dedicated to quiet serenity and medically purposeful pools. Ojo Caliente boasts that they are the only hot springs in the world that have four types of mineral water: lithia, iron, soda, and arsenic. Each of the five pools has reported healing properties for issues such as depression, circulation, digestion, and arthritis. The pools and spa are a whisper environment, and they ask you to keep your phones away in public spaces.

Unlike many on this list, the northern New Mexico resort is particularly affordable, offering reasonable day rates for the pools and spa. Rooms range from typical industry-standard to posh suites, and the upscale restaurant is agreeable to the wallet as well. One thing you won’t be sweating in the sauna is your bill. And if you’re not quite sold on the direct medical effects of minerals, a good quiet soak of any kind makes a positive health difference.

Cultural and spiritual healing experiences

Ancient wellness practices across the world point to a consistent truth — health is holistic. Cultural experiences, grounded in tradition, bring us together and connect us to the world around us. Some achieve this through yoga, but some might prefer shared steam and waters.

1. Kusatsu Onsen, Japan

Photo: tk312001/Shutterstock

Nude communal bathing in natural hot springs may sound daunting to foreigners, but the onsen is a beloved part of Japanese culture. The abundant spring water in Japan is full of minerals believed to heal all sorts of things.

Kusatsu is actually a town with a group of hot springs, many that have free admission. The most popular onsen has lines forming an hour before opening, but there’s plenty of water for everyone. The collective springs of Kusatsu combine to make the largest onsen in Japan, and this town of 7,000 sees three million tourists a year. As a vacation hot spot, there is ample lodging, across budgets. And if you visit in the winter, you have the bonus of adding skiing to your soaking itinerary.

2. Herrankukkaro, Finland

Scandanavians deeply appreciate the sauna, not just for relaxation and health but also for its cultural and sacred history. Not surprising, then, that in Finland there are three million saunas for some five million people. And the best kind, the original, is the sterilizing smoke sauna. Like the onsen, saunas have etiquette. Give in — get a sweat, take the birch branch, jump in the ice water, and maybe even get a personal scrub.

The Herrankukkaro recreation area was built up around the homestead of a fisherman, just outside of the city of Turku. While there are several saunas and baths in the area, Maasavusauna is the biggest underground smoke sauna in the world. Its six bench levels hold 124 guests in a rustic, moody aesthetic. Don’t let the size turn you away; part of the ritual is the healing in communal connection.

3. Chablé Resort & Spa, Mexico

Photo: Chablé/Facebook

The multi-award-winning Chablé Resort & Spa is set in the Yucatan jungle, 25 minutes outside of colonial Merida. It features Spanish architecture, lush gardens, private villas, Mayan culinary classes, chocolate making, and craft tequila. But what makes this resort unique is the wellness journeys.

Chablé Spa takes pride in its duality: “shamanism combined with luxury, ancient healing techniques with modern science.” Guests start with a consultation and choice of one of three journeys, each centered around an element (water, earth, air). Each journey also includes the highlight of the resort: a traditional temazcal ceremony. This steam-house ritual is guided by a shaman who leads the participants in the elemental cleansing. Journeys also offer an incredible variety of massages, facials, body polishes, scalp treatments, sensory showers, a sauna, a floatarium, and cenote swimming.

Healthy food, wine, and beer spas

Moderation with food and drink can be a struggle. But the latest nutritional trend is actually returning to basics. We are refocusing on where our food, wine, and beer comes from and creating (and consuming) it more mindfully. These locations offer creative possibilities to get the most out of “rest and digest.”

1. Cavas Wine Lodge, Argentina

Photo: Cavas Wine Lodge/Facebook

This boutique lodge in the foothills of the Argentinian Andes has a lot of draws. For those seeking adventure, Cavas Wine Lodge offers horseback riding, hiking, white water rafting, and biking. It provides pampering, too: therapeutic massages, facials, body treatments, herbal compresses, and yes, even a yoga retreat. But let’s be honest, we’re here for the wine therapy.

This is wine country. Twenty-five Mendoza wineries surround the five-star lodge, and the property offer tours and activities through the vineyards. Or guests can just stay at the lodge spa and get the full wine therapy experience. A 90-minute massage is followed by a 30-minute facial with local herbs and extracts. Then comes the Bonarda Bath. The extracts from this red grape varietal are used in vinotherapy to soothe the circulatory system and ward off stress-related diseases. Yes, you get to bathe in an antique tub full of red wine. For your health of course. And just in case you’re in need of some more antioxidants, there’s a wine glass waiting.

2. Chodovar, Czech Republic

Leave it to the Czech Republic to combine its reputation for beer, spas, and hospitality. “Your Beer Wellness Land” — Chodovar’s tagline says it all. This historic brewery and hotel west of Prague touts a 12th-century rock cellar restaurant, whirlpools, saunas, free Kneipp cures, and the beer spa. While the spa offers traditional massages as well, they take the beer part very seriously.

Among the unique listings is the Real Beer Bath, hop bath, and drinking cure. The registered Real Beer Bath uses mineral water and the brewery’s carefully crafted and freshly brewed dark beer. The warm bath is said to activate circulation, sweat out toxicities, and freshen the skin. While all this goodness happens, you get a glass of the Chodovar for digestion. If you’re experiencing stress and depression, there is also the hot hop bath, using mineral water and unbrewed hops to detoxify and aid with relaxation. If you’re not feeling the baths, warm malt draff compresses can be applied to help with pain and skin conditions.

3. Chewton Glen, United Kingdom

Photo: Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa/Facebook

The Kitchen Cookery School in southern England’s Hampshire invites guests to return to a more intimate connection with food. Located at the Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa, the school includes access to the property’s greenhouse and gardens that supply many of the ingredients. Then there is the intentional kitchen space that blends informal dining and working chefs with cooking and menu creation happening right in front of you.

If you want to improve your skills, the courses, helmed by celebrated chef James Martin, welcome chefs of all levels. He and his team offer ever-changing course themes that range from seafood to game, curries to funghi, and Italy to the Middle East to local Hampshire favorites. There is something for everyone with half-day, full-day, evening, and junior and teen options. You get your own workspace and support throughout the entire process. Best of all, you get to keep and eat everything you make.

Luxury wellness escapes

Deep breath because these next yoga-optional retreats have the appropriate price tags for jaw-dropping experiences. Each of these is a definitive destination with little room to cut costs. But if you’ve got the cash, they are lavish wellness havens where the star of the show is the setting itself.

1. Keemala, Thailand

Photo: Keemala/Facebook

Keemala is the kind of place where you’re pretty sure you will spot a celeb when you’re both lounging on your decks. The resort tells a story of the Keemala people, distant tradesman stranded in Phuket. The four clans of the Keemala each have a distinct identity, and the resort has four corresponding styles of villas with their own stories. Add in a jungle walk or a four-minute shuttle to the beach, and your escapist surroundings are complete. If you need to ditch the traditional wellness vibe completely and partake in some hedonism, Patong Beach is nearby.

Back at Keemala, there is substance to your luxe wellness. Keemala offers an extensive spa, “healthy living cuisine,” smoothies, and holistic retreats. Retreats are three-night affairs that include a package of treatment options depending on your goal. The treatment lists combine ancient services and the latest trends.

2. &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Namibia

Sossusvlei isn’t easy to get to — it’s a 380-kilometer (236-mile) drive from the nearest city or a charter flight to the lodge. And that’s exactly what it has going for it. What makes this lodge special is its focus on privacy and connection to the natural world. The Sossusvlei Desert Lodge has the typical wellness amenities, spa, gym, and yoga. But it also sits in a dedicated desert nature reserve, NamibRand, and one of the world’s few Dark Sky Reserves.

Desert adventures are on tap here. You can go fat biking in the dunes, visit salt pans and gorges, and go hot air ballooning. But things really rev up in the evening. The sundowner safaris to the nearby watering hole show off abundant local African wildlife. The main star: Every night a resident astronomer invites guests into the onsite, world-class observatory.

3. The Royal Mansour, Morocco

Photo: Royal Mansour Marrakech/Facebook

The Royal Mansour delivers its wellness through unyielding opulence and a sensory sanctuary. Simply put, it’s magnificent. Built at the request of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, the Royal Mansour is a legit palace complex, a city within a city. This is a place of fountains, gardens, traditional architecture, private riads, and a sense of, well, royalty. So, of course, the hotel’s hammam spa is continually hailed as the best around.

Hammams, or the ancient ritual of the thermal baths, can be found throughout Marrakech. They usually involve soaking, exfoliation, and a massage. The Royal Mansour’s hammam offers all of these experiences, including black soap wraps, ghassoul clay treatments, kessa exfoliation, and floral steam and waters. After all of this, you wrap up in linen, listen to the trickling water, breathe in the essential oils and enjoy dainty pastries and tea. Just in case you’re not yet experiencing sensory saturation, the spa has a famous three-story, white-lattice atrium that drops jaws. It’s probably possible to be stressed here, but I’m not sure how.

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