In a rugged corner of coastal Spain, there’s a modernist white-on-white retreat where the rooms have floor-to-ceiling picture windows facing the Mediterranean, and the pool cabanas are lined with gauzy fabric that flows in the wind.
But most of the guests are hard at work. They’re here to shed a few pounds, to learn the ins and outs of macrobiotic cooking (Nut butters! Chia! Spirulina!), and to learn how to focus better, with the help of Professor Bruno and his electrode brain tests. Maybe they’ll add a few months to their lives, if they come back again and again.
The resort—Sha Wellness Clinic—is just one of 24 selected to be part of “Zen,” a new program launching on Friday, Oct. 28, from the travel experts at Red Savannah, which promotes healthy getaways. Zen responds not just to consumer demand, but to the idea that travel can play a role in defusing the global health threats of chronic disease and obesity. If you sign up, the program’s “Zen Guru” will help match you with just the right spa destination to address your specific health or stress complaints—think of her as a therapist-slash-travel agent.
As Red Savannah Founder and Chief Executive officer George Morgan-Grenville put it, “Longevity is increasing, health care costs are sky rocketing, stress is omnipresent, and antibiotic immunity is growing. People are beginning to wake up to the health time bomb that lies ahead.”
He maintains that using your time off constructively—to focus on your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing—can help you “cope with whatever the future has in store.” In other words, he believes wellness travel is the key to healthy old age.
Morgan-Grenville isn’t alone in his thinking. Wellness travel has become a $678.5 billion-a-year industry filled with trends that come and go—each one quirkier than the next. In many cases, though, driving profits is just as important as driving down health problems, if not more so.
That’s why Morgan-Grenville hired the full-time “Zen Guru” to suss out which retreats are worth the investment—and which are full of fluff. After three months of research and consultations with health and wellness experts, ex-travel consultant Samantha Gee lived out of a suitcase from June to September, checking in and out of the world’s most innovative and raved-about wellness resorts. She whittled down her original list of 60 properties to just 22 standouts, which now comprise the Zen portfolio of wellness retreats. Each one, she said, offered productive and positive experiences that led to long-lasting results.
“It’s not something I would have done independently,” Gee said about the vetting process, which she described as “grueling.” To her point: There were endless diet and time zone changes, medical consultations, and personal training sessions among all the spa appointments. (That’s to make no mention of Professor Bruno and his electrodes.)
From the comfort of her office in Gloucestershire, U.K., Gee will now take the lead on consulting travelers in search of a “travel prescription” that can cure their chronic ailments. Though she’s not a medical professional, she’ll use her first-hand experiences—along with honest conversations—to figure out which programs will best suit each traveler, working backward from their personalities, lifestyles, and health goals, rather than their dream destinations. It’s a progressive approach, an industry first.
Have a problem you’d like her to fix? Here are the most common maladies she expects to resolve—and her preferred travel prescription for each.
I Need to Unplug
Your travel prescription: A few days at Eremito, in Umbria, Italy.
“It’s a beautiful, 14-room monastic retreat surrounded by 3000 hectares of natural reserve. You look out on a valley that has nothing but greenery and rivers—it’s one of the most peaceful and soulful places I’ve ever been. There’s no Wi-Fi there, very little phone signal, and every evening they have dinner in silence, which was the most relaxing experience ever. You go on walks, you do yoga, you read a book, you sit and soak in the view, and you completely disconnect. I’d go back for a week, but some people wouldn’t want more than three days.”
I Need a Head-to-Toe Detox
Your travel prescription: An Ayurvedic retreat at Kalari Kovilakom, in Kerala. India.
“If you really want to lock yourself away for a reboot, this beautiful old palace is the place to do it. It’s a minimum stay of 14 days with absolutely no drinking, no smoking, and you’re literally not allowed off the premises, except for medical emergencies. They give you three pairs of white pajamas when you check in, and that’s all you’re allowed to wear. And the Ayurvedic doctors control everything, from what you’re doing for exercise to what you eat. But the wonderful thing about it is you don’t have to think about anything. As one person said, ‘if you have demons inside of you, you will come in contact with them.’ People go back time and time again, though. If you can get through the two weeks, it clearly does something for you.”
I’d Like to Lose a Few Pounds
Your travel prescription: A nutrition-themed stay at Sha Wellness Clinic, outside Alicante, Spain.
“Nutrition is a big thing here. When you arrive, you have a consultation with an anti-aging doctor and a nurse, and they assess which menu you’ll be on—they have three that range in severity, all based on the macrobiotic diet. Meals are very much an event, and everything is presented beautifully. You have three courses at dinner and two or three at lunch. And they do really great cooking classes, where you can learn about cooking macrobiotic food. They want you to be able to replicate your success at home.”
I Need to Get Fit
Your travel prescription: A quick trip to Absolute Sanctuary in Koh Samui, Thailand.
“It’s not the most luxurious place, but by God, it will get the job done. The gym is tiny, and you wouldn’t mention it, but the Pilates and yoga teachers are absolutely brilliant. They do a variety of types of yoga—I tried Yin yoga there for the first time,which was absolutely agonizing. At one point, I just wanted to hit the instructor. But it was great. I loved the Aquafit class I took with a trainer called Dutch Marco, who was absolutely groovy. And they have a really delicious superfoods menu there that’s based on protein and plants and is very low in sugar and carbs. I really felt fit after just a couple of days there.”
I’m Looking for Spiritual Rejuvenation
Your travel prescription: A remote getaway at Ananda in the Himalayas, in India.
“People always talk about the Himalayas being a wonderful place, and it really is. You just feel a bit different there and you can really leave like a new human being. All it takes is a few days there to feel like a new person. They meld yoga and Ayurveda together to really rejuvenate you. And at Ananda, the spiritual experience is really enhanced because they bring you into the community—you join in with locals for the Ganga Aarati ceremony, where they chant and put tons and tons of lit up camphor lamps in the river banks to become one with the elements. It’s spectacular.”
My Digestive System Needs Some Love
Your travel prescription: A week-long retreat at Parkhotel Igls, in Innsbruck, Austria
“There is a lot in the press about creating and maintaining a healthy microbiome in your gut. Austria is the home of the Mayr Method (also called the Mayr Cure), which is an incredibly strict regime for curing all your digestive problems. Parkhotel Igls is also a very comfortable place to try it, with a large indoor pool, pretty gardens, and a fantastic gym with panoramic views of Innsbruck and the mountains beyond. They have three doctors on site, all of whom, I was told, trained in conventional Western medicine before converting to the Mayr Method. You’ll be on a very restricted diet with specifically prescribed supplements, and you’ll be taught how to eat again—specifically how to chew. They recommend 40 times per mouthful! It’s not fun but it is a way to make serious improvements to your health.”
I Just Want to Be Pampered
Your travel prescription: A jaunt to Rosa Alpina, in Italy’s Dolomites
“Rose Alpina is a great place to indulge at the spa, but still have a mix of health and fun. The setting is just so stunning. It just blew me away how much more beautiful it is than the Alps. In the winter it’s all about skiing in this area, and in the summer it’s hiking and biking and being outdoors. The hotel has just 50 rooms, all in a beautiful chalet with three restaurants and a gorgeous spa that does amazing treatments—body massages and scrubs and facials. You can get your exercise in the mountains, then treat yourself to the spa, then a glass of wine and a naughty meal, if you want it.”