Find your Zen in the hills of Tuscany

Castello del Nero sits in the Tuscan countryside 20 minutes south of Florence
Castello del Nero sits in the Tuscan countryside 20 minutes south of Florence
A heritage suite at the Castello del Nero
A heritage suite at the Castello del Nero

Christina Ong’s name has been associated with wellness almost as long as southeast Asian wellness has been A Thing: her COMO Shambhala Estate on Bali set the bar almost two decades ago, and its satellites, from Singapore to the Maldives to London, still offer solid results. More recently COMO Shambhala has come to the hills of Tuscany: Castello del Nero, which sits about 20 minutes’ drive south of Florence, was quietly taken over by Ong’s COMO hotels group in 2019. Renovated under her aegis by the talented and wonderfully whimsical Paola Navone, the Castello is, as of last month, officially home to a full-service COMO Shambhala Retreat. Its 1,000sq m of space comprise fitness studios (including private pilates and yoga rooms), extensive thermal pools and saunas, seven treatment rooms and an outdoor exercise and training area. “Ritual” packages include tailored menus and fitness, facial and body treatments, unlimited use of thermal suites and pools, and guided hikes across the estate’s 700-plus acres. comohotels.com, from £474


“Wilderness” retreats – and Dr Barbara Sturm – in Scotland

The former gatehouse has been transformed into a beauty lodge with nail bar, hair salon and treatment rooms
The former gatehouse has been transformed into a beauty lodge with nail bar, hair salon and treatment rooms © Gleneagles
The hotel’s wellness, spa and fitness spaces have just undergone renovation
The hotel’s wellness, spa and fitness spaces have just undergone renovation © Gleneagles

When Sharan Pasricha, he of hospitality powerhouse Ennismore, took the helm at Gleneagles in Scotland, a whole new level of sophistication and gloss was brought to bear on the historic estate. As of this month, that’s complimented by a comprehensive, ambitious and fairly fabulous-sounding wellness offering, which will include the first resident clinic from skincare star Dr Barbara Sturm in the UK outside London, along with curated dishes in the spa and Garden Café by Rosemary Ferguson. Gleneagles’ new Wild Wellness retreats are two-day, turbo-charged nature immersions that include waterfall bathing and foraging, hiking and fishing for your own dinner (if you are so inclined). All enhanced by the just-completed renovation of the hotel’s wellness, spa and fitness spaces, and the launch of its own signature essential and oils and essences made from botanicals harvested on and around the estate. gleneagles.com, from £475


Go with the snow in Colorado and Iceland

Deplar Farm, Eleven’s ski lodge on the Troll Peninsula in Iceland
Deplar Farm, Eleven’s ski lodge on the Troll Peninsula in Iceland © Eleven Experience
The view from the spa at Deplar
The view from the spa at Deplar © Eleven Experience

One to keep an eye on for this winter: the alpha wellness retreats put together by the team behind Eleven Experience, whose tranche of ultra-exclusive takeover properties spans Chilean Patagonia and Iceland, the French Alps and the Bahamas. Eleven Life is something every guest can have a taste of – via single adventures, menus and meals, and treatments. The more ambitious can sign on for wellness experiences, which are currently being regularly held at Taylor River Lodge, Scarp Ridge Lodge and Sopris House in Colorado, and at Deplar Farm, their ski lodge on the Troll Peninsula in Iceland. They aren’t for the faint of heart: think snow showers and ice bathing, hardcore nutrition and general pushing of physical and mental boundaries. But the payoff is scientifically documented, and the scenery, and surrounds, promise to be spectacular. elevenexperience.com, from £651


The fine art of feeling good, on Crete

The pool at Artful Retreats’ Villa Levanda
The pool at Artful Retreats’ Villa Levanda © Andreas Markakis

A handful of wellness propositions of a slightly different stripe are set to take place at the end of this month, in early October, and then again in May and June 2022, in the tiny village of Gavalochori, on Crete. Artful Retreats has been organising art therapy-based wellness programmes, in locations ranging from the hills outside Zurich to Singapore, for close to a decade. On Crete, guests will stay at a modern, light-filled private estate just outside the village. After morning yoga and breakfast, they retire to the studio, where guided sketching and painting is designed to help access and process psychological and emotional blocks and issues (lest it feel a bit too close to the woo-woo space, consider that the use of art to ease mental and psychological distress has been championed by everyone from Hippocrates to Carl Jung). There are up to six hours a day of art and discussion, interspersed with strolls in the olive groves, visits to the village in the evenings and idle time by the pool (also known to have a salutary effect on the mind state). artfulretreats.com, four days from £980 per person


Easy Ayurveda meets beach bliss

And finally, to the far northwest corner of Kerala, and the coast at Kasaragod, where there’s a little place that’s made it on to the favourites list of some very worldly people. Neeleshwar Hermitage isn’t an Ayurvedic retreat in the strict sense, though the cuisine and therapies it offers across the airy pavilions of its 12 oceanfront acres do incorporate many elements of Ayurveda. Nor is it a five-star proposition, so those obsessed with thread counts and 2am room service should probably book elsewhere. What Neeleshwar is, is a sanctuary in the most absolute sense. It is safe, both in Covid-19 terms (Kerala had one of India’s most successful vaccine rollout programmes and its fastest recovery, and is open for tourism again) and in the personal one (I rode my little bicycle – each guest is given one for the duration of their stay – all over the area, morning and early evening).

“Very pretty”: the infinity pool at Neeleshwar
“Very pretty”: the infinity pool at Neeleshwar
Seaview Cottage sits among the 12 oceanfront acres at Neeleshwar Hermitage
Seaview Cottage sits among the 12 oceanfront acres at Neeleshwar Hermitage

It is generous: the portions of clean, fresh, fish-and-vegetable-based curries and rices are robust, the breakfasts vast and varied, the staff chatty and smiling. Oil treatments and massages are often delivered by two therapists working in tandem, and the shirtmaker located at the resort’s entrance will happily spread out bolt after bolt of sorbet-shaded cottons for you to admire. And finally, Neeleshwar is very pretty: the cottages are large and breezy, with wood floors and white beds, and patios across which rattan furniture is arranged and hammocks strung. The restaurant is the literal manifestation of feet in sand, with rich violet and pink table linens. And the sun plunges spectacularly into the Indian Ocean, a nightly spectacle that seems to happen just for you, and has got to be food for the soul. neeleshwarhermitage.com, from about £380 per night, half board

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