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Forest bathing and tree therapy: where to spa with nature

It has now been almost a year spent in some form of lockdown for many of us around the world, with limited time to enjoy the outdoors for its beauty as well as its health benefits. Daily walks became the most precious part of the day for city and countryside dwellers alike, leaving us with a heightened craving for more than just a breath of fresh air. These back to nature wellness experiences are rooted in the countless calming effects of tree therapy, from forest bathing and mangrove massages to alpine sauna sessions.

Sankara Hotel & Spa, Yakushima – Japan…Guides at this mystical island retreat take guests to visit natural ‘power spots’ on Yakushima Island, the location of Japan’s first World Natural Heritage site. Power spots represent areas where the earth’s natural energy accumulates and are said to immerse visitors in healing energy tied to the country’s ancient myths, shrines, Shugendo mountain worship and feng shui practices. The Shirantani Unsuikyo Ravine, also known as the Forest of Princess Mononoke, is carpeted in lush greenery, while the 7,000-year-old Jomonsugi Cedar is believed to hold magical powers. The hotel also offers a special two-day spa package to prepare and pamper guests before and after trekking through the nearby forests.

Forestis, Brixen – Italy…Reach peak perfection in a world of elemental experiences at this summit-level sanctuary in the UNESCO Dolomites, where natural wood saunas cocoon you in warmth and silent rooms encourage a deep, uninterrupted connection with self and setting. Wander the peaceful forest and valley when spring carpets the landscape with snowdrops, or for sun salutations in a striking setting, the Wyda Room is a modern space made for practising centuries-old Celtic yoga.

Domaine des Etangs, Massignac – France…Le Moulin des Etangs spa is housed within a converted watermill in the enchanting Charente countryside, where guests can experience the ‘Corps et l’Esprit’ (Body and Spirit) massage – a fully clothed energising body massage in the heart of the forest. The 60-minute treatment draws on the surrounding natural beauty, inviting guests to open their senses to the various sounds and smells of the forest. Available from May to September and subject to favourable weather, targeted movements and exercises are used to fully relax the body and spirit at the same time as stimulating them.

Gangtey Lodge, Phobjikha Valley – Bhutan…Directly below this Himalayan farmhouse lodge and by the Gangtey Village Stupa, is the beginning of the Gangtey Valley Nature Trail Walk. The path descends into the beautiful Bhutanese countryside leading through pastures and tiny hamlets. Life here remains incredibly distant from the outside world, a place of utter peace where travellers can stop, sit and truly disconnect. A little further on, you’ll be enveloped by a sea of tall blue fir trees, where you can inhale and absorb the sweet scent of pines, fill your lungs with the purest air on earth and listen to the music of silence interspersed with soft breezes and birdsong. This is forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) in its purest form, the perfect remedy to cleanse your mind and rejuvenate your spirit. End your walk with a freshly prepared picnic in one of the grassy meadows for a culinary culmination of nature’s bounty.

Sublime Samana Hotel & Residences, Dominican Republic – Caribbean…The award-winning Coconut Whispers Spa at this beachfront collection of casitas has recently introduced the 120-minute Mangrove Dew Massage, a mega-treatment divided into three stimulating sections to achieve spiritual relaxation, stress reduction and the improvement of blood circulation. Firstly, guests are taken to the Temazcal, an ancient, dome-shaped sweat lodge used by various indigenous groups for purification purposes. Next, guests are covered in a warm mud treatment, which is left on the body to strengthen and revitalise the elasticity of the skin. While waiting for the mud treatment to dry, guests receive a corporal massage focused on the head, hands and soles of the feet. Once dry, you are rinsed off and submerged into an organically prepared coconut milk bath and are left alone to relax. Pre-Hispanic cultures considered these baths revitalising and necessary to protect the body and soul from negative energies. The coconut milk is rich in vitamins C, E, K, B, and is prepared in-house, which can also be tasted in a refreshing drink straight from the young coconuts handpicked from the surrounding palm trees.

Trout Point Lodge, Nova Scotia – Canada…Surrounded by pine, spruce and birch trees, this secluded nature sanctuary lies on the banks of the Tusket River and next to the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. Forest bathing walks, available most days of the week, can be complemented with a forest-side massage and foraging walks for edible treats from the woods in this pristine Acadian forest.

Susafa, Polizzi Generosa – Sicily…Discover bucolic bliss at this 200-year-old Sicilian farmhouse, which celebrates the beauty of its natural surroundings in every way. Soothe the soul with a yoga session in the peaceful gardens, beneath the shade of the fragrant trees and cherry orchard.

Le Refuge de la Traye, Méribel – France…The Hay Bed or ‘Alpenbadl’ experience at this Savoie-inspired collection of eco-luxury chalets combines the effects of the steam bath with the essential oils of hay, ideal for those who suffer from neck and back pain. Lie back on a rustic wooden bed covered with fresh hay made from mountain grasses, which soften the breathing and relax the muscles thanks to the heat while strengthening the immune system and eliminating toxins.

DasPosthotel, Zell am Ziller – Austria…Dedicated to the healing powers of herbs, the Herbarium Green Spa is rooted in traditional European medicine and botanical beauty, including a pine and honey massage from the organic skincare brand Team Dr. Joseph while raw pine, oak and native spruce set the stage for rooms and suites with individual flair.

Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Wellness Resort, Bel Ombre – Mauritius…Set on the wild south coast of Mauritius in a protected nature reserve, in an area which was once home to celebrated Irish botanist Charles Telfair, this tropically tranquil retreat takes guests on a Mindful Nature Walk at Le Morne Brabant, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Meditation sessions take place on a verdant platform overlooking the lagoon, while sunset yoga classes at the Wellness Sanctuary are led by personal trainers trained in the Seven Colours philosophy.

Miramonti Boutique Hotel, Merano – Italy…Between snow-capped mountains and emerald forests, this South Tyrolean outpost makes the most of its spellbinding scenery. Take the Nordic walking poles and wander through 30 acres of serene woodland, with guided or self-guided forest meditation along the panorama trail. Return to the hotel’s forest sauna, hidden in the shelter of the trees and standing 20 metres above the ground with cosmetic products made from South Tyrolean Moonwood, via a secret bridge between the beautiful forest and an idyllic pond.

Baros Maldives, Malé – Maldives…Rhythmic patterns of African dance inspire the TheraNaka East African Wood Massage at the Serenity Spa of this private island hideaway. Blending light stretching techniques and acupressure using wooden instruments to soothe and restore weary guests, the therapist will drizzle your body with a warm olive and shea butter balm to nourish and heal dry skin.

Grand Hotel Cocumella, Sorrento – Italy…Sitting right on the cliff edge in a quiet spot surrounded by wonderfully manicured gardens full of flowers, this former Jesuit monastery overlooks the Bay of Naples with views of Vesuvius. Experience Reiki, Ayurveda or a relaxing treatment in The Secular Park, a serene space filled with citrus trees, exotic plants, and winding boulevards.

Palácio Estoril Hotel, Estoril – Portugal…The Banyan Tree Estoril is an Asian-inspired spa operated by one of the most luxurious spa chains in the world, with massages and treatments inspired by age-old Asian traditions. The seven-day Sense of Rejuvenation programme includes a range of nature-inspired treatments, from Thai herbal remedies to uplifting Ginger Bath Soaks.

Cameron Highlands Resort, Pahang – Malaysia…The three hour Semai Treatment at this colonial hotel is inspired by the indigenous people or Orang Asli of the state of Pahang. In Orang Asli culture, every forest product has a specific use and the Semai elders have mastered the practices of treating ailments using the plants of the jungle. Their knowledge of traditional medicine has been acquired over millennia. What to the common eye is a shrub or a weed is a precious resource to them. The Spa Village Cameron Highlands incorporates some of these jungle secrets in the following treatments – Urutan Batin Massage, Batin Tangas Wrap, Lulur Batin Srub, and the Cameron Brew.

Grossarler Hof, Grossarl – Austria…Erlenreich Spa at this chalet-style hotel immerses you in the revitalising power of the mountains, with an array of treatments based on natural Alpine ingredients. Soak in a soothing hay bath on a heated floating bed before drifting away to a relaxing massage with essential pinewood oils.

Goldene Rose Karthaus, Schnals – Italy…Tucked away on the Italian-Austrian border in the Senales Valley, home to light-green larch forests, austere farmhouses, and migrating sheep, this Tyrolean retreat immerses guests in the natural beauty on its Dolomites doorstep. Pad in soft bathrobes along the wooden walkway through tree canopies to relax under the pine trees in the open-air sauna, before wandering lush mountain meadows, sunny pastures, and flower-filled valleys.

Domaine de Manville, Les Baux de Provence – France…Located in heart of Alpilles, this traditional French farmhouse in the heart of an idyllic 100-acre estate has been constructed using local materials such as stones and wood from the area. Join one of the Hatha Yoga sessions led by in-house expert Camilla di Maiolo with the scent of pine in the air and the soporific buzz of the cicadas in the trees.

137 Pillars House, Chiang Mai & 137 Pillars Suites, Bangkok – Thailand…The Nitra Serenity Centre at 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts offers a 60-minute organic Roseberry Thai Sandalwood wrap, designed to reduce excess fluid retention and detoxify the body.

Crans Ambassador, Crans Montana – Switzerland…Flooded with natural light and views of the tree-lined mountains thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, the spa at this alpine retreat is all about bringing the outdoors in. Enjoy a Nescens treatment while taking in the tranquil forest vista.