Plan a Mind-Body Reset with These 5 Wellness Staycations in EuropeBy Will Hawkes
For all their undoubted elegance, the pace of Europe’s great cities can take a toll. Work hours are long and temptation abounds: pizza in Rome; beer in Prague; late nights in London, Berlin and Brussels. In short, it’s easy to overdo it.
No one wants to go without pleasure, of course, but it’s crucial to take care of your physical and mental well-being. Luckily, Europe scores highly there, too. Whether you find peace tramping through a lush ancient forest, afloat amid dolphins and seals, or among like-minded spirits at a meditation session, there’s plenty to soothe and calm worried minds.
As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.
Fish and chips, roast beef, pie and mash: London’s traditional food may keep out the cold, but it won’t do much for your health. Luckily, there are other options in Europe’s most multicultural city. For something nourishing and animal-friendly, head for Unity Diner in Hoxton, where the hot dogs are made with sunflower seeds but arguably taste better than the traditional version.
England and Wales are crisscrossed by a tangle of ancient rights of way, which allow walkers access to the country; some places, such as the Peak District, are even covered by “right to roam” legislation, meaning hikers can go where they wish. Download the Ordnance Survey app and set out across hills and dale.
The west coast of Scotland is famous for whisky and rugged, breathtakingly beautiful countryside — but some of its greatest treasures are found offshore. Join Sealife Adventures and keep your eyes peeled for whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Deep in the south of Bohemia you’ll find Trebon, a town as serene as the limpid carp ponds that surround it. You can swim in the Svet pond, the closest to town, during the warmer months; there’s a delightful, 16th-century town center to stroll through; and the surrounding countryside is a UNESCO-protected landscape. Thanks to its rich peat deposits, it’s also a spa town. Berta’s Spa, one of two here, has been soothing body and soul since the late 19th-century.
Prague’s pleasures are well-known — perhaps too well-known — but there are plenty of places to escape the crowds. Try Café Truhlárna. Carved out of the city’s Franciscan monastery, its delightful garden is the perfect place to spend a calming hour or two, perhaps with a traditional cake or pastry, such as a buchty or blueberry pie.
For wilder pleasures, head north to Bohemian Switzerland, a mountainous region that borders Germany. Take a 20-minute boat ride through Edmund Gorge, a ravine flanked by precipitous rock walls. The only sound here is the long oar used to propel the boat dipping in and out of the water; the silence is genuinely breathtaking.
Belgium’s most beautiful countryside is in the south of the country, where Flemish flatness gives way to the hills of Wallonia. Les Sentiers de Grande Randonnée, a Belgian hiking charity, has curated a walk that takes you between the region’s famed Trappist breweries: Chimay, Rochefort and Orval. There are 72 miles between the latter two, and hikers will trek past caves, castles, a historic railway line and a magnificent nature reserve at Epioux while savoring local culinary specialities and, of course, superb beer.
You can take it slow in Belgium’s greatest cities, Brussels and Antwerp, too. In the former, pick up a brochure for around €2.50 at the tourist board and stretch your legs on a self-guided walking tour of the city’s marvelous comic-strip murals; in the latter, join Antwerp By Bike for a fascinating two-wheel tour of a city where cyclists rule the roads.
Berliners are proud of their laid-back approach to life, particularly when the sun warms this frosty Prussian city. It’s a good place to find some peace. Make your way to the Buddhistisches Haus, Europe’s oldest Buddhist temple, where daily meditation sessions take place and where visitors wanting to immerse themselves in calm can stay for up to a week.
Or visit the nearby lakes where locals go to relax and swim. The most beautiful, perhaps, is Krumme Lanke, southwest of the city, with its curved shape, wooded borders and boardwalk.
If you want to walk, head south into the Bavarian forest. Try the Steigerwald, where you’ll find the Steigerwald Treetop Path, which takes you through the beechwood canopy en route to a nearly 140-foot, cone-shaped tower with remarkable views across Lower Franconia. Or head to the Waldnaabtal, a blissfully calm path alongside the Waldnaab River in the Oberpfalz, Bavaria’s most easterly region.
Visitors to Rome can join the throng at the Colosseum — a must-see, for sure, but hardly calming — or they can head instead for the Baths of Caracalla, where ancient Romans came to bathe and luxuriate. There’s no water here now, but amid the ruined granite and marble (and, crucially, sparse crowds) you’ll find a remarkable sense of tranquility.
Venice is, if anything, even busier than Rome, but most visitors stick to the major tourist hot spots. Once you’ve seen Piazza San Marco, seek out lesser-known churches, such as the 14th-century Church of Madonna dell’Orto, where Tintoretto is buried amid much of his own works and the silent solemnity they deserve.
It’s impossible to visit Italy without eating: Nourish body and soul with a trip to one of its great markets, such as Florence’s Sant’Ambrogio, where citrus fruit displays seem to stretch for miles, or the gleaming white Testaccio Market in Rome, home to one of the city’s best pizza makers, Casa Manco.