Where to go to unwind, slow down, switch off and… aahhh… relax
The well-known joke is that often you need a holiday to get over the holiday you’ve just had; well, not in the case of these places. We’ve selected three cities, three regions, and three activity getaways that serve no other purpose than to help you release the tension.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Portland apparently has the second-highest air quality of any city in the US, so taking to one of the 350 or so hiking trails that surround it should be an immediate priority. Head out to the Columbia River Gorge to the east, or the wild northern Pacific coast and places like Cannon Beach for some of the north-west’s most arresting scenery.
The city itself is very green as well: the huge Washington Park covers 400 acres on the west bank of the Willamette River and contains things like the Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum and the World Forestry Center, as well as playgrounds, an archery range, and much more.
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Take the Portland Aerial Tram to Terwilliger Boulevard Parkway, three miles or so of winding road that affords wonderful views over the city and is a popular spot for joggers and cyclists. Back downtown, you can treat yourself to a tour of Portland’s many microbreweries, or go and see a spot of live music or theater. It’s one of the finest cities in the US for just taking it easy.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Dating from 1663 and built by Dutch colonists, the Unesco World Heritage Site of Galle is one of Sri Lanka’s absolute jewels. The area to the south of the city, known as Galle Fort, is a fortified enclave that is now a city in itself. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides and with reminders everywhere of its role as an important trading port, it’s a beautifully exotic place to stay.
Exploring within the huge fortress, through its rambling lanes and quiet, fragrant courtyards, you’ll come across tiny cafes, boutiques and workshops, each selling wonderful local wares. Look up to see spires of ancient churches and domes of ornate mosques. Even more than this, though, is the feeling that even though this amazing place has remained the same for almost half a century, it’s still as alive now as it ever was. It’s unusual to explore a city that’s so traditional, laid-back and content, yet still clearly thriving. It’s an intoxicating mix for any traveler.
Perched on the eastern edge of the Alps, Graz is the capital of Styria, a region of hills, lakes and other gently pleasant natural features. Graz reflects that: a hilly, green city with a compact center comprising winding medieval streets and red-roofed buildings, many with imposing historical frontages.
The best views are from the top of Schlossberg, the hill that dominates the city. Home to what used to be a sprawling castle, it’s the most difficult bit of walking you’ll have to do in the city, but rewards you with gardens and shady spots from which to look out over the city. The mighty Uhrturm clocktower is here as well, but why worry about the time?
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Graz is perfect for a couple of days of doing very little apart from wandering around, sitting in a park to read or have a coffee, poke around one of the museums, farmer’s markets or galleries, and end each day with a wonderful dinner in one of the many excellent restaurants. Ausgezeichnet.
Classically regarded as one of the most beautiful regions of France (and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition), Provence suffered a little because of it. The 1980s and 1990s saw an influx of tourists from places like the UK and Germany as its secrets became known, but now it’s back to a nice, relaxing level.
The landscape is stunning, with views of the Alps away to the east of the region, and rolling hills gradually cascading down to the ocean on the Côte d’Azur. Not only that, it also smells amazing, with pine forests and vineyards covering the hillsides, lavender fields stretching between the villages, and olive groves providing shade from the sun. The ancient city of Avignon is not to be missed, or to spend some time relaxing with the beautiful people, head to elegant Nice or glitzy Monte Carlo.
Mendoza Region, Argentina
Warm weather, long days and little rain means the winegrowing region of Mendoza attracts visitors all year round. Some come for the outdoor activities — white-water rafting, climbing, hiking and horse riding are all very popular — but if you’re looking to really relax, there are many ways to do that too.
There are over a thousand vineyards in the region and, of course, most host tours and tastings, but you can also take cookery courses at some, learning to cook simple, rustic Argentinian cuisine that’ll take you back there whenever you make it. If you’re not a wine drinker, you can tour the olive farms and try their wares instead, and there are spas aplenty as well. If you’re lucky you might find a place that combines all three: a vineyard with home cooking, luxurious rooms, a spa and views of some of the finest scenery in South America? Why not?!
Lake Bled, Slovenia
In a small corner of a small country is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places in Europe. Only 55 km from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia (for that is the country), lies Lake Bled. It’s not especially huge, about 6.5 km around its shore, but it’s perfect for walking in the surrounding forests accompanied by only birdsong and the lapping of water at the lake’s edge.
In the middle of the lake lies Slovenia’s only island, and it’s home to the Church of the Assumption of Mary which can be visited by taking a ride on a pletna, a traditional flat-bottomed wooden boat. You can also swim in the lake, or borrow a bicycle from one of the small local hotels and explore that way. Otherwise it’s just a matter of lying by the water’s edge and soaking up the sun.
The Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali
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Maybe even the act of deciding what you do when you go on holiday is stressful; if so, there are retreats and vacations that have programs laid out for you. The Yoga Barn is one such place.
Bali is clearly conducive to something as meditative and spiritual as yoga anyway, but if you visit The Yoga Barn you get the whole gamut of courses, treatments and everything else on offer. If you’re just passing, you can opt to take a single class, but you can also opt to stay there for up to a month, taking courses in yoga, dance, meditation and art, or relaxing with massage, acupuncture, reiki, or other healing techniques. Couple all of that with a location surrounded by lush, green jungle and the laid-back vibes of the nearby town of Ubud, and you’ve got an escape you can really lose yourself in.
Amanemu onsen resort, Ise-Shima, Japan
Located in the forests that surround Ago Bay is the Amanemu onsen. Being a volcanic country, Japan has many onsen — hot springs — and they range from being basically holes in the ground in which you can bathe, to luxurious spa resorts built around the healing waters. This is very much the latter.
With accommodation that overlooks the peaceful bay and with 2,000 square meters of spa facilities, you could spend your entire time there. That would be a dreadful waste though: the nearby Ise Jingu is a vast Shinto shrine, the most sacred site in the whole country, and so beloved that it’s known as the “Soul of Japan”. To come this far and not walk the pilgrims’ routes that have been trodden since the sixth century would be a terrible shame. It’s one of the most peaceful and revered places in a country rightly proud of its spiritual traditions.
Saruni Samburu Safari Camp, Kenya
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Many people wouldn’t consider a safari to be that relaxing. It’s probable that dawn wake-up calls and a lot of sitting around has to happen in order to see the animals in their natural habitat. So what if you could sit in a pool or on a veranda, and let nature come to you?
Placed on top of an outcrop, it’s the only lodge in over 200,000 acres of wilderness, affording spectacular views of the landscape all about, including Mount Kenya. You can opt for a tour of the region, guided by local Samburu warriors who take pride in their land and culture and passionately educate guests in their history and community.
Alternatively, you can spend evenings in one of the six eco-chic (as they call them) villas, eating a delicious meal on your private veranda and watching elephants and giraffes mill about the countryside below as the sun slowly sets over your African paradise.
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