We all like to be beside the water. Here are Stylist’s top places to relax and revitalise.
We’ve all experienced the calming feeling of lying on a beach and listening to the sound of waves gently lapping the shore. We’ve been entranced by the meditative effect of gazing out at still waters. And let’s not forget the physical and emotional highs we’ve felt after a balmy (or bracing) dip, or a jaunt along a waterway. So it’s not surprising it’s been scientifically proven that being in or near water, otherwise known as ‘blue space’, has numerous health benefits.
“In our fast, stressful and distracting modern world being near, in, on or under water gives our bodies and minds a break and helps us avoid burnout,” says Wallace J Nichols, marine biologist and author. “That feeling is called ‘blue mind’. Stress hormones drop, feel-good neurochemicals increase, breathing and heart rate slows, conversations deepen and we slip into a more mindful mode.”
Historically, water has played a key role in our survival: civilisations flourished thanks to their proximity to it. The Egyptians and Israelites bathed in the sacred waters of the Nile and Jordan rivers; Belgians favoured a cold spring and Romans a hot bath; the Victorians advocated the health benefits of salt water.
More recently, research has continued to highlight the positive lure of all places blue. A recently published journal on coastal tourism revealed that people were willing to pay up to 57% more for a sea-view room, depending on how good it was and accessibility to the beach. And the EU initiated BlueHealth 2020, a four-year research project to examine the effects of being in or near water on the body and mind.
Tempted to test the waters? Here’s where and how to immerse yourself in the good stuff this year.
THE ISLAND PARADISE
When scientists at Stanford University assessed seawater, they found it to be rich in sodium, magnesium and potassium, meaning it can help relieve stress, relax muscles and possesses healing properties for the skin. And the best way to indulge in it? On a private island resort where, bar a turtle or two, you’ll have it all to yourself.
At Bawah Reserve in Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago, slap-bang in the middle of the South China Sea, there are three lagoons, 13 beaches and six islands – with another to open this year featuring six cliffside lodges. On the main island, guests can stay in overwater bungalows or tented beach suites with tropical outdoor showers and drinking water filtered straight from the sea. There’s snorkelling gear so you can get in among the coral, paddle boards, Perspex kayaks and sailing boats. Bawah is also a four-hour transfer by boat and seaplane from the nearest airport in Singapore, so you’ll be zen before you even get there.
Suites at Bawah Reserve from £1,617 for two nights’ full-board, including daily spa treatments and activities; bawahreserve.com. Flights from London to Singapore with Singapore Airlines from £470 return; singaporeair.com
THE LAKESIDE CITY
Unlike many urban hotspots, the medieval city of Lausanne in Switzerland is awash with blue views. Recently ranked the best small city in the world, its position on the shores of Lac Léman (the locals don’t call it Lake Geneva) offers endless opportunities to trigger those serotonin levels – a recent psychology study revealed that environments which include a body of water showed “significantly higher rates of psychological restoration” over those without.
Opt for a Superior Lake & Alps View room at the Beau-Rivage Palace and you’ll wake to magnificent views from your balcony. Spring is when the Swiss head back to the shores, so follow suit with walks along the promenade, pedalo rides and a waterfront snack at one of the foodie pop-ups. Don’t fancy the open water? The nearby Bellerive complex boasts an Olympic-sized pool.
THE CANALSIDE SPA
Housed in a beautifully renovated wide-beam canal barge, the Monkey Island Estate’s floating spa gently bobs on the River Thames near Bray in Berkshire, celebrating both the beauty and benefits of the surrounding water.
In 2018, the Canal and River Trust reported that doctors had begun to prescribe canalside walks to combat depression, suggesting the waterways can reduce stress, blood pressure and even improve chronic lung conditions. Plus, an independent survey said that usage of waterside paths was associated with “higher evaluative wellbeing”. No need to be a hotel guest to hop on board either. Try the hour-long floating massage, which takes place on an aqua cushion to remove pressure on your body and recreate the sensation of floating on water – which, essentially, you are.
Spa treatments at the Monkey Island Estate from £100 for 60 minutes; rooms from £275; monkeyisland.co.uk
THE ACTIVE ADVENTURE
This five-day, women-only paddle boarding and sea kayaking trip will see you island hop across the Zadar archipelago in Croatia. Starting from the island of Molat, a short catamaran ride from the mainland, the Gutsy Girls SUP adventure involves spending full days on the glassy Mediterranean, paddling up to 20km. You’ll stop off at secluded beaches and hidden bays, paddle across transparent lagoons, explore submarine tunnels and dock your board to wild swim or play local ball game picigin in the shallows. Not only will you develop the impressive core strength needed to stay upright on your board, you’ll also reap the benefits of being out on the ocean for hours on end.
A 2018 YouGov survey commissioned by Swim England, the national governing body for swimming, found that a dip significantly reduced the symptoms of anxiety or depression for 1.4 million adults in Britain. A relief, then, that falling off your board is actually a positive.
Places on the Gutsy Girls five- day SUP adventure from £1,225, including food, equipment hire, accommodation and activities; gutsygirls.co.uk. Flights from London to Zadar with Ryanair from £29 one-way; ryanair.com
THE URBAN OASIS
New York’s beauty lies in the Manhattan skyline and the swathes of river and bay that swaddle three sides of it. But walking around in the shadows of the city’s high-rises usually means much of the blue views are concealed. To uncover them, cross the East River to one of the newest boutique offerings, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, where the rooftop terrace and pool make the most of the waterside location. You’ll need to be a guest to take a dip in the L-shaped plunge pool, but it’s worth it for the views of the bay and Statue of Liberty.
And it’s not only a pleasant feeling to be close to water – there are scientific reasons it’s a key part of our holidays, says Wilma Zijlema, researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. “A study from 2017 showed that being exposed to outdoor water areas can benefit mental health and wellbeing,” she says. “These benefits might occur as being close to water reduces stress and increases physical activity.”
THE FLOATING HIDEAWAY
Despite what you might think, there’s no need to travel to the Maldives to find zen in an overwater hut. A 30-minute drive from Avignon in the south of France, Coucoo Grands Cépages is home to 15 striking wooden eco cabins straddling Lake Lionne, a former quarry secreted in the depths of the pretty Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region.
Some are floating, some are overwater on stilts and some are built into the banks, looking out to the shimmering turquoise waters. The pièce de résistance? Several of the cabins come with Nordic-style outdoor baths, heated to 40°C, and house their own water purification systems, meaning no chemicals. All come with a private terrace toe-dipping distance from the water – the best place to soak up the benefits.
After a blissful night’s sleep and a breakfast of local pastries and jams delivered to your door, you can soothe the soul further with a nature walk around the grounds or, if you can’t get enough of the water, there’s a biological infinity pool to take a dip in too.
THE SECLUDED VILLA
Thalassotherapy, the therapeutic use of seawater, was invented by the Greeks: Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, was the first to tout its virtues. Since then, seawater has been considered beneficial to our skin as well as our mind, so where better to indulge in it than on a Greek Island?
New for 2020, you can rent a two-bedroom stone villa on Meganisi with a private pool and views of the Ionian Sea. Rental also includes a car for exploring the island’s beaches – many quiet and secluded even in the busy summer months. It’s well worth tearing yourself away from the pool for a soak in the ocean, as a study in the Skin Research And Technology journal showed that seawater was more effective at healing skin than some specially formulated skin creams.
Seven nights at Melissi Stone Villa Stamatina from £611 per person, based on four people sharing, including return flights from London or Manchester to Preveza, island transfers, car hire and a welcome pack; ionianislandholidays.com
THE CLIFFTOP SANCTUARY
A wintery clifftop in Cornwall usually comes marred by an Atlantic bluster and the need for more than a swimsuit, but not at Mullion Cove on the Lizard Peninsula, where you can enjoy the full vista from the comfort of a sparkly spa. Inside, the glass doors of the steam room, sauna and salt laconicum provide the perfect seascapes. There’s also a hydrotherapy pool, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, and the sounds of the sea play in the relaxation rooms.
The spa is open to non-guests, but if you’d like to stay, book the Morwenna or Daphne apartments to enjoy the views at breakfast and a private hot tub. But you may want to stay even longer; a survey by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health found that people living on the coast tend to have better health than those who don’t.
Harbour view apartments at Mullion Cove from £999 for a week, based on six people sharing; spa treatments from £30 for 30 minutes; mullion-cove.co.uk
THE SEASIDE THROWBACK
In the Victorian era, the coastal waters at Margate in Kent were considered medicinal. The town was home to a pioneering sea bathing hospital for tuberculosis patients as well as the iconic sea-bathing machines used by Victorian women to maintain their modesty when changing into their swimming costumes.
Fast-forward more than 200 years and trendy local skincare brand Haeckels, who make beauty products using seaweed from the beach, are once again touting the benefits of a fresh seawater dip. And to really encourage you, they’ve built a traditional wood-burning sauna and spa on Margate’s Main Sands where you can warm your cockles upon exit.
A recent case published in the British Medical Journal found immersion in cold water could help treat depression, and a similar Czech study said people who did this three times a week showed an increase in white blood cell count, key to fighting infection.
Treatments at Haeckels’ Bathing Hut from £25 for 30 minutes, use of the sauna is free; haeckels.house
THE ARCTIC BOLTHOLE
While Finnish Lapland is inundated with Santa-seekers every winter, heading to its northern climes, Swedish Lapland is usually quieter. Now though, interest in the area is growing for an altogether different reason: the opening of the Arctic Bath Hotel. The brand new spa hotel is located on the Lule River near the village of Harads and has 12 cabins (six floating and six elevated on land), a giant outdoor ice bath at its centre, three saunas, a spa treatment room and hot baths.
Much of the stylish architecture chimes with the river’s history as a transport route for timber, but of course it’s the water that is the biggest lure, glistening under the Northern Lights in winter and the midnight sun come summer. Follow the two-hour spa ritual circuit to reap the full benefits: a sauna session, a dip in the hydrotherapy hot tub and a plunge into the cold arctic bath followed by a body peel, face mask and foot treatment. Part of local culture, cold baths are thought to ease aching muscles, aid the central nervous system and limit inflammation, especially when followed with some time in a traditional sauna. Sign us up.
Rooms at the Arctic Bath Hotel from £780; arcticbath.se. Flights from London to Stockholm with British Airways from £60 return; britishairways.com. Flights from Stockholm to Luleå with Norwegian from £74 return; norwegian.com