The beginning of the year can be a strange time. Maybe your bank account took a battering, maybe your body did too. Maybe you were a little too generous on presents and a little over indulgent on the festive snacks. Either way, no regrets, no use in crying over yesterday! But to help you stay positive, healthy and happy, we’ve selected ten healthy places in Europe that’ll hopefully revitalise your mind and body – thanks to breathtaking scenery, slower paces of life, nourishing cuisine and wonderful wellness attractions.
1. Isle of Skye, Scotland
Close to home but a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the UK’s big cities, the Isle of Skye is a mesmerising option for an uplifting break. Located on Scotland’s West Coast, it’s blessed with vast moorlands and dramatic cliffs that have often been compared to the wilderness of New Zealand or Scandinavia.
Skye’s historic Norse name is ‘cloud island’ and you really will feel hazy with content after a week or so spent in its remote locales and pretty towns. Skyewalker hostel is a favourite hostel for visitors.
2. The Azores, Portugal
This set of idyllic islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic but technically form part of Portugal. Tourism here has only started to take off over the past few years, although they’ve swiftly made a name for themselves within the sustainable travel industry. That’s all down to the fact the Azores are largely unspoiled and feature endless nature reserves, wild biospheres and not one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Whether you want to horseback ride through leafy forests, paraglide over mountain peaks, explore Europe’s oldest tea plantation or spot humpback and mink whales out at sea, you’ll be spoilt for choice with natural attractions. The main island of Sao Miguel is the most visited, but you can also catch flights to smaller Terceira and Faial if you feel like going even further off the grid.
3. Sicily, Italy
From mouth-watering cuisine — think crispy arancini, hearty vegetable pastas, freshly-caught seafood and rich cannolis — to dozens of serene coves, Sicily is a Mediterranean island with relaxing ambiance, historic gems and a local culture guaranteed to capture your heart.
When you’re not feeding your soul with, well, food, head to Sicily’s south coast and hop from one beautiful Baroque town to another. History buffs will also be in their element as Sicily is fit to bursting with Ancient Greek temples, Roman ruins and Norman structures. The island is easy to reach too, thanks to international airports — and cheap flights! — in Palermo, Comiso and Catania.
4. Bled, Slovenia
Sandwiched between Italy and Croatia, Slovenia is an equally beautiful but cheaper choice for a peaceful getaway. While capital Ljubljana offers up fascinating museums and a café culture to rival Paris, the town of Bled is an idyllic retreat in the Julian Alps complete with a deep blue glacial lake, medieval castle and numerous hiking trails.
Perhaps the most magical feature is the island in the centre of Lake Bled that’s home to the tiny Church of the Assumption of Maria. It’s been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and is well-worth catching a traditional wooden boat to for stunning views (and if you’re feeling spiritual).
5. Kefalonia, Greece
Greece has long been thought to have one of the healthiest diets in the world — and that theory is easy to put to the test on Kefalonia. While quieter than many of the other isles in the Ionian Sea, it still shares the same laidback pace of life and balmy climate.
Switch off from the world and indulge in daily swims in the impossibly blue ocean, trips to fishing villages that seem stuck in time and nourishing meals at various rustic tavernas. A day spent at the magical Melissani cave lake near Sami is also a must.
6. Skagen, Denmark
Keen to get those creative juices flowing again? Skagen is the place to go. Historically a port town located on the very northern tip of Denmark, it’s become somewhat of a magnet for Skandi artists inspired by the area’s rugged coastal scenery and vast sand dunes.
As well as some epic walks along the beach, you’ll find galleries and shops around the harbour selling anything from handmade pottery to jewellery. Despite the remoteness of Skagen, it’s surprisingly simple to get to with direct flights from London to Aalborg, which is just over an hour’s drive away.
7. Sintra, Portugal
The towering skyscrapers, crowds and gridlocked traffic of a big modern city are hardly relaxing — but what about one filled with enchanting castles, pastel coloured houses and cobbled lanes? Enter Sintra, a delightful city just 40 minutes from Lisbon that’s not only surrounded by mountains and lush forest but also boasts a picture-perfect UNESCO World Heritage town centre.
Sintra was once a royal sanctuary and it’s easy to see why if you take a stroll around the calming gardens and luxurious interiors of both the Sintra National Palace and the hilltop Pena Palace. There are also some impressive beaches as well as the Sintra Cascais National Park — perfect for bracing walks and known for being the westernmost point of Europe.
8. Kotor, Montenegro
Another destination that’s only recently jumped into the tourism game is tiny Montenegro. A trip to its mysterious shores will reveal magnificent mountains, miles of dazzling Adriatic coastline and limitless charming towns that reflect the country’s intriguing history.
Kotor sits in its very own bay and its centre is one of the best preserved medieval fortified old towns in the region. Narrow streets lead to stunning cobbled squares strewn with cafes, plus you’ll find an unusually large number of churches with ornate interiors. You can reach Kotor by flying directly into Montenegro’s Tivat airport, or by driving or catching a bus from Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia (approximately two hours away).
9. Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland
If you tend to spend your weekends indoors watching Netflix, why not get some fresh air and a new perspective by heading to the Antrim Coast for a few days? It’s found just north of Belfast — of which you’ll find plenty of cheap flights to — and is most famous for the legendary Giant’s Causeway, an utterly unique natural formation made up of thousands of rocky columns.
Meander along coastal paths and inland trails, and stop off in picturesque villages and towns for lunches in quaint pubs and chats with friendly locals. Game of Thrones fans will no doubt recognise much of the scenery — and there’s even themed tours if you have more cash to splash.
10. Gozo, Malta
One of the least populated and greenest of the Maltese islands, Gozo is a great alternative to more expensive Mediterranean beach destinations. If sun, sea and care-free living sound like the ultimate wellness getaway, this is the place. The culture is richly diverse thanks to over a thousand years of history. The local food reflects this too, and you’ll find most dishes are made from locally sourced produce.
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