Need help narrowing your choices down? Here are my tips on what to look for in a wellness retreat. Originally posted in Spa Inc. Magazine

As the winter creeps in, there’s no better time to combine two things that the cold weather can lack: a vacation and an immersion in health and wellness. This winter, plan a healthy getaway at a destination spa — a retreat offering an all-encompassing experience that excites the senses, sparks health on all levels and engages the imagination.

As the wellness tourism trend continues to surge, the number of health retreats increases, too. It can be hard to sift through the many offerings.

Of course, priorities vary depending on the traveler and his or her specific needs, says Marie-Eve Perron, manager of Le Monastere des Augustines in Canada.

“But overall, we can say that our guests are looking for a place and services that help them rest, recharge their batteries and achieve specific health goals,” she says. Those goals may be stress management, sleep management, quest for meaning or changing life habits. “They are also looking for quality healthy food and quality treatments. The atmosphere of the place must lead to relaxation, disconnection and reflection.”

Here are my 5 top tips on what to look for in a wellness retreat.

what to look for in a wellness retreat

Main entrance of Le Monastere des Augustine

1. A Unique Destination

We all love to combine our travels to get more bang for the buck. Savvy travelers want a location for their wellness retreat that is a great place to visit — even if there wasn’t a retreat there at all. The kind of place you would already want to visit. The wellness programming is just the cherry on top.

Old Quebec City is a great example of this type of place. Ask yourself: Would you travel there whether or not there was a retreat? Then look for a retreat in the most desirable locations.

what to look for in a wellness retreat

2. Unique Activity Locations

At the Le Monastère Des Augustines in Canada, your activity program will be held in an actual room in the monastery where the nuns have held prayer services. The novel location adds depth and intrigue. Plus, one does seem to find much Zen (and sleep) in this Unesco World Heritage-located boutique hotel.

Another unique location many resort spas use for wellness activities is the roof. At the just-opened Well & Being Spa at El San Juan Hotel in El San Juan, Puerto Rico, an outdoor rooftop fitness area allows their guests to experience sunset yoga, TRX and bootcamp classes, while overlooking the beautiful azure ocean waters. It’s sweat with a view.

what to look for in a wellness retreat

The boutique at Monastere des Augustine

3. New Takes On Old Classes

Also look for innovators and creative leaders. That’s a good sign they’re at the cutting edge of health knowledge and always seeking to challenge their clients. For example, the Well & Being Spa at El San Juan Hotel continues to refresh its classes with a unique, effective class called FloatFit. This class traveled from the United Kingdom to bring guests a yoga session on boards that resemble inflatable yoga mats. This provides a challenging yet low-impact option for all levels of wellness retreat guests. Plus, it’s a blast.

what to look for in a wellness retreat

An Authentic Room at Le Monastere des Augustine

4. A Medical Analysis

Whether you’re arriving at your first or 50th wellness retreat, it’s useful to have a baseline to determine where you are and where you want to go.

Many European health spas offer an informative, personalized medical analysis as a common start to every program. Oetker Collection’s Brenner’s Park in Baden-Baden, Germany, offers this on its destination spa menu at Villa Stephanie.The resort’s experts can provide a body analysis to determine your body composition, establish your health and nutritional status and then create the perfect wellness retreat plan to gain the results you desire.

Brenner’s Park also offers a list of preventative health care programs and specialty treatments you can choose from, all administered amid the peaceful, healing environment of the park-surrounded hotel.

Another outstanding offering: Villa Stephanie directly connects to “Huas Julius,” a 1,700-square-meter mansion designed to offer guests exclusive access to medical care.

The self-serve counter at Le Monastere des Augustine

5. An Escape

For whatever reason you are seeking a wellness retreat, you can bet among them is to escape. The escape might be from a not-so-healthy lifestyle, stress or just day-to-day, normal life.

The Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, Georgia, offers a digital detox escape, as part of its wellness retreat package. Power down your phone, get free of all technological distractions and lose yourself in an 80-minute spa treatment. Trade your iPhone for a wellness bath in Shungite-charged water to ease fatigue; a massage focusing on the body parts we tend to strain with technology; a paraffin hand treatment; and a meditation class with a psychotherapist. The spa incorporates purifying Shungite crystals, which are said to help neutralize radiation and energy related to mobile devices.

Bonus: Leave with tips to take home and a VitaJuwel water bottle, designed to provide homemade gem water.

Also, at the Le Monastere des St. Augustines, guests are invited to leave their technology, such as cell phones and tablets, at the front desk for safekeeping and thought clearing.

What works at your wellness retreat depends on the client and objectives, as well as your condition and willingness to change your lifestyle says manager Perron, of Le Monastere. Tools that work for one person may not be fitting for another.

“However, we can say that most guests feel better after a stay, and (leave) in a wellness condition that they did not have when they arrived,” Perron says. “This is due largely to being in a place that promotes relaxation and reflection, far from the stimuli of the everyday life.”

“No matter the services, the more you detach from TV, your cell phone, work and the news, the more open-minded you’ll be, and the more you’ll benefit, Perron says.

“The challenge is always to return home and insert the new tools into everyday life,” she says.