>>>The best spiritual resorts
Photo: © 2016 Conrad Hotels & Resorts

The best spiritual resorts

According to Buddha, peace comes from within, so there's no need to go looking for it. But then, perhaps Buddha never experienced the joys of an infinity pool in the Maldives...
close my eyes, relax my body and concentrate solely on breathing in and out. My mind is the sky and my thoughts and the clouds that float across it. The goal is to see nothing but a clear blue sky. I had always thought that, in order to meditate properly, I would need to have a completely blank mind. But now I know that Nirvana is more of a rich turquoise colour.
I open my eyes, and there it is! However, to Master Goenka’s disappointment (or so I believe since he doesn’t bat an eyelid), what I see is not in my mind, but rather the awe-inspiring views from the Conrad Hotel on Rangali Island, in the Maldives. For an hour every day, I meditate while looking out over the Indian Ocean – and I’m far from alone in choosing to spend my vacation trying to unwind.
Comprehensive Optimal Fitness is the latest programme to be offered at Kamalaya Koh Samui. It includes meditation, nutritional advice and sessions of infrared, sauna and massages.

The sacred island

The grey skies of Scotland lighten over the Holy Isle, just off the larger Isle of Arran. It's here that the Centre for World Peace and Health, led by master Tibetan Buddhist Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, offers courses and spiritual retreats between April and October.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, “wellness tourism” now counts for 14% of the global tourism industry andthis figure is expected to rise to 50% by the end of 2017. This explains why so many resorts have been quick to include yoga, meditation and spa facilities in their packages. The time has come to ditch all-inclusive party holidays in busy resorts for something more laidback that promises to heal both the body and the mind.
The wellness movement grew out of Asia, the birthplace of Buddhism, Reiki and Ayurveda. While the continent was once a mythical destination for adventurous enlightenment-seeking backpackers, it has since become more mainstream, thanks in no small part to Hollywood. Julia Roberts famously ate, prayed and loved, making the concept of travelling to find your inner self increasingly fashionable. Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book formed the basis of that hit film, chose to travel to India, the country enjoying the biggest boom in wellness tourism, with 20% annual growth now being predicted. One leading spiritual resort is Ananda in the Himalayas, found just 22 kilometres from Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga. The old palace of the Maharaja is now a refuge for those seeking peace and harmony. This is achieved through yoga and meditation techniques, combined with aromatherapy, reflexology and the use of Himalayan crystals to cleanse the chakras.
To reach the Conrad Hotel on Rangali Island in the Maldives, you will need to take a 90-mile hydroplane flight from Male International Airport.
Photo: © 2016 Conrad Hotels & Resorts
Thailand competes with India as the top destination for spiritual renewal. Temples such as Wat Mahatat, in Bangkok, offer daily Vipassana meditation courses, while outside the capital you can also find a wealth of wellness sanctuaries. The Kamalaya resort, in Koh Samui, bases its cleansing programmes on holistic philosophy, combining the best of Eastern and Western thought. Its programmes are designed to combat stress and provide rejuvenation and emotional balance. As one satisfied guest, Richard from the UK, said “they were the best two weeks of the last ten years”.
Thich Nhat Hanh, founder of Plum Village, was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Photo: © UBC / Plum Village
But tropical beaches and exotic locations are not essential for spiritual renewal. A 13th century villa in rural Tuscany will also do the trick. Le Pianore near Florence is one of the centres where Rolling Meadows organise retreats. There, Patricia and Surya share their wisdom with groups of up to 11 students, and with all their classes held in silence. As Gandhi himself noted: “in the attitude of silence, the soul finds the path in a clearer light.”
Just as silence helps, so too does the sound of the waves. When I’ve completed my meditation, I’m not sure I’ve cleared my sky of clouds, but I’m at peace. I submerge myself in the infinity pool and leave my troubles far behind.

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