Florida’s fresh new face as a wellness hub
If there’s one thing the pandemic has drilled into our consciousness, it’s that a genuine chill-out destination is worth its weight in travel gold. Step forward Florida for a surprising array of natural wellness options that are guaranteed to reinvigorate and delight in equal measure
The get-away-from-it-all state
Florida has long been known for its beaches and theme parks, night life and bargain shopping. Its reputation for fab family holidays is equally renowned and fully justified. But it’s also an increasingly smart choice for getting off the beaten track to discover a myriad of small-scale natural charms, a pure way to be socially distanced and health conscious. From luxury villas that provide real seclusion to boutique beachfront hotels, and from serene state parks to tranquil waterways that lure kayakers and paddleboarders, the Sunshine State is now the place to visit for ultimate decompression – somewhere to recharge your batteries and apply nature’s own wellness cure in a tropical climate with its own ‘slow down’ directive. Health and safety standards have been enhanced everywhere to ensure the latest anti-Covid protocols, while the opportunities for dining al fresco are abundant.
While places such as Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach continue to attract the holiday hordes, savvy travellers are heading for alternative destinations such as Amelia Island, Boca Raton (opening image) and Apalachicola, where the vibe is either understated chic or rustic retreat. The northeast (home to Amelia Island) offers an alluring mix of both, while the northwest, or Panhandle, features an array of offbeat seaside towns, like Apalachicola, boasting miles of open, pristine sands that draw crowds of playful dolphins or seabirds but rarely the human variety. Head for Boca Raton in 2022 and you can also live the high life in distinctive, one-off style at the newly-rebranded The Boca Raton, where a $175m makeover has given fresh lustre to this graceful 200-acre 1920s grande dame resort, including the wellness oasis of its award-winning Spa Palmera, along with delectable dining.
If hotels are not your cup of relaxing tea, Florida has an alternative totally geared towards providing a luxury bolthole to call your own. Driven both by an international market that likes extended family time together and the post-pandemic desire for personal elbow room, villa offerings have mushroomed from their original humble Orlando roots to provide deluxe amenities that range from mini-cinemas and bowling alleys to private chef service. Seaside seclusion? Try Anna Maria Island or Longboat Key on the gorgeous Gulf Coast. Wilderness solitude? Check out the rustic cabin rentals of Everglades City, with the vastness of Florida’s Everglades right on your doorstep. Sample the indulgent Reunion Resort – 30 miles south of Orlando – and you have an ideal blend of glamorous, full-service hotel and upscale villas, including the 11-bedroom Grand Beauty Villa, which comes with a state-of-the-art fitness centre.
Whisper it quietly, but the Sunshine State could easily be the Parks & Gardens State, as it has 175 state parks sprinkled throughout its 500-mile north-south reach. This wealth of diverse organic attractions is on tap practically everywhere, meaning you are never far from nature’s own health therapy. This might include charming coastal backwaters and unruffled rivers that afford the chance to rent a kayak and paddle through mangrove tunnels or dense, primeval forest. Sarasota features the Lido Mangrove Tunnels, Naples and Marco Island offer the Mudflats Kayak Tour, and the Florida Keys are absolutely bursting with inviting things to do. For something completely different, head to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near the Kennedy Space Center in high summer for the rare chance to experience kayaking amid the astounding natural phenomenon of bioluminescent sea life in the bath-warm waters.
Of course, the essence of wellness is the primary preserve of the best spas, and few destinations are as rich in a pampering panoply as Florida these days. Orlando, which has long been thought of simply as ‘Theme Park Central’, offers more than 125 spas and wellness centres, and even the home of Mickey Mouse features the world-class health club of the Senses Spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Spring 2022 should also raise the benchmark in spa bliss at the new Amrit Ocean Resort in Palm Beach’s swanky Singer Island, which promises an entire holistic programme, from satsang yoga and aerial meditation to a signature Aayush hydrotherapy circuit, building to a full, integrated health assessment that aims to have guests leaving with a new sense of themselves and their wellness. Just like Florida itself.
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