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Whether you need to clear your head, want to rediscover your creativity or just need a little ‘me time’, a spiritual retreat is a wonderful way to switch off and reset, and now the best places for it have been revealed.
The Spirituality Index, put together by Wayfairer, is a measure of how spiritual a country is based on its wellness scene, overall quality of life, its religious diversity, freedom and tolerance, and the number of spiritual sights across the destination.
So if you fancy an Elizabeth Gilbert-style spiritual break, these are the countries to visit and the best retreats to book:
Top of the list, Canada scored highly across the board. Its wellness scene is fantastic, with cities like Vancouver leading the way thanks to a naturally healthy lifestyle.
With some of the world’s most spectacular scenery – the Rocky Mountains, glistening lakes, an Arctic wilderness – it also has some fantastic retreats. Head to Outside Inn for a yoga retreat on the glorious west coast of Vancouver Island.
One of the three locations Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in her popular Eat, Pray, Love memoir, Italy is a truly spiritual place. While it’s the home of the Catholic church, spirituality goes beyond religion here, with some of the world’s most relaxing countryside and coastal retreats.
Combine wellness and spirituality with a hike along the Via Francigena, a medieval pilgrimage route as revered as the Camino de Santiago in Spain that actually starts in Canterbury, England and ends in Rome. Or spend a week in the Puglia countryside at the Kaliyoga retreat, which sits among dreamy vineyards and olive groves.
India is almost synonymous with spirituality. Home to a huge number of Hindus and Buddhists, as well as Ayurvedic traditions, it has been a go-to yoga and wellness destination for decades.
Most famously, The Beatles visited India in 1968 to take part in a ‘transcendental meditation’ retreat in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. The ashram is now open to the public to explore and take part in classes, but the latest, most exciting retreat in the city is The Roseate Ganges, opening in November 2018, which promises a fabulous spa and a stunning infinity pool.
The country’s best wellness scene, though, can be found in the south, throughout Kerala, where Ayurvedic spas abound. Try the Carnoustie Ayurveda & Wellness Resort for glorious Alappuzha backwaters cruises, morning yoga and a number of Ayurvedic programs.
The Land of the Rising Sun is a truly special destination for any kind of holiday, but a spiritual retreat here is bound to refresh the mind and body. Try meditation retreats like the 600-year-old Buddhist Shōganji Zen Retreat in the south, or the Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, just a few hours from Tokyo.
For a less religious but equally relaxing experience, head to the mountains around Hakone (just two hours from Tokyo by train) and spend your days dipping in and out of the natural hot springs called onsen. Beware, though, you will have to bare all – naked bathing is mandatory!
Book it: 13 days in Japan with Riviera Travel
5. United Kingdom
Perhaps an unlikely addition to this list, the UK ranks highly in the Spirituality Index for religious diversity and quality of life. We’re not short of retreats here, either. Whether you want a weekend of yoga or a silent retreat, there’s something for everyone here.
The Sharpham Trust in Devon is a wonderful place to escape and practice a little mindfulness, helping its guests find peace within themselves through secular practices. Alternatively, head to the wilds of Scotland for a wellbeing retreat that incorporates yoga, meditation and ‘ecotherapy’.
For something completely different, have a unique weekend away of a spiritual nature by going ‘Champing’ – sleeping inside a disused church with the Churches Conservation Trust.
Read more: Top 10 hotels in Britain with the best views
6. United States
Scoring low in the religious tolerance and freedom categories, the USA still made it into the top 10 thanks to its overall quality of life and thriving wellness scene – the spa industry saw a revenue of over $17 billion in 2017 alone.
Sedona Mago Retreat is a popular spiritual destination, with no TV or internet, no alcohol and a vegetarian-only kitchen and classes on everything from chakra healing to Tao energy yoga. For something completely different, go to Sunrise Springs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They offer a puppy play therapy, which is exactly as it sounds!
Spirituality in Mexico centres around the Catholic religion, with spectacular churches and shrines scattered throughout the country – the Templo de Santo Domingo in Oaxaca is the country’s most famous thanks to its imposing edifice and intricate interiors.
But wellness in Mexico is also big business, and with ancient civilisations to draw inspiration from, there are a plethora of unique experiences. Try the Mayan Tamazcal ritual at Xinalani in Puerto Vallarta, which involves an extremely hot stone hut and a post-ritual mud facial, or explore your inner yogi at one of the many yoga retreats along the coast.
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Australia scored low for religious tolerance and diversity, as well as for its wellness scene, but got full marks for quality of life. It’s no surprise, with spectacularly sunny summers and a coastline of brilliant beaches for surfing or lounging.
You can find spirituality in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney at Happy Buddha, where there are weekend and mid-week yoga retreats for all levels. Alternatively, head to the island territory of Tasmania for an aboriginal-style retreat, led by natives to the land at the Nayri Niara Good Center.
9. The Philippines
Scoring highly for religious diversity, freedom and tolerance, the Philippines is a stunning destination with truly spiritual roots. On the popular islands of Palawan and Cebu there are plenty of retreats offering yoga and meditation.
The ultimate in luxury spa retreats, The Farm at San Benito is a truly special place, set within the lush jungle of Batangas offering ‘Mind & Body’ and ‘De-Stress and Revivify’ programs.
Read more: How to holiday Crazy Rich Asians-style
While Germany received the lowest possible score for its religious population, opportunities for spirituality abound in this western European nation. Countless historic abbeys and monasteries are now open as retreats, offering unusual but beautiful places to stay, and ancient pilgrimage routes abound – the St James’ Way is one of the most popular.
The wellness scene in Germany is also brilliant, with active relaxation the name of the game. Take a hike through beautiful mountain countryside or fairy-tale forests before you retreat to the sauna at resorts like The Sonnenalp. Also don’t miss a visit to Baden-Baden, Germany’s original spa town with its wealth of natural hot springs.