Mindful escapes to Austria to improve your health and wellbeing this winter
Breathing in the Alpine air and gazing at glorious mountains is enough in itself to give us a wellness boost, never mind indulging in activities that enhance our mental health as well.
Scientific studies have shown that human wellbeing is linked to nature in myriad ways, and there’s no better place for a positive mental health experience this winter than beautiful Austria. Sure, you might have thought about it for a skiing or snowboarding trip, but have you ever thought about it for a mindful holiday? Because, really, you should.
For starters, it’s a mecca for spa lovers with over 40 thermal spas to choose from, featuring a whole heap of different experiences on offer, including some rather unique treatments. And, as outdoor activities go, there are many more calm, mindful experiences on offer than tobogganing down a mountain – and they’re every bit as exhilarating for your soul. Let’s just say that wellness guru Wim Hof, who champions exposure to cold temperatures as one of the three pillars of his method to reach optimum health and wellbeing will most definitely approve of your holiday choices.
Here’s our guide to mindful activities in Austria this winter.
Yup, having a bath in hay is all the rage in Austria. Not just any old hay, mind, but proper Alpine mountain grass and wildflowers, cut in summer, preserved in wooden barns and used in spas across the land. Heubad, as the locals call it, is said to stimulate your metabolism, revitalise and purify your skin, improve circulation and give a general wellbeing boost. The Wellness Hotel Schönruh in Seefeld in the Tirol offers a 40 minute bath in local mountain hay, while The Wiesenhof at Lake Achensee has an Alpine herbal bath using extracts from wild mountain herbs such as coltsfoot, burnet, comfrey that claims to stimulate blood flow. And that’s not their only unusual bath – they also do one in goat’s milk, to supply your skin with important minerals, vitamins and moisture.
OK, so knocking back pints of lager is not especially known for bringing about a wellbeing boost, but bathing in the stuff? Well, that’s a different story (and you thought bathing in hay was unusual). Yup, there are claims that sinking back into a tub filled with beer has surprising health benefits – it’s said to increase blood circulation, soften the skin, and have a calming effect, thanks to the hops. The calcium and vitamin in the beer are claimed to help with skin conditions, too (just don’t be tempted to take a drink of it, eh?). The Landhotel Moorhof in the remote Ibmer Moor near Salzburg even offers a ‘bier bad’ weekend (and you can even throw in their straw bath for good measure).
Taking the cold water swimming phenomenon to a whole new level, if you feel tip top after a quick dip at the British seaside, just imagine those endorphins from swimming in an icy lake in Austria. Ice bathing is a test of mental strength, and helps confidence – it’s said to be particularly wonderful for anyone with hormonal problems, from menstrual issues to those connected to menopause. And as Wim Hof knows, it can help overcome sleep woes too. Among the best locations to cold water swim in Austria are Lake Achensee, Lake Zauchensee (they have an ice challenge for the brave hearted on 21st January 2022) and the stunning Lake Almsee next to the Tote Gebirge mountain range (which is mirrored in the lake, dreamily). Make sure you build up slowly though – start with cold showers, dip hands in first, never jump in and never swim alone. For more on the dos and don’ts of ice bathing click here.
Torchlit winter walks
What could possibly be more glorious and life-giving than a winter walk by torchlight? We can’t think of much. The snowy forest, the clear, starry night sky, the flames (ok, not just us pretending we’re in an episode of Game of Thrones?), it’s all the elements, all the adventure, and all of the senses heightened. Take part in a torch-lit hike in the Pillerseetal Valley in the Tirol, with a local guide to enhance your experience. Just don’t forget sturdy shoes, many (many) layers and hot drinks and snacks.
So near, so Spa
As we’ve already established Austria is a mecca for spas. So much so that we barely know where to begin, but we’ve cherry-picked a few for your delectation.
The Therme Wien is Europe’s biggest city spa. For more of an eastern slant, try the Ayurveda Resort Sonnhof in Tirol or, if you require more of a medical focus, the healing caves of Gastein Heilstollen. Literally inside the mountains of SalzburgerLand and harnessing the natural powers of radon gas, the treatments are proven to help skin conditions and rheumatic-inflammatory complaints. More of an indulgent approach is that of Tauern Spa in Zell am See-Kaprun, with panoramic views of the snow-capped summit of the Kitzsteinhorn mountain from the glass skyline pool on the top floor.
And no Austrian spa-round-up can go without a mention of the iconic architectural feat that is the Aqua Dome. Tirol’s largest and most modern thermal spa in the Ötzal Valley has a glass pyramid and huge flying saucers-looking pools (one salt, one sulphur, one a massage pool). It also has a whole village of saunas with a loft sauna, a canyon sauna (replete with the odd thunderstorm), an ice-cold grotto, and an ‘experience shower’. Find out more about Austria’s myriad spas here and find out why they are so good for our health and wellbeing.
For more information, visit the Austrian National Tourist Office, the official travel portal for Austria