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Relaxing holidays

Relaxing villa holidayRelaxing holidays on the beach

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

Most people’s idea of a relaxing holiday is a sun lounger, lots of sunshine and nothing to do. But there are plenty of options: you could be on a tropical beach, in a mountain hideaway or at a cosy little hotel in the English countryside.

For some people, relaxing holidays mean being waited on hand and foot. For others it is the freedom of coming and going as they please: self-catering may be the answer. The journey is also a factor: many people are happy to fly long-haul crossing many time zones. But if you find that stressful you won’t arrive home feeling suitably rested and recharged.

If you want touring and sightseeing, consider a cruise holiday which allows you to see a lot of places without constantly packing and unpacking. Consider a gulet cruise in Turkey or a luxury barge holiday in France.

Or try one of Inntravel’s delightful Journeys in SlowMotion where you’ll travel by train, boat or car and really get under the skin of a destination, sometimes with the help of a local guide.


Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.

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Relaxing holidays on the beach

Relaxing holidays by the beach

In the Mediterranean, I recommend steering clear of the busy mass-market resorts. I love the French island of Corsica which has a wonderful selection of villas with pools, apartments and hotels (see the latest special offers).

I’m also a huge fan of the Italian island Sardinia. Although best known for its luxury five-star hotels, Sardinia also has a great selection of characterful hotels, villas and apartments in quiet relaxing locations.

Sicily is an endlessly fascinating island, combining great beaches with culture, history and fabulous food. Details here. For sheer luxury by the beach, you won’t do much better than Sir Rocco Forte’s Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily.

France offers a choice of beach, countryside and mountains. One of the best options is to stay at a holiday village with smart self-catering apartments, and facilities including spas, restaurants and heated pools.

Crete is one of my favourite Greek islands. Again, I recommend you avoid the package-holiday resorts and head for one of these gorgeous boutique hotels with i-escape. On a smaller scale, the tiny island of Paxos is a lovely place to laze around your private pool and rent a boat. Find more holiday destinations in Greece.

The Aegean coast of Turkey also has some wonderful small hotels where friendly service and pampering is guaranteed. See our full guide to the best holiday places in Turkey.

In the south of Italy, take a look at Puglia where I recommend a self-catering trullo with pool with Long Travel. Or experience the glamour and charm of the Amalfi coast with Expressions Holidays.

If you love islands, Croatia is a great place to lie back and do nothing. Also take a look at neighbouring Montenegro – a tiny country half the size of Wales that packs a serious punch, with pretty a coastline, lots of beaches,  mountains, lakes and national parks. See our pick of the best places to stay.

The Gambia is a great-value winter sun destination with superb beaches and charming hotels. It’s just six hours flying time from the UK.

If you want to fly further afield, Bali is a great option. Our editors like the upmarket beach resort of Seminyak where we love The Amala. Also in Asia, we recommend Tanjong Jara on the beautiful unspoilt east coast of Malaysia. Although it is much more than a fly-and-flop destination, we love the beach hotels on the coast of Sri Lanka.

If you don’t want to leave the UK, you could rent a place by the sea in Cornwall to explore surf beaches and rock pools. More details from Classic Cottages.

You don’t need to go to the coast to find a great beach. The Italian Lakes has a wonderful shoreline with mountain views, charming hotels and great food. More details.

You could relax and get healthy at the same time. The Vilalara Thalassa Resort on the Algarve runs themed “wellness” holidays with a focus on issues such as weight loss, stress reduction and quitting smoking. Its fitness and yoga weekend is also popular.

Relaxing family holidays

If you want to slow down and enjoy some gentle activity, rent a cruiser and go boating on the Norfolk Broads, one of many wonderful boating holidays across the UK (more details).

For a budget holiday with children, it’s hard to beat a holiday parc in Brittany with Siblu. You’ll find everything on site to entertain children of all ages so parents can relax in knowledge they are safe and busy (see the latest special offers).

Relaxing villa holiday

Relaxing villa holidays

Not everybody wants to cook on holiday, but villa holidays can be extremely relaxing as you escape the crowds and can operate at your own pace with no interference. They are ideal for families and groups of friends.

There are some marvellous self-catering properties in the UK, particularly in Devon and Cornwall, (check out these luxury self catering properties in Cornwall) but to really find that idyllic whitewashed villa with private pool you’ll need to go to the Med.

There are many wonderful places to say in Mallorca and Ibiza far from the package resorts. On the Spanish mainland the Costa de la Luz is the place to go for unspoilt beaches, fishing villages and private villas.

Another surprise is the Costa Brava where, once you get away from the tacky parts of the coast, you’ll find some wonderful villas as well as great beaches and a charming, rugged coastline. More details.

Elsewhere in the Med we love the small island of Gozo off Malta. It has some gorgeous villas, and romantic hotels such as Ta’ Cenc. And on mainland Italy we recommend getting away from it all in the countryside by renting a villa in Le Marche.

Long haul relaxing holidays

The Caribbean is one of the most relaxing regions of the world. Not just because you have great weather and superb beaches, but because of the friendly vibe and relaxed attitude of locals, which is instantly infectious. I particularly recommend the Cayman IslandsTobago and Barbados.

For sheer indulgence, the Maldives are beautiful with some stunning resorts where the emphasis is firmly on relaxation – in, out and below the water. There’s a huge range of island hotels to choose from. Check out One&Only Reethi Rah, for example – the runaway best-selling resort for our recommended tour operator, Carrier.

Also in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has some wonderful luxury hotels while the Seychelles is unbeatable for beaches, nature and that away-from-it-all feeling.

For seclusion, I like Denis Private Island but the Seychelles also has some great-value boutique hotels including Lazare Picault hotel on Mahé.

Thailand is a great option if you want to combine culture, sightseeing and idyllic beaches. I recommend Experience Travel Group which has some great suggestions off the beaten track such as Koyao Island Resort far from the tourist crowds and this street food tour of Bangkok.

Enjoy the pristine countryside of the Canadian Rockies on a train holiday – travelling on one of the world’s great railway lines, the Rocky Mountaineer.

Egypt isn’t too far away – just five hours flying time. Although the capital Cairo is frenetic, you can enjoy a very relaxing cruise on the Nile that allows you to soak up the sights without packing and unpacking. See more cruise holiday ideas.

Walking holidays

Active relaxing holidays

Sometimes the best way to relax is not to lie around in the sun, but to challenge your body and eat healthily. I can personally recommend in:spa which runs spa retreats in Marrakech, the South of France and the Italian Dolomites (I’ve been on three of their holidays).

The same company is behind destination yoga which runs yoga holidays that will leave you feeling utterly relaxed and exhilarated, and fitscape, which offers fitness holidays (a bit more strenuous).

Enjoy a wellness weekend at L’Albereta, a delightful hotel tucked away in the countryside of Lombardy. Combine spa treatments with nutritional advice, a personal exercise programme and fabulous Italian foodIn Tuscany, the five-star Castel Monastero Tuscan Resort & Spa occupies a converted hamlet and features a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, a cookery school, three pools and world-class spa.

If you like outdoor activities and clean mountain air, try the French Alps where you can try summer skiing on the glacier, mountain biking, white-water rafting, hiking and countless other outdoor pursuits.

Sweden is astonishingly beautiful in summer – sparkling lakes, midnight sun, an archipelago of forested islands and elegant stylish cities. Try this Lakes and Lochs self-drive holiday from Stockholm to Gothenburg via nature reserves, the Gota Canal and the islands off the Bohuslan coast. Or Highlights of Sweden which includes time in Stockholm, Lake Silja, Lake Vattern and walking in Tivedens National Park.

Skiing is a remarkably relaxing holiday. You can do it with the family or stay at The Lodge, Verbier, one of the finest catered chalets in the Alps. For value skiing, I recommend chalet holidays with Ski Total.

Alternatively, try a Mediterranean beach club where you can do absolutely nothing, or try your hand at some watersports. This holiday – with childcare provided – is ideal for families.

In Spain, you can choose a gentle cycling holiday in Catalonia with Inntravel. All the trips are self-guided – some are very easy – and your luggage is waiting to meet you each evening at the next hotel on your itinerary.

If you find flying stressful, remember that rail travel is much more relaxing. You can hop aboard Eurostar for a short break or travel to Venice via the Alps on a super-fast TGV or splash out on the legendary Venice Simplon Orient Express.

Last updated: 11 May 2016

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