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Transformative travel, between storytelling and exclusivity

When it comes to wellness travel, the imagination takes us back to locations immersed in peace and quiet, where we can enjoy services dedicated to personal well-being that can range from body health treatments, aesthetics, practices designed to rebalance the emotional and psychological state, food care and fitness; services to be used in suggestive contexts and in high-profile accommodation facilities. Yet, it is not uncommon to experience a feeling of discontinuity when you approach this type of holiday where the stay is marked by massages, meditation, rest, diving in the pool, beauty treatments and detox. Regenerating practices, but the risk of getting bored is always around the corner and the sequence of activities "spot", each independent of the other, can be a pleasant routine that, however, is reduced to a small bracket of time in the whirlwind of commitments, work and stress in which you find yourself immersed again as soon as you return home.
The new trend of the so-called transformative wellness travel aims, instead, to reconceive the wellness journey by putting people at the centre of a sensory and emotional journey, in which every detail is composed of a real story of "regeneration". Key words of this trend to the transformative journey are the encounter with new cultures, well-being and nature, united by the red thread of the narrative that constitutes a real plot of the holiday.

Like the hero of a saga

The idea behind this new trend is to immerse the traveller in an experience that involves them totally, building a storytelling that gives shape to their stay. It is no longer a question of imagining the person as a simple user of services, however high-profile, but of giving them an active role. Using the principles of role-playing and gamification, programs are proposed in which guests are involved in activities that constitute a circuit of well-being, linked by a narrative that winds between different accommodation facilities, natural environments and activities that are not part of the usual idea of wellness holiday, such as theatre and music therapy.
An example of this formula that focuses on increased involvement is represented by the Red Mountain Resort. The resort is located on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, in the west of Iceland, in a lunar landscape of great visual impact. Surrounded by craters, geysers, lava soil and ice, the design structure consists of twenty bungalows, one hundred and fifty rooms, a space for in-residence artists, a creative centre and a spa and wellness centre. The refined project, designed by Johannes Thorpe, is based on the desire to create a place inspired by local nature and mythology that is constantly changing, pulsating, thanks to architecture that combines primordial forms, materials in close relationship with the environment and futuristic design.
Here guests are invited to experience the spectacular spa spaces, services and nature that surrounds the resort seamlessly, creating an inner and outer journey that echoes the legend of Bárður Snæfellsás: the story is part of the cycle of Icelandic sagas and tells of the protective spirit of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, a creature of myth half man and half troll, who withdrew from the world of men to live in peace at the Snæfellsjökull glacier. The spa's wellness path is designed to evoke the hero's "metamorphosis" through five emotional states: contemplation, exposure, confrontation, clarity and illumination, stages that materialise in the passage between the different, scenic spa areas - boiling pools, waterfalls, wind tunnels, icy pools - each of which is accessed by passing a curtain of steam, just as happens in the legend, in which every moment of transformation of Bárður Snæfellsás is marked by the appearance of fog.

Transformative travel: researching of authenticity

The idea of a "cold" luxury leaves more and more room for forms of hospitality in the name of authenticity, a value of growing importance for those who put well-being at the centre of their journey. Authenticity understood both as the specific quality of the offer of the accommodation structure, and as a characteristic of the experience as a whole, linked to the place, its history, customs and environment.
It is precisely by linking these elements that a different way of understanding the journey can be constructed: instead of consuming, it is a matter of participating in an adventure that constitutes an emotionally profound experience and connects people and places through the power of stories. Travel like a hero thus becomes the motto of a new vision, as can be read on the website of the Transformational Travel Council, an association dedicated to promoting a culture of travel in the name of self-evolution.
Hero, however, does not only refer to the hero who is the protagonist of the narration, the archetype of the one who undertakes a real or imaginary journey, made famous by Joseph Campbell's studies, it is also the acronym that summarises an attitude:

  • H - Traveling with HEART: Courage, love, humility, compassion and empathy for self and others
  • E - Seeking ENGAGEMENT with and in the people, places, cultures and experiences
  • R - Having the RESOLVE to work through the challenges that every journey provides
  • O - Leaving your heart, mind and soul OPEN to the unknown within every journey.

An unlimited range of possibilities opens up to those who wish to experiment with new travel formulas. Well-being can take on unexpected forms, understanding adventure and challenge, creating an unusual combination of elements, between refined comfort and adrenaline, discovery and recollection, encounter with the other and inner dialogue.

A further example is by the London-based company Based on a True Story, which offers experiences in which reality and fantasy are mixed, offering exclusive itineraries on all five continents. You can choose to cross Namibia by going shark fishing, meeting the nomadic tribe of the Himba, dancing in front of the fire at night and taking a safari to observe the incredible wildlife, all moving between sought after lodges in the desert and chalets in the savannah.
Also through fiction you can reach a degree of absolute authenticity, as the theatre teaches, and that is why for children or adults who want to take a trip into their imagination have been created surprise packages that make it possible to dive into the sea of Turkey and meet authentic mermaids, live a Nordic fairy tale in the Icelandic mists, take a step back in time to end up at the court of Louis IV of France or even find yourself fighting on the set of Kill Bill in Japan or go in search of a lost treasure in the Virgin Islands.

Art at the service of well-being

The transformative journey uses the power of narration to create emotions and, to this end, also uses places of art, not as a destination, but as a tool. As reported in the Global Wellness Report 2018, the examples are multiplying: The MOMA in New York becomes a place to practice mindfulness amidst masterpieces of contemporary art and at the Amanyangyun centre, a resort near Shanghai located within an exceptional archaeological site at the centre of a recovery project, you can experience traditional arts such as calligraphy, ceramics or tea ceremony, while practicing meditation or being pampered with wellness treatments of the exclusive spa, in a context that reconstructs life in the seventeenth century.
The Lofoten Opera Hotel, currently being completed, is a structure located in a breathtaking environment between the sea and the mountains near Sørvagen, in the Lofoten Islands of Norway, where the enjoyment of the spectacular natural amphitheatre will be combined with the spa and seawater treatments. Moving to Australia, Victoria's Peninsula Hot Springs recently opened Bath House Amphitheatre, a spectacular multi-functional outdoor centre where concerts, performances and wellness coexist: guests can relax in the geothermal pools listening to music from underwater speakers or watch live shows, practise tai chi or yoga, have a sauna or cryotherapy, and enjoy a lunch prepared with the fresh ingredients provided by the centre's vegetable gardens, where in the future mushrooms and medicinal plants will also be grown.
The key word of the new wellness trend is story-driven but the most interesting aspect is perhaps the incredible variety of proposals that are being developed under the banner of this new circular idea. A holistic idea in which everyone can carve out their own holiday, sure to be able to live a truly rewarding experience of well-being and enrichment.

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