Olive oil facials, hot springs and hiking

The European summer is calling and although a few years ago that might have meant sipping cocktails in Santorini, these days it’s more about hiking the Balkans and indulging in olive-oil massages. Nowhere is wellness tourism’s presence more keenly felt than in Europe. According to a recent study by the Global Wellness Institute, it’s the most popular destination for travellers booking a wellness getaway, with almost 300 million trips taken in 2017. Thanks to its bounty of thermal spas, first-rate scenery and hearty Mediterranean cuisine, it’s not hard to see why. Better still, now is the perfect time to book for European spring and summer. Check these out for a holiday that’s a little out of the ordinary…

Explore the hot springs in…

Pantelleria, Italy

Like your saunas with mountain views and soaking in natural hot springs formed in volcanic craters? Book a trip to Pantelleria, which has enough natural hot springs to rival Japan – but far fewer crowds. Once you’ve made the short plane or ferry ride over from Sicily, set your sights on the postcard-perfect Mirror of Venus lake where, after a quick splash in its thermal waters, you can make like the locals and massage your skin with its mineral- rich mud. Further south, near the hamlet of Sibà, a walk through the Mediterranean scrub will lead you to the Benikulà Cave – a natural sauna on the ridge of Montagna Grande. The island is closer to Africa than Italy, and you can experience the best of both worlds as you unwind at Sikelia, a new luxe hotel that fuses the two cultures beautifully. INFO: rooms at Sikelia from about $780 per night, sikeliapantelleria.com

Hit the spa in…

The Peloponnese, Greece

Dominated by mountain ranges, covered in olive trees and surrounded by stunning coves, the Peloponnese peninsula in mainland Greece has been a wellness hotspot since ancient times. The birthplace of the Olympic Games and home of the Spartan warriors, it’s also a place steeped in adventure. But while there are plenty of peaks to climb, hikes to trek and archery targets to master, world-class spas are the area’s major attraction. Perched on the edge of the Ionian Sea in Costa Navarino, Anazoe Spa offers therapeutic olive-oil facials and massages based on the writings of Hippocrates, while further east in the fortified town of Mystras, the newly opened Euphoria Retreat fuses Hellenic and Chinese philosophies.

The luxe retreat – which opened at the end of 2018 – boasts a tepidarium, Byzantine hammam, salt cave, sphere pool (with hydrotherapy jets) and a watsu pool, where you can practise aquatic bodywork. Sign up for a three-day weight-loss or detox program to receive a nutritional and medical analysis, and get your fitness fix by exploring the nearby pine forest and soaring Mount Taygetos. INFO: treatments at Anazoe start from about $70, costanavarino.com; day passes at Euphoria start from about $160, euphoriaretreat.com

Hike the mountains in…


Swap pricey Switzerland for a stay in Bulgaria to experience just-as-stunning mountain vistas with fewer crowds… and for less money. Packed with hiking trails, the Baltic nation is a dream destination for walkers of all abilities. Although you can explore the meadows and mountain massifs on your own, a guided tour allows you to get up close and personal with the people, land and culture. If you’re aching for a challenge, register for a week-long package with the team at On Foot Holidays and you’ll spend your days traversing the picturesque trails of the Rila Mountains. INFO: from about $1350, onfootholidays.co.uk

Expand your palate in…


Thanks to its sprawling forests, pristine streams and verdant valleys, Slovenia has seen more than a 17 per cent increase in visitors over the past year. But it’s not just the fairytale landscapes driving the hype – rich in fresh fruit and veg, top-quality seafood, dairy and honey, the nation’s food scene is rated among the best in the world. In fact, in 2021 it will hold the title of the European Region of Gastronomy. Visit the market in Ljublijana to feast on the local produce, explore the stunning Karst region for your fill of gut-friendly eats like sauerkraut, pickled turnips and sweet apples, or book a seven-day food tour with Cook Eat Slovenia for your chance to taste them all. Beginning in the wine-growing region of Goriška Brda and ending in the coastal town of Piran, you’ll be treated to traditional breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and learn how to whip up local delicacies on your own.

Keen to work off the štruklji (traditional dumplings)? Hit the Julian Alps Hiking Trail, due to open this month, for 300km of knockout views.INFO: food tours from about $4400, culinaryslovenia.com


Skyscanner travel expert Emily Cairns reveals how to score the best deals

1 Compare airports

“While it can be easy to assume that airfares are similar for all airports in the same region, different airports have different overheads, so you can save a bucket-load by comparing prices. But do some research before

booking as cheaper airports can cost you more in transport fees.”

2 Consider a stopover

“Adding just one stopover to your flight can result in huge savings for Aussie travellers. It’s also a great way to explore more than one European destination.”

3 Be flexible

“Although you might be wedded to travelling during the European summer (June- August), you can save big by considering alternative dates. Look at the summer shoulder seasons of May and September.”