If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you’re not alone: a survey by Direct Line in 2022 found that almost three-quarters of Britons sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night. This may have something to do with increased connectivity; A Uswitch survey last year found that, on average, we spend five hours a day on our phones.
Given these stats, it’s no wonder we’re both nervous and tired. Lack of sleep not only causes a dull complexion and dark circles under the eyes, but can also have a negative impact on our mental and physical well-being. Introduce a new kid to the wellness block: sleep retreat.
In much the same way that a yoga retreat helps refine a depressed dog and a juice cleanse is designed to aid and improve digestion, a sleep retreat not only solves any problems you may have with closing your eyes, but also helps you get healthy sleep habits you can adopt at home in everyday life.
Treatments aside, part of the joy of sleep is getting away from it all, often to spectacular locations, from white-sand islands to palatial urban developments. One such escape is the Preidlhof, a spa hotel in the fairy-tale heights of South Tyrol, Italy, where one of the most sought-after programs is Sleep Better Retreat.
It offers guests the opportunity to focus on much-needed rest away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but above all it deals with what may keep them awake. According to the award-winning spa director of Preidlhof, Patrizia Bortolin, “the key treatment is the Glowing Flow session, which is based on custom-made trauma healing and helps guests get to the root of what may be causing their anxiety.”
Most retreats also aim to provide guests with a set of solutions they can use to sleep better when they return home. “Some may just need a few minor adjustments,” says Bortolin, “while others may require more major adjustments. As with most things, consistency is key.”
Low tide in the Dolomites
While on retreat in northern Italy, Lucy Pearson discovers a sleep shaman may be the answer to her bedtime woes
Suffice to say, I was skeptical when I arrived at Preidlhof, a sprawling adults-only spa hotel set in the hills of northern Italy overlooking an apple orchard.
Suffering from insomnia for a long time, I experimented with almost every drug on the market before coming to the village of Naturno with dark circles under my eyes for a five-day retreat at Preidlhof, a wellness program developed by experts to transform your close-eyed eyes.
I was drawn to the concentration of sleep. Instead of another general retreat, my program was carefully curated and medically supported – there would be no miracle snake oil treatments, but rather a space to focus on rest and experiment with therapies ranging from sleeping outdoors to acupuncture and massage.
Boasting beautiful views of the Texel Mountains in South Tyrol’s Merano region, the hotel has a 6-story spa tower with 16 different saunas. The exterior overlooks a Mediterranean-style garden with vines, olive trees and an outdoor hot tub overlooking the rolling Italian hills. There is also an award-winning wellness center run by spa director Patrizia Bortolin.
The regime seemed nurturing and not too intense. By nature, I get up early, start each morning with a bike ride along the nearby Adige River, and spend the time between treatments basking in the sun with a book in the hotel’s (often empty) infinity pool.
Dinner, overlooking the garden, was mostly plant-based – though meat and fish were also on the menu – and consisted of eight delicate but delicious courses, including a dessert, with a glass or two of pinot noir from Preidlhof’s own vineyard. There is no deprivation or suffering here: the hotel believes in a hedonistic approach to well-being, wine and everything else.
My treatments have been wonderful. There was sleep yoga which basically consisted of lying on a waterbed while we were guided through the breathing techniques for an hour and it was as relaxing as it sounds. (It would be more if the man on the waterbed across from me was less likely to fall asleep and snore throughout the class.)
The sound and quartz massage took place in a candlelit treatment room where I lay on a bed of hot pink quartz sand that shifted and molded to the shape of my body. This was accompanied by the gentle swaying of the gongs, causing my exhausted body to vibrate and vibrate in a near-trance state by the end. It was bliss.
But the most remarkable treatment was the “shining flow” session. I was told to show up in loose, comfortable clothes, so I assumed it would be some kind of yoga. Little did I know that I would come face to face with the mesmerizing and incredibly intuitive trauma healer, shaman Stefano Battaglia, whose name is a whisper in the wellness industry.
After leading the candlelit corridor, I sat down with Stefano and smirked when he asked what I wanted to talk about in my session with him. While at first I insisted that I really had no injury to heal, under his gentle gaze I soon began to weep, reveling in the anguish of nearly seven years I spent battling Australia’s bureaucratic visa system for the right to stay in the country.
After offering me tissues, I lay down on the treatment bed where, for want of a better word, the magic began. It started with what was quite an uncomfortable abdominal massage to be honest, but then I succumbed to a state of blissful stillness as Stefano combined mindfulness and tactile trauma techniques to heal me.
My second session with him was on the penultimate day. Again I was brought to unexplained tears as I sat across from him before starting treatment. This time the body work was so deep that at one point I really thought I was levitating, and when the session was over I almost knelt as I left his room.
My whole body felt different, as if a boiling wave of electricity was running through it, and for the first time in years, an undeniable sense of calm came over me – something Stefan had rightly sensed was wrong during our first consultation.
Having slept the best five nights of my life at Preidlhof, and back in the real world – without the hotel’s pillow menu – both my squinted eyesight and my inner sense of harmony continue to improve.
Lucy Pearson was a guest at Preidlhof. Healing Holidays (020 3372 6945; Healingholidays.com), who can arrange a six-day Sleep Better program from £2,966 per person. Price includes transfers, full board accommodation and the full Sleep Better program including a “shining flow” session, two acupuncture sessions and a sleep massage
Pillow Selection: Six European Sleep Retreats
Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
Set among the terraced slopes of Lamego, in Portugal’s port region, is Six Senses, a 19th-century mansion overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Douro Valley. The Sleep with Six Senses program is for anyone who needs to improve their sleep, restore energy levels or establish a balanced sleep routine.
Six Senses Douro Valley (00 351 254 660 600; sixsenses.com) offers three nights from £1,030 per person, including a wellness show, seven 90-minute spa treatments and seven personalized wellness classes.
One of the capital’s grandest hotels – operating for a century and a half – this address is a destination in itself. As part of its excellent wellness offering, guests can discover the power of a good night’s sleep with Sleep Matters by Chuan, which includes soothing treatments curated by Chuan Spa.
Langham (020 7636 1000; langhamhotels.com) offers Sleep Matters packages from £785 per person per night, including a 60-minute Chuan Harmony massage and CBD OTO Mini Sleep Collections package.
Sha Wellness Clinic, Alicante, Spain
Known for his immersive experiences that focus on results, Sha believes the restorative power of sleep is an essential pillar of healthy living. He developed his sleep recovery program to identify, diagnose and develop effective strategies to restore restorative sleep naturally.
Sha Wellness Clinic (00 34 966 811 199; shawellnessclinic.com) offers seven-day rebalancing programs from £3,600 per person, including a water therapy session and traditional massage.
Grand Hotel Rogaska, Slovenia
Fleewinter’s 3-Day Healthy Sleep Program combines state-of-the-art medical consultation with sleep monitoring and a range of traditional spa treatments. Guests will enjoy the tranquility of Rogaska Slatina Spa Resort, drinking and bathing in its wonderful Donat Mg water – which has the highest concentration of magnesium in the world.
Fleewinter (020 7112 0019; Fleewinter.com) offers a four-day, three-night sleep program at the Grand Hotel Rogaska from £665 per person, including consultation, sleep monitoring and drinking therapy.
Hotel de Crillon in Paris
Hôtel de Crillon, a historic hotel located at the foot of the Champs Elysées, runs the Alchemy of Sleep program, which offers guests a holistic approach to optimizing sleep. Combining tailor-made treatments with expert consultations, it aims to help guests reconnect with restful nights.
Hôtel de Crillon (00 33 144 71 15 00; rosewoodhotels.com) offers a three-day Repairing Sleep package from £3,033 per person, including five private sessions with experts in everything from sleep meditation to aqua-stretch.
Lanserhof Sylt, Germany
On the North Sea island of Sylt – “Hamptons of Germany” – Lanserhof Sylt combines traditional naturopathy with the latest medical research. Guests at his retreat will be analyzed for 40 blinks before being given a tailored, holistic cure that includes dedicated physical training and mental coaching.
Lanserhof Sylt (00 49 4651 995 957; lanserhof.com) offers a seven-day Lanserhof Cure Classic Plus package from £3,632 per person, including medical examination and reflexology massage.