High-altitude destinations to elevate your holiday

Words by
Jemima Sissons

8th May 2024

From Atlantic views to a mountain hideaway to walking and wellness retreats, these high-spec, high-altitude destinations promise an elevating experience, writes Jemima Sissons.

High-altitude destinations to elevate your holiday

Best for hiking: Switzerland 

High-altitude destinations - The Alpina Hotel in Switzerland
The imposing exterior of The Alpina Gstaad

Fashioned like a rock-hewn Bond lair, this Swiss resort is known in winter for those who wish to show off their Moncler more than their moves on the slopes. However, for many, the best time to visit is when the snow softens. For those in any doubt that hiking is the new catwalk, here the uber-luxe clientele seamlessly mix high fashion with navigating miles of immaculately kept, edelweiss-framed trails.

The Alpina Gstaad provides the perfect base from which to explore the undulating paths. It also offers an extensive array of programmes based around nature and sustainability, from bee keeping to cooking workshops, and immune-boosting retreats. Repair back to the hotel after a day’s hiking to feast on Michelin-starred-chef Martin Göschel’s delicate cuisine. The menu at Japanese restaurant Megu, helmed by sushi master Tsutomu Kugota, includes aubergine glazed with dengaku miso.

One of the most spectacular — and family-friendly — hikes is from Horneggli to Rinderberg, starting with a chairlift from Schönried. The well-marked, curving Alpine paths head up to the 2,079m summit. Take a breather at the Rinderberg mountain restaurant, with its cow-themed experience for kids, and gondolas to take hike-fatigued family members back down. For a lakeside walk, head from mountain restaurant Wispile (which has a petting zoo and an adventure playground) to picturesque Lake Lauenen (see gstaad.ch for detailed hiking info). 

From £1,080 per night, thealpinagstaad.ch 

Best for happiness: Bhutan

High-altitude destinations - A market in Bhutan
A colourful market in Bhutan

One of the most magical regions in the world, 70% covered in lush forest, Bhutan is a draw for those seeking spirituality, wellness and healing through the power of nature.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, monarch of the kingdom, has announced plans to develop a ‘mindfulness city’, expanding the existing city of Gelephu with infrastructure including bridges and a new airport. Bhutan holds a mystical appeal for many. It measures Gross National Happiness as an alternative to economic growth. Festivals and dzongs — ancient fortresses — entice visitors, as does the country’s biodiversity, with species such as blue sheep, takins and rare black-necked cranes.

For those who can’t wait for the development of the mindfulness city, there are a number of luxury offerings, including tented suites at &Beyond’s luxury lodge in Punakha and Aman’s multi-lodge Amankora resort.  

From £710 per night, andbeyond.com 

From £1,420per night, aman.com 

Best for detoxing: France 

High-altitude destinations - Lily of the Valley Hotel in France
The menus at Lily of the Valley are light and delicious

Imagine starting the day with a cloud-light turmeric omelette furnished with delicate slices of garden-fresh courgette and red pepper, accompanied by a crisp glass of Montrachet 2001. If this doesn’t scream detox, that is why Lily of the Valley near Saint-Tropez is the go-to destination for well-heeled health seekers looking for a reset in a supremely calming hillside setting where alcohol, butter and even puddings are not banned (the regime is billed as a “realistic path to long-term wellness”).

The Philippe Starck-designed hotel is a welcome refuge from the brouhaha of Saint-Tropez’s alligator-skin handbags and pedicured pooches. Start the day with a sunrise hike through the pine-dotted hills overlooking the bay, or with the resort’s unusual longe-côte sea wading — a slow walk through the frothy Mediterranean surf, designed to improve circulation. End the evening with a slimline sundowner, watching pinprick-distant yachts sail around the Riviera coast from your 
cypress-framed hilltop perch.  

There are three new wellness programmes this season. Better ageing involves two and a half hours of daily treatments, including Biologique Recherche facials, bespoke fitness classes and the resort’s signature cryotherapy cell renewal stimulation to help produce collagen and improve suppleness and circulation. For the more athletic, the sport programme is designed to improve performance through hiking, stretching and a diet overhaul. The star of the show, however, is the detox regime, which excludes gluten and lactose, and includes a refreshing ginger body wrap. 

The delicious detox menu changes daily and there are no raised eyebrows if you order the Paris-Brest to round it off (the regular menu is a joy for non-detoxing guests, from broccoli guacamole with socca chips to a celebratory lamb Provençal with confit garlic). Luckily the 2,000-square-metre spa and gym is a fluffy mule’s pad away the next day. Take a plunge in the 25m pool or a yoga or Pilates class from one of the visiting practitioners. The beauty of this approach is that you can do as little —or as much — detoxing as you like.

From £467 per night, lilyofthevalley.com 

Best for forest bathing: Scotland

High-altitude destinations - Treehouses at Leckie in Scotland
The Treehouses at Leckie offer environmentally friendly comfort

Squirreled away in an ancient sycamore and oak forest overlooking the Gargunnock hills in Stirlingshire, the Treehouses at Leckie provide a majestically bosky escape, immersed in the Scottish wilderness, and only 45 minutes from Glasgow and an hour from Edinburgh. Built from timber grown on the property, each of the four treehouses offers super-king beds or handmade bunkbeds, underfloor heating, woodburning stoves and outdoor copper baths. Guests are greeted with hampers overflowing with farm store goods, and are free to roam among the estate’s woods, crags, thundering waterfalls and, in spring, rhododendrons. Adventurous clans can tackle mountain climbing, canoeing and wild swimming. For a post-hike dram, the Deanston Distillery is 10 miles away — or walk to the Carleatheran cairn before stopping for a pint of Fintry ale at the Gargunnock Inn. Sore limbs can be restored the next day with an in-room Swedish massage.  

From £245 per night, leckietreehouses.co.uk  

Best for family activities: Portugal

High-altitude destinations - Pine Cliffs Resort in Portugal
The aptly named Pine Cliffs Resort covers 168 acres of beautiful landscape with cliffs, beach and sparkling ocean

There are those for whom golf and kids’ clubs spell a holiday of horror... and then there are the rest of us. Perched on red sandstone hilltops overlooking the Atlantic ocean, Pine Cliffs Resort is the ultimate getaway for harried parents seeking ocean clifftop paths, eight swimming pools, 11 restaurants and varied sports offerings, from the Estima Football Academy to stand-up paddleboarding. Pine Cliffs offers one of the largest kids’ clubs in Europe, covering a sprawling 7,000 square metres, with two pirate ships, an 18-hole mini golf course, a swimming pool, an archery range and a mini racetrack. The Mimo Algarve cookery school offers child-friendly classes such as Cupcakes and Cookies for children aged five upwards. Older offspring can improve their tennis skills at the Annabel Croft tennis academy or try out the golfing range (the super-keen can attempt the Devil’s Parlour, a ravine-traversing par-3 hole). Villas are designed with families in mind. Ocean suites offer multiple rooms and fully equipped kitchens and dining rooms, with balconies overlooking lush gardens.  

From £392 per night, two-bedroom Ocean Suite, pinecliffs.com