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AAA Traveler Worldwise | Travel Inspiration
Three Ways to Experience Wellness Travel

EXPLORE A MUD SOAK IN ISRAEL, TRUFFLE HUNTING IN ITALY, AND FOREST BATHING IN JAPAN

Standing under some of the most intense sun rays I have ever experienced, I slathered my body with copious amounts of thick black mineral-rich goo gathered from the mud pools surrounding the Dead Sea. As the mud started seeping into my skin, I stepped into the biblical body of water. After a few steps, I was deep enough to lift my feet, lean back and float with no effort, thanks to the hypersalinity of the water.

Wellness by Nature AAA Traveler dead sea mudDead Sea mud massage; Photo by vvvita/stock.adobe.com

As I soaked, the mud was drying, forming a barrier between my skin and the sun. Once I started feeling a bit itchy, I sauntered to shore and rinsed off in an outdoor shower by the beach. My skin felt smooth and stimulated, while my body felt like a wet noodle, as if it had just undergone a deep-tissue massage.

The Dead Sea—actually a lake between Israel and Jordan—is so named because fish cannot live in it due to its high salt content. But that salt, and stuff like bromide, magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium, make for the perfect soak. The minerals act as anti-inflammatory agents, soothing aching joints and muscles. Plus, the rich concentration of minerals in the water and the mud, along with the oxygen-rich air, is scientifically proven to help with many skin and lung conditions.

Wellness by Nature AAA Traveler Eric LindbergCovered in Dead Sea mud, bathers float in the highly saline water lauded for its healing properties; Photo by Eric Lindberg

My visit to the Dead Sea—the lowest body of water on earth at 1,412 feet below sea level—was just a small part of my 10-day visit to Israel, but it was certainly a highlight. Modern-day health pilgrims to the Dead Sea like me follow in the footsteps of Herod the Great, Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba. It is said that each of these BCE influencers bathed in these waters some 2,000 years ago.

MOTHER NATURE’S RX FOR WELLNESS
While the ancients may not have fully understood the scientific value of a good soak, they knew intuitively that this practice was healthful. Today, the healing effects of spending time not only in the Dead Sea but also outside writ large are well-documented by scientists, who have discovered that Mother Nature has a medical degree.


...you’re sure to find the

outdoor experience that’s good

for your body, mind and soul.


Whether it’s floating in the stillest of lakes in Israel, digging for truffles with man’s best friend in Italy or metaphorically (or literally) wrapping your arms around a tree in Japan, you’re sure to find the outdoor experience that’s good for your body, mind and soul.

A DOGGED SEARCH IN ITALY
It was still dark when I woke up for my truffle-hunting excursion in the hills near Alba in northern Italy. I drove 45 minutes in the morning mist to a nondescript parking lot near Roero. It all felt rather clandestine, and indeed, it was. Most truffle hunters, known as tartufai, go out under cover of darkness to avoid revealing their go-to foraging grounds.

In the parking lot, I met Igor Bianchi and his canine companion Rocky, a retriever with a refined nose. We drove a bit, parked and ventured into forestland.

If you don’t think foraging is a wellness activity, think again: it forges the benefits of a good walk outside with education about nature’s healthy bounty. Because I was wearing rubber boots to slog through the muddy fields, I was getting quite a workout as Bianchi told me about the rare delicacy known as the white Alba truffle. While a wide variety of truffles grow around the world, the king is the white Alba, which can sell for upward of $4,000 a pound. They grow most abundantly around Alba, the so-called truffle capital of the world, between October and December.

Rocky led us through the fields, keeping his snout glued to the ground to smell the little knobs of heaven, which hide up to 4 inches underground. When Rocky caught a whiff, he directed Bianchi to the site and started to dig. Then Bianchi gently unearthed a truffle with a small trowel.

Wellness by Nature AAA Traveler Coveted white Alba trufflesCoveted white Alba truffles; Photo by framarzo/stock.adobe.com

Bianchi let me take in their aroma. The pungent smell filled with notes of garlic, musk and mud instantly opened up my cold nostrils. At that moment, it was hard to believe that these things actually taste good.

After a couple of hours, we’d gathered a small bag’s worth of truffles and exited the forest. The truffle hunter will sell the bounty to chefs, store owners or truffle brokers, who pay top dollar for the freshest, biggest and most aromatic. No sampling was allowed on the tour (the truffles are too precious), but I did taste them later that day, shaved sparingly over a plate of pasta. Let’s just say that their earthiness is an acquired taste.

To get a taste for yourself, visit a restaurant in Alba (truffle risotto is the bomb), or buy them at a local market. Eat them as fresh as possible to savor the most piquant flavor.

SOAKING UP THE FOREST IN JAPAN
If you’ve ever wandered into woods where sunlight filtered through tree branches, birds tweeted softly and a gentle breeze tickled your skin, you’ve experienced forest bathing. Between the exercise, fresh air and stress-reducing phytoncides emitted by trees, a walk in the woods is wholly therapeutic.

Wellness by Nature AAA Traveler Japan’s Yakushima Island National Park The healing properties of nature are easily absorbed on a quiet path through a giant cypress forest in Japan; Photo by Stéphane Bidouze/stock.adobe.com

Forest bathing is easy enough to do yourself, but you’ll get more out of it if you venture out with an experienced guide. During a slow, mindful ramble, your guide will continually encourage you to be fully present in the moment, to breathe deeply and to drink in the surroundings with all five senses. The idea is that mindfulness and calm come naturally when you soak up the surrounding atmospheric bubble bath.

While meditative walks in nature have long been a practice in Japan, forest bathing as a prescribed wellness activity took off there in the 1980s as stressed-out urbanites sought answers to their angst. Scientists started studying the healing effects of trees, and soon thereafter, shinrin-yoku (translated as forest bathing) became a thing—a big thing. The country now has scores of certified forest therapy guides and 62 official healing forests.

Wellness by Nature AAA Traveler cypress forest in JapanOld-growth forests in Japan’s Yakushima Island National Park provide a perfect setting for forest bathing; Photo by Twill/stock.adobe.com

The southern island of Kyushu is particularly dense with forest-bathing sites. Modern-day forest bathers can follow their ancestors with a visit to Yoshino-Kumano National Park, where pilgrims in search of spiritual peace have been walking the Kumano Kodo routes for a thousand years. On a forest bath in Yakushima Island National Park, you’ll discover untouched forests, white-sand beaches and Japanese cedars hundreds if not thousands of years old.

No matter where you go and which path you choose, a rendezvous with nature packs a whole lot of wellness into your trip.