Kelsey Blodget

For many of us, long days at the office, stress, and errands can get in the way of a healthy lifestyle. So we often look at our vacations not as a chance for a calorie binge (well, not always), but as a chance to hit the reset button and get back to our exercise and fitness regimens. And those who do manage to stay fit year-round may not want to part with their healthy lifestyle choices when they go away for a week or two. After all, there’s a lot to be said for the mind-body connection — and considering that September is Yoga Month, it feels like there’s no better time for a calming, healthy getaway. From a rustic yoga retreat to a luxe private island escape, these are the 14 best spots for a health and wellness vacation.

Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, Bahamas

Yoga Retreat

Those looking for a relaxed vacation with some yoga thrown in should look elsewhere. This is a serious ashram by an established group (there are nine Sivananda Yoga Ashrams throughout the world) and the 5:30 a.m. wake-up bell proves it. Guests focus on postures, breathing, positive thinking, and meditation, and have some free time to take advantage of the beautiful beach setting. Seemingly a world away from neighboring mega-resort Atlantis, this five-and-a-half acre oasis has a range of accommodations from tents to Beachfront Suites (most rooms have shared bathrooms, though). Two vegetarian meals are prepared daily right after each two-hour yoga class , while morning and evening satsangs (a mix of meditation, chanting, lectures, singing and dancing) help create a sense of community. Extra workshops and lectures are built into the daily schedule, and there’s a wellbeing center for massage treatments and Ayurvedic body treatments.

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We all know that stomach-sinking sensation of showing up to a hotel and finding that it is nothing like we expected. Critters for roommates, chemical plants on the premises (with just “a safe amount of pollution,” the hotel promises), bulletproof glass in reception… When you only get one or two vacations a year, you don’t want to feel like you’re sleeping in a prison. We here at Oyster have encountered some hotels that, are, well, just plain disasters as we’ve traveled the world, taking photos of every nook and cranny. But these 10, they’re the worst of the worst.

La Semana Hotel, New York City

La Semana

It’s a special kind of hotel that earns a reputation for being both disgusting AND dangerous: Within five minutes of entering La Semana, it’s evident that it is both. Not only have there been reports of mentally unstable clientele and gunshots, but the check-in clerk stands behind bulletproof glass, and many rooms’ windows are covered in bars and barbwire, which creates the feeling of entering a prison. The rest is downhill from there: Holes in the (barely six-foot-high) ceilings, no doors on the dirty bathrooms, exposed wires, disgustingly dirty TV remotes, furniture that looks too cheap for a tailgate party, and beds without blankets make this one of the seediest hotel experiences in New York.

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Let’s play a game of “would you rather.” Would you rather stay in a cute boutique in Istanbul or a dated (but canal-side) hotel in Venice? A historic country estate in Ireland or a stylish, woodsy hotel on the fjords in Norway? Everyone’s preferences are different, but one thing is for sure: Not every destination around the globe will deliver the same level of accommodations for your travel dollar. That’s why we decided to launch a new series to expose just how much bang for your buck you’re actually getting on your trip.  It may change your mind about where to go next…and you may even find yourself packing your bags for somewhere unexpected — but totally awesome, and affordable! This week, we’re taking a look at what you can get in cities across Europe. The price: $250/night. The dates: October 10th through 17th. And we’re off!

Which hotel would you choose? VOTE ON FACEBOOK or let us know in the comments section below!

Hotel Indigo London Kensington – Earl’s Court: $237/night

Hotel Indigo London Kensington

This is one of the trendiest Indigo properties anywhere, with bold, stylish decor and a quirky theme that’s inspired by Victorian manor houses (which this hotel once was) and French boudoir style. Each floor is themed after a different color (think: lime, teal, or fuchsia), and the hallways are lined with portraits of Lordships and Ladyships. There’s not a lot to dislike, although the hotel’s address isn’t the major selling point — the location on the west edge of Kensington is accessible (via the nearby Earl’s Court tube station), but there’s not a lot within walking distance.

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Haven’t planned your beach vacay yet? Or trying to figure out how to pay for that relaxing trip to the sand? A lot of us are in the same boat, and with the weather so beautiful, the beach is beckoning. Oyster may be able to help! Since we know how much our Oyster fans love to travel, we are giving away $500 toward your summer beach getaway. Hurray! All you have to do is sign up for a chance to win. Pretty easy, huh?

Enter Here >>

Don’t have Facebook or don’t want to enter on Facebook? Not a problem. You can also enter here using the subject line “Sweepstakes Entry.”

And of course, make sure to read the fine print!

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Sometimes, the journey is about the destination. Because the destination is so special, your whole travel experience is wrapped up inside it. We’ve traveled the world and have been to some pretty special spots. From a western dude ranch to a Florentine palazzo to an African canoe excursion, these 11 trips offer a far richer experience than your typical overnight stay.

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Tuscany is a dream destination for many — rolling green hills, charming medieval towns, stone farmhouses, and acres of vineyards are what usually come to mind. But there’s a side of Tuscany many may not know about — a steamy side. No, not that kind of steamy (well, maybe that too), but steamy in the literal sense — many Italians and Europeans flock to the little town of Saturnia for its natural thermal waters. These charming properties take full advantage of this unique geographical feature.

Agriturismo Le Cascatelle

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Set among olive and fruit trees in a quiet field, this bed and breakfast consists of four simple but clean, well-stocked apartments slightly set apart from one another, furnished with the basics. A few rooms are available for rent within the compound’s main house. Wine made by the owner is available for sample and sale, and a much-lauded homemade breakfast is offered each morning at a very reasonable price. The main advantage of this location is its convenience vis-à-vis the Saturnia waterfalls (within walking distance), as well as its proximity to several towns of historical and cultural interest, including Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana. The owner organizes full and half-day mountain biking excursions for guests for an extra fee. Read More »

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Beyonce isn’t the only one with a message for all the single ladies out there — a growing number of hotels, in an effort to target single female travelers, are offering women’s-only rooms and floors. These range all the way from shared hostel accommodations to entire floors of upscale business hotels. So for the hostel dorm rooms we’re pretty much on board – we know we wouldn’t love having to possibly change in front of strange dudes — but we’re a bit conflicted about having women’s-only rooms and floors in nicer hotels, where it’s less a matter of practicality and more of a marketing gimmick. These properties are targeting well-heeled businesswomen with female-oriented amenities such as curling irons and glossy fashion mags; some may find it convenient, others a bit insulting.

We can see that it might be nice to leave the yoga mat and nail file at home for those who often pack up all their supplies for just a short weekend getaway — but other women may find the selection of amenities discriminatory (after all, I’ll take the standard NYTimes over Cosmo any day). Also, for hotels with women-only floors (rather than select rooms), there’s an implied security element — it’s as if the hotel is promoting a way for women to stay safe and non-sexed on their next business trip. (Kind of like, er, staying in a convent.) What do you think — are women’s-only floors convenient or anti-feminist?

To help you decide, we’ve rounded up nine properties around the world with dedicated dude-free accommodations.

The Georgian Court Hotel, Vancouver

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The women’s-only Orchid Floor has 18 rooms, all equipped with extra amenities for women, including flatirons, curling irons, yoga mats, ladies emergency kits, and lifestyle magazines. The upscale hotel is on the edge of Downtown Vancouver, within walking distance of numerous Vancouver attractions.

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Some hotels just can’t keep their naughty parts to themselves — in fact, they flaunt them. When it comes to decor, we’ve seen everything from the strange, to the racy, to the almost pornographic on our travels. Sometimes hotels just have a style sense that’s — let’s say broad-minded? Other times, like at the Hotel Amour in Paris and the Desire Resort and Spa in Riviera Maya, they’re deliberately trying to get guests in the mood. No judgement here; if you’re the type of traveler that gets a kick out of lounging on a phallic chair, more power to you. We rounded up seven naughty hotels that can’t help themselves when it comes to being a little nude-y. Check out the risque hotel decor below — and just wait until you see number five on this list.

1. The Morgan, Dublin

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Hardly ladylike, Mona! But we have to say, a mural of Mona Lisa mooning guests is pretty creative — it’s not quite what you’ll see in the Louvre. Read More »

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Plenty of people visit UNESCO World Heritage sites on vacation. Not too many get the experience of actually sleeping in one. But that’s exactly what Parador de Granada in Spain offers its guests: This former Moorish Palace is actually within the walls of La Alhambra, the famed medieval palace and fortress that has influenced countless works of art and literature. (Among them: Washington Irving’s Tales of Alhambra.) This upscale boutique hotel also once operated as a Franciscan convent, and today, it has elegant, contemporary rooms and a traditional restaurant that’s known for having hosted First Lady Michelle Obama. The serene gardens offer stunning views of Generalife, La Alhambra’s beautiful 13th-century royal palace. See more amazing pics after the jump >>

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Worried about a Game of Thrones style invasion on your next trip? Roving hordes? Zombie armies? We totally feel you. Travel can be a bit scary, and if you’re the type that likes to feel extra secure when you get away, you might appreciate the idea of staying in a hotel that’s, well, fortified. These five hotels are actually in ancient fortresses, so if you find yourself needing to fend off rebel invaders on your next romantic retreat, you’ll at least have all the battlements, arrowslits, and watch towers your heart could desire right at hand. Hey, you never know…

Castello di Petroia, Umbria, Italy

Castello di PetroiaThe gorgeous Castello di Petroia dates all the way back to the 11th century; with a picturesque setting in the Umbrian countryside, it was at one time a medieval fortress. Back then this region consisted of vying independent city-states, and the fortress was the birthplace of the Duke of Urbino. Today, this 800-acre wooded estate is a charming and undeniably romantic retreat, with a seasonal pool and candlelit gourmet restaurant. The castle is comprised of three buildings: the Major Castellare, the main building with medieval halls and a library; the smaller Minor Castellare, where the castle’s guardian’s once lived; and the 66-foot Tower, which has a three-tiered guest room. The 13 individually-decorated rooms have historic flourishes such as stone arches, wood beams, and frescoed ceilings. Read More »

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