From the mysterious Czech Republic to green Mongolia: inspiration for restorative silence and harmony
Nature is good for us ‒ we’ve known this for some time. We don’t require further studies to prove that being immersed in green nature also improves the image we have of ourselves, and our circadian rhythm... It really is good for us! But what’s the reason? A few years ago, there was talk of ‘soft fascination’: the appeal of slowly releasing the mind in a world that constantly and aggressively demands our attention. Supported by the academics Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, the theory is that nature holds ‘cognitive quiet’: a state in which our attention-strained muscle ‒ the one we use to focus on work ‒ can be rested, but without inducing the boredom we would feel if we had nothing to think about. In practice, this helps us understand why we don’t need to go all the way to the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef to benefit from nature. On the contrary, those are places that saturate our attention, while small silent unobtrusive places demand just enough of us to allow the mind to relax.
Many great thinkers – Darwin, Thoreau, Wordsworth – loved a daily stroll through nature, and found harmony and quiet there. We’ve selected 5 magical, but still secret, places frequented by very few visitors where you can stop and relax. Places that are beautiful to look at and that can capture your attention without tiring it.
Strolling through a disused stone quarry, to reach a viewpoint overlooking the countryside in the Beskydy Protected Landscape Area, in the Czech Republic. Savouring the ancestral draw of a Europe and sites of times gone by. These thoughts were to the forefront for henkai architekti and Zahrada-Park-Krajina when creating three panoramic walks to give pedestrian access to the top-most part of the hill. Design of the routes, which form a circuit, respects the current unspoilt state of the area, featuring rocky outcrops, woodland and the quarry itself.
On your way to the summit, you come across a small picnic platform: its form is inspired by the many abandoned vegetation-covered homes in the vicinity, illustrating that the ancestors of this population settled and farmed even the most remote sites. Low dry walls (marking out the house foundations) rise up from the ground to shape the base to the panoramic platform, and its sides provide additional seating.
Particularly interesting are three lookouts ‒ empty cubes ‒ positioned between rocks and boulders on this terrain, and they are well-camouflaged in the context. These spaces invite visitors to stop and rest in the midst of the forest, to calmly contemplate spruces on one side and pines on the other.
Places in harmony with nature, that can prompt people towards a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. Designed by the KLAR studio, the Yogapoints have been devised ‒ as the name suggests ‒ for doing yoga, but also for relaxation, for stretching after an intense workout, or simply for enjoying the surrounding landscape. These constructions dotting the time-honoured Moravian-Silesian region have also been conceived to enhance the attraction of the area, which is still little known as a tourism destination. Nevertheless, these (light, portable and replicable) Yogapoints seem to strive to dialogue with nature without compromising it.
The chosen design solution is a small pavilion marked by a rational frame, with floor space allowing two people to exercise. The structure and the materials used echo traditional wood craftwork, which is typical to the Beskydy and Jeseníky Mountains. Four solid columns rise up from a square platform and these support a grid of wooden planks. The flooring, also made of wood, acts as a comfortable yoga mat.
Crossing the threshold of the Infinit wellness garden in Senohraby feels like entering an enchanted enclosure, an unexplored haven concealed in the wood, intentionally kept away from the ordinary world. Designed by Studio Reaktor, it nestles a short walk from a rambling stream leading to the Sázava river and is circled by the forest. This new space can be accessed from the basement passageways of a nearby hotel, yielding an experience focusing entirely on wellness: in fact, rooms serving the spa centre also branch off from these corridors.
The garden envelops guests in a dream-like atmosphere, a place where they can unwind and relax also thanks to the small natural lake circled by saunas, cooling areas, and an orangerie with a relaxation room. Various ferns hang down from the light wells in the orangerie, and climbing plants adorn the walls. Particularly striking is the decoration in the ceremonial sauna ‒ a space for shared experiences and group rituals.
It sometimes happens that a small farm building is converted into a dream space. In upper Brianza, at the foot of the Montevecchia hills, an old edifice used for the last 50 years as a barn and to store farming equipment has returned to being a living component of the local countryside, following the careful renovation carried out by a25architetti (Francesco and Paolo Manzoni). They’ve named it Rifugio del Gelso ‒ the Mulberry Refuge ‒ and stepping inside is like being transported into a fairy tale: a simple table is circled by chairs while a single window frames the landscape outside. It’s an intimate, private, almost secret place. But where does its name come from? It all started off with a mulberry tree and its leaves, which many silkworms once used to feed on...
The project responds to the owner’s need for hay and tool storage areas on the top floor, and space for socialising as well as for storing equipment on the ground level, with direct access from the path in front. Once the building was stripped of its materials, it was renovated, keeping its simple lean concrete structure, which was cleaned up on the lower level. Instead, on the top level the unstable infill walls were removed and a new concrete-block facing was created, strengthened with concrete blocks and reinterpreting the traditional open ‘honeycomb’ pattern. Since this part of the edifice is used for storing dry hay bales, open brickwork allowing full air circulation was not necessary.
Framed by majestic mountains and sweet rolling hills, the Mongolian interior has been known as a haven for fragile and changeable settlements since ancient times, lashed by dry winds, the cold and deluges of rain. And yet this blend is what makes this country a magical place, where towns are real sanctuaries from the elements.
Within this frame, ANTAO conceived a landscape project inspired by local nature and variegated Mongolian culture. Shortlisted in the Landscape section of THE PLAN AWARD 2020 ( >> register here for the 2022 edition), the design used the meandering bends of the lake edge as its blueprint. Its trails coax the magnificent outline of the mountains down to lake level, making them no longer appear as a menacing gloomy backdrop but participatory vibrant and active scenery.
This place ‒ created to provide local communities with a setting suitable for outdoor activities ‒ is perfect for yoga.