Health and fitness holidays now mean more than prune juice, mud packs and rowing machines. A yoga centre in the Himalayas, a survival school in Utah and a "boot camp" in south-west France are among those promising a whole new you. Sarah Hanson reports
With retreats in Morocco, Ibiza and Italy, in:spa promises a relaxed approach to health. For those who'd rather not follow a strict, army-style schedule, the activities are optional. "Rest is as important as everything else," says director Gillian Crotty. No wonder several well known celebrities like to come here to unwind. Many people come on an in:spa retreat to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, whether it's to lose weight, increase fitness or to achieve a better work-life balance. A team of personal trainers, pilates instructors, yoga teachers, massage therapists, nutritionists and chefs are on hand to help you achieve your goals and give you the tools to keep it up at home. The cuisine is designed to help you detox—no alcohol, caffeine, red meat or sugar—and the focus is on blood sugar balance rather than calorie counting. Prices for a seven-night stay, based on two sharing, start from £1,885 per person.
If you're after the perfect beach body but aren't too sure about the back-to-basics methods of many fitness camps, give Bella Boot Camp a try. Based in the quiet surfing town of Pompano Beach, you'll stay at the Ocean Sands Resort and Spa in a room fitted out with all mod cons. This doesn't mean you're not going to work hard, but at least you'll know you've got a comfy bed at the end of it. And you'll be glad, too. A typical day starts at 7am and includes an average of five and a half hours of workouts—from hikes on the beach, kickboxing, pilates, spinning and tribal dancing. If you upgrade to the spa package, you'll receive a daily massage to ease away those aches and pains. Nutrition is also an important part of the programme. The food is simple, low-calorie and—if you believe what it says in literature-—-delicious. Prices for six nights start at £955 per person, double occupancy.
Avid surfers, or those who have always dreamed of learning to surf, should head to the spectacular fitness retreat Body and Soul Adventures. Based in Paraty, Brazil, it's surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world—many of which offer excellent surfing. Add to that the tropical islands, splendid waterfalls and lush tropical rainforest, and you've pretty much got paradise. But don't forget why you're here. A typical day begins with a wake-up call at 6am, followed by an hour of yoga. After a hearty breakfast of homemade granola with raisins and Brazil nuts, there's a challenging five-mile hike through the rainforest and then another five-mile hike back again. Once back at the lodge, you'll do another hour of yoga followed by a well deserved massage and dinner at 7pm. Prices start at £1,143 per person for a week-long break, based on double occupancy.
If you're really serious about getting fit and shedding weight, there is no better place than the Ashram in California. Founded in 1974 by Swedish business partners Catharina Hedberg and Dr Anne Marie Bennstrom, the Ashram is a much-loved health getaway among A-list celebrities (Renée Zellweger has been here twice to lose the weight she gained for the Bridget Jones films). In seven days, you'll hike 60 miles and discover muscles you never knew you had. For you and the other 11 people in your group, the day starts at 6am, and you won't stop until you collapse into your bed at 10pm. A typical day will start with an hour of yoga followed by a five-hour hike. Then it's back for an hour of weight training, an hour of waterpolo and two more hours of yoga before bed time—all on a vegetarian, organic diet of roughly 1,200 calories a day. The charge for a week is £2,015, all inclusive.
During the 1950s, Rancho La Puerta in Mexico was the spa of choice for the likes of Aldous Huxley, Kim Novak and Burt Lancaster, who came to restore mind, body and spirit among 3,000 acres of mountains and meadows. Today you can choose your own fitness programme, from a variety of activities, including pilates, dance, yoga, hiking and swimming. There are also nutrition lectures and classes taught by visiting instructors. Guests are encouraged to maintain a balance between exercise and relaxation, and the saying here is that "the hammocks also are an important piece of fitness equipment". There are also all the spa treatments, you'd expect from a modern spa. In 1940, you would have had to bring your own tent, but today, you stay in a little "casita", which becomes your own private retreat for the week. Prices start at £1,420 per person per week, based on two sharing.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to end up on a desert island and have to fend for yourself? Do the field course at Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) in Colorado, and you'll find out. You'll hike through southern Utah's mountains and canyons with little more than a blanket, poncho and a knife. Modern camping gear, such as tents, sleeping bags and torches, is banned, as are mobile phones, Blackberries or laptops. The goal is to live in the here and now as your small group (never more than 12 people) hikes for miles and learns traditional skills including building friction fires and making shelters. This course is not for everyone—think blisters in sand-encrusted socks, using sagebrush leaves for loo paper and drinking water from slime-covered puddles—but you'll probably emerge all the better for it. The price of the seven-day field course is from £556 per person.
If you're in need of a complete detox for the mind as well as the body, then Kamalaya wellness sanctuary and holistic spa could be the one for you. Situated in a beautiful and quiet corner of the island of Koh Samui, it is centred on a cave that once served as a place of meditation and spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks. You won't hear any screeching children here. And you won't be kept awake by music booming from the pool-side bar. Although common spa treatments, such as massage and manicures are available, the emphasis is on holistic therapies such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation. On arrival, you'll receive a consultation to assess your needs and find out information about your body—weight, body fat composition, lean mass—that will help create the ideal experience. Various packages are available, all with names such as "yoga synergy retreat", "balance and revitalise", or "ideal weight". But, be warned, the detox is not for the faint-hearted. Prices for a seven-day, essential detox retreat start at £2,393, based on two sharing.
Men tend to be put off by the name of Amansala bikini boot camp. But situated on a beautiful remote beach in Tulum, Mexico, this is a boot camp for both men and women, and wearing a bikini is not mandatory. Although it conjures up images of a sergeant major barking orders, this is less a military-style boot camp and more a healthy, stress-free escape. Each day begins with a silent beach or jungle power walk followed by a combination of body sculpting, power abdominal sessions or pilates, and ends with yoga and meditation. But here it's up to the guests how much or how little they do. Other activities include snorkelling in freshwater swimming holes (cenotes) in the jungle, Flamenco workouts and tribal drumming lessons. This eco-chic resort is solar powered, so there is no electricity after 6pm and you eat your dinner by candlelight. The motto here is "moderation not deprivation", so tea and coffee are served and they make a mean margarita. A six-night stay starts at £990 per person.
Located in south-western France, Camp Biche calls itself a "luxury fitness and relaxation boot camp". Each day centres on a long and exhausting hike through one of the most beautiful and rustic regions of France, after which you're rewarded with a daily massage and a gourmet meal—albeit in controlled portions. Most important of all, there's also a glass of wine. Camp Biche is all about doing things in moderation. A binge is most definitely out and the focus is on the psychological side of dieting and exercise. You will be coached on how to love and accept your body as it is now and helped to discover positive and practical responses to your body image. Prices per person, for a seven-night stay, start at £2,310.
Whether you're a complete beginner or a die-hard yoga junkie, Ananda in the Himalayas is the place to go for a full-on yoga experience. Located at the heart of the birthplace of India's ancient arts of yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, this retreat aims to enhance your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self through three branches of yoga-Hatha, Kriya and Raja. During your stay, you'll be encouraged to embrace the ancient Yogic Indian philosophy, which emphasises a disciplined way of living. But if you feel a little overwhelmed by all the meditative chanting you can choose from a host of other activities, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a health and beauty spa, squash, white-water rafting, a safari and fishing. For golf lovers, there's even a six-hole, par-three course and driving range with spectacular views of the Himalayas or the Rishikesh valley and the River Ganges as you tee off. A seven-night yoga package costs from £3,100 per person, based on two sharing.