Health and fitness holidays
Relax, restore and reset yourself at these festivals that feature yoga classes, spa treatments, healthy food, live music – and, yes, occasionally, a little alcohol
Launched last year, Soul Circus offers a programme of yoga and pilates, plus live music, DJs, healthy food supplied by local farmers and thought-provoking talks. There’ll be classes from aerial to blindfold yoga, workshops on topics such as the science of happiness, and the chance to chill in the spa with holistic treatments and lakeside hot tubs. It’s held at picturesque Elmore Court near Gloucester, and the gardens and woodlands are the setting for light shows and parties held long into the night.
• 17-19 August, tickets £189, soulcircus.yoga
Famed for ashtanga yoga, wellbeing is a way of life in this magical south Indian city – and fantastic markets, food and architecture all add to the allure
Mysuru (formerly known as Mysore; it was renamed in 2014) has hovered under the tourist radar for years and is often overlooked in favour of southern cousins such as Kochi and Puducherry. But the former royal capital of the erstwhile eponymous princely state is a slow-reveal pleasure, a place of culture, eccentricity, architecture, beauty and manners; a gently pious, highly literate and quietly arresting city, connected to nature and imbued with the sacred.
Plunge into a world of soothing saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms with our pick of hot spots with character but without the whopping spa resort prices
Rejuvenate before you de-juvenate in Europe’s clubbing capital with a trip to Liquidrom, a much-loved spa in the trendy Kreuzberg neighbourhood that offers a chic-luxury experience for a fraction of the price you’d expect. The centrepiece of this urban bath house is a large salt-water pool in a dimly lit room with a domed roof; the salt density is high enough to make floating easy, while piped chillout muzak encourages a total trance-out. Elsewhere, there’s a range of saunas and steam rooms – including a Himalayan salt sauna and an outdoor pool where you can enjoy a drink in the crisp Berlin air.
• From €19.50 for two hours’ sauna and thermal bath, liquidrom-berlin.de
Fly and flop this is not. YogaFit’s affordable retreats include nearly 100 yoga and fitness classes, from beach circuits to Bhangracise and twerking. Rachel Dixon does a fitness heptathlon … in a day
I am struggling to do a burpee (a sort of supercharged squat thrust). I don’t usually find it this difficult – but then I don’t usually do it while balancing on a surfboard in a swimming pool. This is what you do in Floatfit, one of a whopping 93 classes on the programme of YogaFit, a retreat in Ibiza. It is a far cry from the average yoga holiday, which might offer a couple of classes a day. Here, my record was seven different classes in one day. It is also more affordable than most: guests can stay for just three night, or up to seven.
YogaFit is the brainchild of London-based Lyndsay Jay, a fitness instructor (and model), who, twice a year, takes over the Cala Blanca beach resort on Es Figueral beach on Ibiza’s quiet north-eastern coast. The usual holidaymakers are replaced by 30 hyperactive instructors and hundreds of sporty guests, who can mix and match yoga and fitness classes.
The path to health and fitness doesn’t have to mean tough love. This seaside break provides fresh seafood, rest, relaxation – and a visit to a Game of Thrones location
The first relief: there is coffee. The cave-dwellers inspiring the version of the paleo regime on offer at Hotel Ola, a stone’s throw from Split airport, clearly needed their morning pick-me-up as much as I do. Also, they obviously appreciated a modest glass of wine now and again, which is surely fair, given that grapes can be hunter-gathered and fermented, can’t they?
As this might suggest, I’ve come to Croatia not because my body is a temple, but because it’s a two-up, two-down (with chunky ground-floor extension) in need of a little loving restoration. Some of the decor is a bit worse for wear, and the fuses keep blowing. Before long, this corporeal frame I call home will reach its half-century, and I’d rather it did so with its hinges oiled. Can a few days of a Mediterranean version of the paleo diet – in which carbs are reduced, proteins and healthy fats increased, processed food eschewed and fruit and vegetables abound – set me on the road to wellness?
Northern Sweden and the frozen Baltic provide a stunning setting for a yoga retreat that delivers as many thrills as it does chills
A small part of me longs to be in a hot yoga class right now, sweating it out at 43C. Scorching heat, any kind of heat in fact, feels appealing when you’re hanging upside down on a frozen ocean in Swedish Lapland.
I sweat in the sauna then plunge into the frozen lake. The contrast is electrifying
America’s new-age capital is brimming with tours, classes and shops offering spiritual healing, but its most uplifting aspect is its dramatic setting amid rust-coloured mesas and buttes
Locals call Sedona, Arizona, a cathedral without walls. It’s not just the landscape – those red cliffs, mesas rearing up against a crisp and empty sky, that inspired Hollywood producers of the 1930s and 40s to shoot westerns such as Broken Arrow and Stagecoach in the area. Three million tourists a year come to this town of barely 10,000, nestled among towering rusty sandstone rock formations in the northern Verde valley. Many of these visitors are pilgrims, particularly at this time of year, headed to Arizona in search of spiritual renewal.
A suitably slow-paced yoga and mindfulness weekend is revelatory – even the ‘weird’ bit about rebooting tired minds and bodies through silence
We’re all tired. Some of us go on about it more than others (guilty) but most of us are wrecked most of the time. Which is why going on holiday to lie down in a darkened room for two days is not as weird as it might once have sounded. That’s essentially what Satvada Retreats offers on its winter weekends in north Norfolk: two days of mindfulness and yoga in the beautiful setting of West Lexham, a cluster of converted, eco-friendy farm buildings and treehouses (plus bell tents in summer) set in extensive grounds with paths winding through gardens and around a lake.
Yoga trips can change lives but finding the right one may sap your core strength before you’ve even started. Our picks – from Goa to Greece via Yorkshire – will make your quest more relaxing
You can’t move for downward dog opportunities these days. The explosion of yoga in western countries means there’s a studio on every other street and such a variety of styles and options, that choosing a holiday or retreat can be overwhelming. So where to start? It makes sense to try a weekend away before committing to a whole week. One possibility is to choose a teacher you know or like the sound of and see if they’re running anything that suits. Or you could pick a venue you fancy and see what teachers are hosting holidays there. Think about what you want too – some combine yoga with other activities (maybe good for those with non-yogi partners), some are vegan, some don’t ban booze – it’s always worth asking before you book.
Most retreats will cater for all levels, with teachers listening to individual needs, but I’ve marked those particularly for beginners suitable with a B. We think all the places we’re covering here offer good value, but those that stand out price-wise are marked with a £.
A trip outside the comfort zone can often feel a bit of a stretch. Our writer travels to an idyllic rural retreat near Toulouse with some concerns. As it happens, it proves to be a life-changing trip
The words “vegan yoga retreat” terrify me. I’m an internet, pulled-pork and sarcasm kind of guy. However, an increasing number of my friends have started raving about the life-changing effects of yoga, mindfulness and conscious-eating, and what I’m even more scared of is missing out. So, to find out what all the fuss is about, I’ve signed up for a week with Chaya Yoga Retreats to explore all three, figuring that even if it’s a living hell, the beds will hopefully be comfy.
Founded by wellbeing food coach Lucy Hill, Chaya has been running retreats for five years, offering yoga immersions in beautiful locations, from weekends in the UK to longer trips in Bali or India. We’re closer to home – a magnificent, remote château in the Toulouse countryside, with beautiful spacious rooms (mostly twin share, though some sleep four). It sits high above rolling fields, and the views stretch to the snow-capped Pyrenees. At night, the sky is hung with a million jewels, clouded only by the Milky Way. It may be the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.
Demand for women-only breaks is growing. These activity trips include yoga, surfing, boot camps, and dog-sledding, from Kent to Kilimanjaro
Desperately Seeking Adventure runs active trips for small groups of women of all ages – the oldest participant so far was 72. There are two via ferrata trips to Italy: a five-night taster around Lake Garda, with low-level routes for beginners to intermediates, and a more challenging seven-night adventure in Cortina in the Dolomites – both full-board in four-star accommodation. Alternatively, there is a six-night walking, yoga and meditation break in the Dolomites; walking and wild camping trips to the Lake District; and an expedition to Morocco to climb Mount Toubkal in the Atlas range, the highest peak in North Africa.
• From £475pp for five nights in Italy, excluding flights, desperatelyseekingadventure.co.uk
This Channel Islands wellness bolthole offers a ‘detox without realising it’ by marrying the two disciplines and serving guests healthy, vegetarian meals
Does everyone start a health retreat this way, I wonder, downing a large glass of wine, eating a Bounty and whizzing off work emails as I sit waiting for my delayed plane at Gatwick. Three days later I am doing a sun salutation, feeling the rays on my skin and looking over a vast, near-empty beach filling the horizon.
My first attempt at surfing is like trying to stand up in a washing machine
In summer Munich heads to the hills and lakes of the Bavarian countryside to cool down, where the water is pure enough to drink and there are cosy lakeshore inns a short hop from the city
TS Eliot immortalised this dreamy lake in The Waste Land, and Ludwig II, the “mad king” known for flamboyant palaces, had a summer residence here. Visitors can cycle the 49km border trail (bikeit.de, half-day rental €11) in roughly four hours, or take a boat from Possenhofen to Rose Island, to see the eccentric monarch’s villa. Though the chi-chi town of Starnberg tends to fill up with tourists in summer, the smaller villages retain a quiet charm. Take a ferry to Bernried to see the expressionist art at Buchheim Museum der Phantasie (€8.50).
Whether it’s wild swimming in lakes and fjords, a sea ‘safari’ in Crete, or a 6km swim in the warm waters of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, this selection of swims (and stays) is a stroke of genius
With water temperatures of 27C, the Sea of Cortez is so warm that, as SwimTrek puts it, “you’ll feel like you’re swimming in the bath”. Expect to feel comfortable out of the water too, spending a week sleeping in glamping-style bell tents with solar-heated showers, and enjoying fresh local food and cocktails rustled up by your team chef. Each day the swim covers 6km, passing the cliff faces and beaches of this Unesco-protected area, with plenty of opportunity to borrow sea kayaks, paddleboards or snorkels and immerse yourself in the diverse marine life.
• Seven days from £1,170, swimtrek.com
Helsinki’s public saunas refused to throw in the towel to developers and are flourishing. Paul Hirons visits trendy spas and tiny shacks, and makes a dash to Lapland
In the locker room of Sauna Hermanni, one of the few remaining public saunas in Helsinki, I bumped into Paul, an octogenarian who was cooling down after his weekly steam clean, reading his newspaper dressed only in a saggy white vest. I asked him why he came here every week, and after a moment’s contemplation, he said with a shrug: “I couldn’t imagine life without it.”
For Finns, life without sauna is unthinkable, but for it to survive against competing leisure activities and an ever-quickening pace of life, it has had to adapt and diversify.
India is a dream destination for many yogis, but with so many ashrams and courses, how do you choose wisely? From the hardcore to the boutique, we select 10 of the best places to practise yoga
Though this list includes some of the best ashrams, retreats and shalas India has to offer, there are three notable omissions: BKS Iyengar’s school in Pune, Pattabhi Jois’s in Mysore, and the pan-Indian Sivananda Centre, excluded on account of their existing popularity and fame. They are highly recommended nonetheless. Several other places were vetoed on account of various scandals and disputes, and I have also excluded luxurious and obscenely priced retreats.
As with many things in India today, yoga doesn’t necessarily come cheap but all of these are very good value given the quality of teaching on offer. Be advised that customer service in India isn’t always the best, and some of the more traditional places might prove hard to contact. But be patient, persevere, switch to “Indian-time” and, if you must, see it as the first step in letting go of your ego.
Every year, thousands of tourists head to the Peruvian Amazon to take the plant medicine ayahuasca. But what does the powerful drink actually do, and what do local shamans think of the rise in its popularity?
Imagine you’re in a simple wooden house in the suburbs of Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon, and drinking a bitter, dark brown liquid. The lights go off. Half an hour later the most extraordinary visions begin.
Fast forward four hours and it’s all over. You’ve seen Christ and Buddha, and you’ve almost been moved to tears by the incantations of curandero (healer) Juan Tangoa Paima and all the deep-throat vomiting you’ve been doing in his garden.