As I hit my mid-forties, I’m increasingly aware my body is not as strong or toned as it used to be. I’m also nervously aware of the ticking timebomb of my youthful hedonistic lifestyle. I’d love to fight gravity (and anything else life throws at me), but with joy rather than stringency, and enlightened knowledge rather than pseudo-science.
Like many people, I find gyms soul-destroying and intimidating. I’d far rather be outdoors, crunching my abs in beautiful surroundings, feeling fully alive rather than miserably inadequate.
Which is why Fitter Stronger – a luxury fitness weekend with a difference - ticked all the boxes for me.
One it’s at Chewton Glen Hotel and Spa in Hampshire: so cardio workouts are in their stunning grounds, and hikes through the New Forest. Between classes, you can swim like Hollywood starlets in the outdoor or indoor pool, stroll through the trees to Highcliffe beach, or simply stretch out in your deluxe bedrooms sipping complimentary Taittinger!
Two, there’s a Five Bubble Luxury spa, so after doing all manner of things to your glutes, you can relax in their giant hydrotherapy pool and have strategically placed water jets massage your aching muscles.
Three, the focus is on achieving mental and physical strength to cope with any of life’s difficulties, with nutritional advice as well as psychological inspiration - hence no weighing or testing. It’s aimed at all fitness levels, shapes and ages. You fill out a health questionnaire and simply do what you can.
Oh, and Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell is the motivational speaker. If James can’t inspire me to get fitter and stronger, frankly who can?
What’s the itinerary?
My spa partner and I arrived midday Friday, and checked into our vast, light-filled room overlooking the gardens. It was stocked with REN products, complimentary drinks, fruit and homemade biscuits, as well as Chewton Glen honey and a scented candle to take home.
After a spa lunch, we took a delightful hike through the New Forest with professional guide Scott Smith. We saw lots of New Forest ponies and wild deer roaming through the glade: a magical and invigorating start to the weekend.
James Cracknell joined us for dinner on that evening. His own fitness journey is somewhat heroic in its extremes, as you’d expect from an Olympian. But the lessons are inspirationally universal, particularly those drawn from his recovery from a major head injury.
Saturday and Sunday mornings kick off with a challenging Cardio circuit on the lush croquet lawn with personal trainers, Mitch Sherwood and Simon Jones - both of whom helped Fitter Stronger founder Paula Kerr achieve her dream of climbing Ben Nevis at the end of her chemotherapy (read Paula’s inspiring story here).
The view takes your mind off the pain, and a blast in the hydrotherapy pool after works wonders. The afternoon Pilates classes with Michaela Forbes are relatively gentle with lots of blissful stretching.
Saturday also includes a stroll around Chewton Glen’s romantic kitchen gardens, seeing the famous beehives that produce the honey, and sampling some of the herbs, fruit and veg used by the chefs.
Nutritionist Helene Patounas was available throughout for advice, while her colleague Dr Fred Wadsworth outlined his science-based yet holistic and psychological approach. Although both work with top sportsmen and women, I found their ideas on maximising energy levels, hydration and sleep extremely useful.
It is fantastic having access to people only top athletes would think to use, and being able to use their vast knowledge to improve your own lifestyle.
Panic not: you won’t need to smuggle in any treats for Fitter Stronger. The food and drink included on your weekend are nutritionally balanced and locally sourced, but also delicious and abundant.
Lunch is at the Spa Café, overlooking the peaceful spa pool: a help-yourself buffet with colourful salads, wraps, soup, cheese, meat, fish and grilled vegetables, and a shelf of tempting deserts.
Friday night is a barbecue on a private terrace. My friend had lamb kebabs, while I had king prawn kebabs and salmon with a mix of delicious salads, followed by lashings of ice-cream.
Buffet breakfasts in The Dining Room offer a selection of toast and pastries with locally foraged preserves, fruit, yoghurts and cereals, plus cooked meals.
Saturday night dinner at The Dining Room restaurant was slightly marred by slow service. The food however was elegant and classic: both of us had a Chesil Smokery salmon starter, a deliciously crispy Dover sole main and a fruit soufflé to finish.
Who will be there?
Our group of 20 consisted mostly of health-aware ordinary folk (including my friend and me), training or injured athletes, as well as inspirational types who had fought cancer, faced various life crises and run marathons.
People who like to balance health with the good life.
Fitter Stronger is as much about people as luxury health and fitness, from the inspirational support of the team to the friendly helpfulness of Chewton Glen staff, as well as other group members. By the end of three days, I was so much more confident and discovered that my body was far stronger than I assumed. It even made me consider climbing a mountain!
The cost is £1,140 per person, arriving 12 noon Friday and leaving 12.30pm on Sunday and includes accommodation based on two sharing (double or twin rooms), all meals, classes and talks, plus use of Chewton Glen’s spa and hotel facilities.