A spa is a great place for some guilt-free indolence but, for some, doing nothing is pure torture. In our bid to achieve near comatose states of bliss, we forget that activities can be calming, too, as well as beneficial to our health. A more holistic approach to health and wellbeing these days means finding a balance between activity and relaxation. Luckily, some of our favourite spas are way ahead of us.
For the Europeans, spa has always been more about health than pampering – you wouldn’t get a glass of Prosecco and a cream tea at Austria’s Lanserhöf or Viva Mayr clinic. However, more UK spas are offering physical fitness classes alongside spa treatments; we just tend to do so in a less clinical setting.
At a health club spa, you can work up a sweat, then complement with a detoxing treatment and a nutritious spa lunch. Other spas have wellbeing-focused classes such as yoga or Thai Chi: on sunny days you can do this outdoors, which gives you the sense of being on a mini health-retreat without the cost of the airfare. You don’t have to limit yourself to sports: spas offer a variety of activities, from horse riding to cooking classes, dancing to tennis, cycling to shooting. Spas in country hotels often have a range of muddy outdoors pursuits on offer, too.
Spa + boot camps and fitness
If you want to improve your physical fitness, but local gyms don’t appeal, joining a good health club that has a spa attached makes the experience more enjoyable.
The point is, fitness needn’t be a slog. Why can’t an active lifestyle be stylish, luxurious and enjoyable? Our health should be something we relish rather than suffer; look forward to rather than endure. It would make sense to make the mental association between pleasure and fitness by doing your boot camp in a beautiful setting.
Champneys has possibly the most extensive range of fitness and exercise classes at their health retreats, most free as part of a spa day. We loved out Pilates Barre class -- Pilates with a ballet rail -- at Champneys Henlow, as well as the (easier) cycle route. They also run a vast range of retreats including fitness, boot camp and others (see below).
Health clubs such as Bannatyne’s now offer a class schedule to rival Champneys. We recently enjoyed a spin class, yoga class and Thai Chi on the lawn at Kingsford Park in Colchester.
Spa + fitness and yoga retreats
You could kick off your new healthy lifestyle regime with a fitness retreat at a spa: try running retreats, Nordic walking and yoga, as well as traditional boot camps and body sculpting. Not only are retreats run by top-in-their-field experts, they also include workshops, motivational talks and one-to-ones.
Ragdale Hall’s more active retreats cover Dancercise, Pilates, Running and Yoga breaks and often have celebrity names attached.
The Spa Hotel at Ribby Hall in Lancashire has a yoga retreat and a new pregnancy yoga retreat. The holiday village has a host of activities in their health club and a creche.
Both Bailiffscourt Spa and Ockenden Manor in West Sussex run a variety of retreats throughout the year including yoga and fitness retreats where you can try a number of activities.
Spa + PT
Sign up for a spa health club and you are more likely to get impressive personal trainers (the opposite of the bored teen at your local gym).
Pennyhill Park also hosts an impressive menu of exercise classes as well as a gym where you might even catch a England Rugby squad member working-out -- they have a training centre in the grounds. We love the sound of their Warrior Spa Day -- very modern Wonder Woman – with a 60-minute PT session and a 30-minute treatment.
One of our favourite personal training sessions was at the Workshop Gymnasium at the stupendously swanky Bulgari Spa in Knightsbridge, London. The Workshop is designed by celebrity trainer Lee Mullins, and the programmes are all about balance, strength and posture. This is where the rich and famous get to work out, but our lovely PT was extremely tolerant and encouraging of our abilities.
Learn to play tennis with a champ, or how to do an Olympic standard front crawl at Champneys. For wannabe equestrians, Lucknam Park has a famous riding school in its grounds, while you can learn to surf on Cornwall’s spectacular Fistral Beach through the lovely spa at The Headland Hotel.
Soho Farmhouse in the Cotswold runs a cookery course, as does Bamford Haybarn – both boho rural retreats for London media types. Glamorous Chewton Glen is famous for its food as well as their stunning kitchen gardens (and their Five Bubble Luxury spa) and run cookery courses, too.
Whatever you do, one thing is for sure; spa plus doing something active is the perfect balance.