Time to put a spring in your step! Top three wellbeing retreats…

Spring is just around the corner so now is the perfect time to treat yourself to a detox. Ozel Rowland discovers three top hotel and fitness retreats around the world designed to rejuvenate body, mind and soul

in:spa retreat, MarrakechMorocco

Spend a week facing the sublime Atlas Mountains of Marrakech at Le Palais Paysan, a gorgeous boutique hotel providing a peaceful sanctuary for a revitalising health and fitness journey. Each day offers a full schedule of yoga, group fitness classes and personal training, as well as a consultation on nutrition and a menu brimming with delicious and wholesome meals.

You’ll enjoy access to a team of experienced specialists, and many of the activities are optional, so this retreat is perfect for anyone looking to get fit on their own terms.

Atlas Mountains, Marrakech, Morocco © wonker

A typical day starts off early in the morning with a cup of herbal tea, followed by dynamic yoga ora jog to help get your blood pumping. Then, after breakfast, it’s time for a round of group circuit training. If you’re feeling up to it, you can squeeze in another fitness training session before lunch. Or, if you fancy something a bit more sedate, why not enjoy a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool or opt for a deep cleanse in the hammam.  Or, if you fancy a wander, the local medina is only 30 minutes away. You’ll finish the day off with a relaxing massage or a restorative yoga class and a tasty, nutritious dinner.

During your stay, you’ll also get an opportunity to go on an invigorating trek through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, where you can take in the spectacularly dramatic views of the area’s spectacular Moroccan terrain. February can be an ideal time to go trekking, with the crisp climate and cooling breezes still at bay and temperatures ranging from about 10˚C to 15˚C.

Prices start from £1,995 for two people sharing a Classic 8-day retreat.

Dolomites, Northern Italy © traveljunction

 

Fitscape ski retreat, Italian Dolomites, Italy

Located in the mountainous backdrop of the northern Italian province of Bolzano, Italy sits the world-renowned ski resort of San Cassiano. Here, Relais & Chateaux’s family-run Hotel Rosa Alpina hosts the Fitscape ski retreat. The programme is open to guests of all levels of fitness and skiing experience and features an energising expedition through the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Dolomiti Superski – a mighty expanse of 12 different ski areas and a 1,200km stretch of ski runs.

The weather sits at a lowly 5˚C in February – an ideal temperature for skiing and snowshoeing in the beautiful Italian Alps.

Out on the slopes you’ll be led by a team of Fitscape ski experts who provide pre- and post-ski stretch classes as well as top tips for developing or fine-tuning your skiing skills. Around midday, everyday, you’ll enjoy lunch out in the mountains while soaking up magnificent snowy panoramas. Back at the hotel, guests can soothe sore muscles by partaking in restorative yoga sessions, or, you can push your fitness levels even further with a spot of post-ski fitness training. For a more relaxing experience, head to the hotel spa, which has a heated pool, steam room and sauna.

Prices start from £1,925pp, or £1,875 for two people sharing a deluxe room for 7 nights, and includes breakfast and dinner, group skiing and yoga classes.

Sunset, St Lucia, Caribbean © Steve Walker

The BodyHoliday, Le Sport, St Lucia

For an ultimate oasis of luxury and indulgence, look no further than BodyHoliday resort located on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. This lavish beachfront hotel is situated on the north coast of the island, on the white sands of Cariblue Bay, and combines the frills of an all-inclusive beach holiday with a reviving health and well-being programme guaranteed to leave you feeling renewed and refreshed by the end of your stay.

Each day begins with the option of going on a morning walk along the nearby beautiful beach, or a vigorous workout, before sitting down to a delicious buffet breakfast. You can then choose to take part in an activity of your choice – BodyHoliday provides a long list of things to do during your stay. The resort boasts three swimming pools, a fitness centre, a wellness centre, plus a range of water sport activities and aerobic and yoga classes.

But BodyHoliday isn’t just all about exercise. The hotel boasts three restaurants and a deli, both serving up gourmet-style dishes, health juices and tasty snacks. There’s also nightly live entertainment and the resort’s clubhouse has recently undergone refurbishments, so now features a piano bar – perfect for unwinding after a hard day’s detoxing.

November is the hottest month in St Lucia, with highs of 31˚C but February holds its own with some rather impressive averages of around 26˚C.

 

 

Time for a January detox?

No doubt the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Indeed, once you’ve swallowed your last roast potato, forced down your final spoonful of Christmas pudding and knocked back the dregs of your mulled wine, you may start to feel a little uncomfortable about how much you’ve indulged. Don’t worry though – for every problem has a solution and our top five spas – all shrewdly placed in warm and desirable locations – hand-picked by Jack Pitts will quickly wipe away your guilt and have you back to your usual bubbly self

Woman doing yoga © Jean Henrique Wichinoski

Amansala – Riviera Maya

On the east coast of MexicoAmansala provides expert relaxation amid turquoise waters and mock Mayan architecture. Easily accessed by a two-hour drive from Cancun, the centre offers Yoga retreats – fitness tune-ups and much acclaimed six-day detox camps.  If you feel compelled to drag yourself away from the massage table, then Mayan ruins litter the surrounding landscapes and guides can easily be arranged, or, if you’re really serious about detoxing, you can rent a bike and ride between them.

With potential highs of 27C during the day, Riviera Maya is one of your best bets for a winter tan – indeed, make the most of the resort’s 7 hours of daily sunshine in January.

Lanzarote Retreats – Lanzarote

For a quick fix of vitamin D make the short trip to Lanzarote Retreats. Choose from an eco-friendly selection of self-catering yurts in various locations around the site, or upgrade to one of the white washed apartments for real luxury. This place is all about peace and quiet, unspoilt beaches and tranquil nights by the sea, but for those who like to get out and about it’s easy to visit the rest of the island from the retreat. Lanzarote is far enough south that its weather stays pretty good all year round, so expect highs of 20C and 8 hours of sunshine this month.

Bloom Retreats – Majorca

For holistic relaxation that torpedoes the heart of your stress, visit Bloom Retreats in DeiaMajorca. These women-only camps, run by the legendary PR guru and woman’s rights activist Lynne Franks, take place twice a month and focus on learning new things, usually from experts in a particular field. The Spring Detox session from February 15 – 19 will be run by Ursula Peer, a renowned nutritionist. Book early as places in this Mediterranean paradise fill up quickly. Expect 7 hours a day of winter sunshine with temperatures that can rise to 15C at this time of year.

In:spa retreats: Marrakesh

In:spa retreats in Marrakesh have been welcoming the over-indulged and over-wrought for a decade now. They have such faith in their programme that they boast: “After just seven days, we promise you will return home refreshed, energised, and looking and feeling amazing.” Supervised nutrition, an optional timetable of fitness and yoga and regular trips into the dewy, fresh air of the Atlas Mountains leave guests feeling refreshed and content. Best of all, you can enjoy up to 11 hours of sunshine each day and peak temperatures of 18C in January.

Freely Given Retreats – Devon

Inspired by the Buddhists of South East AsiaFreely Given Retreats in Devon aims to open up wellbeing retreats to all by not setting a price and asking people to pay what they can. The suggested donation is around £150 but is not compulsory. The retreats teach “insight meditation”, a type of mindfulness in three locations in and around Dartmoor National Park.

Magical Marrakesh

A mesmerising, exotic city steeped in history, rich in culture and vibrant with life awaits you – and the best thing is, it’s only a 4-hour flight away. Jack Pitts delves into the many wonderful delights of Marrakesh in Morocco

Mendicant musician playing the guimbri © Ahron de Leeuw

The red city

It’s almost impossible to believe that Marrakesh, the “Red City”, is only 4 hours away from London. Sitting in a shady cafe and watching the city’s seductive chaos drift by, the memory of a clinical airport under grey clouds fades and then disappears completely. Street performers tumble through the air, charmers coax snakes out of clay pots and men with moustaches as thick as broom heads push carts piled with potions; in the background you hear the impassioned wail of the muezzin – here, is something truly different.

Marrakesh has been captivating British visitors for centuries. During the 60s, the Rolling Stones were among some of the city’s more notorious visitors when it became a beacon for hippies looking for sunshine and culture. And arguably the most famous Brit of all, Winston Churchill, fell in love with the city early in life, loudly singing its praises and spending much of his time there in later life.

Now is the time to visit Marrakesh for some late summer sun, with temperatures unlikely to drop below 17°C and the summer crowds safely shivering in Britain while you’ll enjoy up to 11 hours of daily sunshine. Here, you’ll find culture and excitement that cannot be found in Europe, and all attainable in less time than most people spend on the tube every day.

Like nowhere else

Driving from the airport you are struck by how similar the city is to any other. Here and there kids are playing, metal shutters cover shop doors, and billboards advertise well-known goods. But that soon changes as you step out of the car into the old city, when the real Marrakesh rushes up to meet to you in a foray of car horns and mingled music.

Marrakesh has housed three royal dynasties and has been a trading crossroads for Africa, the Middle East and Europe for thousands of years. This explosion of cultures can be most clearly felt among the labyrinth of souqs (shops and stalls) that make up the bustling centre. Here, vibrant sights, smells and colours combine to make an unmissable shopping experience – remember to haggle!

Once you’ve pulled yourself away from the markets, try the food (Marrakesh was once a crossroads of the spice trade), head to a local hammam (bathouse), take a tour of a tanning factory, or simply lose yourself in the endless, interwoven backstreets.

When to go

Although Marrakesh is a year round destination, spring and autumn are the best times to visit. In the few months before and after the high season, Marrakesh begins to simmer slightly. Temperature drops from the mid-30s to the more bearable mid-20s, and the number of tourists decreases too, resulting in a much more relaxing stay. At this time of year the maze of shops and cafes that defines the city is a lot less stifling, too.

The Bahia Palace is a palace and a set of gardens in Marrakech. They were built in the late 19th century, and as with other buildings of the period in other countries, it was intended to capture the essence of the Islamic and Moroccan style © Jorge Láscar

What to do

Marrakesh is a shopper’s heaven, so leave some bag space and expect to come back with at least a few trinkets to remind your of your trip. When you’ve filled your rucksack, there’s still plenty more to do.

Head to Djemaa el-Fna, the famous square that acts as an open-air theatre, here talented buskers perform from morning to, well, morning.

Be humbled at the Ali Ben Youseff Madrasa, a college for teaching Islam built in the 16th century. Like much Muslim architecture at the time, it is simultaneously spectacular and understated. The 19th century Bahia Palace is also well worth a visit.

Tanning hides and wool spinning are two of the cities great trades and tours can be made across the city, often whether you want them or not.

The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range across the northwestern stretch of Africa extending about 2,500 km through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia
© Tola A.

If you have more time, take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. In winter, parts of the range can be skied on but at this time of year it is a lovely place to relax away from the bustle of the city with sweet minty tea and spectacular views.

Where to dine

Marrakesh is inundated with places to eat and often at very healthy prices. Eat with the locals at stalls on the Djemaa el-Fna Bisarra, or find more refined establishments in the capillaries that surround it. Apart from the ubiquitous tagines, white bean soup is also a popular local dish, which the Berbers’ revere for its restorative qualities.  Try Pepe Nero for delicious traditional cuisine and fantastic service.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll be happy – there are a number of great cooking schools dotted around the city. Using hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge the schools’ teachers will teach you all about Moroccan cooking, where to source the best ingredients, which spices blend well and how to create distinctive North African flavours.

Where to stay

Staying in Marrakesh is all about personal preference. Many like to stay within the old city in a Riad, a traditional Morococan dwelling with an interior garden. Riads are cool in the heat and block out the hubbub of the city with thick walls and charming décor. However, being inside the old city means that space is at a premium and these places can often be small and expensive. Step out of the walls and the same money will get you an extra bit of glamour, as well as the trappings that space affords such as a very welcome swimming pool. Click here for a myriad of accommodation choices.

October half term holidays

Make the most of the half term break this month and sneak in a bit of sunshine before things really take a turn for the worse weather-wise in the UK, and we’re unceremoniously hauled into the season of woolly socks and winter coats. There’s some fantastic holiday destinations in Europe and further afield, read on for our top picks…

In the Med…

Portugal’s Algarve is still lovely and warm in late October – great for all you beach bums and golf lovers. Albufeira is the most popular destination for holidaymakers in the Algarve, and it’s not had to see why. Lagos is famous for its award winning beaches, especially Meia Praia, which stretches for 4km and is ideal for avid sunbathers and watersports lovers alike. Take your pick from some of the many stunning golf courses that line the coast – Pine Cliffs Golf Course is built in a pine forest and affords wonderful views of the Algarve’s golden beaches. Kids are catered for too, with some brilliant waterparks and zoos ensuring there’s plenty of fun for all the family. For up-to-date weather forecasts in Algarve click here.

Crete, one of Greece’s southernmost – and largest – islands, is also a safe bet at this time of year for reliably pleasant temperatures and sunshine. Explore the island’s spectacular 1,000 kilometre-long coastline dotted with exquisite coves, bays and peninsulas, many of which offer numerous sandy beaches to while away a sunny day. There’s also a myriad of pretty fishing villages such as the picturesque Paxos, ancient treasures and a variety of delicious Cretan culinary delights to enjoy. For up-to-date weather forecasts in Crete click here.

The Canary Islands are always going to get a well-deserved mention when listing top family holiday destinations that won’t break the bank and will deliver on great year-round weather, places to stay, activities and much more. With average daily temperatures sitting comfortably around the mid-20s well into late October, the popular resorts Los Cristianos, Playa de las Americas and Costa Adeje in Tenerife – with their multitude of long, sandy beaches and inviting waters – are bound to help beat the onset of the winter blues and turn back the clock, albeit temporarily, to the heady days of summer. Lanzarote, also in the Canary Islands, certainly doesn’t let the side down in the temperature and sunshine stakes, offers a unique, striking landscape, with the western side of the island typically being hotter and drier than the eastern side. October is one of the best months for big game fishing, which is a popular pastime on the island, plus make the most of the warm sea temperatures and get into the big blue; take your pick from scuba diving, snorkelling, or by simply enjoying a daily dip. Click here for an up-to-date weather forecasts in Tenerife and Lanzarote.

Majorca in Spain enjoys a Mediterranean climate all-year round and daily temperatures average around 25°C to 21°C throughout the month, with things cooling down towards the end of October. This pleasant weather allows for enjoying the island’s many beautiful walking and cycling trails – the island boasts wonderful wildlife and a dazzling variety of flora. Nature lovers should definitely not miss a visit to the S’Albufera Wetlands. The Coves de Campanet in Alcudia are another must-see – these amazing caves are famous for the fossilised remains, as well as numerous pathways, chambers and pools. For up-to-date weather forecasts in Majorca click here.

Elsewhere in Europe…

Perhaps you and your family want to squeeze in a bit of action before the season of slumping on the sofa having stuffed yourself silly kicks in? If so, why not consider a cycling holiday – popular destinations include Ghent, Belgium, the Loire Valley in France and the Catalan coast of Spain (including a few nights in Barcelona perhaps). Other enjoyable and scenic routes include east to west across the Algarve, Portugal and the lakes of Bavaria, Germany.

For a truly memorable and unique holiday experience, there’s nowhere quite like Iceland, plus it’s only a short flight away. Soak up the breath-taking scenery by exploring the island’s stunning natural parks, the South coast, Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. You could even take in this beautiful country on horseback. Then, soothe your sore bones in Iceland’s famous geothermal pools before sampling traditional tasty fare such as “harðfiskur”, a type of dried fish. Best of all, in late October you have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. The temperatures may not rival that of the Med but you’ll still enjoy plenty of sunshine at this time of year.

Venturing further afield…

There’s a lot to be said for sun and sand, but if you’re after fascinating history and culture too, then Morocco has both by the bucket load. With a daily temperature lingering around 21 in Marrakesh, the weather is perfect for exploring this beautiful part of the world, furthermore, you’ll feel as if you’ve travelled across the globe but in reality you can fly to Morocco in just three hours. October is a great time to go, as you’ll catch the festival Eid al-Fitr, which signals the end of Ramadan. Expect feasting, music, dancing and general merriment – and don’t forget to haggle in the magical souks and chill out in a hammam. For thrills and spills, head to Oasiria Water Park – great for the kids – and for adventure-seekers, why not incorporate a trekking trip into the Atlas Mountains for a truly special experience. Click here for up-to-date weather forecasts in Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains.

October is an ideal month to go to Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, with wonderful weather minus the oppressively hot temperatures. Rain is rare and the sea is still lovely and warm, so now is a perfect time to learn to dive. If your children are aged 10 years or more, they can learn to dive and achieve a PADI qualification – surely a fantastic skill for them to capitalise on in their later years. Don’t miss Ras um Sid, a stunning beach resort with a large diving and snorkelling site brimming with colourful coral and marine life. Check travel advice for Sharm el Sheikh from the Foreign Office before booking your holiday. For up-to-date weather forecasts in Sharm el Sheikh click here.

Thomson and First Choice introduce 29 new routes for summer 2015 from regional UK airports

Thomson and First Choice are pleased to announce that in summer 2015 they will be increasing capacity at UK regional airports through the introduction of 29 new routes including Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia, Marrakesh in Morocco and Antalya in Turkey, as well as the addition of further weekly flights for existing routes across the regions.

The move to introduce these routes is part of the UK’s largest tour operator’s strategy to ensure customers across the UK can fly from their local airport and stay at the best hotels in some of the most exciting destinations.

Summer 2015 new route highlights include:

  • Five new routes from Birmingham Airport to Agadir, Morocco; Chania, Greece; Djerba, Tunisia, Sal, Cape Verde and Porto Santo
  • Four new routes from Bristol Airport to Santorini, Greece; Pula, Croatia; Marrakech, Morocco and Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Re-introduction of the route to Antalya, Turkey from Cardiff Airport
  • New route from Humberside Airport to Palma, Majorca
  • Four new routes from Manchester Airport to Alghero, Italy; Djerba, Tunisia; Split, Croatia and current winter route to La Palma in the Canaries
  • New route to Mahon, Menorca from Norwich Airport, as well as the addition of a further weekly flight for existing route Dalaman, Turkey
  • Scottish customers will benefit from five new routes, including Dubrovnik, Croatia and Marrakesh, Morocco from Glasgow; Antalya, Turkey and Rhodes, Greece from Edinburgh, and Faro, Portugal from Aberdeen

Not only will customers from the 20 regional airports served by Thomson and First Choice be able to fly to some fantastic destinations, but they will also have the opportunity to choose varying durations – not just the standard seven and 14 night stays. Customers will now also have access to some of Thomson and First Choice’s most popular flagship hotels. These include the brand new for summer 2015 Thomson Sensatori Resorts in Ibiza and Turkey’s Dalaman region.

From next summer Thomson customers will also have the opportunity to experience the beautiful and less explored Croatian coastal region of the Dalmatian Coast, which will see Thomson launch its third Couples property in Croatia – the Adriatic Beach Hotel, served by a brand new flight to Split from Manchester.

Croatia’s popular Dubrovnik region will also be available from Glasgow, Bristol and Newcastle and will receive a second flight from Manchester, Gatwick and Birmingham, offering holidaymakers the chance to enjoy a Thomson Cruises’ cruise and stay holiday in Dubrovnik, with Thomson Celebration sailing out of the port for the summer season.

Karen Switzer, Director of Aviation Planning for Thomson and First Choice, said of the move: “The demand for more regional routes is strong, and adding additional capacity from the 20 UK airports we serve as well as introducing 29 new routes demonstrates our commitment to getting holidaymakers to their sun spot more easily.

“Expanding access to our portfolio of destinations and hotels is a key part of our overall strategy and we hope that this move will enhance the holiday experience for our customers.”

© First Choice

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