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.

 

 

How to pack for different climate zones

Cruising can be fantastic fun for the whole family whatever the weather. With an ever expanding list of exciting destinations accessible via cruise ship plus a constant developing arena in on-board entertainment and conveniences, it is rare you’ll ever hear the phrase “it’s a shame about the weather” on your cruise holiday. Come rain or shine; activities, amusement and exploration are in abundance on modern cruise holidays and providing you are prepared for the climate zone of your choice, you can eliminate any weather woes from spoiling what’s bound to be your best holiday to date.

I’m packed © the opoponax

So you’ve chosen your next port of call, booked your holiday and your famous (yet slightly annoying for anyone not going) holiday countdown has begun. But when it comes to packing, what should you take and how can you ensure a good time is had no matter what the forecast has in store? Take some time to learn a little about the weather zone you are entering and with these handy tips plus some essential pre-planning, you will be well on your way to forecast fortune telling and smooth cruising in no time.

Equatorial

No prizes for guessing these are the countries hugging the equator. If you are cruising to the Equatorial climate you’ll likely be visiting some truly exotic destinations such as Columbia, Brazil and Ecuador in South America, Central America, Central Africa, India, Indonesia and the northern coast of Australia. When cruising along the equator itself you’ll be at zero degrees latitude, the widest point of the earth and exactly between the northern and southern hemispheres. Most countries within the equatorial climate experience just two seasons, wet (tropical rainfall and higher humidity) and dry (cooler temperatures with less rain). Biodiversity is rich here due to the surge in tropical humidity; this also means some of the world’s greatest rainforests are found within this climate zone. If the air feels dense and heavy be prepared for some short but heavy rainfall, plus if you’re cruising during rainy season, air conditioning and onboard entertainment should be high on your check list.

Equatorial Essentials: Rain mac, 50+ sun protection, bug spray, long sleeves, sports socks and closed toe walking shoes or boots for jungle excursions, binoculars, book on wildlife spotting.

Arid

Are you planning a cruise to the Middle East, Australia or Western America? You might find yourself entering an arid climate. Destinations such as (inland) California, Arizona, Texas, Morocco, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Australia can have extremely dry regions and deserts. Although they are astounding in physical appearance, these deserts and their surrounds can be extremely hot and inhospitable places. On the upside, annual rainfall is low and you can experience some beautiful blue skies as descending air and areas of high pressure eliminates the presence of clouds. An arid climate can also bring much colder temperatures as night falls so bare that in mind for evening attire and sleepwear.

Arid Essentials: Water bottle, sun hat for shade, cover ups (choose comfortable materials like cotton and linen), sunglasses, sandals, thermal pyjamas, eye drops, Vaseline.

Mediterranean

Cruising the Mediterranean is a dream come true for most holiday makers, and the balmy Mediterranean climate makes it easy to see why. This climate zone includes countries and regions roughly up to 40 degrees latitude either side of the equator but can also be present slightly further afield. Countries within this climate zone include Portugal, Spain, (the south of) France, Italy, Greece and Turkey but also (far south) Western Australia can experience similar conditions. Due to a seasonal shift in descending air, summers of the Mediterranean climate zone can be warm, sunny and dry with low rainfall. Pleasant and bearable temperatures are generally experienced throughout summer and some of the world’s best beaches are blessed with this weather, but searing heatwaves can also occur so sun protection is still important. Winter will bring cooler temperatures but still shouldn’t be cold enough to warrant packing a bulky overcoat.

Mediterranean Essentials: Swimwear, beach towel, snorkel, waterproof camera, shorts, thin layers, lightweight jacket, walking shoes.

Snow

You may not always see snow when cruising within the snow climate zone but overall temperatures are definitely colder for the most part and summers are short lived. Destinations within this region include Alaska, Canada, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Within this higher northern latitude the winters can be long, harsh and very cold so you’ll want to take some extra thermal layers if you plan on doing some shore exploring outside of the summer months. Frost melting and birds tweeting announce the awakening of spring in some areas and you’ll need good quality hiking boots to explore the magnificent terrains of Alaska, Canada or Sweden. Despite its snow coated stereotype, temperatures can still reach up to 30 degrees in the city of Moscow so consider short sleeves if you’re travelling to Russia’s capital city during summer. Stunning scenery changes drastically from vast thick fir tree forests to baron and empty acres of tundra the further north you explore the snow climate zone.

Snow Essentials: Hat, gloves & scarf for winter, warm (waterproof) coat, lightweight fleece, synthetic fibres (warm in winter, cool in summer), hiking boots, moisturiser, nature or bird spotting book.

Polar

The north and south Polar regions experience different climates but both harbour some of the coldest temperatures in the world. However, those that don’t mind a colder cruise will be rewarded with breath-taking scenery, amazing uninhabited landscapes and some incredible opportune photo moments. Destinations covered by the polar climate zone include (northern) Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, (north and north east) Russia, Antarctica and some areas of western China. The Arctic climate can be more bearable than the south due to moderation from the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that temperatures can reflect those of a mainland European winter. You’ll likely witness frozen ocean and some incredible ice glaciers during a cruise to the arctic north so prepare for the possibility of freezing temperatures. The sky is clear and you’ll want to bring a travel telescope or decent camera for star gazing or chasing the famous northern lights. Wrap up extra warm for a polar cruise to the south because temperatures here have been recorded at -80 Celsius. The air here is drier than most deserts so protect your skin and keep hydrated.

Polar Essentials: Thermal clothes, hiking or snow boots, coat, hat/scarf/gloves/balaclava, digital SLR camera, waterproofs, pocket tissues, torch, polarised wraparound sunglasses, sea sickness medication, swimwear (for natural thermal springs), travel telescope, book on star gazing.

Temperate

Expect a bit of a mixture if you are entering a temperate climate, as this category can include aspects of a Mediterranean, sub-tropical or maritime climate. You could even expect four seasons in one day if you are visiting the UK for example, an island with a typical maritime climate which means conditions are influenced by the ocean. A rain mac, sunglasses and scarf could all be of use during a trip here no matter the time of year. Other destinations experiencing a temperate climate include northern mainland Europe, (western and central) USA, (western) China, (north west) Argentina.

Temperate Essentials: Rain mac, sunglasses, hat, comfy walking shoes, sense of humour, layers, sea sickness medication, guide to cloud spotting

*Climate zones depicted from the Koppen climate classification. Weather conditions are always subject to change and it is advised to check official weather forecasts pre-departure for a happy holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer 2015 – plan ahead!

Help banish the winter blues and book up your summer holiday now. Here, Ozel Rowland brings us some of the best places to stay this summer…

Costa Adeje © Javier Lastras

Dream Hotel Gran Tacanda, Costa Adeje, Tenerife

Why not treat yourself this summer and indulge in the five-star comforts of the Dream Hotel Gran Tacanda? Located in the popular resort Costa Adeje in Tenerife, Spain this hotel boasts no less than four salt-water pools, three bars and three excellent restaurants – unsurprisingly, this hotel is a top choice for couples and families alike. There’s also a spa and gym to keep you in shape and suitably pampered, and parents looking to snatch some romantic time alone can take advantage of the free childcare and babysitting services for children over the age of three. There are also a variety of fun leisure and cultural programmes on offer for those wanting to head out for a day’s sight seeing.

Guests wanting to catch some rays outside the hotel grounds are in luck as Gran Tacanda is ideally situated right next to Playa del Duque beach. It’s also close to a range of shops and mini markets, including Fañabe and Plaza del Duque shopping centres – ideal if you fancy a spot of retail therapy.

August is the best time to visit Costa Adeje as temperatures reach an impressive 29˚C, while June and July enjoy temperatures of around 24˚C.

The hotel is offering 20% off the final price if you book your 2015 summer holiday now.

Riad le Clos des Arts, Marrakech, Morocco

Voted top three in TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards 2015 for best small hotel and best service in Marrakech, Riad le Cles des Arts takes its roots as an artistic guesthouse seriously and as a result is a firm favourite with guests for its authentic Moroccan décor and ambience. The rooms are adorned with traditional Moroccan styling – think warm terracotta tints and bright ceramic mosaic tiles. Each room comes with a lavish four-poster bed, a plush sofa and beautiful Kilim rug, too.

Temperatures in Marrakech, Morocco can hit highs of 38˚C in July, with a milder average of 29˚C during the other summer months. Handily, the hotel’s roof boasts a lovely pool, so you’ll never be too far away from a reviving, cooling dip.  The hotel also offers additional activities such as artisanal workshops and cookery classes, the latter being ideal if you want to learn how to rustle up an authentic tagine.

The hotel is located in the heart of the Medina, which is just a five-minute walk to the main square, Jemaa el Fna. Nearby are the Museum of Moroccan Arts (Dar si Siad) and the grand Bahia Palace – both are perfect for a cultural interlude into this magnificent city.

Prices vary from about £86 to £135 per night during peak season. This includes traditional Moroccan  mint tea and pastries upon arrival, along with a daily Moroccan breakfast and free Wifi.

Piazza Pretoria, Palermo © Dimitry B.

B&B Mondello Resort, Sicily, Italy

Situated in the peaceful suburbs of Palermo in Sicily, Italy this luxury B&B is the ideal choice for couples seeking refuge in a homely yet modern and stylish setting. With only five rooms, this resort offers an intimate atmosphere along with a gorgeous garden and pool area.

Weather averages in summer tend to reach 26˚C-27˚C, with August hitting around 29˚C, so why not sit back and lounge in the shade of the B&B’s Sicilian pines before taking a much-needed dip in the pool.

Hosts, Robert and Roberta, provide an attentive yet unobtrusive service with a breakfast buffet available every morning in the B&B’s spacious terrace. The rooms meanwhile boast a simple, minimalist interior and come fully equipped with all the expected amenities, while the bathrooms, complete with luxury fittings, are designed to provide a calming haven – perfect for soothing tired limbs after a day out exploring.

If you’re looking for sand and sea as well as sun, the pretty, powdery shoreline of Mondello beach is less than a mile away from the B&B. The bus station is also within walking distance, making Mondello Resort a great launching pad for exploring Palermo. There’s also a free bike service for guests wanting to get around on two wheels.

Prices are around £839 for a double room shared by two adults in August. Visit their website for full details on rates.

Aphrodite’s Rock, the legendary birthplace of Venus, or Aphrodite © Stav

Apollonia Holiday Apartments, Paphos, Cyprus

Paphos’s top-rated, family-run Apollonia apartments offer all the comforts of your own home while providing an ideal base for discovering this beautiful Cypriot city.

Paphos, Cyprus enjoys highs of 30˚C in August and thanks to its coastal location, a cooling breeze takes things down a notch come the evening.

Aside from an impressive pool and peaceful sun lounging area outside complete with a bar and an outside gym, the complex offers a number of different apartments to suit individual requirements, with studios or one and two bedroom apartments available. All are fully-equipped and decked with a simple yet comfortable interior, there’s a daily cleaning service, too.

Apollonia is located in the main tourist district of Kato Paphos, which is home to a variety of top attractions including the ancient ruins of Acropolis and Odeon. Meanwhile, the seafront, along with plenty of local shops, restaurants and bars are within walking distance from the apartments.

Receive a 22% discount if you book your summer holiday now.

Villa Maya, Cancun, Mexico

The Mexican city of Cancun is a world-renowned choice for holidaymakers, well loved for its fascinating Mayan history, large stretches of pearl-white beaches and thriving social scene.

Average summer temperatures reach 28˚C in Cancun, Mexico so you won’t be short of sunshine and opportunities to spend plenty of time outside relaxing and exploring.

When it comes to a great place to stay, Villa Maya is a top rental accommodation, serving as a ‘flexi-house’ perfect for families or group holiday bookings. Inside, you’ll find five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living room, dining area and an outside terrace. The villa is located in a quiet residential area, away from the main tourist zone, so expect peace and quiet. It’s also close to a good range of shops, including a Walmart, as well as buzzing local cafes and restaurants.

Transfers to and from the airport, as well a free tour by the owners, can be organised in advance. Summer prices start from £879 per week.

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.

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