The idea of a holiday where you spend your time exercising seems a bit weird. We’ve probably all seen air-conditioned hotel gyms with people on treadmills but I’m in the camp that says a holiday – even a business trip – should be about getting off that damn wheel.
Yet as I headed across the rainforest waist of 27-mile-long St Lucia, the tranquil Caribbean island, a holiday dedicated to healthy pursuits loomed. I was en route to a BodyHoliday, which has led the way in what we now know as ‘wellness’ since it was started in 1988 by founder Craig Barnard.
Back in the 1980s people thought it bizarre that someone might want a Caribbean holiday that wasn’t spent in a sybaritic haze, laced with loungers, Piz Buin and pina coladas. Then ideas shifted, and now every sane hotelier has a massage table and some ylang-ylang in the pantry.
A personalised itinerary
I went up to my telly-free room, clutching my personalised treatment and activities itinerary; a bewildering array of treatments at curry-menu length, from wholesome outdoor pursuits such as stand-up paddle-boarding to esoteric ladies-that-spa specials such as the double-person, four-handed Abhyanga massage. From Ayurveda to that village-hall rump-shaker Zumba, it was an A to Z of wellness.
The setting for The Body Holiday is a lovely; crescent of sand between two rocky spits covered in sprouting trees. Like broccoli arranged around a banana. I walked along the beach, soaking up the Caribbean sun and the vitamin D that my home climate denies me.
Indeed, the resort has pioneered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) programmes involving lashings of light, counselling and sun, for people suffering from the winter doldrums. “Due to demand, we created something specifically for SAD, to make the darker season more bearable,” says resort scion Andrew Barnard.
Easing mind and muscles
After a SPF15 hour I headed up to the resort’s Ayurveda centre. This was the jewel in its crown and the cliché is apt: Craig Barnard, an India-phile, has landed a slice of the Mughal empire in St Lucia. From its glammy Taj Mahal-like arch, you have the best view of the sea in the whole pile.
I de-shoed and lay down for a ‘Shirodhara’: a special massage that included the masseuse pouring oil continuously on my forehead, on to the fabled third eye, to de-stress the mind and nervous system. This was the first treatment they suggested for me, so they must have really thought I needed it.
After a second massage in the afternoon – a ‘mind and body restoration’, which made me think of a derelict house – I came into a zoned-out torpor. Like the lobotomised Jack Nicholson character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I made my unsteady way back to my room and nodded off, awakening later to a feast of grilled fish and vegetables. By the second day of this, as the equatorial sun slid down, my shoulders too were easing downwards, my spirit upwards.
A 7.30am workout
I awoke next day to a scary-sounding challenge: to work out at 7.30am with UK decathlete gold medallist Daley Thompson and UK pole-vaulter Kate Staples, once the TV Gladiator Zodiac and still an amazon of repute. They now run the WellFit programme, offering ‘high-octane cardio’, in hotels.
Daley looked almost the same, as if he’d had that dusting of talcum powder they give actors to make them look a bit older, and enthused about Britain’s new-found post-Olympic sportiness. “Brilliant,” he said, dropping his sarky workout persona. “Someone recently said to me it was the best mood he’d found the country in since the end of world war two.”
Up that broccoli hill was a small golf course and an island, with a little Mughal-style pergola in the middle of a pond. Beyond that was a space for yoga and tai chi, which I did. I will spare you the details – there is such a thing as a yoga bore – but it was a better person that arrived back in the UK the next day.
I even took the First Capital Connect train from Gatwick to Farringdon without seething. That’s something.
Kuoni (0844 488 0508) offers seven-night, all-inclusive breaks at The BodyHoliday, St Lucia, in a luxury room. Includes flights from Gatwick on Virgin Atlantic with transfers in resort. Prices for April 2013: from £1,769 per person, based on two sharing
Watch the BodyHoliday video