Jenny Hewett goes to Italy in search of a health and fitness holiday
Of all the reasons we might feel compelled to travel, physical health and well-being have not always been high on the agenda. But in recent years, fitness-themed vacations have emerged as a trend for lifestyle-driven seasoned travellers looking to inject some healthy living into their holiday. Whether it’s a yoga and pole fit retreat in Barcelona, Muay Thai boxing in Phuket or a complete detox in Sri Lanka, the options nowadays are endless. And hedonistic holidaymakers are realising there’s something to be said for coming back from a trip generally feeling better.
With that in mind (and sinful amounts of Italian cuisine in our bellies), we check ourselves into Italy’s Ti Sana Detox Retreat & Spa, a tiny slice of health-honing know-how in the north of the country, about half an hour’s drive from Milan.
Switching pasta for pumpkin seeds was never going to be an easy feat for this food-obsessed femme, having spent the previous two weeks strung out on it, pizzas and paninis in Italy’s coastal playground. It’s recommended that before embarking on the detox at Ti Sana, you cut out all cured meats and other temptations a week or two prior to arrival. But the encouraging concept of ‘when in Rome’ gets the better of us and we take it upon ourselves, naturally, to plough through the country’s finest epicurean delights with abandon. In the same vein as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, we are there to eat first and worry later.
The prospect of giving up the things we love so dearly for a measly three days begins to weigh on us as we edge closer to Lecco, the quiet lake district where Ti Sana awaits. Located a 40-minute drive from Lake Como, we can’t stop thinking about all the gelato George Clooney must be eating. We look longingly out of the car at Milan’s delis and shoe stores as the hotel car hurries us, protectively almost, through the city centre. On arrival we find the property itself is cosy and understated, a low-rise brickwork construction originally built in the 18th century with comfortable rooms and spacious bathrooms featuring rain showers. There is no pool, but a Jacuzzi and sunbeds are there if you find time out of the busy schedule to work on your tan.
We get the immediate impression that the friendly and professional staff here mean business, and there is an expectation that you are there to work hard and soak it all in. Understandably so, for many who come here it’s a matter of life or death. The owner, D’Angelo, is himself the resort’s number one success story and living proof that what they’re doing works. We’re handed our programme for the three days, which is jam-packed with everything from long walks to Tai Chi and yoga sessions, health consultations, informative talks, a spa treatment at the award-winning Ti Sana Spa and colon hydrotherapy using the latest technology, which promises modesty.
As the only two guests on the property, we can’t help but feel the atmosphere would be so different if there were other souls about. Unfortunately, the eerie classical music playing out over the grounds only increases the sense of isolation. Tongue firmly planted in cheek, we could have sworn we saw similar sedation methods in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But there’s no time to lie about and listen to music, we have work to do. After an intense Q&A touching on some squirming subjects about our health and levels of stress, the impressively knowledgeable personal trainer, Marco, performs a number of tests to determine the diagnosis: though of excellent fitness, our brain expends double the energy it should (no surprises there) and we need to build muscle mass to ensure our body is using food efficiently.
Feeling somewhat anxious about the results, that night we sit down to raw chef Valeria’s vitamin-packed green soup, which is followed by some form of protein – tofu and veggies fried in coconut oil one night; avocado and cucumber salsa the next. Breakfasts are hearty and the most enjoyable meal of the day, with sticky granola and dried fruit the firm favourite. Lunches consist of leafy green salads and boiled vegetables with avocado dressing, with juices such as fennel and apple also served at each sitting.
A walk through the natural surrounding area the next morning allows us to escape the cosy confines of Ti Sana and reveals a little of the local landscape, including a stop at the magnificent Church of Miracles. For an authentic experience, we suggest taking a good book to avoid the temptation of using the Wi-Fi and TV in the room, which doesn’t quite fit with the theme. The fitness sessions take place a couple of times a day in a small studio above the reception, led by the affable Marco. As someone who exercises regularly, we complete them with ease and suspect they’re more tailored to those overweight and with less mobility.
Overall, there is a lot to take in over the course of three days, but we come away armed with some life-altering information to help improve the way we feel on a daily basis. Marco helpfully drafts up an exercise and meal plan on departure so that we can put into practise what we’ve learned. After all, knowledge is power and the status of our health is now firmly in our hands. BD1,150 for a four-night Healtheatarian full-board programme including health assessment, treatments, bespoke nutritional programme and physical activities. Ti Sana Detox Retreat & Spa, Lecco, Italy, www.1711.it (+39 039 9920979).