Janet Christie: Forget lazing on the lounger, this summer’s hottest health destination is self-improvement

YOU may be planning to spend your holidays doing nothing more onerous than working on your tan and building up a head of steam flicking the pages of 50 Shades of Gray.

YOU may be planning to spend your holidays doing nothing more onerous than working on your tan and building up a head of steam flicking the pages of 50 Shades of Gray.

Or perhaps you view a break as an opportunity for self-improvement and have signed up for everything from kite-surfing in the Algarve to llama-herding in the Andes.

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For an increasing number of people, holidays are a time to book themselves in for a break that comes with a medical or therapeutic benefit. But there’s no reason why a health MOT can’t involve plenty of TLC, as these days boot camps and mind/body overhauls often come in a five-star environment.

According to a recent survey by Health and Fitness Travel, 82 per cent of people say that health and fitness is very important to them when they’re away from home, while 85 per cent are willing to try a health and fitness holiday. According to Paul Joseph, co-founder of the company, this kind of holiday can be a great way to reset the body, learn a new approach and develop good habits to bring home.

Take the Power to Choose experience, specifically aimed at people looking for a holiday with a long-lasting effect on their lives, which involves chilling out on a yacht in the south of France for a week. Captained by psychologist Graham W Price, the creator of Acceptance Action Training, the itinerary involves sailing on his 50ft Oceanis every day, staying at his house in the idyllic haven of Port Grimaud and small group sessions aimed at eliminating stress, procrastination and fear. There’s also the potential to improve relationships and develop intuition.

Very nice, but wouldn’t just hanging out on a yacht in the south of France for a week leave even the most stressed-out work junkie feeling 100 times better and able to get on much better with their nearest and dearest anyway? “Of course it would,” he agrees. “But we are not measuring the impact at the end of the week. We are measuring it long-term, and we know from past courses that people emerge more powerful and effective. We are doing development training to help people change the way they think and behave rather than trying to change things around them that can’t be changed.”

But how is this different from the usual rub-and-scrub spa break? “It’s hugely different because it transforms people mentally and how they behave, whereas spa treatments might transform how they feel, but won’t change their behaviour,” he says.

“It’s about learning to be more effective, resilient, resistant to stress. successful and motivated,” says Price, who also wants to take the courses into prisons, an environment worlds away from the yacht experience.

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In line with the trend to beef up the medical expertise at spas, Champneys, already one of the most respected health and well-being resorts in the UK, has extended its staff of health professionals. In a bid to reinforce its aim to be one of the leading medical spas, it is now specialising in heart health and back pain, as well as a whole range of physical complaints.

However, even with its enhanced medical slant and luxurious reputation, Champneys can’t guarantee sunshine. For that there is Lux Island Resorts, based in Mauritius and the Maldives, where the fitness programmes include yoga, nutrition and exercise to bring the body and mind back into balance. And sporting a tan can’t help but make us look healthier anyway.

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Boot camps are all the rage too, but with the insertion of the word ‘luxury’ are as far away from yomping with the SAS as a Crème de la Mer facial is being hit over the backside with a string of kelp on a cold Scottish beach.

Billed as a ‘rethink’ boot camp, the uberluxe experience at the five-star La Reserve at Ramatuelle, just outside St Tropez, is the opposite to a starvation military-fitness experience. Aimed at emphasising general well-being, mental health, fitness and anti-ageing, the camps run in the spring and autumn and combine Nordic walking on the Côte d’Azur’s coastal paths with yoga and spa treatments. Kicking off with a check-up, the experience lasts five nights and includes up to 20km walks every day, complemented by spa treatments in the only Crème de la Mer flagship spa, while the diet is taken care of with a low-calorie menu that cuts out added refined sugars and fats, so you can’t fail to go home slimmer and fitter. Not to mention a whole lot smoother. Who spas wins.

There’s nothing new about taking the waters to rejuvenate health, with the practice dating back to Roman times. Today Europe’s traditional spas are happy to update their programme to make the most of therapy tourists. At the five-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, in Switzerland, there are aperitifs on tap as well as a spa menu that incorporates traditional Tibetan and Russian naturopathic medicine and treatments – such as one that involves 90-minutes of being smeared and massaged with honey to exploit its healing properties and cleanse, nourish and fortify the skin and the immune system. Sweet.

Alongside the traditionalists are purpose-built resorts such as the Longevity Wellness Resort by La Clinique de Paris, in Portugal’s Algarve. Typical of medical spas that have a team of in-house experts who develop personalised wellness programmes for each guest, as opposed to hotels that concentrate on beauty treatments, here the emphasis is on preventative medicine, beauty and slimming, detox and stress management, ageing management and rejuvenation.

So if your goal is to shape up this summer, all you need is motivation and a healthy bank balance to match. Or you could just lie on a beach, smear yourself with sun cream, kick back and relax. Your holiday, your choice.

The Power to Choose starts at £695 per person. Transfers, training, materials, sailing, accommodation, food and wine are all included. See www.abicord.com/ port-grimaud; Golden Honey Treatment Deluxe, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, £197 per person. Nightly rates at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz start from £330 and include breakfast, use of the spa and therme and daily fitness and relaxation lessons. Longevity Wellness Resort Monchique, Lugar do Montinho, Algarve, Portugal (www.longevitywellnessresort.com), from £103. Champneys (www.champneys.com), various packages, including a weekend bootcamp from £199.95. La Reserve, Ramateulle, France (www.lareserve.ch), full-board, four-day programme, including all meals and treatments, £880, accommodation from €550 per night; Lux fitness programmes (www.luxislandresorts.com).

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