Skiing is a grueling full-body aerobic workout, and regularly puts thousands of calories to good use every single day… However, in my younger days, I can only remember it as an uncomfortably awkward experience for the unfortunate, suffering mountain-goer. As a skier, you’d have to tolerate some serious unpleasantness to survive the week; the sweaty boots would imprison and crush your feet and always inflict shin splint, the skis weighed a ton, chairlifts were slow and unreliable, the clothes weren’t really weatherproof, the food was terrible, the chalet beds were paper-thin and yielded a pitifully un-restorative night’s sleep… and I shan’t touch upon the neon all-in-one “fashion” monstrosities! Thankfully, times have changed unrecognizably, for ’skiing’ has radically upped its game, and nowhere on the planet has this alpine art de vivre been more finely honed than Courchevel. I ventured to the warmth of Hotel Le Saint Roch in Courchevel 1850, to deliver the firstAlpine Active Escape I’ve covered on this blog, and the refined experience I discovered there has transformed my understanding of pure joy on the pistes! Click MORE to see the full experience…
As ever the review shall be structured in 4 parts, as follows: 1) The Fitness Activity, 2) The Hotel Facilities & Service, 3) The Food, and 4) The Summary Thoughts…
… But before I start, perhaps a little background about this magical resort. Courchevel is the jewel in the crown of Les Trois Vallées, a vast interconnected realm of 8 resorts, with 600km of skiable runs, and range of altitudes troughing at 600m above sea-level, and peaking at 3400m. It has 183 ski lifts that can move 260,000 skiers about every hour. It is simply cavernous, which makes it a total playground for winter sports. Courchevel itself has a degree of glamorous repute, with its own Bond-villain style airport, the unusual concentration of designer stores, and even higher concentration of Michelin-starred establishments. Ski resorts often look ugly, adorned with gargoyles of 1980s construction; unimaginative concrete blocks clustered in towns that protrude garishly from the snow. Courchevel however, is the prettiest ski resort I’ve ever seen, with a gorgeous traditional village, immaculately well kept public amenities, elegant and charming architectural structures both new and old, a wonderful aspect to catch the best of the day’s light, and stunning shoulders of fir trees that run down the mountains creating the unique backdrop that identifies this place at a glance. It is then, quite a special thing to spend time here and I savored every moment of it; here are my thoughts in more detail.
1) FITNESS ACTIVITY – THE BENEFITS OF SKIING:
As I sat on the chairlifts and bubbles, I kept a set of notes recalling my fresh reactions to the Ski experience unfolding around me; here are some of the undiluted thoughts I penned:
THRILL: Skiing as a sport is simultaneously thrilling, exhausting, exhilarating, uplifting, and perilous. If nothing else, it is a workout for all of the emotions! The thrill of tearing down the slopes means worldly troubles could not seem further away; adrenaline and endorphins flow freely in this pursuit!
CORE BURN: You’re engaging the muscular ‘core’ to stabilize yourself, for hours on the trot. As a result, this activity hones and refines the agility and balance.
CARDIO: It is a superb aerobic workout; an hour of skiing clocked up c.450 calories of energy consumption for me, though it would be more than double that should you go cross country skiing! Poling along on the flat, something I did quite a fair bit of, is a real leg-burner, and I loved it!
LEG BURN: The entire leg complex benefits from the lunging and squatting silhouettes adopted during a day’s skiing; the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings and the calves all feel the benefit of moving on plains they rarely otherwise do, and bearing stresses as you go; you feel it after day 1, no matter how much you prep! Likewise, the joints and bones take the impact of the shock absorption required to navigate the piste, so are being strengthened too.
FLEXIBILITY: Given that you’re constantly stretching and moving at extreme ranges of motion, skiing naturally improves your flexibility as the week goes on.
MOOD BOOSTING: The mood is elevated; soaring amidst vast majestic mountains just fills you with renewed life. The air is crisp and pure, restoring strength to the lungs and constitution; the colors are divine, with an inky darkness of blue possible only at extreme altitude, cutting deliciously against the fresh white of the groomed snow, and the contenting effect of the sunshine amplifies it all with a sprinkling of vitamin D.
CONCENTRATION & FOCUS: It’s also a mental workout, focussing the mind on spatial awareness as there’s a complex radar to monitor; other skiers, your own immediate and future path, your speed, pitch, altitude, incline, and overall technique! It’s a proper challenge for cognitive function.
LEARNING & EXPLORING: I took a few hours of tuition with a legendary instructor from the ESF, Patrick Bayle (who’s been skiing almost as long as Courchevel has existed, and is also a world record holder for Paragliding), who showed me the farthest flung parts of Les Trois Vallées, whilst helping iron out the kinks in my technique with classic Gallic finesse.
REST & RECOVERY: Sleep gets a huge boost, for, at the end of the day, you’re utterly shattered, leaving no alternative but to seek restorative shut-eye!
2) THE HOTEL FACILITIES & SERVICE
If you’ve ever visited this resort, you’ll have encountered the Maison Tournier group (consciously or otherwise) operating both in front and behind the scenes. The Tournier family’s roots run deep in this village, stretching back to the late 1940s when Courchevel was first established, and their dynasty has spawned a unique hospitality collection fusing heritage and modernity in equal parts. My home for the trip, Le Saint Roch, is a part of that group, and has a unique character I found totally compelling and fascinating…
With 19 suites, 5 rooms and 2 apartments, this is an intimate hotel; it feels discreet and subtle in many ways, yet charismatic and indulgent in others. Overseen by the venerated General Manager, Valerie Mansis, there is a dedication to anticipate guests wishes and a service ethic which is quite differentiated from anything I’ve encountered before. Whilst ski accommodation is often just a necessary ‘means to an end’, here it is elevated to an art form where detail is the life-blood of the Saint Roch. There’s a signature scent that just works for this hotel in this resort, which subtly drifts through the communal areas and rooms, an evocative touch which helps to carve out the memories more clearly; there are indulgences such as custom bed sheets and bespoke toiletries from Maison Kurkdjian; the distressed-wood ceiling is hundreds of years old and preserved from the original structure that once stood here; there’s always jazz and bossa nova playing from some of the coolest ceiling-hung speakers I’ve seen; the day service is in white and the night service is in black; they print you a custom newspaper edit on their signature silvered paper each morning in your language; the rooms boast a host of warm and endearing touches like a fresh chamomile tea heated by candlelight beside your bed after turndown, a plate of bon bons upon arrival, and an interior scheme with lush cozy flourishes of leather, fur and velvet. And a personal favorite touch; every single room has a private hammam in its bathroom, great for facilitating assisted stretching!
But the most remarkable aspect of Le Saint Roch is the service. I have been fortunate to travel extensively and enjoy some of the worlds finest hospitality, but this has been amongst the most consistently professional, attentive, subtle and effectively delivered service I’ve encountered, true of the entire staff. Ever present, yet seemingly absent, they quietly observe and anticipate what you might like without you ever having to trouble yourself too much, judging what’s appropriate for each guest, and thereby promoting pure cognitive ease. Your preferences are discovered – never intrusively so – learned, and remembered for tomorrow or equally the next trip. And this is the genius of Le Saint Roch, and of Maison Tournier; surrounded by a comforting cocoon of support, the guest need never suffer during the ski experience. For those who have had to tolerate discomforts on alpine excursions, it needn’t be the case here; the staff will remove your ski boots for you (usually quite an ordeal at the end of a tiring day); they will relieve you of your skis / boots / helmet & gloves and dry/warm them for tomorrow morning’s use when they’ll deliver them back to you; they arrange for your ski pass to be routed to your room, your transfers to and from the airport, your instructor to meet you at the hotel, your lunch venues to be booked (with priority, many of them are also Maison Tournier operations!), and their shuttles are always available for you to be transported around the village. And every member of staff knows you by name, a small personal touch, but a clear differentiator of world-class execution.
I would be remiss not to mention the Spa as a place to unwind in silent tranquility at the end of the day. This became part of my daily ritual, as I stepped across the centerpiece swimming pool and rested in quietude upon the far side of the facility for an hour or so, to rehydrate and decompress in equal measures.
3) THE FOOD
Burning 450 ‘active’ calories per hour, for 5 hours each day, means that you’ll need to fuel up so as not to fall into deficit. Luckily for you, Savoyarde cuisine doesn’t shy away from calorific bombs such as cream, cheese, butter and sugar. Whilst mountain restaurants are light of what I might deem ‘healthy’ options, there are still options at some sublime restaurants. Here are my 4 top picks for slopeside lunch:
Back at Le Saint Roch, the cuisine which they deem Bistronomic, is worthy of decoration, as the hotel’s eye for detail is at work again. The truffled cashews and amuses bouche to accompany an aperitif are exquisite productions in themselves. To accommodate my pescatarian preferences, the chef re-purposed anything on the menu with deft, and rather than describe it in words, I can show you a host of images we shot. The food was, quite simply, beautifully executed.
4) SUMMARY THOUGHTS
Skiing is not cheap, and Courchevel even less so. Many places in this resort charge the wrong price, simply because they attract customers who actually prefer to overpay; Le Saint Roch is not one of those venues. It is a 5* establishment which plays to the beat of its own drum; its personality is distinctive and unique – both quietly understated and charmingly gregarious at the same time, yet always below the radar, and fabulously welcoming. It is the solution to alpine hassle, and enables you to pursue the optimal mountain break for a price which, whilst expensive in absolute terms, is inexpensive relative to almost all of the comparable hotels surrounding it, especially when one considers the sheer quality of the half-board offering here. More broadly, the village of Courchevel, being located at the pinnacle of the world’s largest ski area, is too good a draw to refuse; for those seeking an unconstrained retreat to the Alps, this is quite simply the only combination you need.
Movement is everything to our species, both metaphorically and physically. Without it, we are static, listing, without direction, traveling to no destination other than our present. Embracing movement is chasing the future, which is almost exactly what being active represents to me. When I am training, I constantly keep in mind the goal of a stronger, more functionally capable body, both for years time and equally for 40 years time. Without movement, we would waste away, our bodies and souls would atrophy, but the struggle and the journey are what gives us the stories and purpose of existence. It’s a pretty fundamental recognition. In a world where we move less than ever in our sedentary lives, where it’s considered ‘normal’ to sit in front of a screen for up to 10 hours a day, only arising to use the restroom… remaining active and moving where possible is of utmost importance. This post is a collaboration with Matalan, as part of their Value of Movement campaign, which totally resonates with my entire ethos. Click MORE to see my top reasons & ways to get moving right now…
POWER WALKING & THE BENEFITS OF MOVEMENT - FITNESS ON TOAST ! - YouTube
BUT FIRST, A LIGHT STATISTICAL OBSERVATION…
The UN notes that a quarter of all Brits are obese, with levels in excess of Spain, Germany, and France. There are in excess of 20 million souls who are without physical activity in this country, per the British Heart Foundation (sub 150 mins activity per week). They also noted that the average person spends 1/5 of his/her life sitting down, or put another way just under 80 days of each year seated; and yet inactivity is a cause of about 10% of all premature deaths from heart disease, and 15% for any cause.
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Well, activity, clearly! However, one must be realistic; the dilemma of new clients is often that you want to be active but it’s genuinely not feasible, with work and life commitments interfering with the best-made activity plans. You simply can’t get to the gym 5 times a week. However, I would argue that your health is the most important investment you’ll ever make; it’s the one thing you carry with you for the rest of your life, and if you neglect it near-term, you’ll suffer long-term. Embracing motion is the only way around this. Therefore here are a few tricks that can help you incorporate exercise into every day, even as part busy life. Aside from that, keeping active will keep you motivated. Just a little activity every day deploys endorphins and reminds you just how great it feels to be active, with the benefit that your body will gather incremental strength each time, and the exercises will become easier. Heading out even for a brisk 20-minute walk will lift the mood, and trigger a release of happy hormones, which in turn help keep you positive and motivated.
ONE) POWER WALKING IS A SUPERB WAY TO EMBRACE MOVEMENT…
Yes, it works, it’s not meant to be a leisurely stroll but one that you literally power through. I recommend to most of my clients who have started training for the first time to aim to achieve >10,000 steps (at least) per day. Invest in a step counter of sorts (Apple Watch does the job beautifully for me), or most mobiles with an accelerometer will have this feature to help calculate your daily steps. By checking in on this throughout the day it’ll help you ensure you don’t leave it until late last minute before bedtime, and spread the activity as you go through the day.
– For an indoor treadmill, I’d suggest that a person of medium fitness should aim for a gradient of 7% with a speed of 7km/h. However, this completely varies depending on your fitness level. Ultimately, if you’re outside/indoors you should be thinking ‘this is tough’. You want it to feel almost like a jog although you’re walking – the same sensations are triggered; a raised heartbeat, a light sweat and the feeling of being slightly out of breath.
– Ensure the arms are at a 90-degree angle
– Maintain good posture throughout
– Engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
– Avoid looking at the ground, instead gaze forward with intent.
– Ensure you have comfortable walking shoes
– Bring water to stay well hydrated
– I’d also suggest some banging tunes to push you onward!
1) Superior fat burning
2) It’s relatively low-impact, so the consequences on the body are far more gentle (compared to a harsh run),
3) A full-body work out which sculpts arms, legs, and core particularly.
4) Strengthens bone density.
5) Improved blood circulation and pressure.
6) Cholesterol improvements.
7) The exposure to some hard-to-find Vitamin D (i.e. outdoors!),
8) Mood boosting
9) A mindful escape – a bit of ‘you time’ for a spot of solitude, to think about things!
10) If you’re short on time. Squeeze it in where possible – en route to work, during a lunch break or walking to a meeting – anywhere, anytime but the best time is before breakfast for 60 minutes!
– Plus you’ll be taking in some great scenery – nature or the urban city – whilst walking!
TWO) BODYWEIGHT EXERCISE
Training, or indeed introducing lighter activity during the day, needn’t be complicated. The benefit of bodyweight exercises are that they’re effective and can be done anywhere. It’s also not unusual that regular gym goers can lift incredibly heavy loads in the gym, but ask them to do 10 push-ups and they struggle. Functional strength is far more useful to the body than the ability to lift huge amounts on a single, less useful plane. That functional capability will help you to stay mobile well into the future, whilst a pursuit of heavy weights may threaten to impair joint functionality in the long run. Here are some of the benefits of bodyweight exercises.
– Functional exercises that involves body movements that are similar or mimic tasks we perform in our daily lives. This can help prevent injuries in the long run.
– Strength gain helps to build a more defined musculature and support the loads on joints.
– Boosts cardiovascular fitness.
– Toasts fat, with a thermogenic effect consuming calories hours after a workout.
– You can even deploy body weight exercises en-route to work on your power walk; a park bench is the only kit you’ll need!
– Empowering, as you can see how your body gets stronger with time, via your ability to manage more reps of the same exercise.
– Improved balance – many moves require balance and work your core as well, from the perspective of stabilizing the motion.
– It’s good fun – you can swap it up all the time to add variation, and avoid plateauing.
– Solo or in a group – Invite friends to train with you in the great outdoors.
– Easily modified – to increase the difficulty factor, simply add more repetitions, focus on tempo – performing the exercises more slowly, for instance can be a lot harder.
Check out THIS LITTLE VIDEO I made for Matalan, wearing their Souluxe collection; a power walk, achieving my 20,000 steps, and stopping along the way for a stretch & some light bodyweight exercises.
This post is a sponsored collaboration with Matalan as part of their #ValueOfMovement campaign. For more about why I take on such projects, please see my DISCLOSURE page. Thank you.
Happy New Year dear reader; I shall kick off 2018 with some travel-related food for thought… Australia has long been at the top of my bucket list, kept on that list thanks to the mammoth pilgrimage required to reach the complete opposite point on the planet. For many travellers in the Western hemisphere, it’s a trip you might only ever make once (if perhaps at all); for others, a single visit and they decide to undertake the permanent move East. It is an enchanting and diverse land, but there’s too much to cover in a single post, so I’ll break it into two digestible bits; this is Part 1, and recounts a sublime week at Qualia on Hamilton Island, part of the Whitsundays, blessed with turquoise crystal waters, dusted with powdered white sands, and fringed by lush tropical forest. Totally repaired since a dreadful tropical cyclone wrought devastation upon the islands some 7 months earlier, The Whitsundays are Australasia’s answer to The Maldives, but with one unbeatable competitive advantage: the Great Barrier Reef. Click MORE to see what exotic treasures I found there…
My destination resort came extremely highly recommended by the ‘Antipodean cognoscenti’, of which there are MANY. If you’ve been, you have a view; and so I’m now one of those people! Qualia was the name of my hotel, and the word itself describes those individual, personal sensory perceptions which unfold within your mind, and which define your reality and existence. I like this name, as it says something about what the resort evokes. Oh yes, and I say ‘resort’ with caution, as it conjures ancient images of British package holidays in Benidorm… this is a far more subtle a kind of resort, which sits on Hamilton Island, at the beating heart of the Whitsundays and is one of 74 tropical islands that lie between the Queensland Coast and The Great Barrier Reef.
This is *the* destination to experience Australian health and vitality along this gleaming stretch of the coast. Here’s why…
SOME CONTEXT ABOUT THE ISLAND…
The entirety of Hamilton Island is owned by the Oakley family, as indeed is Qualia, the flagship hospitality destination. Visiting a large island which is owned by one family is a totally unique experience; their passion and significant investment into world-class infrastructure means the island is superbly well groomed, beautifully maintained, is very clean, feels safe and is utterly stunning. The family even built a commercial airport to ensure the throughput of tourism, which is a staggering undertaking when you sit back and think about it! Everywhere you go, you command your own Club car Buggy which is supplied by the hotel to each of its guests, but which are also used by residents across the entire island. If you go to a restaurant or bar outside of the hotel, or indeed if you undertake any other activities on the broader island, you still sign the cheque onto your hotel room. That effectively means that the whole island is your resort, and that is quite distinct from my experience of travelling anywhere else in the world. It is totally liberating!
Every year there’s a Triathlon, a Marathon, an annual long-distance swim along Whitehaven beach, canoe races, and my personal favourite, the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week for sailing!
The hotel comprises dozens of structures, all discretely woven into the cliff face at the northern-most tip of the island, and is architecturally modern and discreet, in keeping with the colours of the granite lithology and the forestry around it. This was very important to the owners, and as a guest, I feel it speaks to their respect for this protected landscape. Having been directly hit in April by Cyclone Debbie, the owners were super keen to refresh the whole resort so that they were 100% ready for their summer season (December), and they did a superb job of it; I would have and no clue that 260 kph winds were levelling this tropical paradise just 7 months prior to my visit, such was the resolve of the local people who all waded in to fix it up.
Having endured a 30-hour voyage to get here, Qualia was the first example of Australian hospitality I’d experienced, and I found it characteristically friendly, warm and welcoming. Staff genuinely seem happy to work here; you’re greeted with a real smile, (living in London that’s a rarity) as the pace and flavor of Island life seem to instill a contented tranquility amongst the c.2,000 locals. By the end of the trip, this becomes somewhat infectious…
It’s an outdoorsy, beautiful, and most immersive venue for a wellness escape in the midst of the beauty of nature…
I started each day with an hour-long 07:30 yoga class in their beautiful open-walled pavilion, followed by the healthiest breakfast whilst surveying the Coral Sea below.
I left each session feeling utterly recharged, emotionally contented and totally compelled to return.
Given the closeness to the waters, you’d be right to expect the freshest of fish, which for a pescetarian is a dream. However, there’s also plenty of chicken and red meat on the menu, sourced locally in Australia. You’ll get the opportunity to try some new fishes for the first time, such as a Humpty Doo Barramundi, as well as a host of golden reef fish that are in bountiful supply here.
Whether by the pool, on the beach, or in the open air restaurant, Qualia’s cuisine, is accompanied by endless views across the tranquil waters, which instantly renders any meal that little more inspiring. This little Pied Currawong joined me for breakfast every day to admire that vista!
Breakfast – my favourite meal – was afforded a lengthy menu including my daily regular, egg white omelet with shavings of parmesan cheese, rocket and a pesto-herb dressing, plus a small exotic-fruits chia porridge. Every morning a two juice power shots would appear along with a small fresh fruit platter. The quality of the food was high though perhaps not in comparison to what Italy / France is capable of conjuring.
Activities are somewhat of a speciality for Qualia. There’s the Spa, Yoga, charters, cruises, Golf, guided walks, local food tasting classes, Rib tours, jet ski tours, seaplane/helicopter tours, wildlife tours, naturopath discussions, gymming, and sailing, amongst many others.
There’s an indoor/ outdoor gym which is adequately equipped with Technogym machines and a selection of sufficiently heavy free weights (mostly dumbells, though some kettlebells and bars too) with bi-fold doors leading to a terrace looking out onto the sea, and steps down to a white sand training area. Serious viewspo and extremely motivating and the great outdoors is indeed the best gym on offer here, with an external rowing machine to benefit from the above.
Water sports included my favourite, sailing, alongside a superb Rib tour of the island, though there were cruises, dinghy’s, jetskis, paragliding, kayaking, paddleboarding, wakeboarding (etc) on offer!
This was such a gorgeous spa, nestled high on top of Qualia, with many of its pavilions designed in such a manner as to feel that there are no walls (clearly there are), yet it feels completely hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s an open-air sanctuary where you instantly relax. You often feel a soft warm sea breeze whilst gazing out over the ocean. Wonderful toiletries from Aesop adorn every part of this complex, which benefits sauna and steam facilities, outdoor showers, endless spa treatments including deep tissue, reflexology, reiki, naturopathy, and personal training. I visited daily for a dose of invigoration. Away from the spa complex, THIS infinity pool…
Every morning there’s a complimentary yoga class on offer, hosted by the lovely teacher (and island local) Damien Evans who is a distinguished Naturopath and Iridologist; his energy and spirit are a superb accompaniment to the day’s beginning, so I could not recommend this daybreak activity more strongly. He is only too happy to help you feel better on your trip, and strikes a great balance to get you there.
There are several mildly demanding routes available to walk, stretching to 20km of trail. I found them to be better for taking in the scenery than executing a punishing workout, though the island is most certainly blessed with some interesting hilly relief!
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Invariably the star attraction in this part of the globe, it is the single biggest structure made by living organisms in the world. It’s also the world’s largest coral reef system, composed of more than 2,900 separate reefs & 900 islands, which stretch for 2,300 kilometres over an area of around 350,000 square km. It is vast. And it just happens to be a 30min chopper trip away from the hotel, which has its own Helipad. I undertook the ‘Best of Both Worlds‘ excursion, which involved departing at 08:30 from the helipad, snorkelling in the reef before anyone else has arrived, then hot-tailing over to Whitehaven beach for a private picnic on the untouched white sands. Rather than talk about it, here’s a little picture montage to tell the story…
This half-day heli-tour was undoubtedly the coolest thing I’ve done all year, possibly in many years. Whilst it was expensive, it was totally worth it, as a once in a lifetime experience that has indelibly etched images of exquisite natural beauty on my retinas.
There are 60 pavilions, all of which offer huge floor to ceiling windows, and all with their unique sea views. The rooms are light and airy with high ceilings using solid natural materials like wooden floors, slate tiling, white linen, and 100% cotton fibers which I always find ease my sleep. The huge, plush and perfectly made-up beds ensure you get the high-quality restorative sleep that’s required on an escape. Plus, this was the sunrise view from the balcony each morning, when jetlag gets you up at 5:30 in time to see the sunrise, and nature awakens with a stunning aviary chorus…
If you’re used to Europe, this is not another cultural experience filled with the heritage or artefacts of ancient civilisations; the island is new in its construction (having been founded in the 70s), but loses nothing for this. The raw natural beauty is the real ancient civilisation here; Hamilton Island is a highly polished destination for an indulgent wellness retreat, promoting cognitive ease at every turn. A visit to Qualia absolutely restores and refreshes, time both stands still and runs rampant, the senses are delighted by the finish, and it’s not at all stuffy in the..
Under a week to go until a BIG focal day in many people’s annual calendar, and if you’re anything like me you’ve left your seasonal gift shopping perilously late! Fear not, my dear disorganised reader, for here’s my snappily-titled “Christmas Eve Emergency Health & Fitness Top 10 Present Idea List” (phew!) which I whipped up for just such an eventuality – perhaps it’s one to send your other half for those last-minute ideas! So here we go, please Santa may I have…
ITEM 1) Apple Watch Series 3
This is the ultimate fitness gift, to my mind (If you already have one, skip to item 2, you lucky thing). I’ve had an Apple Watch since day one and recently started using their third iteration of the wearable beauty! Aside from allowing me to check emails and be on top of texts/WhatsApp’s, automatically track all my fitness data (heart rate, exercise, moves, standing time, calories burnt etc.), the watch also no longer needs a phone nearby so I am both untethered and yet connected. Instead, you can go cycling up in the rural mountains or for a long jog, and not need to bring your phone whilst remaining contactable at all times.
The Apple Watch is genuinely awesome. I’ve used a lot of wearable trackers and general ‘fit kit’, but this is one I have easily woven into my daily routine. It’s the flavour of technology you want more of; super intuitive to navigate, whilst it deftly does all the ‘thinking’ for me, operating unobtrusively in the background so that I just consume the fruits of its data, eliminating all guesswork! It’s a great way to stay motivated especially for the new years’ push!
My Version is beautifully modelled by Rudolph below…
ITEM 2) Neck & wrist Cashmere warmers
If you’re struggling in this frosty weather on your power walks, there’s nothing quite as comforting or indulgent as a super soft cashmere neck and wrist warmer. Something so super soft against your skin to help keep you warm feels a little extra special and such a wonderful gift. I often think a superb gift is something you wouldn’t necessarily buy yourself, but would love to receive. This little selection below is from Somerville, and is both practical and luxurious!
This is an evergreen appearance on my list for the brand’s unparalleled style credentials, leading functionality and super luxurious feel! I’ve followed their journey from the beginning and am constantly enchanted by the creations of master designer Stefani Grosse. Recently given the proverbial Royal ‘seals of approval’ by the gorgeous sisters Kate and Pippa Middleton, this is functional high-quality chic athleisure wear. Yes, it’s pricey but the pieces are enduring, clean-lined investment articles which will last the test of time. If like me you love sportswear and wear it all the time this is the sort of pieces that dress up your day!
I know, I keep banging on about the importance of sleep, it’s a bit of a personal vendetta to sleep better, and more! Sheets are, surprisingly, very low-hanging fruit when it comes to upgrading the calibre of restful shuteye you get each night, so this is one way to make each night dreamier! Invest in beautiful covers to help you sleep well throughout the night as well as some beautiful and snuggly throws. These ones are from a company with strong Swedish roots, but with US West-Coast influences, and I have been loving the quality of their products for 6 months now; the jersey product is really coming into its own on these cold winters nights, delivering super softness night after night.
the bedding is made of 100% combed cotton thread that is finely knitted; so-called single jersey. That material breathes better than closely woven high thread count sheets. It’s also more supple, and few materials can compare to its soft surface; Oprah once called this her ‘discovery of the year’, and if it’s good enough for her…
This is a personalised, one-of-a-kind, unique bag which is a total reflection of its owner. Admittedly, not fitness related in the slightest, but I wanted to include it nonetheless because I fell in love with this clutch some years ago, and think there are many people out there that might want to tell their own story with the book that means most to them. Master craftswoman Maria Caracciolo draws upon an extensive background in the history of bookbinding using traditional artisan techniques, and the results, created from scratch and delivered within a month, are extremely special, even emotional. This is a bespoke, standout piece at a reasonable price; you can get yours made HERE.
Despite being a Swedish lass from a country with much of its land mass in the Arctic Circle, I fundamentally struggle with the cold! Another helpful cosy investment to get you through these cold winter days are these quick-drying, super soft and ultra comfortable thermal base layers. They’re awesome under your activewear in the city on a run or in the slopes, and they look pretty ‘Tron’ chic! n.b. Yep, same picture as above!
This is a proper stocking filler here – I’ve always thought this Liquorice & Mint tea is simply aaaamazing and a wonderful gift to any fitness enthusiast! Hydrating, nutritious and it satisfies any sweet tooth without delivering calories!
ITEM 8) A beautiful Yoga Mat from Soul Mat Yoga
I discovered this a while ago; these ‘eco-friendly yoga mats are designed to be beautiful enough that they can double as colourful rugs in your home or studio. They’re forged from 100% natural tree rubber, printed with water-based inks and kept completely free from nasty chemicals so they’re superkind to both your skin and our planet.’ Check it out HERE.
ITEM 9) AESOP products to luxuriate & look after your skin
The skin is our bodies’ largest single organ which, if you’re training every day, can get pretty dry in this bitter cold, and will be in need of some TLC. I recently re-discovered Aesop on my trip to Sydney (full blog posts forthcoming!) and have been obsessed since. It’s an Australian home-grown company which has branched out globally; I adore their packaging, and all the products are exceptional and differentiated… but if I could only pick one I’d suggest the utterly delicious-smelling Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm. The botanical oils and skin-softening ingredients leave my skin feeling nourished and refreshed – and there is something totally invigorating about the ingredients’ aroma, so much so that I went overboard and snapped up the whole range. Oh, and I also LOVE the packaging of that mouthwash!!
ITEM 10) Woolrich Coat – ‘W’s Military Parka’
Finally, if you really want to spoil that special someone this is a coat that will keep you warm all winter in the urban city or for apres ski purposes! It’s a little off the beaten track of Canada Goose / Moncler, but I absolutely love it’s furnace-like warmth and bold features for these frosty times of the year. Pick one up HERE.
Hope that provided a little spark of inspiration for any last minute purchases. Yes, some of them can’t be obtained NOW, and need a little lead-time, but the very delivery of an IOU should be met with bundles of festive excitement!
Amidst the snowy deluge of a brutally frosted British December, Summer is but a moribund memory, seemingly belonging to a different planet (or Sydney in the case of my shots here!). Bikinis and/or trunks are consigned to a forgotten section of the wardrobe and instead, it’s acceptable to hide under countless layers of knitted misc. The commercialized ‘beach body’ frenzy is over; we feel as though we can relax, without the pressure to get naked! It’s also a time when we naturally eat and/or drink a little more than we otherwise would; t’is festive season leading up to Christmas…
For that reason, I say TRAIN NOW; this way whatever excess you’re consuming, at least you’re burning it off at the gym! Furthermore, you’re establishing a fitness routine now rather than leaving it to January, when going cold turkey will feel like a tragic uphill struggle. By the time the equally commercialized ‘new year new you’ fallacy comes around, you’ll already have a strong, regular thing going on; new year, same you! BTW, I don’t subscribe to the January frenzy, instead I believe healthy is a lifestyle choice all year round! This post contains a few 101 tips to get started, right now!
Without sounding like the Grinch I’m all for engaging with festivities; mince pies and mulled wine are some of life’s most wonderful gifts! BUT to avoid starting the year on a bad note, feeling overwhelming guilt the sense of futility, why not start now?!
To help you with goal setting I’ve written lots of tips about this HERE.
If you’re completely new to training and thinking ‘where do I even begin’, my advice would be not to over-think the process. There are a million different ‘rules’ and techniques you can pursue, but at a high level, training really can be pretty straightforward.
101 OF TRAINING – KEEPING IT SIMPLE!
– Keep it challenging. Always push yourself when it starts to get easy; you want to leave feeling that you’ve fatigued and challenged yourself, that you gave your all.
– Always ensure to pursue good technique and form. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the trainers in your gym whether you’re doing it right; that’s what they’re there for, and it will benefit your body disproportionately to ask!
– Start with body weight exercises and once that feels easy, introduce some light free weights.
– Engage with your bread and butter training. The classic exercises are classic for a reason. Think squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench press, dumbbell flies, lat-pulldown, seated rows etc.
– Start with a straightforward, easy split routine 3 times a week. Day 1: Chest and biceps. Day 3: Legs. Day 5 Back and triceps. Then repeat the following week.
– Make sure to include rest/recovery days in between each session
– Always warm up and stretch after every session
– Eat within an hour after each session.
– Abs are made in the kitchen. Cut out junk food.
– AND if you’re feeling like something festive then enjoy those treats in moderation; accept it, don’t feel guilty but perhaps see it as extra fuel to work even harder at the gym!
Finally, besides all of that, make the small every day changes first, while your body gets used to the idea. Remember, any change is better than what you are doing right now. It is possible! Just start today—you will thank yourself in a few months!
Being a strict pescetarian, I try to find different ways of working in varied, exciting protein-rich plant foods to my dishes, wherever possible. This salad ticks the protein box thanks to the lentils and that delectable ‘grilled halloumi’ topper. Combined with thyme and honey-roasted veggies, it tastes just a little reminiscent of something ‘Christmassy’, and absolutely delivers a hearty, filling experience that few salads can match. I dare you to take up the challenge of whipping this up for dinner during the coming week; get the full recipe by clicking MORE!
Tucked away amidst Portugal’s sun-soaked Algarve coast lies VILA VITA Parc, an indulgent resort hotel overflowing with genuine Portuguese charm, which recently hosted me on a supremely memorable wellness escape. Having visited the Algarve in the past, my mind was at once cast back to rich warm hues and golden light; honey-toned beaches beside the crisp inky-blue Atlantic Ocean, beautifully framed by limestone cliffs and the ever-changing opalescent skies. On this trip, however, I encountered an Algarve which offers some sublime fresh ingredients and amongst others, wonderful fish recipes. I also became better acquainted with a charming inland area (unusual as we Brits tend to languish by the seaside), met with locals living close to nature, and encountered so many very old and beautiful traditions that have been magically preserved. The Algarve is a superb ‘active destination’, with sweeping coastlines offering endless water-sports, (most famously surfing, given the Atlantic fetch) and countless beach-based activities too. Throw in the beautiful natural landscapes which make for great hiking and you have the makings of a healthy, comfortable and energising trip! Here’s a little of my experience…
THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE
VILA VITA Parc is nestled in amongst the verdant greenery atop the gentle Algarve cliffs, surveying the ocean below. It’s vast grounds are teeming with character and surprise. Whilst it’s a ‘resort’ destination which was at 90% occupancy in this October ‘off season’, the feeling I had staying there was one of a smaller boutique hotel. It never felt too busy or corporate; instead, VILA VITA Parc boasts genuine Portuguese charm with its original inimitable style restored and its beautiful uniquely-furnished spaces which feel warm and welcoming. In the time that I stayed there, I had the opportunity to explore the incredibly beautiful coast, the beach, enjoyed a marathon of delicious, diverse foods in and around the hotel as well. It’s a part of the world which is brimming with outstandingly fresh, healthy and flavoursome foods, which is perfectly balanced off by its natural setup for fitness activities.
The site houses a vast *10* restaurants. That’s comfortably enough to stave off cabin fever on a fitness retreat of any length so that it’s easily possible never to flirt with repeating a single meal over the period of a week – unless of course, you want to! Here you can absolutely find fresh and healthy foods at all times of the day; a pre-requisite of anything I consider an ‘escape’. My favourite of the ten was my refuge after an early-morning power walk circumnavigating their lush green grounds, or along the hotel’s private beach; I chose to put down roots at the Atlântico Restaurant and order an ultra cleansing ‘ginger, mint and lemon tea’, sip that whilst I awaited a perfectly-executed egg white omelette with mushroom, spinach, basil and tomato to arrive, all along surveilling the views of the infinity pool below and the Atlantic horizon in the distance. The restaurant caters to healthy eaters who are seeking light but filling dishes, and the foods are super-fresh featuring seasonal, local, regionally and organically grown products. That’s a significant tick in my healthy retreat credential list.
CAVE DE VINHOS
Since I believe a trip should be about balance, rather than a pursuit of monk-like abstinence, this experience was a pre-requisite. I’m not a big drinker, but this was a very special evening involving the opportunity to visit the ‘Cave of Wine’ for some tasting and sampling of local gems. Descending a romantic candle-lit stone stairwell, you arrive at the bottom to discover a dramatic wine cellar. There’s palpable wow-factor when entering this beautiful cellar, which is built with bricks that are over 150 years old, specially imported from Egypt, Austria and Greece. There’s a special cosy warmth to the light, the likes of which you can only quite simulate in a subterranean cellar! Of the 11,000 bottles on offer, we were never going to make a serious dent, but participated in several delicious national wines all unique to the country. Whilst I was there a couple were celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary, to give you an idea of what a special place it is, and the sense of romance that it engenders.
Armação de Pêra beach, Arte Náutica
This wonderful restaurant is situated on the golden beach just 1.2 miles from the main grounds; a swift shuttle bus later and we were making the sumptuous traditional Portuguese dish Cata Plana, involving monk fish which had been caught fresh from the sea just a couple of hours earlier that day. That is a level of freshness and local sourcing that’s hard to beat! Aside from Cata Plana there’s a cavernous selection of the freshest fish and seafood, as well as sandwiches, snacks, salads. As a card carrying pescatarian, this restaurant was of particular note. I find that light white fish is something I enjoy more and more, as it’s filling, has a wonderful texture, and never weighs me down. The cuisine here executed on that perfectly.
My room for the time there was a not so little semidetached house! Whilst there are c.170 rooms, I maintain that the resort feels more like a boutique hotel. The rooms are generously sized, airy and fresh, which promotes a state of cognitive ease. My room looked out over the golf course and Atlantic sea and had its own living room and generous balcony, of which I made superb use! Whilst the rooms have been recently refurbished to a super comfortable standard, the traditional details have been preserved – pottery and the large stone slabs on the floor. It still feels authentically Portuguese, but embellished with modern flourishes. You can choose from sea-inspired rooms and suites with ocean-view terraces to spacious whitewashed villas with private pools. And there’s plenty of space to roam on 54 acres of subtropical gardens. Aside from the rooms there are several spaces and rooms around the hotel where we could lounge or just hang out; there’s even a huge library in which to get lost!
After a day of hiking the rugged coastline, I would have been keen to soak away any trace of soreness at their spa; due to a major refurbishment taking place this year, I’ll have to pay another visit when it’s unveiled! They were still running several superb treatment rooms though, and as is my usual custom, I opted straight for the signature sports massage – it’s a challenging treatment, that doesn’t simply deliver a saccharine massage experience. It purposely verges on uncomfortable, which felt amazing! The results for my muscles were quite transformative!
Whilst I do love kids, their wonderful energy tend to be at odds with the tranquility of an infinity pool! For that reason, I was thrilled to hear children are only allowed in certain areas of the hotel, and the adult-only infinity pool is not one of them! The pool observes a canvas of lush green grounds beyond, as well as the Hotel’s own private beach cove below. It’s a powerfully peaceful place to breathe deeply and relax.
The Algarve has ever been a popular spot for golfers the world over. Its fertile lawns are aerated and cooled by a gentle Atlantic-coast breeze, so the experience isn’t deadly hot. There’s a 9-hole Pitch & Putt at Vila Vita (a par 3 course) but you’re also totally spoiled for world-class championship courses around here – a personal favourite is the South Course in Quinta Do Lago for those who fancy a little journey! Or there’s always the hotel’s clifftop driving range, where a fabulous ocean backdrop awaits if you just fancy hitting some balls out there…
After my swimathon experience, I’ve gotten to quite enjoying swimming laps in an indoor pool, which in this case includes an open-air section too. There’s also a well-equipped Technogym training zone, including the usual array of machines and free weights.
VILA VITA Yacht
I had the wonderful opportunity to go for a ride and the waters did not disappoint. Seeing the coastline from a boat is breathtaking. There are so many beautiful beaches which are only accessible by boat and plenty of hidden coves formed by oceanic weathering over hundreds and millions of years.
Water sports & activities
They host water-skiing, windsurfing or jet-skiing, Stand-up paddle-boards, canoes and kayaks. There’s also a big game fishing expedition, which isn’t my cup of tea. More my kind of thing is discovering Portugal’s largest natural reef close to the resort; snorkelling / scuba diving enables a more in-depth exploration of the Atlantic seabed and is a superb workout! If something more land-based such as tennis is your sport there are two clay courts and one artificial AstroTurf court. It really is hard to get bored here.
This retreat is but a short plane journey away, yet it boasts a blend of crucial ingredients; lavish sunshine, a fresh coastline, an immaculate landscape and mounds of authentic Portuguese character. The food is world class, and the impeccable service is imbued with the national warmth of personality. It almost feels as though you’re checking into a little country villa for the time you’re away! There aren’t many places so close that can offer this combination of factors, and for that reason, I will be returning!
This is a short post-ette on seeking out acoustic motivation, in whatever form works for you! I’ve written extensively on the importance of setting goals, checking in on oneself, and measuring progress, but I believe that to achieve all of this, motivation is something that must be sought out every single day; as Zig Ziglar observed, ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last – well, neither does bathing,that’s why we recommend it daily!’. I wanted to share with you one of the major ways in which I encounter and extract health and fitness motivation on a daily basis. The best bit is that you can do it anywhere, anytime and it costs nothing – whilst commuting, walking to work or the gym (my favourite), whilst cooking, cleaning or even whilst working. Podcasts not only deliver awesome and focussed motivation, but they’re informative and keep me entertained. As with everything, there are parts of certain pods I agree with and others I don’t, but it’s always interesting to hear different views. I’m broadening my horizons whilst accomplishing things I might not have wanted to accomplish, spurred along by this! Click MORE to see my top podcasts and my two items that deliver me pure audiophile bliss
First up, a small confession; I’m an audiophile! Like many, I find music to be such an evocative force, it can bring me to tears of joy and then sorrow, and back to joy again within mere minutes. My ears constantly crave high sound quality, and to that end my friends at Amazon made something pretty incredible happen via their #ShoptheFuture store: I am the very proud owner of a pair of Japanese hand-crafted Sony MDR-Z1R ultra-high-def headphones, which is the acoustic equivalent of a petrolhead procuring a Ferrari F40. The rendering of sound is quite literally as good as I’ve ever heard, throughout the entire register, with a warm rich bass, perfectly balanced by crisp trebles and impossible amounts of character and presence in between. They reveal details I’ve simply never heard in familiar songs, so that I can enjoy my favourite motivational tunes in the best quality I’ve ever experienced. It is delicious, sumptuous audio quality, and parallels eating chocolate with your ears! Not only that but the butter-soft sheepskin padded muffs almost make you weep with the comfort – this is gearhead utopia. Having a huge array of diverse playlists to cycle through, consisting of new tunes, old favourites, up-tempo genres, and chill out standards – all of which enthuse and energise me, is a necessity. Training in a gym at 06:00 can at times feel lonely, but having someone wailing in my ear about their latest breakup in 4-part-harmony in HD clarity is like having a good friend giving you that extra bit of drive!
Another favourite is heading down to my local park at sunset and just busting out some Beyonce to get me through an outdoor session! For this purpose, I’ve been experimenting with the Bose Soundlink Revolve Bluetooth speaker, which is perfectly suited to the task. It’s cradle rechargeable, instantly connects to my phone first-time-every-time, and delivers 360-degree sound with substance and presence. From something so small and readily portable, I am super impressed with the punch from this little package – perfect for when you and a few mates decide to go for a park session!
WHAT DO I RECOMMEND BY WAY OF PODCASTS?
Well, there’s always the classic TED Talks Health. If through some misfortune, you’ve not encountered TED Talks, they’re short erudite soliloquies lasting approximately 18 minutes or less. The TED Talks Health show some different subjects varying from body image, motivation, mental illness and nutrition.
There are so many to listen to, but some of my choicest favourites that have made quite an impression on me:
And a key talk, Simon Sinek’s ‘Why, How, What’ thesis, which rose to prominence in his celebrated TEDx talk, about which I wrote in my recent post HERE.
ALSO, HERE ARE 4 MORE GEMS…
Shredded by science Radio – Humorous but scientific. It’s informative and makes light of another wise at times; industry; which takes itself very seriously and is riddled by ego.
Food for Fitness – Scott Bapties a Physique and sports nutritionist discussed diets, food shows, training.
Podrunner – I recently discovered this is a podcast channel that’s established for 10 years+, and which delivers free music for anyone training – running, power-walkers, weight training etc. I find that anything between 120-130bpm (ideally 128) is ideal for the purpose! Power it out on the Bose Soundlink and you’re in business
Barbell Shrugged – Find up to 250 episodes which interviews experts in specific different fields. It’s super informative and the sort of stuff which can be super helpful to improve your training. There’s a lot of x-fit stuff but also a lot of other bits too – something for everyone.
Enjoy the tunes & learnings!
Liked the products? Buy them here:
– Sony MDR-Z1R ultra-high-def headphones – HERE
– Bose Soundlink Revolve Bluetooth speaker – HERE
This post is a sponsored collaboration with Amazon as part of their #ShopetheFuture campaign. For more about why I take on such projects, please see my DISCLOSURE page. Thank you.