For some, the terms fitness regime and holiday are antithetical, and the idea of bringing them together constitutes a horrifying heresy. But for others, weaving the exhilaration of exercise into your vacation makes perfect sense: it gets you away from the monotony of the gym or city park; you’ll return home stronger and fitter than before you left; you can get out into the great outdoors; and most importantly, exercise feels simply fantastic. And no one says you can’t unwind with a few beers or glasses of wine – even smoke a cigarette or two – after a hard day’s hiking in the Scottish Highlands, or doing yoga in the Andalusian hills. Well maybe in the case of yoga they do. Anyway, trust the experts on this – working your body hard in the fresh air of a beautiful landscape is one of the best drugs on earth.
Yoga takes a holistic approach to wellbeing, emphasizing a mindful awareness on the impact your actions have on your body and your mental health. Stretches, breathing exercises and meditation are the tools used to achieve this end, but don’t be fooled – holding those poetically named positions can be damn exhausting. The practice of yoga has seeped into the mainstream since it hit the west in the Sixties, and travelers now have an immense array of yoga retreats to choose between. The Samahita Retreat in southern Thailand provides a focused experience, using eco-friendly energy sources and offering reiki, massage and barefoot running workshops alongside intense yoga sessions; alcohol and smoking are a serious no-no. A slightly more laid-back time can be had at the KaliYoga retreat, set amid the beautiful hills and valleys of the Alpujarra region in Andalusia, Spain.
Long-distance cycling – or touring, as it’s called by the initiated – is an invigorating and immersive way to explore a country or countries. Unlike walking, it’s a self-propelled mode of transport that enables you to cover real distance; with a pair of good panniers, you can carry everything you need for weeks or even months of travel. There are innumerable options for cycling holidays around the globe, and you can navigate yourself, or join a flock of riders on an organized trip. Some challenging yet accessible routes include riding from fishing village to fishing village among the intricate fjords of the Lofoten Islands of western Norway; rolling through the raw and rugged mountains, moors and lakes of northern England on the coast-to-coast route; or joining a two-week tour of the shoreline and cities of communist Cuba.
For anyone who’s ever used a rowing machine in a sterile city gym, imagine this: using those same muscles to propel yourself around the caves, coves and cliffs of the Scottish islands, the setting sun irradiating the deep blue sea as it rolls out to a distant horizon. This is what Wilderness Scotland offers on its popular Scottish Sea Kayak Trail, which charts a wild course around the remote Hebridean Islands. Hop off onto atmospheric windswept beaches, explore the islands’ bleakly beautiful interiors, and encounter otters, seals, dolphins and minke whales as you go. Blessedly, regular samples of the local Scotch are an integral part of the trip. If northern Scotland sounds a little chilly for your tastes, then there are plenty of other sea kayaking routes around the European coast – you could explore the element-battered outcrops of Sardinia, or paddle from one stunning Greek island to another.
There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and textures of a landscape than to hike through it. And walking is damn good exercise, too – it’s gentle on the joints, and has been proven to reduce the risk of a clutch of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, strokes and even some cancers. It’s cheap, accessible, and immensely varied – the atmosphere of hiking in a humid rainforest couldn’t be more different to that of clambering through the crisp air of a Scottish mountainside. Wherever you live there’ll be hiking holidays in your own back yard: the English can tackle the 76-mile Dales Way, which crosses the Yorkshire Moors and Pennine Mountains to reach the green hills and forests of the Lake District; east coast Americans can take on a section of the fabled Appalachian Trail. Alternatively, you can choose a trip that’ll take you to the other side of the world: wild camping in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park, perhaps, or trekking among the peaks and valleys of Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan mountains.
If all the options listed so far sound a little uncomfortable – camping on mountainsides, drifting on chilly northern oceans – and you just want to screw the views and focus on your own health, then heading to a fitness and wellness resort is probably your best bet. Many gather together the activities listed here, but also ensure that you get to lay your head in luxury night after night. At the Lake Austin Spa in Texas, for example, you can kayak on the eponymous lake before relaxing in the resort’s labyrinthine spa, covering 25,000 square feet and offering over 100 treatments. Alternatively, take yourself away to Brazil and The Island Experience resort on Ilha Grande, where you can hike through the surrounding rainforest and enjoy a revitalizing vegetarian diet.