Spend most of your holidays with your feet up and a cocktail in hand? It’s not the only way to recharge your batteries says Judy Johnson, who braved the foreign idea of a wellness break and came back with a healthier mindset
If there’s one thing that’s never on my extensive packing list when prepping for a holiday, it’s gym gear; I’m more likely to pack a corkscrew and an extra pair of evening shoes than leggings and trainers, with my idea of a relaxing getaway being a weekend of partying in front of Ibiza’s famous sunsets or sipping wine in between sightseeing on a busy city break. I love to get around abroad by foot, given that I spend far too much of my daily life on public transport at home, so despite the lack of appropriate attire I often return home feeling virtuous at how many steps I took in between food stops or how many hours I sweated it out on the dance floor, but aside from that - and of course the occasional swim on a beach break - my holidays are strictly a workout-free zone. However, having felt on the brink of burnout and with a new, barely used gym membership burning a hole in my bank statements earlier this year I found myself taking a healthy holiday - with a suitcase full of workout clothes and the corkscrew firmly left at home.
It makes sense, really - we go on holiday to recharge our batteries, but so often I return home feeling more tired than I did when I left because it’s been a fun, but overindulgent, break in which I’ve completely broken my body clock and replaced my daily tea intake with alcohol. What if we were to spend some of our precious annual leave on a getaway that actually makes us feel better - without feeling like we’ve wasted it?
Judy on her usual holiday in Ibiza
Wellness breaks aren’t new, but they’re certainly new to me; the longest I’d spent in a spa was an overnight stay in the UK in which I amused myself by taking extended naps by the pool in a fluffy robe, so jetting off to Gran Canaria Wellness - a luxury group of spa hotels - away from the temptation of club nights and cocktails was daunting. Could I cope? Would I be bored? Would the menu consist of tiny portions and ‘clean’ juices with not an English Breakfast teabag in sight? Could I really have a holiday without booze? While I was fretting over food (standard), my fitness-enthusiast sister who was joining me for the ride was simply wondering whether they’d have her beloved kettle bells in their state-of-the-art gym (they did).
As a destination, Gran Canaria ticks all the boxes when it comes to wellbeing; with around 320 days of sunshine a year, a year-round average of a comfortably warm 24 degrees, clear skies and an abundance of some of the purest aloe vera in the world, it’s a health hotspot - all this and it’s just a few hours’ flight away from not-so-sunny London. The resorts have everything you could possibly need, too - we stayed in the Salobre Hotel Resort & Serenity in Maspalomas , where they had seven pools, an Aloe Spa, 24hr gym and (thinking of my stomach again) three restaurants and four bars… not to mention one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever had the chance to sleep in. Not quite the restrictive detox retreat location I’d imagined.
The rooftop pool at Salobre Hotel Resort & Serenity
Five days in this sun-drenched wellness haven taught me a new way to unwind that didn’t involve DJs and daiquiris, but best of all it helped me to fight some of my fitness fears, take things at my own pace and set myself a new routine that I was willing to take home. Here’s how…
I had time to work out
You know how it is; you drag yourself out of bed in the morning as if it’s against nature to be up pre-10am, rush off to commute into work, spend the day sat in the same position then commute home to collapse in front of Bake Off with a note to self that you ‘must go to the gym tomorrow’. It’s always tomorrow.
Being a night owl I can’t bring myself to go before work, but more often than not I’m either too exhausted to go for that swim or find myself going out for dinner or watching Netflix instead. On holiday, you have no other responsibilities - my sister and I could plan our day around the facilities we were using, and suddenly going to the gym for over two hours no longer seemed like an overwhelming task or a huge waste of precious me-time (at home, the most I’d spend working out is an hour, speeding through a half-hearted workout like the well-trained Londoner I am in order to still have some evening left before the next working day begins).
The resort doesn’t have strict programmes or packages that you book into, so you can use everything at your leisure - aside from having to book in for spa circuits or treatments. We created a routine of heading for the gym (which was right at the top of the resort next to the rooftop pool) before breakfast, where I’d warm up on the treadmill looking out over the sun-baked valleys before using the free weights to do my own routine of squats, kettlebells, lunges and arm exercises. After breakfast, we’d then either swim, try out the spa circuit or head out for an excursion where we could walk up the famous sand dunes and see what else Gran Canaria had to offer.
I didn’t care what I looked like
I mean, I still wore mascara - I’m still me - but it was a revelation to not be worried about looking good for holiday snaps or having to choose outfits to fit in with the crowd like I would on the White Isle. I just threw on gym gear or a beach dress over my tankini and off I went, and that seemed to be the general vibe of the other guests as they hit the golf course or spa. This in itself was a real break from normality for me, and exactly how I needed it to be so that I could just focus on how I felt rather than how I looked.
The resort spans over 39,168m2
I didn’t have fitness fear
The best thing about working out when you’re abroad? You’re never going to see those people again. Most gyms, even my local one, intimidate me and I generally spend an hour feeling self conscious and convinced they’re wondering who let this unfit weakling in and whether she’s doing an uphill power walk because she doesn’t know how to work the treadmill (I’m not, actually, I just hate running).
At the resort, I swam solo in an empty pool in front of sun bathers with not a care in the world, used (small) weights alongside my sister while others puffed and panted through HIIT workouts around me and it was a relief; all that mattered was that I was doing it, and that I was doing it right - for me. The fact that I was picking and choosing what to do meant it was entirely on my own terms, which helped to put any anxiety at ease.
I found my comfort zone in the spa
Spas and I historically have not mixed well - I’ve written about my facial fears before due to my over sensitive skin and tend to avoid treatments in case I have a reaction; plus, I struggle to really relax, ironically, in a place that’s built for exactly that purpose. On one afternoon we went over to another of Gran Canaria Wellness’ resorts, the Seaside Palm Beach , and visited their 5-star spa, and thanks to staff who listened carefully to my concerns over fragrant oils I found my perfect treatment: the Pantai Luar.
A traditional body treatment from the Far East, it involves a cotton bag filled with medicinal herbs being heated to 120 degrees with an unscented sesame oil and then used in fast, strong movements with deep pressure to relax the muscles. Sensitive skin-friendly bliss, and the kind of treatment I’ll be looking for now I'm home. It was much-needed given the unusual level of exercise I was doing, too - when everything ached, the warmth of the herbs being pushed into my back got rid of tension so that I was ready for the next activity on the agenda.
The Pantai Luar treatment
I ate better than ever
OK, full disclosure: wine made an appearance (as did their signature sangria - it was too good not to) but it was enjoyed alongside some of the best food I’ve ever had abroad. The highlight of the trip, the main restaurant provided fresh, themed food every night, be it Mediterranean , Italian, Mexican or BBQ, though there was so much choice it was like a gastronomical trip around the world… and, dangerously, it was in a buffet format so you could go back for more - the difference was, having spent half the day working out, I didn’t have the urge to try everything on the desserts counter like I normally would.
From the freshly grilled fish to the perfectly-cooked meats or veggie-filled stir fries, it was almost impossible to choose, but every meal was an important step for me in creating a healthy routine that I might be able to mimic back home. If only I could take the chefs with me, of course…
I made new habits
Repetition is the key to making anything stick, be it adding meditation into your routine , waking up at the same time every day or trying to learn a language - which I believe is why I struggle so much to stay on the wagon when I’m at home. One week I might be able to go to the gym three days in a row, but the next I might have events or plans with friends that mean I can’t go until the weekend - and any good intentions for regular workouts go quickly out the window.
On holiday, creating a pattern was easy and after just three days I wanted to keep it up - so I was already planning how to fit it around my working days back in London.
Once home, the difference was already there; I felt more confident walking into my local gym and using the weights section, reporting back to my pleasantly surprised sister who was convinced I’d go back to my usual once-weekly workouts that mostly consist of rowing , cycling and 20 minutes on the treadmill. I felt motivated by the ease with which I was doing reps that a couple of weeks ago would have floored me - I’d avoided exercise for a couple of years due to health problems - and although I was back to work, I didn’t have that post-holiday comedown exhaustion which usually follows as soon as I land at Gatwick, complete with a sore throat and a sleep hangover caused by the nocturnal lifestyle of Ibiza.
It was the reset I really needed to push myself into starting a regular fitness routine, and helped me to find what I really enjoy doing when it comes to exercise - namely swimming, which I now try to stick to once a week, and doing my own weights routine in between rowing sessions. I still want the long Ibiza party nights and city breaks (dancing and sightseeing are two of my most proven ways to switch off stress and anxiety) but being somewhere with a focus on wellness made all the difference in giving me the space and time I needed away from day to day life to really look at what I was capable of and how I could change my often unhealthy ways back home.
As someone who tells herself every year that ‘I’ll feel better once I’m back from holiday’ only to return and often still feel knackered, it’s shown me that you can have a healthy break without feeling like you’ve wasted your annual leave on a restrictive, 'detox' style fun vacuum. We ate, we drank, we slept - so, so well - and enjoyed the sun, but we spent five days looking after ourselves too. If that’s not a successful holiday I don’t know what is.
We had a complimentary stay at the Salobre Hotel Resort & Serenity . There are nine hotels in the Gran Canaria Wellness group, prices start from €147 per night half board.