HHH Health Retreats | fitness retreats, Greece
The Quick Read: HHH Health Retreats run inspiring fitness retreats a few times a year at a chic yet super-friendly hotel on the Ionian island of Kefalonia in Greece. Four top-notch London personal trainers watch your every move, guaranteeing a week of great workouts. Everyone is welcome here – from fitness virgins to seasoned athletes – with options for all fitness levels. You’ll be challenged, for sure, but never pushed beyond your ability. The food takes detox to another level entirely and the bodywork is peerless. In fact, every aspect of this all-inclusive break has been thought through with care, consideration and precise attention to detail. If that makes it sound sterile, it’s absolutely not. You will laugh your head off while your fat weeps in anguish: these guys have hardcore senses of humour and they take no prisoners.
More on the fitness and detox break: The week has been designed to let you increase your fitness, gently detox and, if necessary, shed some weight without putting undue stress and strain on the body. There’s nothing weird or woo-woo here – everything is based on the latest research but tailored for real people and tempered with solid good common sense. You can choose to be weighed and measured throughout the retreat but the focus is not really on huge inch losses (although people do often shed a few kilos in the week) but rather on developing good habits and sensible eating schedules that be taken back into the real world. Because you’re doing a lot of exercise, meals are carefully balanced so you have all the nutrients you need, not just for detoxing but also for the increased work load on your body – read a word from a queen on her experience.
More on the spa treatments: Three treatments are included in the week. John Orum, one of the trainers, gives a session of Esalen bodywork (usually outside in a secluded terrace overlooking the sea) which is truly out of this world – a real mind-body journey by one of the best bodyworkers we’ve experienced. The other two sessions are given in the hotel’s Elemis spa. You can choose from a small range of treatments but most people opt for the massage – your muscles will be crying for it. Both Sotiris and Bessie are excellent massage therapists – deep, thorough and sensitive. (Bessie has left since our visit, but their new therapists Sofie and Marion are great.) The treatment rooms are spacious and attractive, surrounded by candles.
If you want more treatments you can book them as extras – there’s a broad range of the standard facials, wraps and rituals alongside facials, mani-pedis, waxing and nail art. They also offer aromatherapy, hot stones and reflexology. We didn’t test these – our muscles needed far more attention than our nails!
More on the fitness activities: Many fitness retreats struggle to accommodate varying levels of fitness but having four trainers on hand all the time allows the programme to be totally flexible. In the morning you can choose your poison – either a swift run to the beach followed by a swim and a run back; maybe some hill start cycling; or a more relaxed amble to Fiskardo or a ‘sunrise’ yoga session. Or any other combination you fancy.
Group sessions are usually held either outdoors in the tennis court or in the well-equipped gym. Circuit sessions provide a solid intense workout, mixing cardio with strength training. The instructors keep a close eye, correcting technique and giving encouragement. Sometimes they’ll mix it up and add some fitness games or have you trying the Bleep test to gauge your fitness levels.
Three hikes are included in the week – one is a circular route from the hotel while you’re ferried to and from the others by minibus. The full hikes are long (about four hours) and pretty strenuous, but again the trainers spread themselves out to accommodate all paces and can even offer alternative routes. If you really struggle, they’ll call for transport to ferry you home. The scenery is stunning – you meander through woodland, climb high up over the sea and trek down to secluded beaches. A one-to-one kayak session is also included – setting off from the rocks below the hotel, and one day is also scheduled for a boat trip around the nearby islands (planned mid-week so your muscles get a chance to recover).
More on the PT sessions: The four trainers mix up the sessions from day to day. Each trainer has a different style but all will chat through your fitness goals or challenges and work with your individual needs. You could have a session using the gym equipment (which includes two bikes for spinning) or work out in the tennis court using weights, kettlebells, TRX (two straps which let you use your own bodyweight for an intense workout). If you prefer, you can work on your running, swimming or cycling – or any combination thereof. It’s a great opportunity to work on any weak points or to get a blueprint for a workout at home. Alongside conventional training, Jacqui can also give a one-to-one yoga session or combine yoga with other forms of training. All the trainers will add in assisted stretches and will attack the stray tense muscle with a random ad hoc massage.
More on the yoga: Trainers vary, but we rated Jacqui Porjes. She originally trained in Ashtanga but adapts classes to the needs of the group. However she loves her yoga flowing, so morning classes tend to be swift-moving (well, swift-ish). Evening classes are more restorative and relaxing on the whole. Her overriding aim is to make yoga fun and accessible, and she sets herself the challenge to lure in people who have habitually hated yoga. She’s not remotely pretentious or prissy and steers away from the more spiritual side to fit in with the majority of guests (who tend to want the physical, rather than the more esoteric benefits of practice). Expect a good deal of laughter from the mat.
Sessions are held outside when possible, on a lovely terrace overlooking the sea (with a handy wall for supported poses) or on the tennis court (less lovely). If the weather turns nasty, the class turns to the (even less lovely) squash court for respite. A dedicated yoga shala would really be ideal.
More on the property: HHH Health Retreats home base is a family-run boutique hotel which overlooks the sea just outside the stupidly pretty Kefalonion village of Fiskardo. The main building is the hub. Reception is a very low-key desk tucked in the corner – the staff are all supremely friendly and, while service is swift and attentive, it’s never obsequious – you feel at home from the moment you arrive. Downstairs there’s a sitting area with comfortable chairs and sofas in deliciously mellow clashing tones. A bar and TV room are tucked away behind a wall divider full of books to borrow. There’s also a pool table, a small shop and a well-equipped gym (Technogym cardio and weight machines). Upstairs is one of the two main dining areas with wide balconies offering al fresco spaces for eating or sipping a juice. A short walk away there’s a well-kept squash court and inside games room with table tennis and table football.
More on the outside space: The setting really is gorgeous, looking down on the patchworked turquoise and azure Ionian sea. A large pool overlooks the water, surrounded by suntrap loungers and shaded sofas and day beds. The outdoor restaurant and bar is off to the side – it’s a fabulous spot for lunch. There’s also a small (much warmer) pool outside the main building and several of the accommodation blocks have their own shared pools so you’re never short of a place to swim. If you prefer wild swimming, a five minute ramble leads you to a stunning little cove with a sandy beach (it’s public but off-season you might well be the only person there). Or you can wend your way down rambling stairs to the rocks – it’s a great place to drop yourself into the sea (HHH launch their kayaks from here) and there’s also a cluster of body bean bags for sunbathing. If you fancy some quiet meditation or musing time, there are loads of little patios and plazas and tucked away spots with chairs or loungers. You can be as sociable or as reclusive as you desire.
Other activities: Fancy a solo hike? There are plenty of marked trails leading from the hotel into the woods, to the beach or to the nearby town of Fiskardo (reception can give you a map). Or borrow one of the hotel’s bikes (free to guests and all looking brand-spanking new when we visited). There’s also a tennis court – it’s used for some circuit classes and PT sessions but there’s usually someone up for a match or knockabout.
More on the bedrooms: Bedrooms are clustered in a series of accommodation blocks. The blocks with the best sea views have numbers starting with 1. The décor is seaside fresh (pale mint walls and grey tiled floors with the odd splash of colour from the sky blue headboard) and the furniture is modernist – clean-lined four poster beds, bedside towers and armchairs all in teak. There’s a flat-screen TV and DVD player (you can borrow a selection of DVDs from reception). All bedrooms have their own ensuite bathrooms (thankfully loo paper goes down the loo here – unlike much of Greece – not into a basket) but the vast majority have showers, not baths (water on the island is desalinated and the hotel is very eco-conscious). Standard rooms are on the small side – if you want more space to spread out, opt for an executive room or really push out the boat for the presidential suite. Bathrobes and slippers are provided along with Korres bath products (a great Greek natural brand).
Food and drink: Specialist retreat chef Alan Wichert really raises the bar on detox cooking, serving the kind of dishes you’d expect to find in a 5-star restaurant, rather than on a fitness detox retreat. As far as possible all ingredients are locally sourced and organic (many of the herbs and vegetables come from the hotel’s own garden). Alan uses no salt, sugar, wheat, cow’s dairy, alcohol or caffeine in his creations and will happily tweak meals to suit guests. The retreat we tested included chicken, turkey, fish and seafood but Alan provided equally imaginative alternatives for vegetarians and didn’t bat an eye at requests for gluten-free, no bananas, and less spice.
Breakfast sets you up for the day. On hike days it’s a carb loaded breakfast – maybe quinoa porridge with mixed fresh berries or gluten and dairy free pancakes, plus an antioxidant-laden smoothie. On non hike days it’s usually an egg based breakfast – roasted vegetable and turkey fritatta or home cured salmon scrambled eggs for instance, accompanied by an alkalising green juice.
Lunch and supper again vary according to which activities are on offer. You could find yourself tucking into salmon marinated in white and black sesame seeds or golden bream cooked in Cajun spices with courgette spaghetti, mango salsa and sweet potato puree. Supper is a two-course meal – three nights of the week there’s no starter and, instead, you get a superfood raw dessert – chia seed and acai berry pudding, goji berry and cashew nut frozen bavois, or raw cocoa and hazelnut tart.
Mid-morning there’s a choice of fresh vegetable juices and the same again mid-afternoon (plus crudités and some form of delicious dip). If you feel like ducking out, the juice menu reminds you of the ingredients and what they will do for your body. Herbal teas are freely available too.
Alan comes out at each mealtime to explain the food and how it was prepared. He also gives a healthy cookery demonstration (showing how easy it is to make things like sushi and wraps) and will cheerfully take you into the kitchen to show specific techniques if you ask. He sends out a huge document packed with recipes après-break.
Fellow guests: Everyone is welcome, and the age range is pretty wide – from 20-something to 70-something and a mix of fitness levels, with about 60% women and 40% men. Many guests come via word of mouth on the London Personal Training grapevine – London-based busy professionals who want to combine fitness and holiday.
What’s lowly: They only run a few times a year right now. It’s Greece so there’s the odd power cut. A dedicated yoga shala would be nice.
Getting there: Fly to Kefalonia from where HHH meet your flight at the airport for the 75 minute drive (with beautiful views) to the hotel. There’s also an unofficial heli-pad just outside the hotel. (For UK readers, Easyjet and Monarch fly to Kefalonia).
Costs: Prices start from £1,795 per person for a shared room (£2,395 for single occupancy). Flights are not included.
Sister retreats: Check out our review of the hardcore HHH Health Retreats.
Reviewed by Jane Alexander
© Queen of Retreats