HHH Hardcore Week review | fitness retreat Greece
A fantastically fun, total body reboot on Kefalonia
The Quick Read: HHH Health Retreats run ad hoc fitness weeks at a luxury hotel on Kefalonia in Greece, and this hardcore week runs once or twice a year. You’ll need a good base level of fitness to keep up on a challenging week which includes some strenuous scenic bike rides, hill sprints, ten-mile hikes and a mini-triathlon. You can also expect sea kayaking, water polo, Pilates and personal training along with heart-pumping old school circuits. It’s not all blood sweat and tears though. You’ll be-based out of the heavenly Emelisse Hotel, a chic five star boutique hotel with mind-blowing ocean views and treated to a relaxing day out in the hotel’s luxury speedboat. The whole trip is exceptionally well organised with very high standards in everything from the trainers to the food.
Who it’s best for: Competitive types who get a kick out of going for it, all guns blazing. There’s no need to be a professional athlete however – the age range on our trip was early thirties to mid-fifties – if you’ve got a good base level of fitness and like pushing yourself, this retreat will suit you down to the ground.
What you can do: The main difference between the HHH hardcore retreat and the HHH standard fitness weeks is the intensity. You’ll do more and you’ll do it faster. You’ll certainly be expected to hit the ground running. Day one we arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon (after a 3.30 am departure to the airport) and went straight out for a 5km jog. The schedule billed this as ‘gentle’, but we’re talking serious heart-pumping gradients. For the rest of the week, your morning begins at a civilised 7am or 7.30am, depending on the day’s activities, which might start with a 10-mile hike, or alternatively a bike ride, run, gym or swim. The choice is yours. That’s one of the many good things about HHH, the staff to client ratio is always high (three trainers to five guests on our trip), so there’s always the option to tailor-make activities to suit your goals.
There are three scheduled fitness activities a day, which adds up to around 25 hours of fitness over the week, and there’s always the opportunity to do more, with optional 30 km afternoon bike rides or additional one-on-one PT for anyone who’d rather sweat than sunbathe. There’s no rest for the wicked. The daily ‘evening prayers’ on the schedule is, in fact, an‘optional’ post-dinner gym workout.
When you’re not sweating buckets, you’ll learn how to whizz up fresh almond milk and make a chia seed pudding in spa chef supremo Alan Wichert’s cooking demo. There’s even a decent amount of downtime, when you can recline on the daybeds by the fabulous ocean-side pool or check out the candle-lit Elemis spa.
Where you stay: The chic Hotel Emelisse, in the unspoilt north of the Greek island of Kefalonia, a beautifully laid out five start hotel with high-thread count cotton sheets, fluffy towels and an elegant infinity pool big. The service is wonderfully friendly too.
How was it for us: I loved every minute. Yes, even the hill sprints. It was really, really fun. I don’t know if fit people laugh more than most but the whole group seemed to fizz with a lively joie de vivre and the trainers spent the entire week ribbing each other.
There were six people in our group, including an Amazonian former beach volleyball champion and Italian financier who played Tinder like an Olympic sport. In other words they were hardcore, which was absolutely brilliant for me, because if I’m training with a guy who’s bashing out one-legged burpees (yes really), I’m going to make sure I match him. Kayak Death Challenge? Bring it on! Even the Pilates class was hardcore and I soon discovered a whole new layer of muscle. The ‘friendly’ water polo match awakened a frightening competitive streak and I shocked myself (and everyone else) by becoming a fearless ‘goal machine’. By the end of the week I felt invincible.
The fitness mantra here is ‘turn it up’, and everything about the way the retreat is designed will inspire you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Between the ten-mile hikes and the deadly bleep test (a fitness test they use in the army and police force) I managed fire brigade entry level – one of our trainers James Larkin estimated that we’d ‘dumped 24,000 calories’ in six days. Not something you can easily do at home.
But do you know what, none of it was that bad. Even crawling over the finish line of the final day’s (mini) triathlon, I still had a smile on my face. Doing it all in a fabulous five star hotel certainly helped and the meals were always a treat to look forward to. Al’s food added a whole new meaning to the concept of spa cuisine, being both beautifully presented and mouth-wateringly good.
I did the retreat in preparation for my 50th birthday, ostensibly to boost my energy and fitness in preparation for next decade, but mainly because I wanted to look hot in my party dress. Did it work? You bet, and I easily wore a dress I’d bought 20 years earlier.
What we took home: I steamed into Wholefoods like a woman possessed and immediately maxed out my credit card on chia seeds and gogi berries. Three months later I’m still hooked on Al’s Bircher muesli and have swapped fried eggs for poached, after Al’s brilliant cooking demo.
Would we go back: Yes, in a shot. I loved the combo of hardcore fitness and totally fabulous surroundings.
People watch: South African, London-based personal trainer Henlu Van Der Westhuizen is an excellent trainer with a hardcore sense of humour who gives his all to his clients and somehow manages to make his retreats as fun as they are tough. He’s joined by James Larkin, an avid marathon runner and personal trainer with more than 20 years experience in the business who manages to make fitness fun even when your muscles are crying out for mercy. And food is served up by co-founder Alan Wichert, aka ‘Big Al’, an irrepressible Aussie and former rave DJ (get ready to be put through your paces in a hardcore rave circuit with Al on the decks) who has worked as private chef to a number of billionaires as well as at a number of Michelin rated restaurants.
Food watch: Meals are served on the pool terrace in front of the deep blue calm of the Ionian Sea, with the hazy mountainous outline of neighbouring island Ithaca on the horizon. One of our fellow guests told us that Al’s food was the main reason she’d come on this holiday, and it’s not hard to see why. The food here is really quite wonderful. It’s not just the taste, but the top presentation. There’s a leaning towards vegetables, but unlike the HHH fitness holiday’s detox menu, no food group is excluded on the hardcore week, so you’ll eat some dairy and even red meat.
As far as possible ingredients are locally sourced and mainly organic, and recipes are also sugar and gluten-free. On hike days you’ll carb load at breakfast on perhaps porridge with berries and anti-oxidant rich smoothie. At lunch you might enjoy Massaman Chicken and sweet potato curry with a grapefruit and strawberry mint lemonade, then find yourself tucking into at dinner pineapple jalapeno gazpacho, salmon gravadlax and chia seed pudding. Or Swordfish kebabs with tomato salsa with Cajun spiced sweet potato wedges and a veggie nicoise salad. Mmmmm.
What’s queenly: Not only is the Emelisse Hotel an unusually pleasant hotel in which to find a proper fitness retreat, but the surrounding nature is magical. Think wild herbs and pine forests, conifer clad rocky outcrops and a pristine and Yves-Klein blue water.
What’s lowly: If you live in London – the silly o’clock early morning Easyjet flight from Gatwick on the way out.
Insider tip: The focus here is on making long-term behavioural changes, rather than instant weight-loss, and Al dishes up hearty man-size meals. If you want to lose weight, ask Al to shrink your portions. Daily laundry is included in the price. (you’ll need it after all that sweating).
Price with companion: £1895
Price solo: £2495
Value for money: It’s not the cheapest fitness trip granted, but you get a lot for the money. This is a first class hotel with a room rate starting around £150 at this time of year. The HHH price includes first class meals, a day out in a luxury speed boat, plus two massages in the Elemis spa, so yes we would say it’s good value.
Sister retreats: Check out our review of the regular HHH fitness retreats.
Reviewed by Sharon Walker
© Queen of Retreats