A week in the wild with Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats, Sardinia
Elizabeth Bennett reviews an intensive fitness break with Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats on Sardinia and finds the power of embracing new things
I’m holding a large rock above my head as I run barefoot in my bikini along a deserted beach. No, I haven’t completely lost it, I’m just on an outdoor fitness retreat in Sardinia with Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats, and here working out couldn’t be further from the sweaty claustrophobic gym.
I should premise with this saying I am not your typical fitness retreat person. I didn’t play team sports at school, I’m rarely competitive and my exercise regime at home is mainly based around yoga and walking. However, I love the outdoors, was keen to get fitter and always up for trying news things. Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats’ offering in Sardinia fit the bill perfectly.
Started by Emma Bodkin and Lottie Pridham, two British personal trainers based out of Verbier, Switzerland, the company offers retreats in their hometown of Verbier as well as Tuscany, Iceland, Cornwall and now the Maddalena Archipelago National Park in Sardinia, a sprawling collection of islands just off the North coast of the main island.
The tone for the week is set when our minibus from the airport drops us straight to Caprera, the island where will be spending most of the week, for a beach warm-up session. After some post-flight stretching to loosen tight muscles it’s straight into a core and HIIT workout led by Lottie. I start to wonder what I’ve let myself into but with the music pumping via a portable speaker, Lottie’s encouraging words and the warmth of the sunshine on my face, I make it through. As I run into the sea for a cooling dip I couldn’t feel further from the drizzly 4 am cab ride to Gatwick that morning. After a picnic lunch of home-made roasted vegetable frittata with avocado and quinoa salad (unanimously voted as the best thing we’ve ever eaten from a Tupperware, let alone on a deserted beach), it’s off on a hike to explore the island.
Next up we checked into the villa, a white stone property with a real family feel on neighboring island, Maddalena. I was in a shared room upstairs but thanks to its spacious size, a balcony, and the multiple lounging areas and terraces I never found it cramped or claustrophobic. The highlight was the waterfront location. I loved waking each morning to see the views of the surrounding islands and azure water and take a few moments to soak up the blissful quiet thanks to our off-season visit.
The tranquil setting was best admired from the stone jetty where we met for our first yoga class after settling in. One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever practiced yoga (and I’ve been fortunate to try a few), the daily classes were led by Louise Coates, a Bristol-based A&E physiotherapist, yoga teacher, masseuse and all-round calming presence. As a yoga fan these were a real highlight and I loved the mix of flowing classes practicing strengthening poses like crow contrasted with the deeply relaxing yin sessions. Louise always went the extra mile creating her space using incense, candles and hypnotizing music (we all asked for her Spotify playlist) as well as using her skills to give us massage with essential oil in Shavasana.
The schedule of higher intensity exercise I found more challenging. One morning started with a timed sprint across the 1km bridge that links Maddalena and Caprera island which gave me horrible flashbacks to PE classes of my school days, while a circuit class in a rain storm towards the end of the week tested my patience. Camaraderie was always high though, and it never felt competitive or intimidating thanks to Emma and Lottie’s rallying motivation and ability to split the group. A necessity considering the seven women varied hugely in age (early twenties to late sixties) and fitness level (triathletes to casual gym goers). What I relished most was the time outdoors (I’m a hippy at heart) and the scenery is truly spectacular. I don’t know what I loved more, the rugged moon-like landscape, divine smelling pine forests or coves that deserved names like Little Tahiti.
The always-excellent homemade fare kept us fuelled too. Breakfast was a feast with the group making the most of the buffet by piling our bowls high with granola, fruit and the now-infamous peanut butter. At first, I worried how I might cope without the carbs and the snacks but I never felt hungry. In fact, the delicious mix of fresh fish and inventive veggie salads and dishes inspired me to get back in the kitchen and out of that cooking rut it’s easy to fall into.
I really appreciated the chance to try activities I would never find myself doing at home and my favourite day was spent on mountain bikes cycling round both Maddelena and Caprera. Although the hikes were often steep, the satisfaction of reaching the top always outweighed the struggle and I surprised myself when I enjoyed the 7km trail run; a great reminder of what you can achieve if you really put your mind to it, and an inspiration to say yes to new things.
The schedule was certainly jam-packed and it left little alone time, but there was always an hour after lunch to soak up the sun (and maybe a power nap) and another after dinner for reading just a few pages of my book before inevitably drifting off. We also had a couple of hours off one afternoon to mooch around the historic town of Maddalena, pick up souvenirs or local Sardinian treats, and stop for the optional sneaky gelato.
When the week came to an end I felt physically tired but mentally energised, relaxed and refreshed. Spending time away from my ever-connected digital world absorbed in nature was the perfect antidote to the daily humdrum of work and life. As we reached the summit of our last hike, a sweaty scramble to one of the Caprera’s highest points, I looked back at how far I’d climbed. In that moment I realised the power of just putting one foot in front of the other – both in exercise and in life.