Easing tightness on a Restore & Reform retreat at Anantara Vilamoura spa hotel in Portugal

Caroline Sylger Jones reviews a clever week for physical rehab and health devised by Restore & Reform at a spa hotel in Portugal and enjoys excellent physio, soft tissue therapy, Reformer Pilates sessions and oodles of healing sunshine.

I arrived after a 30 minute easy going taxi ride from Faro airport both hot and eager to relax at Anantara Vilamoura, a luxurious spa hotel on the Algarve. I was here to experience the inaugural Restore & Reform week-long retreat, a clever new concept for physical rehab and health, with my close friend Fiona, both of us working mothers glad of the opportunity to reconnect, but also to ease out our ongoing body tension issues – all down to computer work, looking after children, and life’s general strain.

Our room was on the second floor – handily the same floor as the spa – all marble-floored, calm and cream, with a small balcony looking over the pool and golf course beyond that sported a super comfortable double day bed. Our twin beds had comfy linen, there was a decent coffee machine for us to use and we both had oodles of wardrobe space each – perfect. I asked the staff to clear the mini bar and fill it with filtered water, and we were ready to begin our week.

The Back To Health programme both Fiona and I were on was created by a personable and energetic duo – physio Michelle Lewis, with her former spinal fusion surgery patient and friend Lucy Nifontova – impressively, they also had guidance from Lucy’s orthopaedic surgeon, one of London’s leading lights. It combined physio, soft tissue massage, daily reformer sessions and group classes, all delivered by real experts, to help ease our muscular tension and help us reconnect with our bodies in a kind and gentle way.

We had both had pre-retreat phone consultations with Michelle, a nice touch which set a nurturing tone for the week. Our days started and ended with an optional group Restore or Stretch class – you’re advised which class suits you better after a consultation on arrival. While Fiona attended some gentle stretch and breathe classes on the spa’s outdoor terrace, I was advised to do the morning Restore class at 8 am each day in the indoor wooden-floored dance studio, and relished the Pilates-based focused muscle work on the mat in a way I never thought I would as someone who does a daily yoga practice.

‘Having a bespoke, thoughtful programme for the week made us both feel valued and supported, and being able to lie in the sunshine on beautifully comfortable loungers and read or chat after a private massage or physio session was total bliss’

Between times we had two daily private sessions of 30 or 60 minutes each. These included caring and carefully thought out physiotherapy with Michelle, who used excellent massage and dry needling when I needed it; the most wondrously healing soft tissue therapy sessions with Jo McCluskey; and decently challenging sessions on a Reformer Pilates machine calmly guided by Ben Andrews which helped strengthen and tone my body over the course of the week.

We both enjoyed spending time with the therapists, who helped us realise that there are solutions to painful physical problems and that the right treatments and exercise can alleviate long-term issues. Having a bespoke, thoughtful and appropriate programme for the week made us both feel valued and supported.

Between times we sunbathed a lot – the weather was kind, and just being able to lie in the sunshine on beautifully comfortable loungers and read or chat after a private massage or physio session was total bliss. The hotel is huge, far larger than those I would usually choose to stay in, but it has wondrously friendly staff and an easy going vibe, and I soon warmed to the place.

A highlight for me was the deliciously warm central swimming pool, which I had to myself each morning for lengths after my Restore class, and around which most of the hotel guests lounged and sat in companionable silence throughout the day, gentle chat and music from the bar area wafting over us.

I also booked some gorgeously indulgent treatments (as extras) at the hotel’s Asia-inspired rooftop spa – an excellent Thai massage to kick my week off with Katarina, a full body scrub with orange, lavender and sesame seeds followed by a massage with the same therapist midweek, and a decent and beautifully relaxing Elemis facial the night before flying home. There’s a fabulous sauna here, plus a steam room and a rooftop terrace on which to rest in peace and quiet. The large hydro pool felt too chilly to relax in.

Whilst Fiona and I felt we were having a very private retreat, there were others here on the same Restore & Reform week on different programmes, for the company also offers intelligent options for people suffering after illness, surgery or giving birth. Our fellow guests included a lady who had just had a shoulder replacement; her husband who had a vulnerable hip that was affecting his golf; their daughter with her 8 month old baby and her partner who had recently broken his foot; and a brave young woman who was just nine weeks post back surgery. Michelle and Lucy worked tirelessly to ensure everyone had all they needed.

Breakfast is included in the retreat – we ate from a general buffet which featured everything from detox juices to champagne and fresh seasonal fruits and home made breads to full English and Asian options and lots of cake. Lunches and dinners are up to you – we feasted one lunchtime at Ria, the hotel’s fish restaurant, where you can sit on a terrace overlooking the pool – food here was exceptionally good, especially the fresh red prawns, lobster and sea bass.

For the evenings, usually after a fabulously mixed cocktail by the pool, we tended to stick to the evening buffet or a la carte menu at the large and spacious hotel restaurant, Victoria, not being bothered to leave the hotel and wanting to feel cocooned, though many people took the free shuttle to the nearby marina where there is a buzzy range of bars and restaurants. We treated ourselves one night to a wine pairing menu at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant Emo, where the beautifully cooked beef was amongst the most delicious and tenderest I have ever tried.

Towards the end of the week I had an excellent private session of yoga with Jo, who is also a Jivamukti yoga teacher and suggested clever ways for me to adapt my daily yoga practice to save shoulder strain, while Michelle gave me a few matt-based exercises to take home which I’ve continued to do on a daily basis. We both finished the week on a natural high with great sun tans, leaving with clear advice and guidance from the team about what we could continue to do at home to nurture our incredibly relaxed, ache free and stronger bodies. If I had had surgery or an injury, I’d feel safe booking a recovery week with this team.