If the explosive growth of CrossFit, Barry’s Bootcamp and other fitness fads is anything to go by, the desire to get — and stay — in shape is ever more universal. But competitive-style training that can push participants to the point of throwing up might not be everybody’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t mine; so the somewhat gentler regimen I’m about to embark on sounds much more appealing.
I’m at La Réserve Ramatuelle, an exclusive retreat on the Côte d’Azur, and I’m here to be whipped into shape on a three-day Nescens Better Ageing Bootcamp. In keeping with comparative packages offered by other high-end spa hotels, La Réserve takes the view that there’s much more to fitness than working up a sweat. Its bootcamp operates on the simple rationale that healthy eating and exercise will burn off body fat, and pairs this ethos with indulgent downtime and a series of spa treatments to boost wellbeing and vitality.
Sea views from La Voile
Benjamin, La Réserve’s personal trainer, sheds more light on the premise at my preliminary health assessment. As well as promising immediate results, the programme encourages lifestyle changes to maintain any benefits well beyond my stay. Our chat ascertains my goals and weaknesses and provides the basis for a fitness agenda devised by Benjamin.
To provide a baseline to gauge my programme’s effectiveness, he hooks me up to the spa’s Body Composition Analyser to determine my BMR (basal metabolic rate, or the energy my body needs just to tick over). It also reveals that I weigh 89kg, with a fat mass of 17.5 per cent.
For someone of my height and age — 6′ and 44 — this puts me well into the «normal» bracket (if disconcertingly close to the boundary with «over-fat», the next category up). Not bad, perhaps, for a guy in his forties — but Benjamin has higher expectations. My ideal fat mass, he believes, should be closer to 14-15 per cent; and to get there, he’ll tailor an exercise plan that will trim off the excess while honing my core.
Uncluttered accommodation provides a calming setting in which to rest after a demanding session
Success will depend on resolve and commitment; but later, en route to the restaurant, I find myself questioning both. With a Michelin star to its name, La Voile engenders high expectations, and I’m very much looking forward to a glass or two of Provençal rosé alongside all the other guests who’ve come here simply to have an indulgent weekend away. But the maître d’ has been tipped off: my side plate and wine glass are whisked away before I can break the bootcamp’s no bread/no booze rules.
Fortunately, my «wellbeing» set menu is no poor relation to the à la carte it reflects. With lighter sauces and fewer carbs, its dishes are tweaked for the health conscious and crafted to meet my BMR requirements. Mains such as grilled tuna and butter-soft steak may thus be lower in calories, but each is a feast for the eyes in terms of presentation, and tastes sensational.
Next morning, I embark on a routine that sets the rhythm for the coming days. After watching the sun rise over the Mediterranean from my balcony, I head to the gym for my first training session with Benjamin. We start with a series of gentle stretches and follow with punishing plank exercises to strengthen, as promised, my core and obliques.
Sea views make spinning sessions a touch more tolerable
As the morning sunshine enlivens the blues and emerald greens of sea and pines, we relocate to the gym’s outdoor terrace for some high-intensity cardio to get my heart beating and start burning fat. A healthy breakfast of egg-white omelette (with wistful glances at the pastry selection) comes next; then it’s back to meet Benjamin again for our first two-hour hike.
For extra impetus, we’re equipped with Nordic walking poles so the workout isn’t limited to our legs. Descending a set of steps linking the property to the shore, we stride out along a stretch of the Sentier du Littoral long-distance footpath. The tips of the poles click-clack rhythmically as we follow the sometimes challenging trail via boulders and coves down the coast. After an hour or so, we turn inland and continue through vineyards and woodland to complete a circuit back to La Réserve. The 8km route, one of several in Benjamin’s repertoire, is so lovely that I almost forget that this is an exercise class.
After a low-carb lunch at La Voile, the afternoon is mine to enjoy. Instead of relaxing by the pool or checking out St Tropez, I opt to visit Ramatuelle, a 10-minute drive away. From its hilltop position, I take in the view across picture-perfect Provençal countryside before exploring the village’s ancient core. Among its maze of cobbled streets, a tiny patisserie tempts me successfully with the local speciality, tarte Tropézienne — a bite-sized, custard-filled brioche (sorry, Benjamin). Luckily there’s no time for further transgressions: I have to get back for the spa.
The landscape surrounding La Réserve Ramatuelle
The spa element of La Réserve’s bootcamp is just as essential as the fitness programme. Using only products from the exclusive Nescens and La Mer brands, its treatments are designed to promote wellness and better ageing. As well as a daily, stress-busting deep-tissue massage using antioxidant-rich oils, I’m smothered in a seaweed body mask and left to sweat out any toxins, then scrubbed all over with sugar, green tea and coconut oil until my skin glows.
With subsequent days following the same structure, by the end of my three-day stay I’m visibly trimmer, feeling great and keen to get back on the Body Composition Analyser. Benjamin hits the button and we cheer as the figures come in: I’m nearly 2kg lighter and my fat mass has dropped to 15 per cent.
I’m genuinely impressed; but then, it’s not what I’ve lost that’s important. What counts is what I’ve gained. I’ve seen first-hand how healthy eating and exercise have undeniable results and, thanks to Benjamin, I’ve learned new skills to help keep me in shape when I get home.
La Réserve Ramatuelle opens for the 2018 season on April 20. The Nescens 3-Day Bootcamp costs €1,950 (£1,715) per person, including meals, Nordic walking, personal training and spa treatments. Rooms from €850 per night.