Leanne Rinne toughens up in the hills, as she’s put through her paces at a boot camp in the Pyrenees.
Lying back on the warm stone decking, a bright tangerine sun overhead, I’m surrounded by the scent of lush green meadows.
Eyes closed, all my stresses quickly drift away.
Just a few hours ago, I was another tired city commuter, battling with my brolly and dodging fellow stressed workers in the streets.
Now I’m in the serene gardens of Can Rigall, a gorgeous eco-chic hotel, perched in the Pyrenees Mountains in Arles-sur-Tech, southern France.
Surrounded by rolling hills, with snow-sprinkled mountain peaks dotted along the horizon, the seclusion and scenery is enough to draw anybody looking for a peaceful break.
But, as relaxing and indulgent as it is, I’m not here to simply lie back. In May this year, Can Rigall launched the Wild Training Fitness Retreat. In other words, a fitness boot camp with a relaxing, pampering twist.
When booking a holiday, ‘wild’ and ‘fitness’ are not usually words that spring to mind. I’m normally first to settle for a conventional package deal somewhere sunny, but the promise of being eased gently into a more healthy and active lifestyle, while surrounded by stunning natural beauty, somehow made me sign up.
After just a glimpse of Can Rigall’s rustic stone walls, sloping emerald forests and plunging valleys, I’m already thinking I’ll never go back to my ‘ordinary’ holidays again.
The 300-year-old Catalan farmstead has been converted stone by stone into one of the most ecological hotels in Europe.
There are only 11 delightful rooms, with individual names inspired by the local history.
From open terraces and traditional oak tables, to cosy fireplaces and candlelit corners, it’s both rural and sophisticated, and the perfect spot for a fitness retreat.
Soon after checking in, I’ve changed out of my city clothes into my sports gear, ready to meet the rest of the group including our UK-based fitness instructors, James and Sophie.
The action quickly starts, and the sound of our trainers tapping on the pebbled path echoes in the breeze as we walk down to a long wooden platform overlooking the Pyrenees.
Forget stuffy gyms and crammed aerobics classes, here you are immersed in nature.
The group is made up of people of all different shapes, sizes and ages, and I wonder how the instructors will manage to lead activities that suit everyone’s abilities.
I soon realise it doesn’t matter - the sessions are designed so that everybody gets something out of them, and we can all go at our own pace.
A few minutes into the class, we all have broad smiles stretching across our glowing faces. From posture improvement and rope work, to sandbag squats and skipping, James gets everyone involved and having fun.
He’s so encouraging you just can’t help but absorb his passion for fitness, which inspires you to try your best.
It’s clear this retreat is not a punishing, military-style boot camp.
If you can’t bend down and touch your toes, it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t really matter whether you usually exercise regularly at home either. This programme is about challenging yourself while having a good time, and gently teaching you how to improve your body and well-being.
Between the group classes, there are one-to-one sessions with James, which focus on toning and technique, with tailored work-outs to suit your individual needs.
Not once do I check my watch and wish it would hurry up. In fact, I can’t believe how quickly the session has gone as I bounce off contentedly to Zumba class with Sophie afterwards.
We all spread out on the mountainside. Who cares if you’ve had three kids, wobble when you jog, or have a distinct lack of co-ordination?
Somehow, our insecurities are dwarfed by the magnificent landscape. Soon we’re all shaking our hips and hopping around like happy mountain goats under the watchful eye of Mount Canigou.
After Zumba it’s time for a relaxing body control class which combines elements of Pilates, yoga and Tai Chi. We take up our positions like little Buddhas in prayer, and stretch our bodies into streamline poses under an azure Mediterranean sky.
Can Rigall is surrounded by 350 acres of off-road trails to explore by foot, bicycle or horseback. The next morning, we tackle the steep climb to the Pilo de Belmaig.
The path is challenging, as we climb through dense vegetation, over little rocks and mounds. But the hypnotising views make it well worth the effort, and physical aches are quickly replaced with a great sense of achievement as we sit down on the grass to savour the mountain air.
Between the wild adventures and outdoor fitness classes, there’s time to replenish with home-cooked Catalonian meals, healthy snacks and vibrant smoothies prepared by our friendly and thoughtful host Helle.
Every day, she cooks up a delicious menu, featuring locally-sourced ingredients and traditional dishes, which we enjoy together at the grand oak dinner table.
Helle also selects local wines to compliment every dish. She makes everybody’s stay at Can Rigall incredibly comfortable and relaxing: we wake to the aroma of homemade jams, golden pastries, fresh eggs and artisan cured ham.
In this idyllic setting, suspended between the mountains and sea, James’s expert nutritional advice and inspirational training programme becomes a realistic way of life and new way of thinking. Within days I feel revived and motivated.
Sadly, the stay has come to an end. But, along with my dirty walking boots, I tuck into my suitcase a personalised recipe, diet and fitness pack, and make a mental note to keep up the good work once I’m home.
If that fails, well there’s always next year’s holiday...
Key facts - Can Rigall, French Pyrenees
:: Best for: An ideal escape for nature lovers, adventure seekers and anybody wanting to re-boot their fitness in stunning, natural surroundings.
:: Time to go: Can Rigall closes from the beginning of November and reopens in early March. The best time of year to hike is late spring/early summer as July and August get very hot.
:: Don’t miss: Saturday market in nearby Ceret buzzes with life, and you’ll find a great selection of cheese, wine, meats and nuts there.
:: Don’t forget: Barcelona is a 2-3 hour drive from Can Rigall, but there are many direct flights into Perpignan.
:: Need to know: Visitors can soak in the Roman hot springs of the neighbouring towns of Amelie-les-Bains or La Preste, and see organic olive groves (Les Fonts) in Pyrenees-Orientales.
Leanne Rinne was a guest of Can Rigall in the Vallespir Valley near Arles-sur-Tech in Languedoc-Roussillon. Four nights’ full board at Wild Training Fitness Retreat in double/twin room starts at £985 (two sharing).
Package including fitness classes, personal training sessions, a health and fitness at home pack and return transfers to Perpignan Airport (single supp £100). Flights extra.
The next Wild Training Pyrenees retreat starts on October 12. For reservations call 020 7016 6740 or visit www.canrigall.com
All classes are led by Wild Training founder and personal trainer James Griffiths (www.wildtraining.co.uk) and Reebok Master Trainer Sophie Griffiths.
Parent company of the Can Rigall course is Basecamp Explorer, based in France (0033 629 962 816).