I was navigating the labyrinthine streets of Vejer's old town in a whole new way. Instead of pausing to have a glass of wine and a tapa, or to capture panoramic vistas on my iPhone, I was instead doing tricep dips against street benches, lunges whilst overlooking the Plaza de España, and then punching and jabbing at the air.
My mentor in this street fitness body-toning class was Blanca Fernández, who leads the yoga and exercise elements of VIVIR by V, a new destination wellness retreat at the town's boutique Hotel V.
Take it to the street
I have to admit that, at first, I felt a little self-conscious exercising in the centre of old town. As I did step-ups beside the fountain, a few masked retired folk looked on in bemusement. I'm more used to the anonymity of the gym, but in this Covid-19 era, it's smart to make the most of our immediate surroundings and get fit in the fresh air. Lockdowns have inspired new ways to exercise, so the closure of our local gyms is no excuse to be a coach potato.
Leaving the apathy of 2020 behind, I headed for Vejer de la Frontera, the postcard-perfect hilltop town in Cadiz province, to try VIVIR by V, which includes daily yoga, hiking, body toning, and restorative massage.
There are generous and tempting meals too, prepared with local 0km seasonal goodness. My few days at Hotel V provided not only the motivational kick start I needed but fuelled me with ideas of how to keep up the good intentions at home.
Life can be full of small recalibrations, as we learn from our challenges, experiences, and the positive impact of others - all helping us navigate a better course. This seems to be amplified as we embark upon a new year. January presents us with that annual 'nudge', almost an obligation, to go beyond just fine-tuning daily life, and to instead make more decisive, healthy changes, to break bad habits, reinforce better ones and build a more fulfilling life for the year ahead.
Yet, this new year, as we continue to be in and out of lockdowns, with many gyms closed and our social lives limited, motivation might feel in short supply. We need to be more resourceful than ever to find ways to eat well, get fitter, keep positive and cultivate our overall wellbeing. More than ever, we need to start making those first few healthy steps in the right direction.
My day usually starts with me reaching for my iPhone on the nightstand, launching the news apps, and then scrolling through social media. I know it's not a healthy habit. So, whilst in Vejer, it was great to be reminded of how one can start the day with mindfulness and positive intentions. Blanca took me through a simple, short yet powerful routine combining meditation and stretching.
At the V by V retreat, yoga is offered on the spectacular roof terrace with Vejer's old town at your feet, or deep under the property, in the ancient aljibe cistern, a unique place that has now been converted into a peaceful, cosy, and calming space for massage, and meditation. Yet Blanca also explained that at home, just by giving ourselves 15 to 20 minutes in the morning alone, sitting on a rug, and following a guided meditation or yoga class online, one could maintain this positive morning ritual.
Exploring the nearby natural parks of Los Alcornocales, La Breña and the Estrecho are an integral part of the wellness programme. Professional, bilingual guide Carlos Milburn has a passion for the local forests, leading hikes that can build strength and stamina, burn fat, and also inform and entertain. I learnt about the curative qualities of the wild herbs from aromatic rosemary to a type of Jerusalem sage, and how Andalusians used to forage for coastal Mediterranean juniper and the tender hearts of the Mediterranean fan palm.
During regional lockdowns, taking local walks is a satisfying way to get fit, and calm the mind. There's something captivating about nature that just erodes feelings of anxiety, stress, and apathy. There's a wealth of apps online that detail local routes in Andalucía, so making time in the week to get lost among pine trees might be just what the doctor ordered.
Healthy eating isn't about denial suggests VIVIR by V Chef Alberto Reyes. Well known in Vejer for his creative fusion cuisine, Reyes is the expertise behind the three daily meals and the healthy snacks enjoyed during the retreat.
Don't expect calorie-limiting, pared-back meals. Instead, Reyes believes a healthy, stable weight comes from eating fresh, predominantly vegetarian foods. Each meal starts with a cleansing, digestive-friendly infusion based on natural spices like turmeric. Returning home, he encourages us to make the most of lockdown by visiting our local farmers' markets and creating our own 0km meals.
His menus are grounded in the seasons, so at the moment it's hearty winter vegetables, with layers of flavour thanks to smoking or roasting, lots of fresh herbs and some exotic spices. Expect starters of delicately smoked aubergine with rocket, tofu, and pomegranate; and main courses of wild artichoke with fennel puree - winter never tasted so good.
Puddings are on the menu too, but there's no refined sugar. Sweetness comes from natural unprocessed sources. It's a good trick to try at home. In fact, the rice pudding with coconut and lemon grass was so good, I'm sharing the recipe below.
What's more, getting fit after Christmas doesn't necessarily have to mean 'Dry January' either. Alberto sees wine as part of the joy of eating, and his meals are paired with organic, natural sulphite-free wines. I mean, right now with everything that's going on, I am not giving up wine... but switching to 'cleaner' organic wines seems an easier enough step.
The health benefits of massage therapy are widely recognised. Not only reducing muscle tension but improving circulation, reducing stress hormones, and improving flexibility and joint mobility.
Daniel is the Vivir by V expert in massage and guests can enjoy regular treatments with him throughout their stay. Whether a deep tissue massage or something more relaxing, Daniel will discuss with you your health and design the appropriate therapy. Once at home this is something we can maintain.
VIVIR by V is an all-inclusive retreat based at Hotel V, a restored historic old town property, with a triple-level roof terrace, charming courtyard, and guest rooms with underfloor heating. Packages are for a three-night weekend or a full week, and promise to invigorate and inspire a healthy, holistic lifestyle that we can maintain at home.
It's something to put in the diary for when provincial borders reopen.