I've always enjoyed following politics and current affairs. Listening to the morning news while preparing breakfast was always part of my morning ritual. Yet these days the news media seems more of a Halloween horror with its unrelenting, sad updates on the pandemic.
So, if you're anything like me, maybe your morning ritual has changed over recent months - no longer reaching for the news apps on the phone or switching on the wireless. Instead, probably a more mindful morning, with a coffee on the terrace in the autumn sunshine.
The pandemic has also brought wellness to the forefront - driving a desire to keep healthy both physically and mentally. So little wonder when put in the context of travel that wellness staycations are now a thing - a big thing.
As our travel options have become increasingly restricted, a wellness staycation in Andalucía makes sense.
Recently I joined a four-day Health and Fitness Retreat at Marbella's Puente Romano Beach Resort. It was the chance for me to have an insight into the contemporary trends in active lifestyle holidays. The classic elements of a Mediterranean escape were there of course, but so were modern training facilities and varied sports activities complemented by nurturing, relaxing treatments and therapies.
As residents, most of us probably know the hotel best for its dining scene, with its popular restaurants set around La Plaza; or for the resort's tennis club that's home not only to top tournaments like this season's Marbella Open ATP Challenger, but legendary summer concerts too.
Here the recent decline in international tourism has been offset by a greater number of national and regional guests. The resort is also welcoming new visitors drawn to the resort's fitness facilities (as well as mainland Spain's only Six Senses Spa) and dining that can be tailored nutritionally.
For me, travel is about creating memories - and staycations shouldn't be an exception. Just because we're holidaying locally is no reason not to try something new. The concierge team at the Puente Romano has curated 100 experiences that guests can enjoy, from star gazing, having a flamenco dance lesson to driving on a racetrack. Our retreat kicked off with sailing along Marbella's shore, aboard La Cruz, the hotel's fully crewed yacht. It was an unforgettable afternoon, watching dolphins darting and diving beside the hull, and views of Sierra Blanca - a powerful reminder that a wellness holiday doesn't mean boring.
Opened by Björn Borg in 1979, the famous clay courts of the Club de Tenis Puente Romano have hosted many tennis greats, so it was with some trepidation that the next day I joined a class with Juan Nieto, the Head Coach who is sometimes joined by Marko Djokovic, assistant coach to his brother and world champion Novak Djokovic.
Despite not picking up a racquet in years, I needn't have worried. Juan's enthusiasm and energy quickly boosted my confidence and the class made for a fun, satisfying and active morning. Rediscovering a love of a sport is just one of the benefits of a health and fitness break - there's also the chance to learn new ones too.
Mario Simón García oversees the new health and fitness training facilities of Puente Romano's gym. He's a former a member of the Spanish national kung fu team and championship medal winner, as well as a specialist in biomechanics (the science of body movement), tai chi, qigong, and Taoist meditation. Under his patient and friendly guidance, I begun to learn some of the basic fundamentals of tai chi. This Chinese martial art, sometimes called shadow boxing, is like a slow motion version of classical Asian self-defence. It's a mindful activity, demanding concentration, so your head is cleared of preoccupations and distractions, and you begin to feel much calmer.
This is part of growing trend to offer a more holistic approach to fitness, combining focus on flexibility, agility as well as breathing and relaxation.
It's reassuring to know that wellness holidays aren't about being a fitness fanatic - it's more about being open to varied activities, being willing to stretch physically and relax mentally. It also feels like the perfect opportunity to kickstart a healthier lifestyle guided by professionals, who can share relaxation techniques and fitness skills.
Hitting the gym
Over recent years Puente Romano Beach Resort has come out of the shadows of being one of the Costa del Sol's most traditional hotels and emerged as a trailblazer and innovator for hospitality trends, bringing new concepts to Andalucía. That's certainly the case with the resort's new gym. With a striking design, bringing together nature (thanks to a living wall of oxygenating plants) alongside the urban edge of a boxing studio and evening DJ sets as you train, this is no regular gym. It's the epitome of the new trend of health and fitness as a lifestyle - stylish, fashionable and inspiring. Well, something must have motivated me, as I managed to get through a 30-minute on-demand peloton bike spinning class!
Although the concept of a 'retreat' might evoke notions of barefoot simplicity, raw food and early morning sun salutations, increasingly guests are demanding style, design, and plenty of holiday indulgence as part of their wellness getaways - a sort of work-hard play-hard approach. So that means beautiful accommodation, plush amenities, and great dining that's not only nutritious but refined and elegant. Wellness trends are moving away from denial and detox towards a feeling of overall positive health.
There's nothing more rejuvenating surely than a slap-up meal, but of course on a health retreat the goal is to try not to undo all the good achieved during the day. Chef Eleni Manousou, at the award-winning Nobu Marbella restaurant, for example, can tailor a super healthy menu for guests, creating dishes like the Vegan Garden (exquisitely prepared baby vegetables on a bed of mashed Edamame beans), together with sashimi, sushi and fresh Mediterranean fish that can be delivered to your room, or enjoyed on the heated open-air terrace over-looking La Plaza.
For guests that feel like something more substantial after a day of activities and training, then Dani Garcia's Bibo bistro has a menu that includes plenty of creative takes on comforting Andalusian food that promise to be as healthy as it is hearty.
Another new trend in wellness is the use of CBD oil in spa treatments and therapies. CBD (Cannabidiol) is the non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis plant. Massage oil infused with CBD is considered anti-inflammatory, helping in recovery and healing following heavy exercise or even injury.
Six Senses Spa Marbella, located above the Puente Romano gym, has developed a CBD massage therapy to ease aching muscles, sore joints and help relieve chronic pain. It is also suggested the oil can help with deeper relaxation and calming of the mind. Sounds good right? And it makes for the perfect end to an active staycation.
I'll try and keep up some of my new healthy habits and might just add tai chi to my morning ritual (and maybe, with the way things are going with travel and tourism, a few drops of CBD oil in my evening cocoa too!)