The 50 best: Fifty ways to leave your love handles

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The Independent Culture
First week in January. Muscles are flabby. Stomachs are bloated. Time to get fit! But where? How? Vivienne Heller rounds up the advice of the experts on how best to get in shape for 1999. All together now: bend and str-e-e-tch...

10 BEST HEALTH SPAS

10 BEST GYMS

10 BEST ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES

10 BEST ALTERNATIVES

10 BEST THERAPIES

THE EXPERTS

l Sarah Owen, an experienced health and beauty journalist for Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, is presently acting deputy beauty editor on Woman's Journal, and is the personification of a healthy, holistic approach to life.

l An award-winning athlete in his teens, personal trainer Dave Baptiste now devotes his time to coaxing a star-spangled clientele into a healthier way of life and acting as fitness adviser to magazines.

l Intrepid explorer Rupert Isaacson is the author of The Action Guide to Britain (Harvill Press, pounds 12.99), and so is in an ideal position to offer advice on adventurous routes to rude health.

l Katie Harris has run a beauty clinic at the Metropolitan Club, Kingly St, W1, for the last 10 years. An ardent alternative-therapy fan, she incorporates the best of those she has experienced into her treatments, resulting in a devoted clientele.

l All but one of the gyms listed were finalists in the 1998 Flame Awards, awarded annually by the Fitness Industry Association on the basis of their fitness leadership and management excellence.

1

CHAMPNEYS, HERTS

More than 60 years have passed since this mansion welcomed its first clients, but Champneys remains, according to Marcelle d'Argy Smith, former editor of Cosmopolitan, the "Rolls-Royce" of health spas. "If you could have a wash and brush-up before going to heaven, it would be here," she adds. Men and women arriving to recharge their batteries can choose from 30 activities daily (tai chi, spinning, etc) and a wide range of treatments (from seaweed wraps to allergy testing). Don't try to diet, however, because "the food is terrific".

Where: Wiggington, Tring, Herts (01442 291111). How much: from pounds 225 per person per night.

2

BROADGATE CLUB, LONDON

Sensible City folk repair to the Broadgate Club (soon to be part of the Holmes Place empire) to revitalise. The winner of this year's Flame Award for best larger club, it targets a high-performance clientele: fitness programmes are individually tailored, aggression gets an outlet on the squash courts, and the 25ft x 20ft pool will soothe troubled minds. Salsa is just one of the funky fitness classes available, after which you can replenish lost energy in the a la carte restaurant.

Where: 1 Exchange Place, London EC2 (0171-375 2464) 6am-10pm daily. How much: annual membership pounds 1,160, plus pounds 200 joining fee.

3

MOUNTAIN BIKING

Inexpensive and exhilarating, suitable for both families and the superfit, mountain biking is the ultimate outdoor workout. The Red Kite Activity Centre "has got to be one of the most fun places to go biking," says Rupert. As well as guided tours, they offer a variety of breaks, including the Real Ale Wobble in November, held in conjunction with the mid-Wales beer festival. "You work off flab between pubs," Rupert explains.

Where: Red Kite Activity Centre, Neuadd Arms Hotel, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys (01591 610236). How much: full board from pounds 30 a day; bike hire pounds 14 a day; guided rides usually free to hotel guests.

4

PERSONAL TRAINER

Two hours in a freezing park with a personal trainer is not an immediately inviting prospect, but my session with Dave Baptiste left me exhilarated, confident and alert. The outdoors provides the ultimate workout: benches for step-ups, grass for a sprung floor, paths for brisk walks. Hand weights ensured a steady workout for my arms, and a bout of boxing showed me the power of my punch. A must for anyone who needs getting fit to be disguised as fun.

Where: Dave Baptiste (0973 600440); or contact the Personal Trainer Centre (0171-736 8787).

How much: around pounds 40 for up to two hours.

5

AROMATHERAPY

"Essential oils are the pure life force of a plant," explains Katie Harris. "Each has a different property: calming, anti-inflammatory, invigorating..." Trust your sense of smell to choose which you need, or the therapist's experience. Treatment involves massage with the oils, using slow, flowing, soothing movements. "This can help balance the nervous system, and oils may also be absorbed by the body," says Katie.

Where: send an SAE to the Aromatherapy Organisations Council, 3 Latymer Close, Braybrooke, Market Harborough, Leicestershire (01858 465731).

How much: from pounds 30 a session.

6

MIDDLE PICCADILLY NATURAL HEALING CENTRE, DORSET

"Your body is like a high-performance car: it needs good-quality petrol and regular pit-stops," explains Eliana Harvey, renowned for getting stressed-out clients back on the road to mental and physical recovery. Holistic therapies, home-made food, delightful rooms and a nurturing atmosphere combine to create a rescue package that's legendary among media folk. "It's very private and peaceful," sighs Sarah Owen. "A retreat in the true sense of the word."

Where: Holwell, Dorset (01963 23468).

How much: a two-day break costs pounds 205.

7

REDWORTH HALL HEALTH CLUB, CO DURHAM

A 17th-century, four-star hotel houses this Roman spa-themed health club which won this year's Flame Award for smaller club of the year. Redworth believes in providing something for everyone: kids enjoy activity sessions while parents exercise; everyone participates in classes such as yoga; and a spa provides relief from the rigours of the gym.

Where: Redworth, nr Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham (01388 772442) Mon-Fri 7am-10.30pm, weekends from 8am. How much: annual membership pounds 618, plus pounds 100 joining fee.

8

GORGE WALKING

Your mind and body will be in peak condition after one of these exhilarating treks around Anglesey: prepare to abseil into gorges, negotiate waterfalls and clamber along cliffs. "You're concentrating so hard that you forget how much you're exerting yourself," says Rupert. "And you get heavily into nature because you're touching it constantly, involving yourself in the landscape."

Where: High Trek Snowdonia, Tal y Waen, Deiniolen, Gwynedd, Wales (01286 871232).

How much: a three-day gorge-walking and coasteering (coastline-negotiating) course costs pounds 189.

9

SALSA

Salsa is shimmying into health-club consciousness. "It's a good, steady workout. Each beat in the bar is one foot movement, or even two, so your feet have to move fast," explains Cyril Dorset, who runs classes at the Broadgate Club (see No 2), among other places. Your mind also gets a workout with all that co-ordination, and the fancy footwork will ensure a flourishing social life when you sashay from gym club to night club.

Where: contact Cyril Dorset at Latin Crazy (0171-700 1468) for details of courses. How much: pounds 35 for six lessons; pounds 25 per private class, plus cost of studio.

10

ZERO BALANCING

In a therapy that derives from osteopathy and acupuncture, practitioners work on releasing or balancing energy through gentle but powerful touch. Katie describes the effect as an "internal physical thing. I felt grounded, as if I were breathing more freely; as if weights had been lifted from my mind and body." Adds Sarah: "Practitioners can redirect energy - if you're het up, they can calm you down, or give you energy if you're worn out."

Where: try Jeff Lennard at Natureworks, 16 Balderton St, London W1 (0171-355 4036), or the Zero Balancing Association (01308 420007).

How much: pounds 35 a session.

11

HENLOW GRANGE, BEDS

Relaxed and sociable, Henlow Grange gets Sarah's vote as somewhere for hen parties, or to take your mother for a pampering weekend. "Mothers, daughters and best friends were all gossiping in the sauna, and everyone was joining in," she says. A healthy quota of celebrities also flock to Henlow Grange, which is one of Britain's largest health spas, boasting 100 acres of parkland, a half-Olympic-sized pool, and a host of treatments. The exercise classes are popular: who could resist Sinatra Swing? And the staff of 300, says Sarah, "make you feel special from the word go".

Where: Henlow, Beds (01462 811111).

How much: from pounds 114.95 per person per night; or from pounds 64 for a day package.

12

THE ARENA, SURREY

Size counts when it comes to The Arena: more than 100 full-time staff are employed to run this award-winning centre, whose 3,500 square foot gym boasts more than 80 pieces of equipment. There is a focus on family fitness, with a programme of activities and events designed to keep children fit - and competitive fees to keep parents happy.

Where: Grand Avenue, Camberley, Surrey (01276 28787) 6am-11pm daily.

How much: annual membership pounds 370, plus pounds 50 joining fee.

13

HILL WALKING

A reasonable level of fitness will ensure you get the most out of Kevin Walker's treks in the stunning Welsh mountains. Kevin has been running courses for more than 20 years, and is, according to Rupert, "very good. He will tailor visits to whatever you want, whether it's hill walking or mountain skills. If you tell him you want to get fit, he'll sort something individual out for you." This rural personal trainer will teach you the physical and navigational skills to tackle any route with confidence.

Where: Kevin Walker Mountain Activities, 74 Beacons Park, Brecon, Powys, Wales (01874 625111). How much: various courses include a one-day hill walkers' confidence trek from pounds 49; one-to-one tuition from pounds 99 a day.

14

HOME-EXERCISE EQUIPMENT

For homebodies with an allergy to gyms or the great outdoors, exercise machines can provide a safe, general workout at home. Dave recommends the Healthrider: "You sort of cycle and row at the same time. It's good for all-round toning and cardiovascular exercise." A rowing machine is a tougher but equally good option; WaterRower's version contains water for authentic resistance and soothing sounds. Popular with boxers, skipping is an excellent, cheap workout: perfect your technique, then progress gradually from 10-second to three-minute sessions.

Where: from Lillywhites (0171-915 4000) & leading sports stores.

How much: Healthrider pounds 395; WaterRower pounds 845; leather skipping rope pounds 9.

15

CRYSTAL THERAPY

Crystals can be used to balance chakras (energy centres) and ensure a consistent flow of energy. The colour of the crystal used depends on which chakra needs most attention: seven exist between the crown and the base of spine, each with a different corresponding colour, eg, the solar plexus is yellow and the base of the spine red. The healer then "programmes" the crystal before placing it above or on the chakra. "It gives me a very strong connection with the power of mother nature," says Katie.

Where: for a list of practitioners, send an SAE to the Affiliation of Crystal Healing Organisations, 72 Pasture Rd, Goole, East Yorkshire.

How much: from pounds 35 a session.

16

RAGDALE HALL, LEICS

Fencing and juggling are two ways in which this charming spa makes fitness fun. Attracting a mainly female clientele, many of whom come for a weekend of solo pampering, Ragdale Hall has a relaxed atmosphere and a reputation for wonderful treatments, both traditional and alternative: try their Multi-Method Massage, which is given by two therapists at once, before diving into the water in their pool complex. "The food is delicious," says Sarah, "and there's the luxury of breakfast being served in your room."

Where: Ragdale Village, nr Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire (01664 434831).

How much: two nights cost from pounds 190 per person per night.

17

THE ACADEMY, HARROGATE

Runner-up in the category of larger club in this year's Flame Awards, The Academy has been making waves in both the design and fitness worlds with its state-of-the-art facilities and progressive attitude to its clientele. Alert to trends, it offers salsa and Latino-tribal mix alongside step and Pilates on the class front, while a creche ensures that new parents can also take time out in the gym or the award-winning spa (complete with flotation tank).

Where: Oakdale Place, Harrogate (01423 524052) Mon-Fri 6.30am-10.30pm, Sat & Sun from 8.30am.

How much: pounds 50 per month, plus pounds 100 joining fee.

18

HORSE RIDING

Scotland is the perfect arena for rough riding. Highland Horseback's nine-day trek from coast to coast will tax both limbs and stamina. "You should be riding fit," recommends Rupert, "otherwise you'll be very sore after hours in the saddle." Argyll Trail Riding's Wild Boar Trail is "even more exciting": prepare to jump stone walls and swim with your steed. Accommodation with both treks offers a respite en route, and luggage is taken on ahead.

Where: Highland Horseback, Huntly, Aberdeenshire (01466 700304); Argyll Trail Riding, Ardrishaig, Argyll & Bute (01546 603 274).

How much: nine-day trans-Scotland ride pounds 925 per person; four-day halfway ride pounds 465.

19

WALKING

A brisk walk is suitable for all ages and an excellent way to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle. "Cold wintry weather is perfect for burning up fat because your body works hard to get you warm," explains Dave Baptiste. Use hand-weights to improve your cardiovascular workout and upper-body definition, moving your arms at right angles to your body as you go. Progress from 30 minutes to one hour twice a week, improving on your own time each session, and you'll soon be walking on air!

Where: "A journey of a 1,000 miles begins under one's foot." (Tao teaching)

How much: hand-weights around pounds 8 from good sports stores.

20

ACUPRESSURE

"This works on the same basis as acupuncture," explains Sarah, "but without needles." A consultation to ascertain the patient's state of mind and lifestyle precedes the treatment, which involves the practitioner working on the meridiens (energy channels running the length of the body) to stimulate any weak organs or restore a steady flow of energy. Any emotional imbalance will be manifest in your organs: "You have to be honest with yourself and trust your healer," says Katie, "as the weakness will remain in the organ until you work out the emotional problem."

Where: contact the School of Shen Tao Acupressure, Middle Piccadilly (see entry No 6).

How much: from pounds 35 a session.

21

GRAYSHOTT HALL HEALTH & FITNESS RETREAT, SURREY

Guests enjoy one-to-one attention at this former seat of Alfred Lord Tennyson, described by Vogue as "probably the best of all the British spas". Get fit by mountain biking or roaming through acres of stunning gardens, or in the company of a personal trainer in the excellent gym; or just lie back and let someone else do the work during an invigorating Swedish massage. "There's an equal balance of men and women," says Sarah, "and no one worries about dressing up. A piano bar complete with non-alcoholic cocktails contributes to the sociable atmosphere."

Where: Headley Rd, Grayshott, Surrey (01428 604331). How much: two nights from pounds 170 per person per night.

22

FITNESS FACTORY, SOMERSET

"We pride ourselves on being a baggy T-shirt club," says Nick Cramp, whose Fitness Factory came runner-up in the smaller-club category of the 1998 Flame Awards. This refreshingly down-to-earth approach has earned him a devoted clientele, with members ranging from babies to octogenarians. Top-notch health programmes plus child-care facilities and even home-cooked food create a friendly atmosphere that rates family fitness above skimpy Lycra and muscle-bound bodies.

Where: 3 The Tanyard, Leigh Rd, Street, Somerset (01458 841941) Mon-Thur 7am-10pm, Fri till 9pm, Sat & Sun 10am- 6pm. How much: annual membership pounds 280, plus pounds 50 joining fee.

23

SEA KAYAKING

If weights and circuits are not your scene, grab a paddle and head out to sea. All fitness levels and budgets are catered for at the Uist Outdoor Centre, which offers the chance to canoe around sea lochs or to deserted beaches, often in the company of dolphins - and even minke whales. "It's a good thing to do if you're a little out of shape," says Rupert Isaacson. "You forget you're taking exercise because it's so beautiful."

Where: Uist Outdoor Centre, Cearn Dusgaidh, Lochmaddy, Isle of North Uist, Scotland (01876 500480).

How much: from pounds 35 a day, Easter onwards.

24

TRAMPOLINING

If your best assets are beginning to sag, here's a funky way to fight gravity. "Trampolining appeals to people of all ages and both sexes," says Alister Morgan, sports writer for The Information. "It also allows individuals with physical disabilities the chance to enjoy the exhilaration of jumping, falling and rebounding without injury." Flexibility and co- ordination will improve, along with cardiovascular and muscular condition, making a excellent workout for thrill merchants on a fitness drive.

Where: contact the British Trampolining Federation for details of clubs (0181-863 7278).

How much: around pounds 3 a session.

25

FLOWER REMEDIES

Washing my face in the May Day dew is not barmy, I'm told by Claire Harvey, who treats a devoted clientele with several hundred flower essences, including the Bach Flower Remedies. Dew from a blossom contains the essence of the flower, and each flower finds resonance with a particular emotional state. Imbibing the flower essence restores balance to weak organs and so to the emotions. "It's effective because it works with your own energy," explains Katie.

Where: Claire Harvey at the Hale Clinic, 7 Park Crescent, London W1 (0171-631 0156) Wed; or contact the Dr Edward Bach Centre (01491 834678). How much: pounds 45 for first session, pounds 40 thereafter.

26

SHRUBLAND HALL HEALTH CLINIC, IPSWICH

While a host of spas around the country are luring the fluffy-white- towel brigade with promises of trendy new treatments and lifestyle tweaks, 18th-century Shrubland Hall has stuck resolutely with the original health- farm ethic. "Its primary concerns are health and fitness rather than pampering and relaxation," explains Sarah. Patients receive a personal diet, exercise and treatment plan, and enjoy organic homemade food. Vogue called this "by far the most private, discreet and sophisticated British spa".

Where: Codenham, Ipswich (01473 830404). How much: pounds 581 per week.

27

THE PHILLIMORE, LONDON W8

West London women worship The Phillimore as a health-club haven with a holistic approach. A team of experts, including a resident doctor and nutritionist, ensure peak performance for both mind and body, honing fitness, health and beauty advice to an exclusively female clientele. "Our members require more than just a gym, spa or dance studio," explains managing director Andrea Dennis. "They are looking for a place where they feel they belong." A devoted local clientele are proof that she's achieved just that.

Where: 45 Phillimore Walk, London W8 (0171-937 2882) Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 9am-6pm. How much: annual membership pounds 2,350, plus pounds 600 joining fee.

28

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

Rupert declares cross-country skiing "a fantastic way to get in shape because it gets every single muscle working." Founded in 1969, Highland Guides, in the Cairngorms, operates courses for all levels, from absolute beginners to advanced, and includes such variations as telemarking. Friendly and informal, "they take you way out into the hills, away from the crowds," reminisces Rupert. "You see herds of deer, Arctic hare, peregrine falcons... You do sweat and curse at times, but you're out in such beauty that you generally forget you're getting fit."

Where: Highland Guides, Inverdruie, Aviemore (01479 810729).

How much: lessons from pounds 29 per day (Jan-April), weekend courses from pounds 40 (instruction only).

29

SWIMMING

Duck into your local baths and swim your way to a healthier mind and body. "This really tones you up," says Dave. "Front crawl is a very effective stroke because it works the arms and legs particularly hard." He suggests taking refresher lessons to improve your technique and help you get the most out of a session. Water supports the limbs while providing resistance, making swimming suitable for all ages and abilities. It's great for gentle exercise during pregnancy or recovery from injury, and for disabled people, for whom it can boost confidence as well as muscle tone.

Where: contact the Amateur Swimming Association (01509 618700).

How much: from pounds 2 a session, around pounds 52 for 10 lessons.

30

CRANIO-SACRAL THERAPY

"If one of the bones in the head is out of alignment, it will impede the flow of blood and affect the rest of the body in terms of energy," explains Katie. Cranio-sacral therapy works on realigning the structure through gentle, subtle movements on the skull. "It's very good for babies as they can easily be pulled out of joint when coming through the birth canal," she adds.

Where: contact the Upledger Institute UK (01738 444404).

How much: from pounds 35 a session.

31

STOBO CASTLE, PEEBLESHIRE

"Industry folklore holds that this is the best spa north of the border," says Sarah. Stobo Castle's aim is to impart a deeper sense of physical and mental wellbeing to its mostly-female clientele; and who could resist, in such a stunning setting? Pursue fitness in the great outdoors on horseback or the golfing range, or repair to the castle's treatment rooms for a dizzying array of treatments. "Despite its imposing exterior," says Sarah, "Stobo Castle has a warm, inviting atmosphere" - so much so that many clients are happy to come on their own.

Where: Peebleshire, Scotland (01721 760249). How much: from pounds 156 per person per night; day visit pounds 120.

32

METROPOLITAN CLUB, HULL

All the benefits of a big chain combined with a small-club ambience ensure a devoted membership for the Metropolitan. It attributes its success (confirmed by a Flame Award) to an established social element. "It's a club as much as a fitness centre," explains Ian Brown. "All we want is for members to feel better when they leave than when they arrive, whether this means an hour in the pool or relaxing in the bar; our emphasis is on feeling good, not just about pumping iron."

Where: Kingston Park, Hull (01482 321191) Mon-Fri 7am-11pm, Sat & Sun 8am-10pm.

How much: pounds 40 per month, plus pounds 120 joining fee.

33

SURFING

Jousting with waves off Cornwall's breathtaking coastline will get you fighting fit in no time. First-timers can familiarise themselves with a board and the surf by contacting the small and efficient Atlantic Pursuits centre. Their courses entitle you to four hours intensive tuition daily: "enough to get you good and tired," according to Rupert. The place is run by ex-Special Forces instructors, but don't let that put you off. "They're not Nazis," Rupert assures me, "but they'll get you fit."

Where: Atlantic Pursuits, 11 Priestacott Park, Kilkhampton, Bude, Cornwall (01288 321765).

How much: half-day course pounds 10; full-day course pounds 20; five-day course pounds 90.

34

JOGGING

To promote fat burn-up not joint burnout, Olympic marathon-runner Suzanne Rigg recommends well-cushioned trainers and soft surfaces rather than roads. Unfit people can start with a 30-minute walk, four times a week, while fitter folk should walk for five minutes before alternating one- minute jogs and walks over a 20- to 30-minute period, then gradually reducing the walking stints. "You're carrying your own body weight, so you burn more fat than in swimming," says Suzanne. And if motivation's a problem, Reebok Running Club will find you a committed jogging mate in your own area.

Where: advice from Reebok Running Club (01925 269212). How much: membership pounds 7.50.

35

REFLEXOLOGY

Abuse your body, and your feet will have something to say about it. Every part of them relates to areas elsewhere on the body - bones and organs - allowing reflexologists to gauge both your emotional and physical state incredibly accurately. "Blockages in the body are revealed by tenderness in areas of the feet, or the therapist will come across a build-up of crystals," says Katie. "These can be released with pressure, which stimulates the meridians in the foot and the organs relating to them. It's excellent for getting the endocrine system in peak condition."

Where: contact the British Reflexology Association (01886 821207).

How much: pounds 15-pounds 30 a session.

36

THE BERKELEY, LONDON SW1

Where better to repair after a serious shopping session in Knightsbridge? The Berkeley provides a luxury haven in the heart of London on its "Day Spa Escape". Work up a sweat in the excellent gym before submitting to a series of deluxe treatments - Sarah pronounces the Dior range "just divine". Perhaps the Berkeley's biggest draw, though, is a swimming pool with views over Hyde Park and a roof that opens up in fine weather. An all-round "mega-pampering experience," promises Sarah.

Where: Wilton Place, London SW1 (0171-201 1699). How much: pounds 225 for the Day Spa Escape.

37

PALMS HEALTH & FITNESS CLUB, NORFOLK

Part of the glossy Potters Leisure Resort, this health and fitness club offers a Flame Award-winning combination of high-tech commitment to fitness, with a cardiovascular studio, personal training regimes and soul-seducing spa facilities - including a Turkish bath and two indoor pools.

Where: Coast Road, Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk (01502 734869) Mon-Fri 7 am-9.45pm, Sat 7.45am-2pm, Sun 8am-10pm

How much: annual membership pounds 420, no joining fee.

38

SURVIVAL SCHOOL

Getting back to nature is a tougher task than dropping your kecks and making daisy chains. Ex-SAS man Ginge Tyler's survival school in the Brecon Beacons offers a rigorous mental and physical workout for willing victims. "This is not for vegetarians," advises Rupert. "You learn how to trap and kill, as well as build shelters, start a fire and navigate at night." Tyler keeps the pace slow so that you can take in the landscape, "but if you want steep, he'll give you steep." For those less adept at living off the land, Rupert recommends stashing chocolate to stave off hunger pangs.

Where: Breakaway Survival School, 17 Hugh Thomas Ave, Holmer, Hereford (01432 267097).

How much: weekend course pounds 60; five-day course pounds 150.

39

CYCLING

John Prescott became an unlikely bike ambassador this year when he swapped his Jag for two wheels and exhorted us to ride to work. Besides alleviating mental stress by allowing you to dodge gridlock, cycling is a fun way to an excellent cardiovascular and muscle-toning workout which is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. And don't limit your horizons to the high street: the National Cycling Network gives alternative routes to ensure pleasant pedalling in both town and country.

Where: contact the National Cycle Network (0117-929 0888) for details of maps and courses on safety.

How much: new, standard bikes cost anything from pounds 50 to pounds 450; maps pounds 5.99.

40

REIKI

"Reiki means `universal energy'," says Katie. Practitioners simply channel this energy through themselves to the patient by laying on hands. "You're a technician who changes the fuse to make the energy for the light to work," explains practitioner Firouzeh Tajadod. The aim is to release energy which has become blocked by a negative mindset, stressful lifestyle, etc. "It's very grounding," says Katie, "and good for both healing and general wellbeing, with the added benefit that you can practise it on yourself" - even on your pets.

Where: send an SAE to the Reiki Association, Cornbrook Bridge House, Clee Hill, Ludlow, or The Reiki School, Budworth, Shay Lane, Hale, Cheshire. How much: from pounds 30 a session.

41

DORCHESTER SPA, LONDON W1

An enticing menu of treatments will wrestle body, mind and soul into blissful submission at this urban retreat. "You feel like you're being pampered by the best hands in Britain," says Sarah. "I'd book myself in if I had a really special evening planned - and I'd have the works." A state-of-the-art gym will equip you with stamina for a night on the town, for which you can add the finishing touch here: a cut in the salon of the Hairdresser of the Year, Charles Worthington.

Where: Park Lane, London W1 (0171-495 7335) 7am-9.30pm daily.

How much: pounds 35 per day for use of pool, sauna, etc; treatments extra.

42

CLEMENTS HALL LEISURE CENTRE, ESSEX

Fast approaching its 20th year, Clements Hall remains one of the UK's top leisure centres, testimony to its sensitivity to fitness trends (Body Pump, etc) and its ability to cater for a diverse clientele (they have a creche, holiday activities for kids, and facilities such as pool hoists for the disabled). Runner- up in the Flame Awards for Manager of the Year, Wendy Edwards presides over a team that works hard to maintain a club atmosphere which is stimulating but welcoming.

Where: Clements Hall Way, Hawkwell, Essex (01702 207777) Mon-Fri 7am- 11pm, Sat & Sun from 8am.

How much: monthly membership pounds 35, plus pounds 50 joining fee.

43

SWIMMING WITH SEALS

The warm, clear waters of the Isles of Scilly play host to a marvellous array of sealife, accessible on one of Mark Groves' "underwater safaris". No experience is needed for his trips to swim with the local seal colony. "This is something everyone should do," says Rupert, recalling a magical experience. "Seals are athletic swimmers, and these, well used to people, carve sweeping arabesques and circles around you as you hover on the surface." What better way to get body and soul in perfect harmony?

Where: Island Underwater Safaris, "Nowhere", Old Town, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly (01720 422732) Easter onwards.

How much: snorkelling pounds 30.

44

YOGA

Strike a pose in the name of health with this perennially popular discipline. Deriving its name from the ancient Sanscrit meaning "union", yoga promotes harmony within ourselves - mind, body and spirit - and the world. This is achieved through a series of postures (asanas), which affect muscles, joints, chakras, etc, and through breathing exercises, which heighten concentration and mental awareness. Great for all ages and degrees of fitness.

Where: send an sae to The British Wheel of Yoga, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston Road, Sleaford, Lincs, for details of courses.

How much: from pounds 3 a class.

45

FLOTATION TANKS

Katie likens a flotation- tank experience to "being in a capsule. The idea is that you regress to the womb, to a place of nurturing and safety." Floating in darkness in a few inches of warm, salty water also stimulates endorphins, leaving you relaxed and happy. "I really liked it," says Sarah. "The sensory deprivation meant I could switch off."

Where: contact the Float Information Service (0171-357 0111).

How much: from pounds 30 a session.

46

THE SANCTUARY, LONDON WC2

Though slightly overhyped, this women-only haven in the heart of London offers, according to Sarah, a "safe environment where you can let it all hang out". Peopled by "real women" rather than the waifs often pictured on its famous swing, The Sanctuary is ideal for hen parties or "really girly occasions". Relax in the Koi Carp Lounge, feast on good food, then dance it off in the fitness studio. The holistic treatments are myriad and marvellous: "There's something for everyone, whatever your needs - rejuvenating, relaxing or destressing," adds Sarah.

Where: 12 Floral St, London WC2 (0171-420 5151). How much: one-day membership pounds 53.

47

THE GUILDFORD SPECTRUM, SURREY

Part of the largest leisure complex in the UK, The Guildford Spectrum provides the latest in fitness facilities to the local community. Cutting-edge cardiovascular equipment, free weights, etc, draw a discerning clientele who come to work out rather than socialise. Runner-up in the 1998 Flame Awards for Centre of the Year, the Spectrum is popular for its "pay and play" scheme, allowing unlimited use of the fitness area for just pounds 4.90 a visit.

Where: Parkway, Guildford, Surrey (01483 443322) daily around 6.30am-10pm.

How much: pounds 35 per month or pounds 4.90 per session; no joining fee.

48

FALCONRY

This ancient art will fire "even the dullest imagination," promises Rupert, for whom the birds' ferocity and aerial acrobatics are an irresistible lure. Few are better acquainted with falconry than the aptly named Jim Chick, chairman of the Hawk Board, who also runs Country Pursuits. His stalking ground is Salisbury Plain, where he takes people hunting with Harris hawks, using ferrets and pointers to flush out prey. "Not one for vegans," suggests Rupert.

Where: Country Pursuit, Moonrakers, Allington, Salisbury (01980 610594).

How much: one day from pounds 50 per person; course tarifs by arrangement.

49

TAI CHI

The Chinese claim that this discipline helps longevity seems borne out by the ripe old age of some practitioners. Focusing on breathing and hand, eye and mind co-ordination, "it keeps you tuned up like an instrument," explains teacher Firouzeh Tajadod, and ensures a steady flow of energy (chi) through the body. In the Yang long form, around 48 moves, each with serene names like Cloud Hands, combine for a 10-minute routine, which can take six months to learn, but a lifetime to master. So Clasp the Sparrow by the Tail, and get a head start.

Where: try Firouzeh's classes at The Phillimore (see No 27) or contact the National Tai Chi Chuan Association (0181-5566393). How much: from pounds 3 a lesson.

50

AYURVEDA

This ancient Indian tradition holds that everyone relates to one of three types of temperament: vata (air), kapha (water) or pitta (fire). Once your type has been ascertained, a lifestyle programme is drawn up for you. "It's a whole philosophy, a way of life," explains Katie, "determining everything from the food you eat to which essential oils to burn or colours to wear." Sarah Owen adds: "It's very strict, but is supposed to be brilliant."

Where: for further information, contact practitioner Dr Godagana (01908 617089)

How much: around pounds 50 first session; pounds 35 thereafter.

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