Morocco's High Atlas: Brewing up a desert storm in a teacup

A bespoke fitness retreat isn't for the faint-hearted, says Lucinda Labes. As she discovered in Morocco's High Atlas, if the yoga and kick-boxing don't get you, the lack of a good cuppa might

Here today, gone tomorrow. At least, that's what I'm hoping, as I feel my thighs wibble-wobble to the top of a goat track in the Atlas mountains. Cheered on by a team of health and fitness professionals, I am prepared to believe that my one-week retreat based at a health spa in Marrakesh is all it will take to bring about a total body transformation. But as any gym bunny will tell you, if you want fast results, then easy doesn't do it - you have to put in the work.

In:spa is a company specialising in fitness breaks in exotic locations. Having joined it in North Africa, I quickly discover its all-consuming programme doesn't take any prisoners. The retreat's villa, Jnane Tamsna, in Marrakech's posh Palmeraie district, may be an Arabian Nights fantasy - jasmine-scented courtyards, domed ceilings - but the daily itinerary still begins at dawn, when shots of invigorating mint tea and beetroot juice are served on the hotel's rooftop. The rising sun invites you to stretch your eyes to the horizon and the Atlas ranges bristling in the distance but there's more important stretching to be done on the rooftop. It's time to limber up for the first hike.

Vigorous morning walks are the cornerstone of in:spa's programmes; walking at high altitude not only oxygenates the blood, but tones the legs and burns fat. And the views, along a new mountain route each time, are glorious. Walking through the mud-walled villages and valleys reaching to the Sahara desert are sufficient to distract you from your aching calves. Within the first few hours on day one, the differing fitness levels of our party soon become apparent and each group is given its own guide. I soon realise that if I want to walk and talk (I do - the other guests are great), I will have to settle for the slowcoaches.

By noon, the African sun begins to sear, so it's time to head back to the ranch for a lunch so healthy the food fairly glows on the plate: organic salad from the garden; grilled vegetables; home-baked barley bread; barbecued chicken and pear kebabs. Sugar, wheat, caffeine and dairy products are strictly off the menu and as for alcohol....

The afternoons are as action- packed as the mornings; if the hikes don't get you, the one-on-one yoga, kick-boxing and personal training sessions probably will. Fitness instructor Jamie Baird has me wading the swimming pool with weights on my arms and legs, an exercise to test the cardiovascular system as well as tone the limbs. The next day, he makes me run repeated laps of the hotel; along outdoor corridors, haring over the roof, 10 press-ups in the courtyard, until I discover muscles I never knew I had.

Such a focused pursuit of health may sound like taking your body in for an MOT but in:spa's retreats are designed to give your body a whole new engine. To this end, programmes are designed to revitalise from the inside out, an approach which employs not just exercise but massage and a personalised nutritional regimen. So, while it's more than likely that you will boost your fitness levels and lose weight, you can also expect to detoxify your liver and calm your mind.

But the road to inner peace can be a bumpy one. Some guests, for example, react dramatically to the diet; during the week I was there, a fair number suffered headaches brought on by caffeine withdrawal or by the sudden reduction of their wheat intake. And while the body is adjusting to its new fuel supply, it also has to cope with a heavier exercise load. The regular walks may be easy to begin with, strolls along flat plains and dry riverbeds, but by the end of the week, you're tackling two-hour uphill scrambles before bounding back down through boulder-strewn chasms. On some nights, it's all I can do to stay awake through supper.

Thank goodness then, for the team, a group of health experts of shining good humour. The yoga teachers, Liz Lark, Jean Hall and Simon Low, may not be everyone's idea of A-list celebrities, but each enjoys a devoted following in their own right and each teaches "dynamic flow" yoga, which can accommodate both beginners and experts. The personal trainers, on the other hand, are a no-nonsense bunch who know how to squeeze the last press-up from tired arms. And then there are the nutritionists, a lean tribe who watch your diet like hawks. The massage is another godsend. Having had your muscles astonished into a state of stringy tension, it's blissful to have them soothed back to softness by deep tissue and aromatherapy massage. At the far end of the retreat's garden is a traditional hammam, a type of sauna where a Moroccan siren awaits to scrub and sluice your skin on the steaming tiles.

Halfway through the week, we are treated to an evening off for some retail therapy in the medieval Medina, followed by supper in one of the city's lesser-known riads. Even here, there is no cheating on the diet. As we sit salivating beneath the stars, waiters emerge with tureens of white fish - steamed. Their appearance prompts a group groan.

Our stomachs full, if not our appetites sated, we head back to the villa and take some consolation in the seven-acre garden. The villa's owner, Gary Loum-Martin, is an ethnobotany professor whose matchless enthusiasm has created an oasis of rare vegetables and plants: moon-pale marrows clamber up palm trees; hedges of lavender and flowering onions adorn the swimming pool area. His masterpiece is the central courtyard, a froth of fragrant white flowers. At night, the mysterious clerodendron gives out an unforgettably sweet scent, like honey, chocolate and poppies, crushed up together. Loum-Martin is happy to walk guests around his own patch of Eden explaining the whys and wherefores of his creations. Just be sure not to ask about his irrigation system; there is, after all, a limit to the amount one needs to know about boreholes.

In such idyllic surroundings, it's easy to stomach a bit of hard work and, even if you find the dietary regime a little austere, if nothing else you at least see a quick return for your efforts. By the end of the week, I'm pleasantly surprised at my overall sense of well-being; I almost feel recharged enough to run all the way back to London.

On our last night we celebrate with supper on the rooftop as below us, the garden sparkles with 100 candle-lit lanterns. The table is heaped with Loum-Martin's white flowers and a trio of Berber musicians sing to the skies. By way of a final test, we're even offered a farewell glass of wine but by now I am feeling so thoroughly virtuous that I decide to leave starting my "retox" programme until at least a week after I get home.

Detox rocks: where and when to chill out

A week at in:spa's Jnane Tamsna country guesthouse in Marrakech starts at £1,950 per person. Prices exclude international flights but include airport transfers, food, accommodation, fitness and yoga classes and nutritional consultations. Dates for retreats in 2006 are: 4-11 January; 2-9 February; and 1-8 March. In:spa also hosts retreats in Ibiza and mainland Spain, as well as in India, France and Thailand.

In:spa donates £35 of the guest fee to the Global Diversity Foundation charity.

For more information:

0845 458 0723,

inspa-retreats.com,

globaldiversity.org.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn