Shape up in Tuscan splendour

An 18th-century villa set amid the vineyards of the Chianti Classico countryside provides a grand and galvanising setting for a fitness retreat, writes Caroline Sylger Jones

"Can we stop for a bit?" I muttered. I'd been cycling uphill for nearly two hours and my thighs were singing with pain, my whole body pulsating with the effort of movement. Lifting my head feebly I called out again, "Drew?" My bum ached and I was grateful for a Tuscan breeze against my red and sweaty cheek as I watched our personal trainer cruise back towards me, a look of concern on his face.

At the roadside, bikes discarded, my companion, Fiona, and I flopped breathlessly on our carry mats and allowed Drew to stretch out our tight and aching limbs. Cars edged past us cautiously, their drivers wondering if we'd had a serious accident until they saw our faces, creased in fits of raging giggles bought on by the release of endorphins and the hysteria of exhaustion.

I'm not usually someone who relishes a fitness-focused break – I'd always rather be doing a stretchy yoga class than pushing myself on things like "cardio circuits" or uphill cycle rides like these. Strange then, that I was falling for this one. For our days consisted of 7am power walks or runs followed by stretches, two to three hours of intense exercise sessions, a prolonged dip in a "cold pool" to increase our metabolism and enhance our immunity, and "active rest" afternoons such as horse-riding or this cycle ride. So, you can imagine how much the real exercises hurt.

That I was falling for it had a lot to do with Drew. A personal trainer for more than 15 years, there was something about him that made doing what he told us quite tolerable, even pleasant. Perhaps it was his calming Welsh accent, or that he practises mindfulness as well as fitness (many of his impressive tattoos relate to Buddhist teachings). He also didn't take things too seriously – his business card reads "Feel Good Without Your Clothes On". Most of all though, he's a nice person – from our first e-consultation to the day I left the retreat, I felt like he genuinely cared about what I wanted to get out of the week and what my body and mind could cope with.

Years of ballet had worn down the cartilage in both my knees, so much that I'd had to have it shaved via keyhole surgery, which means that I can't run for exercise or do fat-burning things like burpies or squats, particularly now that I'm almost 44. But my dodgy knees didn't faze Drew, who by the time we reached Tuscan soil had devised an impressive programme to strengthen my knees while making me sweat.

Being based at an elegant, cream-coloured 18th-century villa surrounded by vineyards in the Chianti Classico hills near Siena also helped. Villa di Geggiano has long corridors, high ceilings, large green-shuttered windows and grand views. Never mind that I was wearing Sweaty Betty leggings instead of a floaty dress as I wandered around. The rooms were littered with objets d'art, leather-bound books and jewellery boxes that The National Trust would have squirrelled away behind glass cases and red rope long ago. Our hosts were Andrea and Allesandro Bianchi Bandinelli, two charming brothers who live in the villa and whose family inherited it in 1527.

Drew's morning exercise sessions were always hard work, but doing them in the garden surrounded by classical sculptures and facing the gorgeous villa made them seem a lot easier. We did boxing (really rather fun), core work on a swiss ball (painful), training with kettlebells (think weights in the shape of natty little handbags) and sessions of TRX (Total Body Resistance Exercise, or exercises using giant straps tied to a tree which make you feel a bit like a horse going nowhere). Afterwards, I'd retire to the villa's long room where ladies used to take their tea and gossip – trainers off, lying on a satin sofa, looking up at an intricately painted ceiling.

Power walks were through vineyards with uplifting views across the Tuscan hills, so it didn't matter that my calves hurt. I'd rather that the "cold pool" had been a hot tub, but it was a beautiful structure hand-built by Allesandro in a wooded part of the grounds, so I was happy to shiver in it. There was even time to drive through the picturesque clay hills one afternoon to see the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, a 14th-century monastery that's still inhabited by Benedictine monks and sports some impressive frescos.

The best bits of the break were when I was lying down, especially when I was having a treatment with Drew's mother, Christine Perrott, who makes her own organic skincare and practises holistic treatments such as facial reflexology, aromatherapy massage, Thai foot massage and reiki. Her gentle manner and magical hands helped me sleep deeply each night and provided a welcome balance to the high-octane energy of the day. When my muscles were really tight, Drew gave me a very good targeted deep-tissue massage, which worked a treat.

Guests can stay in the villa for a historic, immersive experience, though I found it refreshing to be based in a renovated garden pavilion with wooden floors, a firm bed and minimalist bathroom. Here, I enjoyed salt baths each day with some detoxing soda crystals that Drew had given us on arrival, and meditated one morning with the sound of birdsong and church bells tinkling in the background.

Meals were eaten at a long, old wooden table surrounded by walls painted with murals of birds and flowers, and on our last night, by a big open fire in the former villa kitchen. They weren't abstemious either – a high protein, healthy menu of Italian cuisine, cooked by the Sri Lankan family chef, Damayanthi, with locally sourced eggs, fish, meat and lots of seasonal fruit and vegetables, often from the villa's own garden. Fennel was served simply with the villa's own extra virgin olive oil, chestnuts were fresh and roasted, while main meals included baked sea bass with vegetables or pork with juniper berries and bay leaves. Even more gratifying was the occasional glass of red wine, straight from the Bandinelli's vineyards. I can especially recommend the 2006 Reserve – everyone knows that a glass of red wine is good for you, right?

We survived the cycle ride – which only lasted another hour – and much more besides. Did we get fitter? I don't think you can fail to with Drew watching over you, and a month on, I'm still doing power swims and power walks four to five times a week. And that's without the luxury of a Tuscan villa to retreat to.

Getting there

The Fitness Renaissance by Drew Perrott at Villa di Geggiano (07976 619 374; drewperrott.co.uk) costs from £1,900 per person per week, including all meals, activities and four treatments. The next date is 18 May.

The closest airports are Pisa and Florence. The former is served by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.co.uk), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com); the latter by Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com), CityJet (0871 221 2452; cityjet.com), and British Airways from 31 March.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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
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

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world