Forget "Auld Lang Syne". Nothing says a new year has begun quite like the annual stampede to sign up for gym membership. But there are gentler, more pleasurable and (viewed from a long-term perspective) potentially cheaper ways to recharge after the excesses of Christmas. Not least by taking a specialist holiday. From yoga weekends and bootcamps to fitness holidays so pampering you'll hardly notice you're whipping your body into shape, there are countless options for easing yourself into this year in a more nurturing fashion.
"I am now upon the mending hand. I am physicked three times a day, drink the waters and bathe every other night. My health, thank God is very near perfectly restored, and I have very near the perfect use of my limbs..." Horatio Nelson in a letter to Captain Locker, from Bath in 1781. (From Hot Bath: The Story of the Spa by Giles White)
"Be ruthless and pack light – heavy bags and too many clothes are a strain on body and mind. Attitude is everything – expect the journey to take longer than scheduled, keep a light heart, breathe deeply at regular intervals and maintain a sense of humour." (From Body & Soul Escapes by Caroline Sylger Jones; www.queenofretreats.com)
The heart of the matter
Tilton House's weekend retreats are one of Sussex's best-kept secrets. Ranging from yoga breaks to life-coaching experiences, the retreats take place in surroundings as soothing as they are stylish; massages in front of a toasty log fire can be added on for extra pampering. New this year is a special raw-food retreat, taking place from 11 to 13 February. Called Love Your Heart, the break will be led by Tilton's in-house chef, John Bailey, and will include yoga, meditation, cookery demonstrations and nutrition advice. The two-night weekend costs from £320 per person, based on two sharing, including full-board accommodation and all listed activities (01323 811570; www.tiltonhouse.co.uk).
An insomniac's dream
Most of us would be hard-pressed not to sleep well during a stay at the luxurious Almyra Hotel in Cyprus, but for those who need extra help, the property is now offering six-night "Week of Sleep for Exhausted Parents" packages. Yoga classes, treatments such as reflexology and evening meals are included, along with a personal spa consultation. For those who insist on taking the children along, there's also a crèche. Rates start from €1,700 per person, based on two sharing, including half-board accommodation and the listed activities but not flights (00 357 26 888 700; www.thanoshotels.com).
Fresh air, fresh outlook
If the idea of a traditional fitness holiday makes you want to run for the hills, then Wilderness Scotland's new four-day self-guided walking breaks on Mull could be the answer. These itineraries offer the chance to enjoy several walks taken in peaceful solitude around the island's 300 miles of coastline. Tobermory's brightly painted buildings and the island's glorious beaches, forests and hills are also on the agenda, as is a day trip to neighbouring Iona and a whale-watching excursion. Prices for this start from £375 per person, based on two sharing, including B&B accommodation in a four-star hotel, one evening meal and a walking and sightseeing information pack (0131 6256635; www.wildernessscotland.com).
Forget juice fasts or military-style body-bashing regimes. InSpa's new southern Spanish retreats offer the chance to shape up in comfort and style with gourmet detoxifying menus, massages and personalised yoga instruction. Based in a decadently restored 18th-century Andalucian monastery, the retreats here aim to leave you feeling energised rather than exhausted.
Though InSpa's holidays aren't cheap, you should return refreshed. Seven-night retreats cost from £1,995 per person this month, based on two sharing, including all meals, accommodation, two massages and all activities but not flights (0845 458 0723; www.inspa-retreats.com).
For those who need a shot of vitamin D to see them through the gloomier months of the year (and have sufficiently deep pockets), the luxury Maradiva Villas resort in Mauritius is launching a new holistic health retreat this month aimed at recharging mind, body and soul. Combining ayurvedic treatments and meditation sessions with yoga classes, one-week packages start at £3,449 per person, including half-board accommodation, flights, transfers and the listed activities (020-7060 6747; www.toescapeto.com).
Sort your life out
At the glitzy new Lifehouse spa, in Thorpe-le-Soken in eastern Essex, the focus is on life coaching as much as it is on health and fitness. Personal consultations and workshops are on offer, as well as spa treatments and access to the gym, grounds and general resort activities programme. The next Sort Your Life Out break runs from 14 to 18 February and costs from £950 per person, based on two sharing, for four nights including full-board accommodation, spa treatments and activities (01255 860050; www.lifehouse.co.uk).
Tatra Yoga's new short breaks in Slovakia offer the chance to combine expert yoga tuition with luxury accommodation and mountain scenery. It's based at the Grand Hotel Kempinski, which is set by a high Alpine lake. If the views of the forests, lakes and waterfalls aren't enough to restore your spirits, the hotel's spa facilities should do the trick. The first trip runs from 3-6 March and costs £875 per person, based on two sharing, including flights, transfers, B&B accommodation, six yoga sessions, a massage treatment, two guided walks in the Tatra mountains and meditation sessions (0161 408 8988; www.tatrayogaholidays.com).
What Google will tell you...
"The Sanskrit word 'yoga' has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning 'to control', 'to yoke' or 'to unite'. Translations include 'joining', 'uniting', 'union', 'conjunction' and 'means'. It is also possible that the word derives from yujir samadhau, which means 'contemplation' or 'absorption'." (From Wikipedia)
What Google won't tell you... until now
A quick search of the internet will bring up countless articles about how our modern-day addiction to technology is making us ill, or stressed. But you don't have to move to an off-grid cabin in Alaska to find wellbeing. Dolce La Hulpe Hotel in Brussels is offering guests the chance to switch off their iPhones, laptops and Twitter accounts with its new Technology Detox packages. When you arrive you leave your electronics in the hotel safe and enjoy a treatment in the on-site Cinq Mondes Spa. The two-night Technology Detox packages cost €309 per person, based on two sharing, including full-board accommodation, a one-hour spa treatment and two fitness lessons (00 32 2290 9800; www.dolcelahulpe.com).