Lying by the pool knocking back Mai Tais and booking manicures is so last century. In survey after survey, travelers say they want experiences. Of course, that can mean almost anything: cultural or culinary, gritty or philanthropic. But physically active vacations hold a special allure — for some.
A fellow writer told me that the only time she doesn’t exercise is when she travels. I’m the opposite. I want a great pool, a swimmable beach, a well-equipped gym — like the one at One&Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas where I worked out beside a ripped Daniel Craig during the “Casino Royale” shoot.
But in addition to my weights and swimming routine, I usually want to try something both active and different to help me distinguish this vacation from all the others. Here’s a range of travel ideas for the physically inclined, from hedonistic to hardcore.
Mii Amo Spa, Sedona, Ariz.
The beloved Enchantment Resort is draw in and of itself. Removed from Sedona’s adorable town center and set in ultra-picturesque Boynton Canyon, the place is a pilgrimage for any luxury traveler. But the resort’s justifiably acclaimed 24,000-square-foot spa ups the ante, offering gorgeous facilities that take their design cues from the colors and shapes of the desert.
Sixteen spa guest suites offer the easiest access to boot camp, mountain biking, yoga and my favorite signature experiences: hiking the red-rock trails that flank the property and submitting to guided meditation in the spa’s unearthly Crystal Grotto. Treatments range from reiki and lymphatic drainage to workshops in Compassionate Communication and (woo-woo) Past Life Regression.
Three-day “journeys” start at $2,250, all-inclusive, but guests of the Enchantment can book treatments a la carte. Staff must agree to not divulge the names of celebs who stay there, but actors Nicholas Cage and Diane Lane have been spotted in town.
Esalen, Big Sur, Calif.
This storied retreat functions as a counterculture touchstone as well as a place to feel good. Dating from 1962 — an era when icons like Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Jane Fonda and Cary Grant made their way up Highway 1 to get here — this 120-acre coastal nirvana hosts those who want to exercise the spirit and the body.
The allure is in 500 workshops a year focusing on meditation, Gestalt therapy, massage and psychology, plus the institute’s renowned organic food. You can go simply to drop out for a while and soak in Esalen’s famed clothing-optional hot baths or check in to work on a specific issue. Friends have told me that a weekend workshop saved their marriage.
The “tuition” for all-inclusive weekend workshops starts at $1,750 for a luxurious private suite (as opposed to $555 for a bunk bed in a shared room).
Tough Mudder, various locations
If you’ve wondered what those annoying ubiquitous T-shirts are about, here goes: Tough Mudder offers one-day events consisting of brutal obstacle courses (designed by British Special Forces) that require, among other tests, scaling 12-foot walls, crawling through mud tunnels, getting shot with 10,000 volts of electricity and tossing kegs at cardboard cutouts of Justin Bieber. (But hey, it ends with a beer.)
My musician friend Vincent is East Village by way of Williamsburg — not the kind of guy I would expect to eat mud. But he told me that for one day he got to be a warrior instead of a hipster, and he loved it.
Events are held on Saturdays and Sundays, and prices vary depending on how early you sign up (costs start at $85 for early registration). There are no hotel or campsite packages, but the website sometimes offers lodging suggestions.
I signed up with this active-travel company a few years ago to hike along Lake Como and Lake Lugano, and I’ll never forget it. Though Backroads offers a slew of biking and multisport (kayaking, snorkeling, elephant trekking) trips as well, I wanted the slow, introspective option. It was a sound choice. The routes were so clearly explained that I could linger behind to pick wild berries and forge ahead of the group until I discovered a public pool near the Swiss border.
The staff was perfection: cute, international, breathtakingly efficient and enthusiastic without being irritatingly so. And I have to say, I got a real leg workout: great burns on the downhill while a guide pointed out George Clooney’s villa.
Choose from 35 countries and from fancy or casual digs (or deluxe camping). Six day/five night itineraries typically start at around $2,600 per person, double occupancy, with meals included.
Gladiatorial School, Rome
“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” Who can forget a lecherous Peter Graves asking that question in “Airplane!” and really, who can resist a gladiator? At the Rome Cavalieri (the hotel featured in “Mad Men”) instructors from Rome’s Gladiatorial School provide guests with history, costumes and combat lessons. This program brings sense of place to a whole new (campy) level, and the moves provide a strength training and core work. You’ll never forget seeing Rome through the mesh of a gladiator helmet. (Ages seven and up.)
Rooms from $434, or you can break the bank with the Petronius Suite.
Aman’s resorts never fail to impress with their service and imaginative low-density design. But Amankora offers a very particular experience: The “resort” is actually composed of five mountain lodges, and guests trek from one to the other. Some of the legs are pretty challenging, with big elevation changes, but you can tailor the trek to your abilities.
This is a fitness program at its most culturally immersive, as guests take in diverse landscapes and altitudes from the 7,000-foot Paro to the relatively low-lying Punakha (4,000 feet), surveying monasteries, temples, farmlands, markets and even a prayer wheel.
Rates from $775, per person, double occupancy (includes meals, transfers, laundry and visa processing).
Men’s Fitness Boot Camp Vacation
You want to look like a magazine cover man or woman? Build abs like the Ryans (Gosling and Reynolds)? This is a good way to get you started on that path. Four- or six-day programs are on offer, held at luxurious beachfront resorts such as San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado, the beautifully renovated Victorian-style resort set on the beach where the Navy Seals train and where Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis frolicked in “Some Like It Hot.”
This boot camp is rigorous, with five to six hours of fitness per day; activities include beach workouts, personal training sessions, swimming, kayaking, weights and cardio kickboxing. Trainers are nationally certified, and nutrition counseling is part of the deal.
From $1,995, per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive.
The fact that learning to surf in Oahu is a cliché doesn’t change the fact that the island has the perfect conditions and infrastructure for newbies who want to try out waves safely. You don’t need a wetsuit, the instructors know what they’re doing, and you’re surrounded by other first-timers of various shapes and sizes.
I learned to surf from the guys at Hans Hedemann Surf Adventures right on Waikiki Beach (they also have a base at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore), and they promised that every one of us would actually surf by day’s end. The promise held true, even for one especially ample woman who finally stood up on her board in the lesson’s last minutes. (Group rates from $78.53; semi-private and private lessons available.)
I had a similar experience on a quieter Ko Olina beach with Hawaiian Fire, an outfit owned and operated by buff firefighters (from $109). My advice is to add swimming into your workout for a few weeks before you take the lesson, because I noticed non-swimmers quickly exhausting their deltoids by paddling out to the surf break over and over.