I am married to one of those people who struggle with the meaning of the word vacation. It's not that he objects on principle to touring new places, checking out museums or sites, eating at new restaurants. It's more that a whole week at a resort, or stuck on one of those tours where you drive or get driven from place to place, feels so wasteful and decadent he can't get himself to relax.
When we read a 2002 newspaper article in which the writer described her walking tour of England's famous Lake District, a new idea (for us, anyway) was born. Following this model, I could finally schedule what felt to me like a real vacation tour, while Mr. Productivity could "earn" his cocktails and restaurant meals with 6-to-12-mile daily hikes.
It turns out my husband is not alone in his wish for vacations in which vigorous physical activity accompanies a visit to new or exotic locations, with all the pampering that might include once the "work" is done. A number of Madison exercise pros, travel specialists and dedicated exercise enthusiasts are putting together exercise vacations that defy traditional notions of travel.
Kathleen Conklin of PilateSpa has been offering Pilates Immersion retreats and holidays for several years, most recently at Prana del Mar, a luxury yoga retreat just north of Cabo San Lucas, on the sunny southern tip of the Baja peninsula. A typical retreat at Prana del Mar includes stretch classes on the beach and Pilates mat class each day on the roof with Kathleen, along with three "healing" meals.
The rest of your time might be spent enjoying walks on the wild Pacific beach, whale-watching excursions, a little poolside reading, or Prana del Mar's spa services. For the extra ambitious, yoga and dance classes are also available. This could be the perfect way to tone and shape while taking that much-needed winter break.
If you want your exercise in an even more exotic location, Anne Medeiros of Ujuzi African Travel and Mona Melms of Studio Melt may have concocted the trip for you: Tanzania Pilates and Nia Safari. Imagine staying at lodges in the famous national parks and preserves of Tanzania, starting your day with outdoor Pilates, heading out to experience the wonders of East African wildlife, and returning for a Nia dance class before dinner.
Nia, a hybrid dance form that takes its movements from ballet, modern and jazz dance and martial arts, emphasizes playfulness and freedom of movement. Its soundtracks arise from a wide array of world music, making it particularly suited to an exotic locale.
Medeiros has made a specialty of putting together spectacular African travel experiences. So in addition to the elephants, the lions and wildebeests, your guides make a stop at the Oldupai Gorge, where the Leakeys discovered one of our very early humanoid ancestors, Australopithecus boisei. Other treats might include side trips to some local villages, a hunting and gathering walk with the Ndatoga people, or dancing along the shore of Lake Manyara in the Tarangire National Park.
Madison is a bicycle town, so it makes sense that we're home base for a premier bicycle touring company, Trek Travel. And chances are it has exactly the bike trip you've been dreaming about, on pretty much any continent. No matter where you choose to ride, whether you'd like to do 10 miles per day or 40, whether you prefer luxury accommodations with most meals included or something comfortable, with more freedom to discover your own places to eat, Trek Travel makes it easy.
Every Trek bike tour includes top-of-the line Trek bicycles and accoutrements, with choices based on your riding preferences and the type of terrain you've chosen. Accommodations are in boutique hotels, selected to provide an authentic flavor of the country or region you're touring. You get guides, maps and cue sheets, some or all of your meals (depending on the tour), and one or two cultural events, such as a wine tasting in Bordeaux, an abbey tour in Tuscany, or a wine-paired dinner in California wine country. Trek representatives on site take care of your luggage each day, hauling it to each new hotel on the itinerary.
While you're given a lot of flexibility each day to choose the ride that suits you, Trek also designs private tours for customers who would like to travel with a group of friends or family, customizing details to suit their preferences.
Obviously tours that offer this level of service can be pricey and sometimes more elaborate than a lot of riders might want on a biking trip. With that in mind, Trek has begun to offer what they call Ride Camp, offering simple, comfortable accommodations, route guides and meals for people who don't need the luxury frills. The company has designed the first of the ride camps in early spring, with trips to Mallorca, Spain, and Solvang, Calif.
Madison has its share of rugged individualists like Beth Bruckbauer, a nurse practitioner at the University Health Service and a cross-country ski enthusiast. About 10 years ago, Bruckbauer and a friend decided to brave the far north - that is, northern Ontario - for the promise of good snow. They left Madison by car on Christmas Day, driving up to Sault Ste. Marie to board a train that took them another 122 miles north. At the mile marker, she says, "We were let off the train to ski the last two miles to Windy Lake Lodge while we watched the owner disappear with our luggage on a sled behind his snowmobile."
Windy Lake Lodge, formerly an abandoned logging camp, offers rustic cabins (that means outdoor plumbing and no running water), great home cooking, and acres and acres of silent woods and pristine snow. Bruckbauer and her friend spent their days skiing and snowshoeing in snow so high it came up to the top of small trees, never seeing a soul until dinner at the Lodge. They spent their nights adding logs to the wood-burning stove. Certainly a vacation for the hardiest of winter athletes, but, says Bruckbauer, "I can't help smiling whenever I remember it."
During a recent winter, she and a friend chose Stokely Creek Lodge. It, too, is located well off the beaten path, but only a few miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. The accommodations don't match Windy Creek's rustic charm, but the comfort of indoor toilets and superb back-country skiing and snowshoeing made their week's stay "very much worth the trip."
And then there is walking, perhaps the most basic of exercises and the easiest to practice. England, Mr. Productivity and I discovered, is a walker's haven. The right to use traditional public footpaths, bridleways and common lands has been preserved to an extent that surprises most Americans. Trekking is an extremely popular hobby in Britain, and as a result companies that organize walking tours abound.
We have tried several, and the one we'll go back to again is Foot Trails, specializing in off-the-beaten-track walks in the Cotswolds and England's southwest.
Allison and David Howell provide independent, guided and custom itineraries, emphasizing the paths less traveled, along with well-appointed lodgings and recommendations for the best in English food and drink. Walks vary in length and the amount of challenge, generally six to 12 miles a day with a carefully selected inn or pub about halfway into the walk for a little rest, tea, ale and food. On the days our walks ended in a new village, Foot Trails staff took care of moving our luggage.
On our last trip, in 2007, we traveled with two other couples, walking across Thomas Hardy's Wessex and visiting Stourhead Gardens, where a famous scene from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice was filmed. Mainly we walked independently, supplied with maps, tour guides and good rain gear, but the highlight of our trip was a guided six-mile walk from the village of Amesbury to Stonehenge. As we trekked, David provided context on the history and geography of the area, as well as a lovely picnic lunch with the stone circle in view. For my money, a vacation doesn't get any better than that. Mr. Productivity agrees.
Oh, the places you'll go
Week-long Pilates retreats and holidays on the Baja coast near Cabo San Lucas. Offered annually, late January and early February. Cost: $1,500 double room; $1,900 single room. Includes room, three meals per day, minimum 24 classes in Pilates and stretch, ground travel to and from airport; schedule and buy your own plane ticket.
Pilates and Nia Tanzania Safari
Ujuzi Travel: email@example.com. For more information about Nia dance: mona@studio melt.com. 10-day safari with exercise twice daily in the great national parks and preserves of Tanzania. Ujuzi Travel organizes high-quality guided tours of East Africa, including Pilates Safari (October) and Pilates and Nia Safari (February). Additional exercise travel opportunities are in the works as well. Cost: $3,695 for double room, all meals and all ground transportation; airfare separate.
Guided bicycle tours all over the world offered for riders at all levels of experience and ambition. Tour offerings rotate, but private and custom tours are available on request. Costs vary with place and level, but include lodgings at three- and four-star boutique hotels, some meals, three daily routes, maps, cue sheets and one or more cultural events. You pay your own airfare.
Skiing and Snowshoeing in Northern Ontario
Stokely Creek Lodge in the Algoma Highlands near Sault Ste. Marie. Cabin or chalet rooms run from $98 to $195 Canadian per night based on two people per room (prices go up in February and on the weekend). Group rates are available starting at $87 Canadian per person. Tax is extra. Includes three meals (with unlimited helpings), sled transport of luggage from parking lot to room, plus all-day beverage service and snacks.
Windy Lake Lodge, 120 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie, can only be accessed by train. Ski last 2-1/2 miles to the lodge. Cost: $390 Canadian per person for long weekend (Friday through Monday) or $70 Canadian per night. Includes cozy cabin lodging, centrally located bath and shower building, three home-cooked meals served family style in the lodge dining room, access to all wilderness trails.
English Walking Tours
Foot Trails is the best of the companies we've used, specializing in England's southwest, particularly the paths less traveled. Guided, independent and custom tours available for as short as two nights or up to a week. Costs vary, but a typical five-day guided tour is 765 GBP ($1,220 at current exchange rate) and includes lodging at superior country inns, all breakfasts and lunches, and all transportation of luggage from inn to inn. Airfare and travel to starting point is separate. A five-day unguided walk includes all maps and extensive notes about the sites you'll be walking through, lodging at superior country inns, all breakfasts, all luggage and incidental transportation and starts at 435 GBP ($695). Group discounts available.