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Wedding Ideas: Spa Reviews

Europe’s most romantic hotel: Palazzo Avino – our favourite things

Palazzo Avino was judged to be the most romantic hotel in Europe. Nestled in Ravello, high above the Amalfi Coast in Italy it is the perfect place for a romantic honeymoon or a fairytale wedding. A picture can say a thousand words so here is a round up of a few of our favourites so you can judge for yourself:

Palazzo Avino

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Good Spa Awards – Go on, treat yourself!

The Vineyard - Spa - crop

Wet weather getting you down? Escape it for a day! The annual Good Spa Guide awards took place this week, and we have to say that their magazine readers have great taste and several of our favourite day spas are on their list. Why not arrange to try one for yourself and beat the winter weather with a day in a cuddly robe with poolside pampering and luxurious treatments?

The Readers’ Choice Awards – region by region
Best London Spa: The Spa in Dolphin Square
Best Spa in the Midlands and East: The Day Spa at Whittlebury Hall
Best Spa in the North: The Woodland Spa
Best Spa in Scotland: Stobo Castle Health Spa
Best Spa in the South EastSenSpa at Careys Manor
Best Spa in the South West & Channel Islands: Ayush Wellness Spa at the Hotel de France
Best Spa in Wales: The Well Spa Retreat at Bluestone

…And for something a bit special
Award for Sheer Luxury: Rockliffe Hall
Best Wellness Programme: Grayshott Spa
Best Spa for a City Break: The Spa at The Royal Crescent Hotel
Best Spa for a Country Hideaway: Calcot Spa
Most Romantic Retreat: The Vineyard Spa
Best Customer Service: Ragdale Hall Health Hydro & Thermal Spa
Best Spa to be Social: Aqua Sana Woburn Forest
Best Spa to go Solo: Rookery Hall Hotel & Spa

November is a great time of year to visit a spa; hints of the summer tan are still there and you will really appreciate the warmth and pampering as we get in to winter. A lot of these spas are connected to hotels and you may find that you can get a great deal if you want to extend the stay and make a weekend of it.

Cameron House – hen and stag in the Scottish Highlands

Cameron House on Loch Lomond

Situated on the ‘bonnie banks’ of Loch Lomond, Cameron House is the perfect setting to enjoy the Scottish Highlands. As well as fantastic views, mouthwatering food and deluxe accommodation, Cameron House has a tremendous list of exciting activities on offer; making it a great place to host your stag or hen do.

So what can they offer you?

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Day 3 in Marrakech

We are jolted awake at 4.45am by a loud wailing. The adjacent mosque is calling the faithful to the first service of the day, with the aid of loud speakers pointing in our direction.

With the promise of more clear blue skies and temperatures soaring well into the 40’s, early morning is a great time to relax on the shady roof terrace with a book, freshly squeezed orange juice and strong Moroccan coffee.

Early morning on the roof top of the Riad Capaldi

Early morning on the roof top of the Riad Capaldi

We stepped out from the cool walls of the Riad Capaldi straight into the middle of a game of football in the narrow lane outside, and dodged footballs, mopeds, bicycles and donkeys on the way to find a taxi to take us outside the city walls to the Delano Hotel, a new “baby grand” boutique hotel on the edge of the city, renowned for its stunning spa and authentic hamman.

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Non-invasive cosmetic surgery

Non surgical treatment room

Non surgical treatment room

This isn’t Hollywood so most brides wouldn’t contemplate cosmetic surgery before their wedding, but wouldn’t say “no” to the opportunity to address a skin concern that has bothered them for a while, such as rosacea (red patches), acne scars, broken veins or a birthmark.

Others are more concerned about the honeymoon and are keen to find a permanent solution to unwanted hair or cellulite, or would like to explore the idea of permanent make-up rather than battle with waterproof mascara.

Numerous skin clinics offer non-invasive options, often delivered as a course of gentle treatments. Like cosmetic surgery, the treatment comes with a price tag, but it is great time to address an issue that has always bothered you.

And this one isn’t just for the girls – many grooms sign up for permanent hair removal, or IPL, to reduce body hair or tidy up a designer stubble look by removing hair from above and below the beard area.

Shooka Boot Camp – Day 6

Day six is D-Day, and we present ourselves at 7.30am sharp for the fitness test with some degree of trepidation. We already know from Stuart’s extensive experience of other boot camps that we are likely to significantly beat our gym results from the first day, and we don’t disappoint him. We lower our expectations for the run – after such an intense week it is normal for run speeds to decrease – but he hadn’t factored on the fact he has a bunch of competitive high achievers in the camp this week and we all come in with smiles on our faces.

Weigh-in time comes next, which is the high or the low for many in the group. Fraser confesses that he escaped for a meal in a local Italian restaurant part way through the week, yet has still managed to shed 12lbs. Without exception everyone in the group has lost between 6lbs and 12lbs and several inches, generally from the waist. This is perhaps the point to admit that I had not intended to lose weight, just to increase fitness, and was being fed man-sized portions and additional early-morning and late-night rations as well as all the lovely healthy meals. At no point was I really hungry. We pass around some bags of oats and realise what a huge amount 12lbs is, and what a huge accomplishment for the group as a whole.


Beautifully put!

As snow starts to fall and we contemplate being snowed in for the weekend we decide we have done all we set out to do, and that the camp should finish a day early. Bags are packed, tearful farewells said and promises to keep in touch are made. Those who have been on a Boot Camp generally keep in touch with the rest of the group after going through so much together during the week.

Six days ago I arrived at Shooka ready to tolerate it for a few days for review purposes and then make my escape. Today I am leaving lighter, fitter, healthier, with new healthy habits, new friends, a renewed confidence and without the need of alcohol or caffeine – although I can’t promise that one will be forever.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Our thanks to Shooka Bootcamps for hosting us for the week.

shooka logo

Shooka Boot Camp – Day 5

It seems it is my turn; I wake with a painful chest, banging headache and a fever. Training today is not an option and I am gutted. A week ago I would have thought of any excuse to get out of a work out. Now I am trying to think of ways to drag myself into the gym but can barely drag myself downstairs to let the instructors know I am heading back to bed.

shooka schedule

I sleep, while the rest hit the gym.

I wake up mid afternoon to find a glass of freshly juiced fruits and vegetables by my bed, and head downstairs to find the group have finished early after a gruelling morning of Krav Maga, dumbbell overload circuits and boxing, lunch of broth and an afternoon walk. I am craving exercise and fresh air so head off for a short walk.

The forecast is warning of snow on Friday and I can’t risk being stranded here for the weekend so make arrangements to leave a day early. Others are getting twitchy but the general consensus is to carry on as planned tomorrow but perhaps leave at the end of the day rather than early on Friday. Everyone is keen to get in that one last day of training.

Fake Bake

Ready for a Fake Bake spray tan

After a huge supper of salmon and pak choy we say goodbye to owner, John, who is heading home to Switzerland early before the snow comes in. He is planning a luxury boot camp in the ski resort of Klosters, Switzerland, due to open later this Spring. We toast the successful week with half a glass of champagne and a delicious chocolate mousse. Not sure which I have missed the most.

diet chocolate mousse

My new best friends. Chocolate mousse and half a glass of champagne.

For this evening’s activity Victoria from Fake Bake sets up her tent and treats us all to a spray tan. Great debates on Original, Golden or 1 Hour, but they all look a fantastic and very natural, even for mid January.

The look is completed with a manicure using goodies sent to blogger ReallyRee to review – a lovely MaxFactor Glossfinity in cerise red.

Only one more day. I am going to miss this place.

shooka staff

The Shooka Team
Chef Sarah Louise, owners Stuart Saxby and John Barclay, PTIs Will and Bear.


Shooka Boot Camp – Day 4

The Ultimate Diet

Thanks to Sandra and Victoria of Fake Bake, who brought some lovely home tanning products for us to try, I wake up looking so much healthier, and with bags of energy.

Fake Bake

Fake Bake home tanning kit

That is more than could be said for the Shooka team. While we are all basking in our renewed energy, the PR, Hayley, is in bed for a second day, instructor Will is ill, Stuart is coughing and Bear has sprained his ankle. The owner, John, has been to an emergency doctor and been prescribed enough drugs to get a giraffe back on it’s feet. It seems that the chef is the only one still properly fit to work, but with their military backgrounds the others soldier on regardless.

The boxing class proved so popular earlier in the week that we are treated to a similar but more complex session before a breakfast of quinoa, cinnamon, blueberries and pumpkin seeds. If I tried to feed this to my family they would throw back it at me, but we dutifully tuck in, and it is surprisingly edible.

One of the main aims of the team at Shooka (second only to health and safety) is to aid weight loss and they are very, very good at that.  Women are restricted to 1200 calories, with an extra 300 for men, all from natural whole foods. Meanwhile we are burning 4000-5000 calories a day with up to six exercise sessions. The maths is simple, you are guaranteed to lose weight, but more importantly boot camp also teaches healthy eating habits and portion control.

Following an after-breakfast kick boxing class we are presented with a large box. According to Twitter someone has a secret stash of digestive biscuits. An amnesty is declared and contraband is relinquished, including half a packet of Rowntrees Randoms that I have been keeping close all week.


Contraband given up in the amnesty

A killer session next, alternating hill sprints with outdoor circuits involving heavy metal bars. We are all absolutely shattered by the end.

Sandra, CEO of Fake Bake for the UK, had to return to her business this afternoon, leaving 6lbs lighter and several inches smaller after just three and a half days. After a hard morning it gives everyone the encouragement they need right now.

Sandra McClumpha CEO Fake Bake

Sandra McClumpha, CEO of Fake Bake, leaves 6lbs lighter

A fun, but tough, workout after lunch involving a pack of cards and some serious abdominal crunching followed, then a short walk at Halden Woods – the guys know when we have genuinely worked hard and when they need to ease off and we are all relieved to have an early finish and a chance to try a Lava Shell massage.

The owner of Shared Beauty Secrets, who introduced lava stones to the UK, is here for the week and had arranged for a couple of therapists to come in so we could all see why this treatment is predicted to make hot stone massage a thing of the past. One by one we came out of the treatment rooms in various degrees of rapture. Unlike stones, the shells have a heated insert and stay hot for the entire treatment, and their smooth surface feels just like the therapists’ hands. Definitely a treatment I would recommend.

lava shells by shared beauty secrets

Lava Shell massage.
The best thing since hot stone massage.


We end the day with a supper of pearl barley risotto (another dish my family would have thrown at me, but actually very tasty) we settled down to a Q & A session on nutrition with chef Sarah Louise. She lost 4.5 stone at a boot camp and is an absolute convert. She is totally passionate about what she does and there is very little she doesn’t know about food, nutrition and dieting. I am looking forward to trying some of her recipes at home – just not the quinoa.


Shooka Boot Camp – Day 3

Day 3 is meant to be the worst day of a Boot Camp and is a good reason that they always last more than 5 days; if you finished after 3 days you wouldn’t come back. Muscles are tired, your body is starting to use fat rather than food as its main source of energy, you are physically and mentally tired, tempers are frayed and we are not halfway through our week yet.



Yet another day of fun.

Everyone is suffering sleep deprivation, an apparent side effect of eating so few carbohydrates, except for Amy and Taly who tried my trusty bottle of Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax oil last night and slept for 10 hours. Word gets round that that is the solution so an email is fired off to the Aromatherapy Associates head office for urgent samples before my bottle is completely depleted.

aromatherapy associates

Lovely samples from Aromatherapy Associates.

The chef, Sarah Louise, who has transformed her life since losing 4.5 stone at boot camps, carefully judges the mood in the camp and knows that this morning it is time to play her trump card; scrambled eggs on toast. It works; the group breeze through the pre-breakfast workout, a class with Will and a workout in a field of mud and poo. The film crew have left and spirits are high.


No bread…?

After lunch of spicy soup (no bread…is that all?) we head off for a 6 mile walk in the hills followed by a stretching session. With danger of rebellion in the camp the 4pm swim became optional, but the few of us who ventured up the hill to find the indoor pool enjoyed stretching sore muscles with a leisurely swim and sauna.

Hydrotherapy continued with the evening ice plunge (why was I the only one again?) and a much needed jacuzzi. A massage therapist has driven down from Hampshire to give Lava Shell massages to everyone over the next 2 days. People are appearing in various stages of bliss and it will be nice to try it tomorrow having seen this treatment, which is set to replace hot stone massages, at so many of the spas we work with.

With Danni’s birthday today we had high hopes of a nice chocolate cake at the end of supper, but there are no exceptions at boot camp. The ceremonial candle was carefully placed in a fish pie instead.

shooka fish pie

Shooka Fish Pie – this one without a birthday candle

Quiz after supper, with Calum’s team losing despite having Google as their 7th team member. Deep Relax oil is liberally applied to everyone’s pulse points in front of a relaxing log fire; we have all made it to the halfway point, and hopefully tonight we will all sleep.

Shooka Boot Camp – Day 1

Friday 11th January; Shooka Boot Camp, near Exeter, opens its doors for the first time, with a motley selection of movers and shakers in the health and beauty industry, fitness fanatics, a model, an actress, celebrities …. and three journalists. Welcomed by co-owners John and Stuart, who have visions of affordable boot camps in the UK and a uber-luxury option in Klosters, we settle in for the evening. The Wedding Ideas Awards ceremony was on live stream and I enviously peered at the screen for clues of the sumptuous meal the Guides for Brides team had enjoyed while I had tucked into a tiny, but delicious, piece of nut crusted cod.

Today’s schedule

7am on a Saturday is not a time I often witness. Today it is followed by a 7.30am fitness test and my first experience of going for a run since my son banned me from running in public several years ago. The juice-only breakfast followed by a second far more punishing workout proved too much for my level of (un)fitness and I was removed from the gym while it spun around me. “Do I need a doctor?” No, but a stretcher would be handy. Banished for a rest I contemplated my frustration at failing on the first morning. Just not an option. A strong mug of coffee was smuggled to the room by Bear – an RAF parachute instructor who’s mission is to cajole and cuddle us through the week, and I was instantly revived. Sometimes these things are best taken slowly.

After a lunch of spicy roast sweet potatoes, rocket and cream cheese we are off for a walk.


Looking like community service workers in our florescent jackets on our 9 mile walk.

9 miles of lanes and tracks in this beautiful, but incredibly hilly, part of Exeter,  arriving back in the dark.

The view from the top is worth it.
Instructors Will, Stuart and Bear with Calum Best

Throughout the day our instructor, Stuart Saxby – personal trainer to the stars – had been very honest with all he had planned for us, so when he told us that we would all be suffering the next day, but 40% less if we had a ice plunge, we didn’t hesitate in grabbing swimwear and heading to the unheated outdoor pool. Immersing yourself in icy water for 2 minutes before leaping into a jacuzzi would be easier without a film crew trying to capture the experience – complete with a sound track of screaming.


Britain’s “Biggest Loser” Will Graham trying out the dreaded Ice Plunge

Supper followed – a delicious concoction of chicken, beansprouts, mange tout and peppers in an Asian style dressing, then at last a couple of hours to relax, chat and contemplate the day.


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