Montenegro fun

Our plan to travel to Montenegro this October originated with a desire for late summer sunshine and some serendipity when looking at potential travel sports in the nearby Croatia. One of the reviews for a hotel we were looking at insisted that anyone staying in Dubrovnik did a day trip to Montenegro, just to see the beautiful scenery and experience the slightly different culture. After realising flights direct to Tivat were significantly cheaper than those to Dubrovnik 60km up the coast we were sold – we were going to Montenegro!

People are usually drawn to the main cities on the coast of Montenegro (which is where we stayed for our brief trip), but as the entire country is only roughly half the size of Wales, a trip to the beautiful northern Durmitor national park isn’t more than half a day’s drive, even on the mountain roads. 

We were lucky enough to be provided accommodation by the beautiful Hotel Splendid on the outskirts of Budva, 30 minutes along the coast from Tivat, where we landed. The location was perfect – we were within walking distance of the Old Town of Budva, a stunning town encircled by stone walls right on a rocky peninsula – the stuff of actual dreams! Rather than being the tourist trap we expected, the old town was pleasant to walk around, despite some large tourist groups. I would definitely recommend visiting out of peak season, as we did! It’s known for being a little too busy in mid-summer. The other side of out hotel further to the south was a coast path all the way to the famous Sveti Stefan semi-island, which is considered the most exclusive area of the Montenegrin coast, in part due to the hotel of the same name situated there. Both the Old Town and Sveti Stefan were decent walks right along the beach – we were pleasantly surprised to find gorgeous coast paths in each direction straight from our hotel, saving us walking on the main roads.

The pics below are of the gorgeous view of Sveti Stefan and the hike up to the viewing area. Running optional! There is also a road up there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving at Hotel Splendid, as the photos didn’t give too much away. After I arrived I was actually blown away by the beauty of the place – although the hotel is technically a ‘conference and spa resort’, it provides so much more than board rooms and work stations. The hotel itself is a 5* beach resort placed pretty much directly on the sand – the view from our 5th floor bedroom window was of the stunning hotel pools and the beach and mountains that Montenegro is so famous for. This was an absolute highlight of the hotel – I will never get tired of looking at photos of that view!

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Not surprisingly, I wanted to ‘gram every photo taken from this balcony

Hotel Splendid also has the best spa in the region, allowing it to stay open to guests year-round. In the colder winter months, the VERY extensive multi-pooled spa with various saunas is a haven for visitors globally. Sadly we didn’t get to use the spa facilities during our short stay but without a doubt would return again in off season to test out everything on offer! I was lucky enough to be offered one of their spa treatments, however, and I opted for a back and neck massage (because of severe DOMS from boxing) which was good. Being used to mainly sports massages, I asked the masseuse to work her magic potentially a little TOO hard, and at one point it did feel like she was trying to harvest my shoulder blades, but have no doubt that softer massages are also available! 🙂 I would loved to have come back for more treatments (the menu and products used are both very extensive) so that’s definitely something to plan for the future!

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Poolside seemed like the perfect location for some quick HIIT (after much sunbathing)

The food at the hotel was provided in a buffet style in the main hotel restaurant and was good. Particular favourites included the homemade breads (always a winner) and cereal selection. However one thing I would say is that being vegan is nigh-on impossible – I ended up eating pretty much the same food for breakfast and dinner every night (which was really good but did get monotonous). Nothing has allergy advice on either so it is difficult if you are following a specialised diet, although I presume if you asked in advance they would be able to provide all the information to you, as they were very helpful in general. For meat-eaters, however, there was a diverse range of dishes, including many local foods. On our last evening we visited the beach-front restaurant, Promenada, an oriental style restaurant serving up a diverse range of foods. I was REALLY impressed with the food here! I would recommend a visit to each of the hotel’s 3 restaurants and 4 bars if you do visit – there is such a variety of food available there’s bound to be something for everyone. 🙂

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This is how happy I felt in the marina next to Regent Porto!

On our last day we visited nearby Tivat and Kotor, both situated on the nearly Bay of Kotor. I am SO happy we decided to visit Tivat – it has one of the most gorgeous marinas I’ve ever witnessed. Think: the opulence of Oman and Cannes but with the unspoiled beauty of a national park. See pics. 🙂 Regent Porto Montenegro, a relatively new luxury hotel, was generous enough to offer us a visit, and it was a fantastic first experience of Tivat. Situated right on the front of the marina, Fiann and I enjoyed a wholesome lunch in the sunshine with some of the best (and friendliest) service I’ve ever received. After a tour of the hotel (including an introduction to the myriad of wellness activities offered there), Fiann and I settled by the pool for some post-lunch reading. Nb/ the below pictures are of the only pool open so late in the year HOWEVER they also have a huge infinity pool open until the end of the season from May/June time (weather dependent). Sadly we were unable to visit it, but were told it has been voted one of the top infinity pools in the world. High praise indeed. I can’t comment on the facilities or rooms as we haven’t stayed there (yet), but plan on heading back early next year, and would love to write a review then!

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After managing to drag ourselves away from the pool, Fiann and I drove to the nearby town of Kotor. We were told to visit by pretty much everyone, but whether it’s because we were in a rush or because it was such a stark contrast to the tranquillity of the Regent Porto, we were slightly underwhelmed with Kotor. As with many large towns, you don’t seem to get the magic and cosiness of smaller towns. However, as it was recommended by so many people (and as we hadn’t hit our step count yet), Fiann and I paid our €8 each and headed up the approx 1350 steps and 1200m to the Castle of San Giovanni. I can’t recommend this more if you like good views, exercise and ruins! We climbed pretty quickly (chasing sunset) and were not disappointed. Unless you’re very steady on your feet, maybe don’t head up at dusk – the route back down (which, granted, Fiann and I ran) was hellish in the dark, but also very fun as it was lit up by huge flood lights. 10/10 would recommend! If you’re looking for the views without the hike, drive up the nearby serpentine road – it goes up and up and up into the mountains and it is possible to stop in various lay-bys for spectacular views over the bay of Kotor. It’s also quite sickening if you don’t like heights or narrow roads!

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The ruins of the castle in Kotor – image by Jet Setting Fools

TL;DR The long and short of it is that you MUST visit Montenegro. Top tips would be to stay in Tivat or Becici, the small town just outside of Budva where our lovely hotel was situated. Plan to visit outside of peak season – the best months are apparently May and September, but the good weather continues well into October (it was 26 degrees and beautifully sunny everyday the week we were there).

  • Visit Kotor and climb the ruins.
  • Say hello to every cat you see.
  • Eat lots of food. Being vegan is hard.
  • Visit Durmitor National Park, drive the serpentine road and visit Lovcen for stunning mountains and views.
  • Visit Sveti Stefan to see how the other half live. Since you won’t actually be allowed in (without paying), climb up to the viewing spot past Praskvica Monastery views.
  • Follow @gomontenegro and @wtdmontenegro for more inspiration of what to do and where to go!

Fun fact: The Splendid conference hotel name was actually used for the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” (Hotel Splendide), although the vast majority of the film was actually shot in the Czech Republic. They even have a casino on the top floor that people visit from far and wide called ‘Casino Royal’. I like this fact.

Nb/ Hotel Splendid very generously offered us our three nights stay free of charge. However as always, all thoughts and views are my own. We will be back soon without a doubt!

Supplements – what, why and how?

I’ve been asked so many times what I think about X supplement and approached by brands to promote new bizarre sounding pills claiming to solve all your training problems. Whilst some of them may have tentative supporting evidence, a lot don’t. I know the supplements market is a total minefield, so here are some of the most popular supplements out there, and evidence for and against them. Obviously research is always coming out saying X, Y or Z – I’ve included a lot of reviews and meta analyses to try to get a balanced view of the literature but always think critically about what people are trying to sell you. Just remember: there’s no magic pill that’ll suddenly make you fit or give you the perfect abs. Training is hard whatever supplements you take, and quite often it’s worth spending the £50 you spend on supplements on a personal training session or a few books on nutrition. Knowledge is power (literally in this case!).

 

Protein

Our muscles are made up of protein fibres, some of which are broken down and rebuilt each time we exercise. Protein supplements/shakes claim to enhance recovery of muscles and aid growth, thereby improving performance. However, the level of conflicting information (and the price of a lot of the supplements) warrants a closer look at the evidence of their efficacy.

The evidence: Looking at muscle recovery time, muscle soreness and muscle growth, the data are inconclusive. Some meta-analyses state that here’s no evidence to suggest that muscle recovery is faster when someone consumes protein before, after or during a workout. However, a lot of the studies looked at small sample sizes, and measures of ‘muscle soreness’ and recovery are often hard to quantify. There is, however, fairly strong evidence to suggest that people in a calorie deficit may benefit from taking protein supplements, and that protein can reduce muscle catabolism (break down) following a workout. Verdict: if you’re looking to build muscle and/or are in a calorie deficit, protein may help you out. However, if you’re looking to reduce DOMS or decrease recovery time, the jury is out on whether protein can help. Because of the mixed evidence, it may be worth trying it out, especially if you’re vegan or struggling to fit in enough protein in your diet and wanting to train hard. Find what works for you!

 

BCAAs

BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids are amino acids with side chains. There are three types: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The supplements are sold to increase protein synthesis, purportedly increasing muscle mass (even while in a calorie deficit) when paired with the right training. When taken regularly, supplementation may decrease fatigue during exercise by reducing the increase in serotonin during exercise, which contributes to fatigue.

The evidence: BCAAs are one of the most heavily studied supplements on the market. In terms of exercise (there are many other uses of BCAA supplementation), there are two main factors looked at: increased exercise performance and reduced muscle breakdown. The former has much mixed evidence, mostly suggesting that BCAAs are unlikely to significantly improve exercise performance. The latter, however, has much more evidence supporting it. Multiple studies show that supplementation before and after exercise reduce muscle breakdown after strenuous exercise, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

 

Creatine

Creatine is produced naturally in the body and stored predominantly in skeletal muscle. However, it is also sold as a supplement and marketed as helping to improve energy production for short duration, high intensity exercises. Theoretically, it is used by the body as a substrate to form ATP (the little packets of energy our body uses), and therefore supplementing with it means more ATP (energy) can be produced.

The evidence: Creatine is one of the more sound supplements on the market. According to one review paper, creatine is the most effective supplement to increase high-energy exercise capacity and muscle mass during training. As it turns out, of the 500 peer-reviewed papers looking into the effects of creatine, 70% concluded that it benefitted high intensity performance. However, when looking at more endurance exercises, the evidence is inconclusive, showing that if you want something for long-distance running, you should probably look elsewhere.

Nb/ There have been concerns that creatine supplementation may alter liver and kidney function, so if you have underlying conditions, creatine use should be avoided. In general though, it seems to be relatively safe!

 

Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is used by athletes to improve performance. Purported benefits include improving exercise capacity, building lean muscle mass and improving physical functions in the elderly.

The evidence: This supplement definitely shows some clear evidence that it can improve performance by reducing fatigue, thus making building muscle easier for those who take it. The benefits are seen most clearly in high intensity activities lasting 60s to 300s. However, the side effects are not widely studied but commonly experienced. If you’ve ever taken beta alanine you’ll probably be aware of the tingly feeling you can get, which is unpleasant at best. Few studies if any have looked into the safety of this supplement, and whilst it appears safe at recommended doses, take it at your own risk.

 

Electrolytes

When we exercise we sweat, losing salts as well as water. Salts are important for our muscles to function properly and too few of them cause the body to cramp up. If you’re into endurance exercise or workout in hot places, chances are you’ve considered taking electrolytes. Electrolytes help replenish the salts lost when we sweat, thus keeping our muscles working properly, and are provided in a way that doesn’t give our body too much of any one type of salt (e.g. sodium). Supplementation aims to reduce heat stress, muscle cramps and aid rehydration.

The evidence: electrolyte supplementation has been shown to reduce cramping caused by electrolyte loss (lots of sweating), but cramping can still occur due to other factors. It reduces heat stress, so if you’re working out hard in a hot country (e.g. racing or competing abroad) this may be something to consider. If you’re not working out in extreme heat for extended periods of time, electrolytes are probably not required for your everyday training schedule.

 

I hope this helps clarify some things for you!

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Choosing supplements to aid your workouts can be a minefield

Workout headphones

After the recent death of my beloved headphones (and a bitter battle with Bose to get a new pair within the warranty), I put out a call out on Instagram for all your favourite workout headphones. For me, it’s all about the sound quality, how well they stay on and stopping ears get too sweaty. I don’t work with any of these brands, I’ve literally just copied and pasted recommendations from you all, as so many of you asked me to share them!

I hope this is useful 🙂

Anker
Slim+ (but apparently they break)
Soundbuds sport

Apple
Airpods (x4)

Beats
Solo 3 (x4)
X
Powerbeats3 wireless (x2)

Bose
Soundsport
qc35

JBL
Everest 70
T450BT

Kinivo
BTH240

Marshall
Major II (long battery life)

Plantronics
Backbeat fit (burpee proof)

Sennheiser
HD
Momentum (but too sweaty and big)

Skullcandy
Crusher wireless (x3) (great bass)

Sony
MDR-zx220bt
MDR-zx770bn
MDR-1000X (but expensive)
WH 1000XM2

Sudio
Regent (x2)
Tre (x2)
Sweden

TaoTronics (cheap)

Urban Ears
Platten wireless (x2)

 

I hope that helps you all!

Chewton Glen

Nothing beats a relaxing weekend in the countryside, especially when you get to celebrate it with someone you love! I had the privilege of taking my boyfriend to Chewton Glen, a luxury 5* hotel and spa in the New Forest, Hampshire. Nothing screams romance as much as a break that involves huge rooms, comfy beds, incredible food and an amazing spa.

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As we were only staying for one night, Fiann and I wanted to arrive as early as possible on day 1. We arrived at 3pm and were immediately made to feel welcome. We were given a little tour of the hotel and then were shown straight to our room. I was amazed at the size of the room – it had enough floor space to dance around it (I can confirm) and swing many cats (I didn’t try this one). The bathroom boasted a huge bath, mirrors everywhere and a double shower with four showerheads. We were staying in the croquet lawn room – a midrange room – and I have never stayed in such a plush room. If you want luxury, this is where it’s at. As it was still light and sunny, Fiann and I headed down to the coast, a short and pretty walk away. If you happen to be a surfer, the surf looks amazing! If you’re not, the rest of the beach is beautiful too.

That evening was Fiann’s birthday dinner, so we booked into one of the hotel’s restaurants, The Kitchen, a relatively relaxed restaurant with a seasonally changing menu, where many of the ingredients are grown on site and others are from local suppliers. As it is situated up the drive, we were transported to and from in a cute little van/golf buggy, which was quite sweet. Pros: the food was delicious, and they rustled something up when we asked for things that weren’t on the menu. Cons: as we hadn’t said in advance that we were vegan, we had to go half-vegan, half-vegetarian for the dinner, as the cuisine is classic English countryside – plenty of meats and cheeses. However, what we had was delicious, and I would recommend it to anyone passing by – the restaurant is open to anyone, not only hotel guests! If you let them know in advance, there are vegan options available.

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Our breakfast in the morning was a delicious buffet followed by foods ordered from the kitchen (because is it even a meal if there aren’t two courses). I can’t really fault the food or atmosphere, everything was perfect! One small irritation was that all the sugar cubes were individually wrapped in plastic, which for a hotel hot on local foods, felt a little wrong. I will be feeding this back to them because other than that the whole experience was perfect.

We checked out of our room at 12pm, but were encouraged (with very little resistance from us) to stay and experience the gym and spa. These are both available on a day pass if you don’t have time for the full weekend – there is a big swimming pool and then another room with hot tubs, jets and other fun spa things. There’s a ‘health food’ café as well as a gym and plenty of other spa-y things in each changing room. Despite being relatively busy (it was a Saturday), the spa was big enough for all, and thankfully very quiet in all the relaxation areas. The gym isn’t huge but has much more than most hotel gyms I’ve been to! Would definitely recommend the wellness day passes even if you can’t stay overnight.

Overall I absolutely loved my stay at Chewton Glen. We were made to feel so welcome by all the staff (and there were a lot of them!), and they pulled out all the stops to make it a special weekend for Fiann’s birthday. 100% would recommend for anyone looking for a unique weekend away – there are rooms available for every type of weekend break, and the hotel really thinks of everything for you. They even provided much needed hunter wellies for our walk to the coast. Take a look at the rooms to see how perfect it is for yourself!

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Nb/ The overnight stay was provided free of charge, however as always all views are my own.

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Top vegan cafes in London

I decided to write this post after thinking back to when I first moved back to London after school. 5 years ago vegan options were thought of as hippy, weird and definitely only for vegans. With more choice than ever now, it’s more a decision of where to go, rather than questioning if there’s anything around! I also have to admit that despite taking over a month to write, the research for this post has been most enjoyable. Enjoy!

 

Yorica
I’m a huge fan of dessert, so when I heard about this delicious sounding specifically vegan ice cream shop, I got super excited. Situated on Wardour Street near Oxford Circus, it’s perfect for a quick (or slow) snack. I got the soft serve and Fiann got the ice cream and we were both super happy. Their matcha soft serve is like Mr Whippy, only much healthier and obviously matcha flavoured. You get your choice of toppings too (gluten free), which makes this far superior to most other ice cream places I’ve been to! The staff are also really friendly, which is a bonus. I would definitely recommend popping in if you’re in the area!

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Yorica is must for anyone hanging out near Oxford Circus needing refreshment!

Lu-ma
Visiting this restaurant was well worth the journey to Wimbledon. Having recently won the title of the ‘Best Restaurant in Merton’, I was expecting great things from the food, but what stood out even more was the friendly and passionate atmosphere. I had the privilege of talking to the owner, Maria, over lunch. Lu-ma is a wholefood/vegan/vegetarian café and whilst not purely vegan, it is quite clear that sustainability is at the heart of the business (for example all the takeaway containers/cutlery are vegware, so compostable). This café also caters to other dietary requirements, such as coeliac, but thankfully doesn’t have the snobby, exclusive vibe that a lot of these places have. 10/10 would recommend.

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I’ve not been into such a friendly cafe as Lu-ma in a long time!

Tibits
Tibits is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant serving healthy meals (both eat in and takeaway). You pay by weight so portion sizes can be changed to suit you. The ingredients are locally sourced (where possible) making it pretty ethical. They also do fully vegan Tuesdays too, which I think is a great follow-on from meat free Monday. Come here for a sit down meal or takeaway – it’s all good!

Deliciously Ella
My boyfriend and I visited deliciously Ella for a weekend brunch after a long walk in the park (it’s conveniently situated next to Hyde Park, right next to Marble Arch. We arrived in time for the breakfast menu (they change at midday for lunch) but naturally tried all the snacks as brunch dessert (is this a thing?). My first impression was that everyone in there is French, so obviously the food has to be good! Whilst the range of breakfast options were not vast, from what I tried, EVERYTHING is good. If you’re a fan of healthy vegan (and gluten and refined sugar free) foods, this is the place for you. Whilst not exactly cheap, it’s also not crazily expensive for the quality of ingredients being used. I also 100% recommend it for the variety of the drinks – their homemade cashewnut chocolate milk is a dream.

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Deliciously Ella’s dishes make you realise why she’s so globally successful

EZ & Moss
Ez and Moss, a vegetarian and vegan cafe on Holloway Road, caters for meat lovers and vegans alike, with a regularly changing menu and excellent coffee. Expect vegan burgers and instagrammable brunch items. It’s won a few awards too, making it all the more appealing to those who may be a little apprehensive of having a meal without a centrepiece of meat.

Buhler & Co
Buhler & Co isn’t 100% vegan, but everything is vegetarian with a lot of options for vegans (most of the veggie food can also be made vegan). Ingredients are locally sourced too, which is great for environmentally-focused individuals. Other intolerances are well served here too, with gluten free options available.

Mooshies
The mooshie website says it aims to create ‘healthy fast food’, using real, vegan ingredients to create food that tastes great, but is also a little healthier for both you and the environment. The cafe is in just the location you’d expect to find a vegan burger cafe – Brick Lane of course! I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant if you enjoy unhealthy tasting food that is also environmentally sound. Love love loved it and will 100% be returning to try the other burgers!

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What the Pitta
You know that delicious tasting hangover food? Now imagine it’s good for you. This is sort of along the lines of what the pitta food, serving huge (HUGE) wraps and vegan kebabs. I’ve heard that even advocates of the classic very meaty kebab give this one 5*, so it’s definitely worth a shot. Staff are friendly too – the whole vibe is great.

The Vurger
I went to the Vurger’s popup in Spitalfields market on a cold winter’s day, and helped myself to two of their burgers (I couldn’t decide which I wanted) and some sweet potato fries. This burger tastes healthier than lots of vegan burgers I’ve had before, using the sort of ingredients I would use if I was to make one at home. If you’re a fan of great tasting plant-based food that isn’t actually unhealthy, then this is the one for you. 

Ethos
Situated pretty centrally near Oxford Circus, Ethos is a restaurant that got me interested in vegan food really early. Everything in the restaurant is vegetarian, and most things vegan too. You pay by weight, which can get expensive (a huge plate worth could cost £15 or so, but that’s usually too much for lunch). However, it’s well worth it for the food, with dishes from lots of different cuisines known for having good veggie food. The sit-down part (you can get takeaway) is also supremely instagrammable, so if you’re into that, this one is for you.

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Ethos’ very instagrammable interior ft salad bowls and marble tables

Moorish cafe deli
Tucked away near King’s Cross, Moreish cafe deli is fairly unassuming from the outside, but once you try their food you’ll be converted. It’s not all vegan, but I had to include it because of the homemade vegan ice cream. It tastes just like ‘real’ ice cream, but is made using homemade ingredients without preservatives etc. The enthusiasm of the shop owner (and ice cream maker) for good, healthy, affordable food is so great that you’ll want to keep coming back here when you’re nearby!

 

I hope this helps all of you on Veganuary and especially those of you looking to make this a longer term arrangement. I would love to hear about your favourite vegan and vegetarian restaurants and cafes too! Let me know on my instagram or in the comments below.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel spa

I first went to the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel when I was 18 – I was actually singing at a Christmas luncheon for charity! It was so nice, then, to be able to head back for the first time since then last week. After a very long week of work and events, it was much needed! I went with my boyfriend, of course, and am excited to share the experience with you.

There’s no doubt that as soon as you walk up to the renaissance hotel, you’ll be awestruck by its beauty and scale. The spa is on a lower level as soon as you walk in, but you still get to experience the beauty of the inside of the hotel. Upon arrival we had a very short wait while we filled in some health questionnaires, and were then shown around the spa. It’s all situated along a corridor (a pretty one at that), with the spa at one end and relaxation room at the other.

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We started our afternoon with a 30 minute Moroccan massage, which is an oily back massage. Having been climbing the day before, my back was stiff enough to be extremely sensitive! I feel like the massage might have been better suited to someone who hadn’t worked out the day before – for me it was not so much relaxing as painful, which when coupled to the (otherwise wonderfully) heated bed, made the massage probably a little less relaxing than it should have been. However, the products used smelled amazing, and  the experience probably would be perfect for other people.

The pool was gorgeous – dark, lovely decor with chairs around the outside for relaxing on. It was the perfect temperature with plenty of bubbles for the full experience. However, I think when I went it had been over-treated, so was a little stingy on the eyes, sadly.

All in all, there’s no doubting that the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is somewhere you should visit, if only for the decor! The spa is very relaxing, but there were some small improvements to be made. It wasn’t as good as some day spas I’ve been to, but for a hotel spa, it is really lovely and does just the job of relaxing you before your next engagement.

Verdict: if you’re staying at the hotel, the spa and gym are definitely worth a visit. Book a treatment and enjoy! I wouldn’t put it on the top of my list of day spas, but then again, that’s not its job. Let me know what you think when you visit!

Click here to read more about the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and its spa.

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The decor of the hotel is all part of the experience!

Cowshed spa, Primrose Hill

As you may know, I am a huge fan of spa breaks – scheduled time to relax, rest and recuperate before heading back into the real world. However, sadly it’s not always possible to take off so much time for some R&R. We all need something that will do the trick and fit into your life. This is where day spas and treatment rooms come in. They’re aid out for maximum relaxation, but without demanding a full day to experience everything – and without the price tag of a full weekend away, too.

I headed to the Cowshed spa on a Thursday evening after work, excited by the prospect of a relaxing evening of ‘me time’. Cowshed has spas in Soho, Shoreditch and Primrose Hill, meaning that for Londoners, there’s always something nearby. I would recommend their Primrose Hill branch though, as it’s reported to be the most aesthetic (I can confirm that it was super cosy and pretty this Christmas time!). Upstairs in the spa is a café, and next door was the manicure and pedicure room – although I didn’t use them I imagine they’re perfect for spending time with friends or mother-daughter time over a mani/pedi.

I headed downstairs to the treatment rooms after filling in a short form about my health, and waited a short while on the downstairs sofas. My treatment started a little late, but wasn’t cut short, so I didn’t mind too much. The treatment started by telling the therapist what I wanted from the session – for me, my body was really sore from some heavy training, so I asked for a massage to relax my muscles. I chose my favourite scent from a selection (all of them were nice, but it’s nice to be able to choose your preferred one!).

I’ve had a lot of massages from lots of different places and the massage I got wouldn’t go at the top of my list, although it was still a very relaxing 45 minutes. However, the therapist did something I’ve never had before – she went through some of my pressure points and pushed on them. It wasn’t pleasant, but MY GOD the next day my DOMS had all gone. This has never happened to me before, even with a massage, so whilst this massage wasn’t top of my relaxing list, it was absolutely top of my effectiveness list. It was so good! I also bet that if I had asked for a soft, relaxing massage, the massage would have been much more relaxing than it was.

I would recommend Cowshed as a cute afternoon/evening activity for a catch up with a friend over a mani/pedi, or for some ‘me time’ after a hard week of working/training. You can’t deny the effectiveness of a massage for relaxation, and this one did just the trick 🙂

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Their upstairs cafe is my ideal kind of place for writing blog posts!

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The upstairs manicure and pedicure area – prefect for catching up with friends!

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The treatment room where I had my massage

The Malvern hotel and spa

After a very exhausting and mentally draining week, I was unbelievably excited to head to The Malvern for a weekend (two days, one night) of relaxation, good food and some peace and quiet. Nestled at the base of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, The Malvern spa looks nothing special from the outside, but when you step inside it’s a totally different matter.

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There’s nothing better than jumping onto a warm and comfy bed after a long day!

Fiann and I arrived at The Malvern at lunch time, and although our room wasn’t ready (they’re not prepared until 3pm), we were given robes and towels and allowed access to their spa and wellness areas. There’s not much that’s more rewarding than heading to the spa after a long drive, and it was so nice to jump straight into relaxation to start the weekend right 🙂

After spending just over 2h between the gym and spa, Fiann and I headed for our afternoon tea, booked in advance. I told the restaurant (a little/very last minute) that we were vegetarian and they managed to pull together a huge and delicious spread of sandwiches, cakes and other desserts (with a decaf soya flat white, of course). The waiters were more than a little surprised when Fiann and I managed to demolish the entire 2 slates of food, without much effort – for 2 VERY hungry people post-gym session, the amount was perfect! For anyone else it would have been a bit much, but they did offer us doggy bags to take away any we didn’t eat (obviously none).

Having finished tea, we were taken up to our room, which was small but perfectly formed. I think the bed is definitely one of the comfiest I have ever slept on, and (possibly helped by the relaxation from the spa), I slept almost 9.5h in the night!

As part of our stay we were offered breakfast and a three-course dinner, both of which were impressive, although they could have done with some more vegetarian and vegan options. As vegetarians we were limited to 2 options for both starter and main, although they were VERY good! The food quality was 5* throughout, but range of healthy options could be bigger.

On the second morning Fiann and I were booked in for our treatments – a 75 minute back, face and scalp treatment, involving ESPA products that you can choose yourself with a little guidance at the beginning. The treatment area is ridiculously relaxing, with a ‘waiting room’ with a fire, fountain and comfy furniture all around. I nearly fell asleep multiple times in my treatment and it was amazing for removing tension built up from work and the gym. Getting rid of tension and tightness in your muscles is very important so you’re less likely to injure yourself through reduced flexibility, especially if you’re working at a desk most of the day and leaning over your screen. Stretching and massages are helpful if you struggle with tightness and pain in your lower back, shoulders and chest.

It would seem silly to not check out the hills themselves whilst in the area, so Fiann and I checked out of the room at 11am on the Sunday and asked directions to the nearest hills. A short drive later and we were walking up some of the steepest but most beautiful British countryside hills I’ve ever been up. It was a clear day (and icy cold) so we could see all the way across three counties (although which ones and where exactly they were I’m still not sure, but it’s the idea that counts!).

For anyone who lives in the west or south-west, the Malvern is one of the top spa destinations around. I would 100% recommend having a visit and would personally recommend staying for the night – whilst you can’t go to your room until 3pm on your first day, you can use the spa facilities from midday, giving you an excuse to relax before you’ve even made it to the room! You also get more for your money, with lots of the deals including a three-course dinner and two-course breakfast. Total review? A roaring 5* – the best weekend I’ve had in a while.

View the website here.

Disclaimer: The Malvern spa and hotel invited me to try their facilities free of charge, but as always, all opinions are my own.

F45

F45 originated to combine the most dynamic and effective training styles to date and make them available to the masses. The classes are highly structured (with the structure depending on the class you go to) where you spend a particular amount of time at each station, carrying out an exercise for a set amount of time before either moving on or doing the same exercise after a short break.

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Pros: The exercises aren’t complicated and are demonstrated at the beginning of the class. They are also displayed on the boards at the front of the room so that if you forget what you’re supposed to be doing, there’s something there to guide you. The boards at the front also count down your time at each station, rest periods and show how far through the class you are, which is great if you’re lacking motivation or don’t think you’ll make it through the class! Also, although a lot of people can fit into a class there are also multiple trainers – I’ve always had either 2 or 3 which is useful if you need someone to motivate you. My first class was fun – I sweat loads, had plenty of endorphins afterwards and felt like I had fit in a good workout in a relatively short amount of time.

 

Cons: Much though I love to get my sweat on, I feel like F45 is all about the calorie burn and not so much about technique or quality, or the reasons behind each exercise. I’ve done a lot of training and whilst I’m no expert, I feel like a lot of the exercises lack direction or purpose and are more there to keep your heart rate high (which they do with reasonable success). In addition, in most of the classes I’ve been to the emphasis is getting in as many reps as possible in the time given, which doesn’t lie well with my ethos of ‘time under tension’ and ‘move with purpose’. Sit-ups can be really great, but if you’re trying to get in as many as possible in 45 seconds the chances are you’re not doing them as well as you could. To be fair to F45, there is nothing there saying you have to fit in a certain number of reps, but the feedback from the trainers during the session suggests that speed is more of a priority than technique.

 

I enjoy F45 for the sweat-fest that it always is. However, in my most recent session I burned a mere 370 calories, which whilst it is 100% NOT the reason I train, is somewhat disappointing considering that seems to be the entire aim of the class. F45 is not alone in this, and as someone recently said, there has been a rise of classes that are all about ‘fast fitness’ – sweating for 45 minutes without much focus on form etc.

 

So would I recommend F45? Absolutely – when I first went I loved the high intensity and fast-paced atmosphere. However, as I become more ‘in tune’ with my body and now workout for health and flexibility more than just aesthetics, I start to see flaws in most workouts. These ‘fast fitness’ workouts are great when you’re first getting into fitness but leave something to be desired when it comes to training with purpose.

 

All opinions here are my own. I am not a qualified personal trainer but have done my fair share of different workouts over the years. I would always advise people to find a workout that gets them moving and that they enjoy. If you love this class, I cannot see how that could possibly be harmful to you, so please continue! I know I’ll continue to go if I want to sweat a lot, but unlike some other classes I do, it won’t be my weekly go-to workout.

 

Price: £20 for 7 days when you register (great deal!), but otherwise £25 per class.

10 class bundle for £200

Visit: https://f45training.co.uk

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K West Hotel and Spa

This week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the K West Spa and Hotel for an afternoon of relaxation and sister time with Grace. We arrived at 12 and were shown around the spa and gym facilities and shown all the rooms they have on offer. Now I’m a massive fan of spa days, but I’m used to the basic swim, sauna, shower, out. K West is NOT one of those spas! Let me tell you why:

Grace and I were shown the best order to do things in. I wasn’t aware that there WAS an order, because usually you can see everything you want to use in the same room and you sort of just potter about until you’re stressed by being so relaxed and then leave (or at least that’s me). At K West we arrived and were taken down to the spa floor, which is a long corridor of different rooms with different functions.

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Hydrotherapy pool/100% best photo opportunity ever

Our first room was the main spa room, where we sat in the (huge) hot tub/jacuzzi (which I was told was the ‘hydrotherapy pool’), which is heated to body temperature and is gorgeously warm and relaxing (not to mention beautiful, with the starry ceiling). After the spa we had a footbath with salts to ‘cleanse and relax’.

Feeling slightly too relaxed, Grace and I decided to brave the cold and headed to the snow room, which is literally a giant freezer, chilled to -15. However, the benefits are real – moving from hot to cold can increase circulation, decrease respiratory problems and boost your immune system. After all, if the Scandis do it, there must be something to it! After Grace locked me in for a few seconds too long, we escaped and ran to the sauna, for a nice warming lie-down.

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A bright sauna! Most relaxing one I’ve ever been in (no joke)

Most saunas I go to are quite small and dark, making an already hot and slightly uncomfortable experience even hotter and claustrophobic. However, both Grace and I noticed the light glass walls and open feel to the sauna – no uncomfortable feelings of being trapped in a coffin in the desert were felt.

We had been shown to a door down the main corridor at the beginning, and told to arrive there at 2pm for our ‘treatment’. With the enticing name of sun meadow, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but happily arrived at 2pm on the dot. To explain, the sun meadow is a vitamin D therapy room, where you lie on a bed (literally a bed on the floor) and are gently warmed with artificial sunlight (after putting on eye protection of course!). No harmful UV rays are used (which also means no tan) but the light is enough to promote the production of vitamin D in your body and reduce the effects of S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder), which many people in the UK suffer from to a varying degree due to the lack on sunlight over the winter months.

I’ve never seen somewhere that offers such an innovative number of treatments and rooms – although Grace and I stayed for around 3h, we didn’t even visit all the rooms, although we were very impressed with the ones we did see!

With the hustle and bustle of life in London, it’s often hard to take time out to relax, but it is SO important (see my post on how to relax). K west offers a tranquil break from the hectic rush of everyday life. With express treatments such as the nail bar, express facial and back massage, it can also be a short wind down between meetings (or, more likely, after a stressful day sale shopping in the nearby Westfield).

If you’re keen to visit, check out their website