Travel review: The Costa Blanca

On the stunning walk to the lighthouse. PIC: Sheron Boyle
On the stunning walk to the lighthouse. PIC: Sheron Boyle
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The Costa Blanca often attracts a party crowd, but Sheron Boyle found it was the perfect place to recharge her batteries.

Glinting in the sun, I read the gold wording across the grey-haired woman’s T-shirt: “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Benidorm.” She and a pal were en route to the Costa Blanca. It was St Patrick’s Day and they were heading to join an army of other party people clad in emerald green wigs, tutus and suits. Good on them, I thought for living it up, I hope I have their energy when I am in my 70s.

But in my 50s I certainly didn’t as I boarded the transfer bus behind the duo. Having unexpectedly found myself a new member of the sandwich generation earlier this year, I was running on empty after caring for my 86-year-old mum who suffered a broken wrist following a fall.

The sandwich generation is defined by Wikipedia as a generation of people who care for their ageing parents while supporting their own children. It is estimated there are over 2.4 million of us – and that number will only grow.

Mum was a brilliant patient but for the first month she was in a lot of pain and had to be looked after. Add in teenage sons (one still settling in at university, the other deciding on his next step to take in life), working, running a home and like all of us well and truly fed up of the never-ending winter, I craved to get away.

I’m not a sun worshipper but the lure of blue sky and warm climes was never stronger when I boarded the Jet2 flight to Alicante.

I didn’t want a booze and food-fuelled break. I wanted to recharge my energy levels, detox my body and reboot for the year ahead. And, as I was travelling alone, I wanted to feel safe.

Online searches threw up La Crisalida, a health and wellbeing centre in a quiet backwater of Albir on the Costa Blanca. It is popular with ex-pats but retains a strong Spanish feel – no kiss-me-quick hats or green tutus in sight on its tree-lined streets.

Before that, I enjoyed a night of luxury at the five-star Amerigo Hospes hotel in the picturesque old town of Alicante. A converted 16th century convent, it is feet away from the promenade. So after leaving a grey-skied Yorkshire, by teatime I was sat at a waterfront cafe enjoying a glass of wine and olives. The sun’s late afternoon rays on my face were very welcome.

A night wasn’t long enough there and I vowed to return to mooch about the cobbled streets, visit the castle and enjoy the old town. Just a three-hour flight from Yorkshire and a 15-minute bus journey takes you to the heart of the place. It’s a perfect weekend getaway.

Arriving at the retreat the next day, I was bemused – set in a suburb on a mini roundabout, first impressions were it was a tad 1970s. But looks are deceptive and stepping into the reception, I sensed a peaceful and calming atmosphere.

For the next six nights, I did retreat. La Crisalidi is Spanish for chrysalis, where a caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. Two things attracted me – you can come any day of the week and stay for as long as you want and it is not owned by a chain so does not flog you its creams and potions.

It was established in 2013 by Lisa Brant and her husband, former actuary John. Former epidemiologist Lisa, born and raised in Stockton-on-Tees, was monitoring infections for a health agency when she and John took the decision to totally transform their busy London lives. They found the property in Albir, sold up in England and created their haven.

The retreat takes up to a maximum of 25 guests who stay in lovely accommodation. There are two pools and a rooftop terrace, all used as exercise spaces, weather permitting.

Women of all ages made up the majority of guests, most travelling solo but there were men with partners and alone.

The retreat’s day is made up of four components – yoga, detox and weight loss, life makeover and relax and rejuvenate. You can take part in all the activities or none and use the venue simply as a hotel.

I loved the daily walks which start at different times from 8am onwards. Trainers are fine for most of them but I would take walking boots for a couple of the more strenuous ones.

The walk to the local lighthouse through a stunning national park was invigorating. Soaking up the fresh air, the spring morning sunlight felt good. I loved the walk along the coastline and did that most evenings along its flat, well-lit path.

I tried yoga a couple of times but realised how inflexible my body is and vowed to address that on return home.

The food – all plant-based using fresh local produce – was superb. But I chose to do a three-day juice detox as I thought I wouldn’t do it at home and it was a chance to fuel my body with a lot of goodness.

There is a long list of juices to choose from and I opted for low or no fruit ones to pack in my greens. There are fruit teas to drink to take the edge off any hunger but I opted to have some of my own Yorkshire Tea with rice milk – I could not go all week without my cuppa.

For me, the food was one of the best things about the stay – all healthy, tasty and nourishing. The only drawback is there are no portion controls.

I enjoyed a cooking demonstration by two of the chefs, Lorna and Barbie, and took away easy juicing ideas after Veronika gave us some great tips.

The retreat is not a prison – a couple of guests walked to Altea for wine and tapas on their last day. You can saunter to nearby bars and restaurant but the food is so fabulous, it seemed daft to go against what I aimed to achieve.

On leaving, the caring staff gave me a packed nutritious lunch for my wait at the airport. I was ready to face the world again. And since my return, I’ve felt energised and have adopted healthier eating habits.

I thought of the Benidorm party-goers – the resort is about 45 minutes drive from La Crisalida but a world away. Good girls don’t go to heaven in Albir, they go to the haven I found. Juicing, it seems, could be the perfect response to joining the sandwich generation.

GETTING THERE

Jet2.com flies to Alicante from Leeds Bradford Airport. Flights start from £49 one way including taxes. Visit www.jet2.com or call 0800 408 5599.

For more information about La Crisalida, visit www.lacrisalidaretreats.com, email info@lacrisalidaretreats.com or phone 0034 966 865 242. Opening hours for reception and enquiries: 9am to 10pm Spanish time.

Hospes Amerigo Hotel can be contacted on 0034 965 146 570 or at www.hospes.com/en/alicante-amerigo/

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