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The Guardian reviews fitscape in the Italian Dolomites

Fitness camp in northern Italy.  Six hours of intensive workouts – followed by a sumptuous meal and wine. This is a fitness boot camp, Italian-style. Katherine Viner, Friday 27 January 2012

I’ve never been so relieved as when Dan, one of the muscle-bound personal trainers on the Fitscape week-long holiday in northern Italy, said I could bunk off on the first day.

Arriving catatonically knackered, barely able to utter a syllable, I was in terror at the sight of the programme: dawn runs, at least five hours’ cardio a day, an alarming amount of “burpees” (squat thrusts). So when Dan said I should “listen to my body”, I did just that and slept for 17 hours.

After that, though, on Fitscape there’s no escape. Fitscape is sister company to the better-known In:spa (inspa-retreats.com) – but here the focus is on fitness, cardio and strength rather than detoxing and yoga. It is sort of like a boot camp, but without the deprivation – I was going to say without the unpleasantness, but that’s not exactly right. You stay in gorgeous hotels. I was at the Rosa Alpina, in the Dolomites, with large rooms, plump cushions, thick duvets, good toiletries, nice view. The food is delicious – big breakfast buffet, vast lunch, afternoon snacks (fruit, nuts and seeds) and tasty, gigantic, three-course dinners. That’s three courses including dessert. With bread, if you want it. And wine, if you’ll pay for it.

So there are no former soldiers screaming at you to work harder, and no starvation rations, and no chores. You can even choose not to take part in sessions.

But the schedule is intense, and you’re encouraged to join in: a run first thing, boxing classes, circuits every day, lessons on running technique, core stability workouts, endless mountain hikes (admittedly through mountains and forests; the area is used for skiing in the winter, when Fitscape also runs skiing-training holidays). From day three to day five I was so stiff I found walking downstairs almost physically impossible, despite the stretching sessions at the end of each day.

It was, though, a lot of fun; especially the dance classes, which were a special request of the group since one of the trainers had spent time being a dancer in the West End show Stomp. His routines, from hip%u2011hop to 70s disco, were a highlight, if not the hardest workout of the week. In fact all three experienced trainers were excellent, and gave lots of attention to each guest; they worked hard with us on our programme and our motivation. The well-heeled, mostly female guests got on well, and there was much encouraging of each other alongside the racing each other. The last-night celebration was a delight, and all that exercise lent a sort of pheromone-heady euphoria to the whole experience. I loved it.

Some of my fellow guests felt, in fact, that it was too much fun – there is a conflict between all those puddings and all that working out, and the people who enjoyed it most were those who came to exercise, and to get out of their heads, rather than with specific ideas about losing weight. (No one is going to force you to do the classes, and no one is going to tell you not to eat.) Over such an intense week you get a real sense of your fitness improving quite dramatically, and Fitscape is excellent if you want to get your fitness regime back on track: when you’ve been doing five or six hours’ hardcore exercise each day, then squeezing the odd hour in when you get home really doesn’t feel like much at all. Do it!

Fitscape fitness retreats (020-8968 0501, fitscape.co.uk) cost £1,695 per week, including accommodation, all meals, fitness sessions, personal fitness consultation and airport transfers. Locations for 2012 include the Italian Dolomites, Andalucía and Provence. As a special offer, anyone who books before 31 January will receive a free flight to any Fitscape destination