English-style riding, squash, billiards and sightseeing make for a jolly good time while also trimming away unwanted Yorkshire pudding pounds. Better here than Seattle, right?
Devonshire clotted cream. Warm, friendly baked scones. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. Desserts drenched in more cream. Traditional British food is wonderful, but it’s not exactly spa cuisine. So how do you survive a trip to London and not come back looking like Robert Morley?
Fortunately, the British have discovered fitness. Throughout London there are health clubs, hotel fitness centers and dance studios where you can combat the effects of too much bread pudding.
One of the more sophisticated health clubs is at the top of the Hyatt Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. The Peak is a two-story fitness center with a curving skylight that offers vistas of Cadogan Gardens and central London. The gymnasium is equipped with Power Cam fitness machines and some free weights. Aerobics, stretch, jazz exercise and yoga classes are also given in the aerobics studio. Circuit training classes are offered three times a week.
The club also has steam rooms and saunas, and DeCleor of Paris offers facials and beauty treatments. In addition to regular massages, the Peak also offers Hellerwork–sessions of deep tissue bodywork designed to realign the body and relieve tension.
On a balcony, overlooking the gymnasium, is the Club Room. With marble trompe Toeil pillars and plush couches, light meals and “mocktails,” a variety of fresh fruit concoctions, are served throughout the day. Use of the club is free to hotel guests and guests of the nearby Draycott Hotel, which has a reciprocal agreement with the Hyatt Carlton.
A Piccadilly Palace
Rivaling the Peak in beauty and sheer luxury is the Champneys Club at Le Meridien Hotel near Piccadilly Circus. Entering Champneys, on the lower floors of this regal, turn-of-the-century hotel, is like stepping into a traditional London club. Service is discreet, and no one will rush you.
The club is superbly equipped. The gymnasium has free weights, Nautilus equipment, exercise bicycles and rowing machines and a full range of aerobics and body-shaping classes are offered in the dance studio. Champneys also has saunas, two squash courts and a Turkish bath.
The swimming pool is like some Hollywood fantasy of a Roman bath, with marble pillars, classical statues and planted urns. Blue mosaic tiles line the pool and fountains gurgle.
After your workout, squash game and swim, you can relax like a British lord in the drawing room–a comfortable, Edwardian-style room for reading the papers or having a light snack or browse through the library in the gallery above. Or you can try your hand at billiards. The billiards room has three full-sized snooker tables. At the Club Restaurant, on a terrace overlooking the pool, meals are served throughout the day.
More modest in scale, but well-run is the health club at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane. On a lower level, the club is small but well-equipped with a 65-foot-long swimming pool, Nautilus and Universal equipment, saunas and spa pools. Bright colors and plants enliven the atmosphere, and a food bar offers salads, fresh fruits and juices. The club manager gives fitness assessments to guests and develops personalized exercise programs for them. The hotel also offers a special “Shape and Champers” weekend package that includes a bottle of champagne, a chauffeur driven car (the British consider this the “civilized” way to get into shape) and a custom-designed exercise program.
Hyde Park Adjacent
The Fitness Centre at the Hotel Inter-Continental London, near Hyde Park Corner, is also small, but it offers weight-training equipment, exercise bicycles, sauna, steam bath and wave-machine pool for swimming laps in a confined space.
Although use of the health clubs at all these hotels is free to hotel guests, room rates often start at around $300 a night. If you are watching a budget, you might want to stay in a small bed and breakfast inn and take advantage of one of the many public fitness centers that have opened in London in the last few years. The Pineapple Dance Centre near Covent Garden has a gymnasium with exercise equipment as well as sauna facilities and offers a full schedule of classes, ranging from aerobics and body conditioning to all forms of dance, including jazz, tap, rock, ballet and Indian–even martial arts courses are offered. Classes are inexpensive, but there’s a membership fee of 15 pounds a month (about $25) or a 2 pound daily fee (about $3.50). A sister facility, Pineapple West, in Paddington has similar programs.
Also near Covent Garden, the Fitness Centre has a complete gymnasium and offers classes in karate, tai chi, and the Lindy hop, as well as aerobics, yoga, body conditioning and more traditional dances, such as tap, ballet and jazz. Memberships cost 10 pounds a day (about $15), but you don’t have to be a member to take classes. Classes are 3-4 pounds ($5-7) for members and 6-8 pounds ($10-13) for non-members.
The Big Apple Health Studio, near Leicester Square, has a well-equipped gymnasium, sauna and whirlpool and offers classes in aerobics, stretching and body conditioning. Use of the gymnasium is 5 pounds (about $8) and one-hour classes are 3 pounds (about $5).
Walk `Til You Drop
But the nice thing about London is you don’t have to go to a fitness center to stay in shape. The city is made for walking and you’ll work off quite a few calories just in the course of sightseeing. In addition, the city’s many parks and commons afford wonderful opportunities for walking, jogging and horseback riding.
The romance of cantering along Rotten Row in Hyde Park is not just for storybooks. For 10-12 pounds an hour ($15-20), you can rent a horse from Ross Nye Stables or L.G. Blums Riding School, and a guide will escort you down the tree-lined paths of Hyde Park. You must have decent boots, but a riding hat and crop will be provided. And you must be able to sit on an English saddle. Although Western-style riding has gained popularity in some parts of England, on Rotten Row, it’s still strictly English.
Another popular place for walking or horseback riding is Wimbledon Common, south of the Thames. Acres of meadows and wooded patches make for a number of scenic excursions. You’ll see plenty of Londoners out walking their dogs or watching for birds. Horses can be rented from Wimbledon Village Stables for two-hour rides on the Common for about 26 pounds (about $40).