Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Citius, altius, fortius, but make it luxury

Vacations are not just about relaxing on the beach or exploring the mountains. They can also be a time to level up your amateur sports interests and train like an Olympian with top-notch coaches at the most luxurious spots

Published: Jun 14, 2024 12:40:37 PM IST
Updated: Jun 14, 2024 01:40:50 PM IST

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortAt Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy Image: Courtesy Sani Resort

Olympics in Paris, T20 World Cup in the US, Wimbledon in the UK, the upcoming European leg of the Formula 1 season, the Euro in Germany—2024 is an exhilarating year for sports fans. No wonder they are out and about.

Daily headlines talk about the boom in the travel and tourism sector. A recent World Economic Forum study observes that the industry will soon surpass the levels seen before the pandemic. And sports tourism appears to be playing a big part in this spurt.

According to Thomas Cook, 23 percent of Indian travellers consider sporting events when choosing their next travel destinations. The travel agency is anticipating 200 percent growth in this segment in 2024, as they witness a 20 to 25 percent uptick in interest in major sporting events across the globe.

“The high-end Indian outbound travel market is increasingly embracing sports tourism, driven by a deep-rooted passion for sports, favourable economic factors and a desire for unique travel experiences. This trend not only benefits travellers but also contributes significantly to the global sports tourism market,” says Rajeev Kale, president & country head, holidays, MICE, visa, Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

But what if travelling in the name of sports goes beyond being a mere spectator to watch the action up and close? What if the desire is to at least level up? It may not be about finding a coaching institute and devoting hours on days to be an athlete—what if one just has the desire to perfect the swing on the golf course, better the serve on the paddle court, work on volleys on the tennis court, or even improve footwork just to win the box cricket match with friends?

It’s the sort of addition UK-based Malini Ganju, 49, managing director of MS Tours and Travels, was in search of when planning her family holiday last July. “My son, then 17, was interested in football and boxing, and my husband in tennis,” says Ganju, who splits her time between London and New Delhi.

Forte Village Resort in Sardinia provided the Ganjus with something for everyone to enjoy—a beautiful beach, an array of dining options, evening entertainment, daytime activities and superlative coaches to be better at the sports they love. “It’s definitely exclusive, and you get to train with some of the best coaches,” says Ganju. “The coaching was fantastic, and it helped my son to correct his swing. It also has a great mix of people,” recalls Ganju. “My son ended up making friends with some boys that he is still in touch with.”

There is a niche trend emerging among travellers to seek out the most luxurious resorts in the most exotic locales, which will not only offer the much-needed R&R but also turn that second R into a serious coaching session with the best professionals from various sports faculties.

From collaborating with Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre and the Juventus and Chelsea foundations to inviting British Champion Frank Buglioni to offer personal boxing lessons and enlisting Olympic gold medallist Elisa Di Francisca to teach fencing, luxury resorts are leaving no stone unturned to satisfy their guests’ urge to refine their technique of the game.

We present some of the finest options to consider if recreation with upskilling is the goal of your vacation.

Sani Resort, Greece

The azure Agean Sea and the golden sands of the beach that line the shore of Sani Resort are not the only attractions that bring guests to this cluster of luxury honeypots—Sani Beach, Sani Club, Porto Sani, Sani Asterias and Sani Dunes. Those who take their serves seriously tend to gravitate towards the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre, and those in love with the beautiful game find themselves taking football sessions with experts associated with Chelsea FC Football Academy under the Chelsea Foundation’s initiative. Legends of Chelsea, such as Denis Wise, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard, Jorgihno, Joe Cole and Paolo Ferreira, teach the kids at the academy.

The tennis academy has eight clay courts. Guests can play or take customised coaching courses developed under an exclusively designed training system. Either you learn the methods that made the King of Clay one of the greats or polish the footwork on one of their turfs. Tourists who prefer reskilling over recreation also end up at the Bear Grylls Survival Academy or Sani Sailing during their stay. “We ensure each guest has access to our app and a dedicated concierge to book lessons and courses that suit them,” says Dimitris Issaris, sports and recreation director at Sani Resorts. “Our coaches are exceptionally trained to personalise everything to suit a guest’s needs.”

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortSports enthusiasts can complete one of the two championship golf courses at Verdura Resort in Sicily
 

Verdura Resort, Sicily, Italy

Rocco Forte Hotels has 12 hotels and two resorts spread all over Europe. Still, the Verdura Resort in Sicily, Italy, is where the uber-rich can include intense training courses from professional athletes and sports coaches as one of their recreational activities. Under the ‘Academies with the Stars’ programme, guests can hone their skills with Paul Haarhuis, Gilles Müller, Mikael Tillström for tennis; Olympic gold medallist Elisa Di Francisca for fencing, Mediterranean Games gold medallist Maurizia Cacciatori for volleyball, and complete one of the two championship golf courses, designed by Kyle Phillips and leading figures of the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open in 2017 and 2018 (European Tour stage). Or they can even submit to the rigorous training with seasoned triathlete and Ironman Danilo Palmucci for triathlon.

Kids can train with coaches from top Italian football clubs like AS Roma and Juventus. “During the Easter holiday, something special happened at ‘Football Legends Academy’ led by Gianluca Zambrotta (2006 World Cup champion with Italian football team). A young autistic boy started looking shyly at boys playing football. Our trainers found a way to involve him on the pitch for the first time. His parents told us he’d spent some of the most beautiful days in his life,” recalls Isabella Giglia, cluster PR manager at Verdura Resort in Sicily.

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortThe main attractions at Spain’s La Manga Club are three state-of-the-art 18-hole courses and a golf academy
 

La Manga Club, Murcia, Spain

Grand Hyatt La Manga Club Golf & Spa has some impressive sporting facilities for “serious” R&R. There are 28 tennis courts, seven padel courts, and one pickleball court for those who love to pick up the racquet. Eight world-class football pitches host teams such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Liverpool FC, VfB Stuttgart, and Goa FC for their practice sessions. La Manga Club also offers two artificial first-class pitches, five artificial net lanes and a compact fielding practice area for those who’d prefer to adjust their footwork under the pleasant Mediterranean sun.

But the main attractions are the three state-of-the-art 18-hole courses and a golf academy led by a team of pro players. Legends like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Severiano Ballesteros have played on the courses, winning tournaments and delighting the crowds. Former world number one Luke Donald learnt to play golf at La Manga Club when he was nine.

“We gather information about our guests’ preferences, interests and skill levels before their arrival. This could include sports they enjoy, their experience level, and specific goals they have for their stay,” says Angel Holgado, general manager of Grand Hyatt La Manga Club Golf & Spa. “We conduct regular progress assessments for guests who are participating in coaching programmes. Assessments include feedback sessions with coaches to track progress, set new goals and make any necessary adjustments to the training plan.”

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani Resort Pinnacle Ski in France offers guests luxury chalets and an utterly bespoke skiing experience Image: Pinnacle Ski

Pinnacle Ski, Megeve, France

Any discussion about luxury tourist destinations is incomplete without skiing. Pinnacle Ski, founded by Christian Jensen (ISTD BASI Level 4 instructor and Alpine Race Coach Level 2) in 2018, offers guests luxury chalets and an utterly bespoke skiing experience. Snaking the slopes of the French Alps in Chamonix and Megève, coaches and guides at this ski school have trained A-list celebrities, royal families, national team athletes and even the British military.

“Prior to coming here, we ask all individuals to complete our intro form. This gives us a bit about their background, the must-haves, and things to avoid,” says Jensen. “Through our trailing period and working with different individuals, we have come up with the perfect combination.”

Also read: The Indian tourist wants immersive sports experiences. India needs to catch up to demand
 
At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortCoaches at Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort Phuket help design programmes to meet the needs of athletes. It has an Olympic-sized pool and tennis courts, among other facilities Image: Courtesy Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort Phuket

Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort Phuket

Several swimmers, including Malawian swimmer Zahra Pinto and current national swimming champion Aryan Nehra, who trained at Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort Phuket, have competed in the Olympics and other international competitions. Set amidst untouched splendour, this resort offers guests a holistic approach to health and performance with its wellness services and world-class sports facilities, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness centre and tennis courts. From swimming to triathlon to tennis, expert coaches help design each programme to meet the needs of athletes at all levels. “For beginners, we focus on building foundational skills and fitness levels,” says Sawitree Sukwicha, marketing manager, Thanyapura Sports & Health Resort Phuket. “Intermediate athletes benefit from advanced techniques and structured training plans, while elite athletes receive personalised coaching and performance analytics.”  

To ensure comprehensive development, guests undergo a thorough assessment to determine their fitness levels, goals, and specific needs upon arrival. “Throughout their stay, guests receive regular feedback and adjustments to their programmes,” says Sukwicha.

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortChildren hone their football skills at The Westin Resort Costa Navarino in Greece with guidance from FC Bayern’s official coaches
 

The Westin Resort Costa Navarino, Greece

The stunning coastal scenery of Greece’s Messinia region in the southwest Peloponnese is the backdrop to The Westin Resort Costa Navarino, which includes state-of-the-art sports facilities where recreational sports lovers can elevate their game. Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, NBA and FC Bayern, and the International Olympic Academy are some of the brands that have established a partnership with the resort. The Mouratoglou Tennis Center offers guests a chance to receive personalised professional coaching. The Navarino Golf Academy provides training to players of different skill sets amidst a magnificent setting, which includes four 18-hole signature golf courses.

Jirayr Kececian, area director—The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort Costa Navarino, W Costa Navarino, Westin Resort Costa Navarino, says what makes the NBA Basketball School unique is that it is “NBA’s first collaboration with a privately-run hospitality and sports destination in Europe for a basketball school”.

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani ResortCarlisle Bay in Antigua has a range of sporting activities—from tennis to pickleball

Carlisle Bay, Antigua

On an idyllic horseshoe bay nestled along the southwest coast of the island of Antigua, Carlisle Bay offers guests a chance to indulge in a range of sporting activities, from tennis to pickleball, supported by on-site professional coaching to suit all levels of skill and experience. The training programmes integrate elements of cross-training and functional movements to enhance overall athleticism and prevent injury. Professional trainers and instructors play a vital role in ensuring the facilities meet the diverse needs of guests. The resort’s high-quality tennis facilities—seven tennis courts and two pickleball courts— offer guests a chance to enjoy and improve their game with the help of pros Rennie George and Nigel Anthony. “The resort offers personalised programmes tailored to individual goals, whether guests are seasoned athletes seeking to optimise their performance or beginners looking to improve their fitness levels,” says Michelle Plummer, spa manager, Carlisle Bay.

At Greece’s Sani Resort, one can practise their volleys at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre or take football sessions with experts associated with the Chelsea FC Football Academy
Image: Courtesy Sani Resort At Sardinia’s Forte Village Resort, guests can get boxing lessons from the best coaches
 

Forte Village, Sardinia  

Forte Village Resort in Sardinia is a dreamscape for sports enthusiasts looking to learn and practise a selection of sports activities with legends. Guests can train football with coaches from the Fundación Real Madrid Clinic, box with British Champion Frank Buglioni, or get tennis lessons from the likes of Magnus Larsson and Emilio Sänchez. To enhance their offerings, Forte Village, in 2023, signed a cooperation with HPM (High Performance Method), which is an exclusive technology that focuses on key aspects such as posture, strength, stability and reactivity. “We recognise that each athlete has unique needs and objectives, which is why we offer a wide range of training options and personalised coaching,” says Lorenzo Giannuzzi, CEO & general manager, Forte Village.

(This story appears in the 14 June, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)