Spa of the Month: Lou Casteou, Cote d’Azur


Most of what you read right now on health pages is designed to counter excess, but the prescribed antidotes of fasting and frugality are sure to lower the spirits as summer finally arrives. And the omnipresent exercise advice to get ‘beach ready’ tend to feel short-lived and instil dread rather than inspiration. So I’m thinking about a very different approach to the road to health and fitness – dancing. In particular, joyful dancing (well, all dancing is joyful). In other words, salsa.

Chateau Lou Casteou is a perfect spot for a “Salsa Retreat.” Five minutes from the Med in the South of France, it is more of a large, elegant villa than a chateau. Built by Lord Amherst at the very beginning of the 20th century it has a decidedly local Provencal style (its name means “chateau” in the local Provencal dialect). The only thing out of character is the tower – the noble lord was fond of stargazing.

He was also one of a number of wealthy aristocrats who chose to winter in the South of France for the climate. He himself declared: “Here the air is simply perfect, warm and at the same time a tonic.” The house he built was not only gracious and altogether lovely but it had all the mod cons of the day. There was heating even in the servants’ bedrooms!

But then it went into decline. Morag McLaren Baxter bought the house when it was pretty much a ruin and has restored it with much loving care, keeping as much of the original as possible and repairing rather than replacing wherever possible. The result is a setting that is romantic, elegant and tranquil and the atmosphere is house party rather than hotel. In fact, Simon Cowell selected it as his “judge’s house” on the X Factor in 2011 (well, you can’t have everything). So, the perfect place for a boot camp then.

But, of course, this is no ordinary boot camp. It’s a salsa boot camp and it really does make for a party atmosphere. So the first night there’s a champagne reception during which you learn Kizomba and, after dinner, more Kizomba and Kudero. No, I’m still not sure either (and I was there) but these are all dances on a Latin beat with the emphasis on mobile hips and syncopated footwork. But even before that, during the afternoon we did Stretching by the Pool with Big Dave, followed by a Swiss Ball class, Merengue and our first Salsa class. So, yes, there is definitely a party atmosphere – but there’s also no slouching here.

So, as well as daily Salsa and Cha Cha classes, there is Bachata (another one of these mysterious dances), Charleston, West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop – and that’s just the dancing. There are, too, coastal treks and tennis workshops, circuits and stretching, a table tennis tournament and a beach party (with dancing – a couple of locals joined in). On the last night we all dressed up as flappers and gangsters for dinner and a party (and more dancing, obviously) in the cloisters. The rest of the time, meals were outside by the pool and there was even time to get in it for an occasional swim.

The retreat runs for four days. Everything is included in the price (all drinks, food, excursions and classes, and even transfers from Nice Airport). The classes were split into three levels from absolute beginners to experienced dancers, so no need to worry if you’ve never danced before. The long suffering Major accompanied me and insisted all he’d ever tried on the dance floor was Scottish country dancing. He survived the experience remarkably and admitted he’d actually enjoyed it. Imagine!

The food (and wine) flows freely so, though you’re doing an awful lot of exercise, any hope of weight loss lies solely with your ability to resist temptation. A rather different kind of retreat then, but quite a lot of fun.

For more information about Lou Casteou, its facilities and packages, visit

More Salsa retreats are coming from June. There’s a Body Tonic Luxury Fitness and Dance Retreat from 20th-24th, and then a further Let’s Salsa break from 4th-7th October. For more information about these and other classes, such as the Tennis Academy, email for more details.