On Erica Gragg’s Escape to Shape fitness vacations, you’ll want to pay attention to the bell. It will ring when it’s time to go stand-up paddleboarding, to eat quinoa-stuffed roasted red peppers with cashew cream, and to meditate. No, it’s not automated. If you peek out your room’s window, you’ll see Gragg’s red hair blowing behind her as she rushes past, shaking the tiny bell in her hand.
Gragg’s level of hands-on attention and careful curation has allowed Escape to Shape, which launched in 2006, to become the go-to roving fitness vacation for successful, urban women (and some men). The company started with three destinations and now hosts about a dozen six-night trips each year, from Colombia to Croatia to Cambodia.
“I basically developed a vacation that I would want to go on,” says Gragg, who created Escape to Shape with Anja Schellekens (who’s now a silent partner), after leaving her popular Amansala Bikini Bootcamp.”I wanted to marry my desires with my passions and skills,” Gragg says.
And it worked, because, in many ways, the women that follow her to Laos and Morocco—most of them in their 30s and 40s with successful careers—want the same things. She’s inspired a following of fitness devotees who go on multiple trips per year (one woman I talked to wasn’t sure if Montauk’s Surf Lodge was her ninth or tenth Escape to Shape), and Gragg is now working on two books and a new website, Escape to Shop.
Gragg is an expert at incorporating yoga, Pilates, and hiking into a trip, tapping top instructors, and scheduling sessions in a way that keeps you moving, but leaves time for relaxation. There are generally two workouts and a fitness activity each day, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. “There’s nothing worse than going on a vacation and feeling like you need a vacation to recover from [the pace of] it,” she says.
And her long limbs and chiseled cheek bones don’t hurt, either. As a woman from Vancouver told her on a recent Escape to Shape trip, “I first went to Amansala for Bikini Bootcamp because I saw a picture of you and thought ‘That’s what I want my butt to look like.’”
CURATION AND CULTURE
Gragg and her partner in business and life, Francesco Anchisi, travel about ten months of the year, scouting new locations and making sure chosen spots are ready to go. They check for safety concerns, the availability of resources that will fit their brand, and for unique cultural experiences.
Gragg says they’ll spend up to a month getting to know locals so that they’ll be able to offer special glimpses into local culture that are off-the-beaten-path. “It’s culture with an insider’s access to certain things that they wouldn’t have access to if they weren’t with us,” she explains.
Trips typically include 15-20 people, and the group almost always has a private villa, with the entire space to themselves. And Gragg is there at every moment with her guests, moving into downward dog next to a Los Angeles advertising executive, or sharing nutrition tips with a New York businesswoman. The way she plays hostess makes guests feel comfortable and fosters friendships.
“When people feel like all of their needs are met, and they don’t have to worry about anything, they can use the time to discover new things, new relationships, and new friendships. They can delve into themselves and forge connections,” she says. All they have to do is listen for the bell. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information and a schedule of upcoming trips, visit www.escapetoshape.com