I will lay my cards on the table from the off here. I’m not a retreat kind of girl. Pre-Covid, given the choice of four days of yoga, healthy food and zero caffeine, versus a boozy long weekend in friends, it would be ‘hello hipflask, sayonara sun salution’ every time.
But this last year has been tough. I’ve realised that I’m really tired. I work full time, have three kids, do the ‘juggle’ with a phone permanently attached to my ear and just push push push through for as long as I can before falling ill as soon as I stop. (Is this sounding familiar to you too?!). I know I should eat better, drink less, exercise more and yet nothing changes. So how to reboot? Easier than you think if you’re lucky enough to live in our neck of the woods.
in:spa is a four day detox retreat at Kirtlington Park, the stunning 18th century privately owned estate just north of Oxford. The company has been running for 17 years, and previously specialised in overseas retreats in beautiful locations like Tuscany and Southern France (and has the glowing reviews from Elle and Tatler to prove it), but since Covid it’s put on retreats and courses in beautiful British locations like Somerset, Yorkshire – and Oxfordshire. There’s actually a course from 4-7 October and a few places left if you read this review and feel inspired to do something for yourself for once!
The irony isn’t lost on me that I couldn’t actually commit to a four day retreat, so I rocked up early on the second day hoping to catch 8am yoga (I was late and missed it). But what’s lovely about this retreat is it’s not too hair-shirt. There’s no pressure to go to every class, and they make a point of emphasising that it’s your holiday and your time to do as you want. Obviously Kirtlington Park is very grand, but it strangely also manages to feel quite homely – the owners have family pictures peppered everywhere – and that kind of reflected my experience too. It was luxurious, no question about that, but the instructors and the other people on the course were down to earth and unpretentious.
Pleasingly Downton-esque – high ceilings, antiques everywhere and romantic views out onto the grounds and mostly with ensuites. Grab rooms on the first floor if you can – they’re the most luxurious. The entrance hall acted as a sofa slouch area as well as the dining room, moving through to a stunning, if slightly echoey yoga room (we all had our own yoga mats and fixed places for Covid-safety).
There was a stately drawing room with massive sofas that none of us discovered we could use until too late into our stay (it had been used largely for nutrition one to ones). And perhaps the most beautiful room of all was used for massage – just look at this for a view as your muscles are being stretched out! The gardens were open to us – in fact, yoga and fitness classes were taken outside where possible. As a venue, it was hard to fault.
Busy but not exhaustive. A typical day was yoga or fitness at 8am, breakfast at 9am, optional walk between 10-11.30pm, some kind of personal consultation between 12-1pm (nutrition, pilates and fitness were all on offer). Lunch was 1pm, followed some free time (maybe a massage – you could book extra sessions though she was so popular I couldn’t sneak another in). then it was another class – usually yoga or pilates – before dinner at 7.30pm.
I’m not particularly experienced at yoga or pilates – a course or two spread over 20-odd years – but there’s no pressure to be super-accomplished, and the instructors were accessible and friendly, eating with the rest of us over dinner and clearly enjoying what for them is also a departure from their day to day teaching from Somerset, Kent and various other parts of the UK.
When the weather allowed it, we did our pilates out on the lawn, being gently nudged by the automatic lawnmower as the owner’s dogs bombed around the garden. What can I tell you, it was all strangely life affirming!
SCOFF & QUAFF
Butter, sugars, caffeine and booze are no go here, so be prepared! The quiet consensus amongst those of us eagerly awaiting desert and then sighing as nothing arrived is that the food restrictions could have been lifted just a little. But then it depends how detox you want your detox to be, right? I was using the break more to unwind, stretch and stop so that side of things wasn’t as important to me but if you’re looking to lose weight or put a hard stop against bad eating habits, maybe it’s the approach you need.
Breakfast was always fantastic – loads of eggs, tomatoes, spinach. It’s just that the amounts diminished with the day! There was a whoop on the last night when we were served a small chocolate dessert.
OUT AND ABOUT
There’s not much need to venture beyond the 3000 acres of Kirtington Park to be honest, though if you’re looking for close wins you literally walk past Kirtlington Polo Club from the front of the estate, and the honey-hued village of Kirtlington itself down to the Quarry is a pleasant meander. If you’re desperate to sneak a flat white and bun (naughty!) your nearest quality treat stop is probably The Milk Shed in nearby Weston on the Green, though if there are courses in spring/summer you’lll also have the opportunity to book the fabulously quirky and romantic Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden on the banks of the Isis.
The next in:spa ‘Kickstart’ is from Oct 3- 7 at Kirtlington Park and prices start from £995. There’s flexibility on how many nights you do, which might suit those on tighter budgets.
Good for: Anyone needing time out to really focus on themselves in inspiring, luxury surroundings. I was surprised by how far clients had travelled to come to attend – York, Suffolk, Kent, even Switzerland. I went home with some better habits – no caffeine after lunch, no snacking, and a morning walk before work – so as a practical, real-life reboot it really worked for me.
Not for: If you go on your own, you have to be comfortable with joining in, and talking to the people sitting next to you at lunch. I think that’s pretty much called manners, right?! But if you prefer anonymity it might not be for you. I think there’s an opportunity to include some counselling or psychology in the mix at some point too – that’s not an area covered currently but would have created a real 360 approach to body and mind.