Most of us have a pre-holiday ritual, a little signal to the brain that we can now relax into vacation mode. It might be the glass of fizz in Departures, or a long soak in the tub of your new hotel bathroom. It isn’t normally a screaming baby, covered in poo and trying to get out of her car seat somewhere on the M3. But then, as anyone who has kids will tell you, holidays are different when you become a parent. It can feel like more of what you had at home - a constant cycle of feeding, wiping and no lie-ins - just with a slightly better view.
On a mission to change all that is &Breathe. Set up by Clio Wood in 2015 as a way to ‘come up for air’ after the fog of new parenthood, these restorative breaks offer a chance to reset and relax, with a programme of daily post-natal exercise classes, nutritious food, and a resident nanny to help with childcare. Although the retreats have been held in France, Morocco and Portugal in previous years, because of the pandemic, they’ve decamped to Somerset this time instead.
Me and my partner Guy had our daughter Blake 11 months ago so for nearly a year now we’ve been riding the emotional and physical rollercoaster that is keeping a tiny human alive. We feel knackered and run-down and desperate for a holiday, but we are also a bit apprehensive about what a retreat for new parents will entail. Will there be cringey couples therapy? Will we be doing burpees every day, in an intense post-baby bootcamp? Will it all go a bit Nine Perfect Strangers?
Thankfully there’s no sign of any of that when we pull up at Whatley House, a Georgian sandstone pile with a wildflower garden, a hammock and a tucked-away secret swimming pool. There are freshly-baked flapjacks on the table and a welcome hamper in our room filled with Cowshed toiletries.
Blake immediately starts playing with the toys in the living room - the other benefit of &Breathe is that all kiddy paraphernalia (travel cot, baby monitor, nappy bin) is provided for you - as we get chatting to our fellow parents. There’s a single mum with a toddler, a family with two kids who have done &Breathe before in France, and a couple with a 5-month-old baby who are staying nearby and just coming for the daily activities.
That night, over a vegetable curry cooked by Clio’s sister Dee, we trade horror stories about our journeys here and discuss the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It’s like an NCT group but with more wine.
After breakfast every day there’s a guided meditation in the garden led by Clio, and it’s testament to her powers of calm and the peacefulness of the setting that not even the sound of wailing infants distracts me. Then it’s time for the mums to have their exercise class, held in a bright airy studio on the first floor of the house. Expert post-natal PT Caroline Bragg (she designed the Mumhood programme for Frame) leads us in a mix of cardio, HIIT and strength training and is the perfect blend of encouraging and challenging. Burpees are, thankfully, optional.
After the dads get put through their paces (Guy comes back sweaty and talking of kettlebells), it’s time for lunch. Food is mainly vegetarian and on the lighter side, but luckily Dee is the kind of cook who could make a salad seem exciting and look beautiful. The idea behind the cooking is that it’s easy to replicate at home, and a few of the kids’ meals will definitely make it into our repertoire, like pita bread pizzas.
In between meals and activities there’s a chance to rest, have a massage or get out and explore the local area, and being situated between the pretty, arty market towns of Frome and Bruton means there’s lots to do. We take Blake for a decadent lunch at The Newt, the extraordinary Georgian country house hotel. While she naps we slurp oysters and wander around the pretty walled gardens, making a mental note to come back for a stay soon (although some rooms are already fully booked for 2022).
The next day we duck out of our exercise classes (everything is optional at &Breathe) and make a trip to the Somerset outpost of international gallery Hauser & Wirth. The immersive Gustav Metzger installation with heat-sensitive crystals has Blake (and us) wide-eyed with wonder. We also get to indulge our meat cravings at the on-site restaurant Roth Bar & Grill, where a Wagyu steak feels like a work of art.
Back at &Breathe, the restful feeling of having someone else to cook and clear up after your baby cannot be understated. Nor is the brilliance of having lots of hands to watch her while we shower / go to the toilet / eat a boiled egg in peace. That said, living in such close quarters with other families wouldn’t be for everyone (bring earplugs, basically). And this new venue is not without its teething problems, but Clio and her team take all problems (a blocked sink, an ill guest) in their stride.
After six days of exercise and healthy eating, I’m amazed to see my abs return. And although the retreat is definitely not about ‘bouncing back’ body-wise, it’s a nice (and surprising) bonus that my clothes don’t feel so snug.
On the last night, we make the most of the babysitting offered as part of the package and treat ourselves to dinner at Osip. This is Somerset’s most raved-about new restaurant and chef Merlin Labron-Johnson doesn’t disappoint. We have an exquisitely balanced nine-course tasting menu - with wine pairings - which features local ingredients such as smoked eel, beetroot molé and apricot sorbet.
As we clink our seasonal cocktails (strawberry spagliato for me, fig negroni for Guy) we toast ourselves for making it through our first year of parenthood. Maybe holidays are different after kids, but they can be better. Hangovers on the other hand…
&Breathe’s next retreat is 17-23 April 2022 in France. Pricing is from £1,475 per adult (kids go free) for a family of three which includes accommodation, full board for adults and children, all fitness programming and classes, meditation sessions, massage and childcare.
More postnatal retreats
Created by Claudia Spahr, mother of three and author of Right Time Baby, this family yoga retreat in Ibiza welcomes mums and children of all ages, and offers organic vegetarian food, Montessori-based childcare and beauty treatments.
Restore and Reform
Whether you gave birth four months or four years ago, a post-natal holiday with R&R is the way to recover in style, in a luxury villa in the Algarve. The trip starts with a full-body assessment with a physio and includes personalised exercise plans and tuition in baby massage.
Billed as a ‘retreat to emphasise a mother’s bliss’ these nurturing holidays are tailored for mums with babies under 18 months and take place at Florence House in Seaford, Sussex. The team will provide daily yoga, one-to-one counselling and parenting workshops, as well as a goodie bag packed with organic products for you and baby.