For the uninitiated, health retreats can give off an air of the exclusive. Like clothes in an expensive shop, the price tags are often hidden from view.
There’s also an expectation that you need to be a certain ‘kind’ of person to go on one: toned, sipping juice and softly spoken.
Or, as TV and film representations like the UK’s Fleabag lead us to believe, it is those running the retreats that are like this. Supremely calm but poised to snatch your phone from your hand if it so much as vibrates.
No doubt some places fit this depiction. But, looking from the outside in, it’s hard to know until you’ve tried. Retreats are all about inner feeling and the moments of peace and quiet that nature can bring are something that all of us have longed for at some point in our lives.
“Often people think you have to be a brilliant yogi or super flexible to attend a retreat but actually the opposite is true,” Jools Sampson, founder of UK wellness retreat company Reclaim Your Self tells Euronews Travel. “Retreats are great for everyone, all shapes, sizes and ages.”
Sampson, who has been running free retreats for overwhelmed NHS workers during the pandemic, typically specialises in taking people on yoga travel trips. Her upcoming summer trips include destinations like a ‘secret Greek island’, a Norfolk glamping site, and the majestic Faroe Islands in Scotland.
“Having time to learn yoga at your own pace with a teacher who has time for you is a great way to enjoy it,” she wants first-time retreat-ers to know. “Retreats are challenging but fun and designed to help you feel good, so don’t be put off thinking a retreat will be full of bendy people!”
For those heading abroad for the first time since Covid froze international travel, a guided retreat can provide a positive sort of bubble in which to process the last two-and-a-bit years.
“We are still getting mostly people who are travelling for the first time in two years, but they are less anxious, less stressed and more looking to catch up on what they have missed,” Sampson says.
Retreats offer a reconnection with nature
A huge part of the appeal of a retreat lies in “getting away from the world.” But generally, it’s specific parts of modern life that we seek space from paired with a desire to get closer to nature.
Hazel Hill near Salisbury, UK, offers this simple immersion in a conservation woodland. This isn’t a led retreat so you can do your own thing in aa number of off-grid buildings available for hire to groups. It’s reasonably priced too; the main ‘Oak House and Hideaway’ sleeps up to 28 in 12 bedrooms and is available for £900 (€1058) a night, or just £300 (€353) for the day.
As well as providing peaceful surroundings for a social getaway, guests can get stuck in with wildlife and bushcraft activities, so you can come away with some new skills.
Singer Charlotte Church also chose a woodland in Wales as the setting for her new retreat ‘The Dreaming’.
The Rhydoldog retreat in Mid Wales is described as an “elegantly curated reverie, manifested in water, earth, plant, fire and stone; a landscape vibrating with existential symbols, ready for voyagers to embark on a deep exploration of the self, and the noble work of crafting the soul”.
In just a few months, it will be open to 15 ‘voyagers’ at a time, who will have 47 acres (0.2km) of ancient forest to lose themselves in, perhaps crossing paths with a polecat or beaver. Set beneath an internationally-recognised dark sky where the stars are more visible than in any other part of the UK, there’s no doubt that this is natural dreaming on a big scale.
Luxury retreats reinventing ‘wellness’
If you want to treat yourself to a high-end retreat, the sky’s the limit. Newcomers will be amazed at the range of treatments on offer at One&Only’s Montenegro resort, for example.
Spending time at the secluded coastal retreat on the Adriatic Sea sounds restorative enough, but it also tailors ‘wellness programmes’ for guests.
“Following diagnostic tests,” its website promises, “a sophisticated set of bespoke treatments and culinary plans will be created for each individual, that in synergy, work to stimulate the body to eliminate toxins, increase vitality, activate energy channels and rebalance the body’s physiology.”
PGA Catalunya in Spain also occupies this luxury wellness space. Solutions to ‘prevent cellular ageing’ are on the menu.
“For those who have never been on a retreat before, we'd recommend using it as an opportunity to explore innovative therapies, new foods and new ways of moving,” a spokesperson tells Euronews Travel.
Retreats can also be a place to find friends
The pursuit of health and happiness factors into retreats of all kinds. But, Sampson adds, the chance to connect with strangers is one of the more surprising benefits of this kind of travel.
“We all know that retreats are good for your physical and mental health but often people leave our retreats with new friends,” she says. “‘Retreat buddies’ connect through their shared positive experiences and they stay connected, offering ongoing support when they get home.
“It really warms my heart! They also often come on more retreats together too, so there is often a family vibe in our retreat groups.”
If you’re intrigued by Reclaim Your Self’s warm-hearted ethos, places are still available for the Norfolk retreat from 3 to 6 June. Use the code euronews to get £295 (€347) off.