WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT The British home of complete wellbeing, a sustainable alternative to fat farms.
WHERE IS IT a short drive from Barnstaple (where hippies who can’t afford the air fare to Goa come to die) is Yeotown, a mishmash of old and new stone buildings tucked beside a minty sliver of river in a misty, wooded valley. The style is unpretentious country-house, elevated by classy contemporary paintings curated by one of the founders, Simon Sieff, a London art dealer. Rooms, below, have the key luxuries — princess-and-the-pea beds, high-thread-count linen and indulgent walk-in showers — but are otherwise discreetly pared back, so tired, muddy bodies don’t feel too guilty when they stagger in after a hike.
WHAT YOU’LL DO Sieff and his fellow founder, Mercedes Ngoh, above, one of Britain’s leading yoga teachers — though sci-fi fans may think the fact that she was one of Jabba the Hutt’s dancers in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a bigger claim to fame — are adamant that Yeotown is not a boot camp. The programme is more intelligently constructed and better paced than those at mindless fat farms, and it’s designed to encourage healthy, long-term habits that are sustainable, rather than only achieving temporary weight loss. However, the first session starts at 7am, and you face a further six or so hours of blood, sweat and — sometimes — tears before the massage table. This makes warm and fuzzy-sounding words such as “retreat” appear something of a smoke screen, albeit a delicately incensed one. Yeotown makes for an extremely rewarding break, the quality of tuition is second to none and the scenery is amazing, but it’s hard work. You need to be at least reasonably fit to aspire to its idea of holistic relaxation. Days usually began with vinyasa flow yoga with Ngoh. The form is less about chanting and more about athleticism, but her communication skills and charisma got my group — mainly successful City types — through a series of energetic sequences and several twists, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1960s.
Breakfast followed in the shape of a detox smoothie. Call me old-fashioned, but I like meals I can chew. I was sceptical that a drink could fill me up sufficiently, but found that one glass sustained me through each morning’s considerable exertions. These could be anything from an energetic hike to a 20-mile cycle ride, excruciating core conditioning to exacting Pilates sessions.
The schedule showed mercy occasionally, though, with a much-appreciated change of gear to a contemplative qigong class, or restorative yoga, for which poses are so easy and held for so long that there was plenty of time to fall asleep, even to dribble, without the teacher noticing. We also had nutrition workshops and one-on-one diet consultations. Sometimes, they’d just stick pins in us, literally — our timetable included an introduction to acupuncture.
Coffee, meat and alcohol were banned, as usual. Television, too. And mobile phones were taken away each morning to ensure there were no electronic distractions. This proved peculiarly liberating, and we had the evenings to reignite our addiction. Staff had enough charm and good humour to head off any resentment of the rules. And there’s absolutely no military-style shouting.
I couldn’t have appreciated their motivational talents quite as wholeheartedly, however, without two crucial elements: the food and the spa treatments, held in the above room. Detox dishes were delicious. I rarely felt hungry, and lost 2.2lb in four days. And the healing hands of Yeotown’s therapists, Simone Crocker and Alice Sinclair, were my saviours. If I could have Alice’s incredible table Thai massage every day, I’d probably be able to out-bend the GB gymnastics team within a month.
THE BOTTOM LINE Yeotown (01271 343803, yeotown.com) has three-day, three-night fitness breaks from £1,250pp, full-board, including all activities, nutritional advice and massages. Four-night, five-day breaks start at £1,780pp.