“I really, really love it here,” a guest on her third Oxon Hoath retreat gushes during dinner. The following day, a holistic therapist who’s been here eight times tells me she’s booked another three visits. It’s really no wonder that the first question most people ask me is if I’ve been here before.
This is my first retreat, and I’m starting to see the appeal of seeking solitude at this 600-year-old estate. A laminated sheet in my room that details ‘the A-Z of staying on the estate’ instructs: ‘Oxon Hoath is a retreat, not a hotel. We aim to encourage an atmosphere of peace, tranquillity, mutual respect, community and profound learning away from the fast pace and demands of today’s consumer society.’ There’s no room service, maids, waiters or TV. ‘The idea is to slow down, breathe deep, listen to the countryside and enjoy…’
This sense of simplicity sums this place up — unlike some rigid, bijou retreats with restrictive diets and strict class schedules, you’re able to do as much or as little as you want. The weekend (from £299) consists two nights’ full board with six vegetarian meals made with organic produce from the estate’s walled garden and a choice of three treatments or classes from a range of around 15.
There are also workshops available at an extra cost. During my late February retreat, topics included the emotional freedom technique and energy management. In fact, most of the brochure features holistic treatments and alternative medicine, such as zero balancing, reflexology and reiki, but the sceptic in me needed a bit of hands-on TLC so instead I went for a yoga class, meditation session, an aromatherapy massage and a holistic facial.
My massage with Fiona was a lovely bouquet of neroli, lavender and chamomile essential oils with long, sweeping strokes. A facial with the smiley, heavily pregnant Claire the next day really won me over. It started with a chat about my skin type before she used Dermalogica products to cleanse and exfoliate. Claire then blended geranium, ylang-ylang and lavender for a face, neck and shoulder massage incorporating energy-balancing acupressure points. She then applied a cooling mask to my face before removing it with warm towels and applying a moisturiser.
And when I wasn’t being pampered, I was striking out on walks, curled up on a comfy armchair in the old library beside a popping fire or enjoying the view across manicured gardens, Oxon Hoath Lake and the Weald of Kent from my huge master bedroom suite. Meals eaten with other guests around big tables were another highlight, and included a lovely coconut, aubergine and courgette curry complete with poppadoms, raita and chutney; a massive spread of salads and frittata for lunch; and a warming Sunday roast on the final afternoon.
Once it was time to leave, I felt completely ready to tackle the week ahead. And when a regular guest asked if I’d come back again, she wasn’t surprised when I told her I might be a repeat retreater too.