The post-natal period for me has been a blur of sleepless nights, and struggling, and survival. It’s only been quite recently that I’ve realised it would all be easier if I were taking better care of myself, which seems so obvious, but is so easy to forget about when you are in the midst of the mayhem. So when &Breathe Post-Natal invited me to try out their new post-natal retreat at the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, focused on re-building a balanced lifestyle through expert guidance, feel-good fitness, nourishing delicious food and indulging spa treatments, I’ll be honest I leapt at the chance (and even bought a new sports bra!). Me and the Little Miss packed our bags (well, hers is a trunki!) and set off for our first ever Girls Night away with much excitement!
On arrival you can’t help but be impressed by the hotel with it’s long sweeping drive and majestic setting, and I already knew we were in for a treat. Clio, the very lovely founder of &Breathe, met us in the lobby and we were able to check into our room straight away, which was perfect for acclimatising a toddler who had just woken up. She set to work devouring the fruit platter and insisting on changing into her ‘exercise clothes’ (she had been briefed on the itinerary!) before we went down for lunch.
We actually weren’t in the room that much (too busy having fun elsewhere!) but you can expect a massive bed with pillows that might swallow you up, a cot or extra bed for your little one, and a bathroom complete with bath and rainforest shower, not forgetting the great little extras like the nappy bin and baby care basket which were a much appreciated touch – you’ll also find swim nappies in the pool changing room!
A quick change later and we headed down to the hotel restaurant where we were sharing a light buffet lunch of various delicious salads in the private dinning room which gave us the chance to meet the other attendees on our retreat, including the lovely Amy, Lisa, and Rosie, and their little ones. The kids had the option to choose from the children’s menu, and the Little Miss elected to devour a bowl of pasta bolognese which she loved. Clio and retreat personal trainer Caroline were there to introduce everyone and chat with us all – they are both so warm and wonderful at making everyone feel instantly at ease.
Next stop was the section I had been slightly nervous of.. the afternoon of exercise bit. If you follow me you’ll know I am not a person who enjoys exercise, unless it involves legging it to the shop to buy wine! I am not fit. I do not get happy exercise endorphins. I am not a person that wears leisurewear unless it is mandatory (lycra is not my friend!)! So I’ll be honest I went into the classes with a little trepidation, but actually, bar about 15mins in the higher intensity session which I did find challenging – see above, I am not fit – and wasn’t helped by my child trying to sit on my head while I exercised, I really did enjoy it!
The first session was all about your pelvic floor, which, as a person who can do half a sneeze and wet myself, was so useful. Caroline gave fantastic tips which helped me identify, really for the first time ever, that I was doing my pelvic floor exercises right and not just squeezing my fanny unhelpfully. Meanwhile Clio wrangled the kids and they even joined in a bit! I think it’s fair to say that I have a very lively daughter and it’s all extremely laid back so you don’t need to worry about a little spirited child behaviour if you have a tot rather than a baby in tow.
Exercise done and it was teatime for the older children – another choice from the kids menu – chicken goujons, chips and some ice cream. The staff again were incredible and very child-friendly – even when my daughter decided to take most of her clothes off no one batted an eyelid. If you come here with a toddler you will feel well looked after!
Then a little time for us to do bath and bed for the kids safe in the knowledge that at 7pm babysitters were arriving to our rooms to take over with any bedtime tantrums, though luckily my Little Miss was exhausted and went off to sleep more or less without a hitch! A quick refresh for me and it was downstairs to meet for drinks, dinner and adult conversation – which is such an important part of the retreat – having the chance to meet and properly chat to other mothers.
The special menu for us all sounded amazing, but in the end I went for the Chestnut Velouté (I could have drunk 6 bowls) with whisky cream, butternut tortellini and roasted chesnut. Then a stylish but comforting corn fed chicken with white onion mousseline and purple kale, followed by the Zen Chocolate – almond Sacher biscuit, yuzu infused Gianduja ganache, hazelnut praline and Satongo chocolate mousse. It was as good as it sounds! All washed down with a couple of wines and great chat with some brilliant women, before heading off to bed and the pillows to die for.
The next morning we were presented with just the most incredible breakfast options – a huge continental buffet section with everything from pain au chocolate to smoked salmon and back again, plus a cooked menu to peruse (Eggs Royale for me, and the most scrumptious pancakes for her). A good hotel breakfast has to be a highlight of any stay and this one won’t let you down. Had it not been for a small escape artist to look after I think I could have happily munched all day!
Next stop more childcare had been arranged in the Kid’s Club to one side of the hotel (there is also a children’s playground for anyone to use) and the kids, now all best friends, couldn’t wait to carry on their adventures together, while the mums skipped off to the spa where an amazing massage was awaiting each of us, complete with a gift of the special massage oil used – Little Butterfly London – which is also suitable for use on your baby afterwards.
Full body relaxation achieved there was still a little kid-free time for dip in the hotel’s gorgeous pools (one indoor, one outdoor), a lie down in the relaxation room, and a steam in the sauna. Two hours felt like a week in the Maldives.
When my babies were born I didn’t do anything even vaguely like this and I wish I could go back and tell myself to be kinder to myself. To take it easy, to lean into the changes instead of fighting them, to find small ways to be myself again. These retreats are not a cheap option (from £495 per person which includes a one night full board residential stay, one Spa treatment and all fitness and wellbeing classes) but they really are a wonderful one, and the whole set-up is so family friendly it takes away all the usual worry you might have when travelling with small children.
As we got in the car for the journey back to London the Little Miss fell almost instantly to sleep, I turned up my David Bowie cd and was so content I felt like we might have been driving off into the sunset… instead of just back to Streatham (which took us 1 hour 15mins). Even the usual parallel park outside our house which I always anxiously screw up was done in two turns of the steering wheel LIKE A BOSS. For me it wasn’t just a retreat about my pelvic floor and a chance to wear high heels and finish a sentence and sit in a spa, for me it brought me back some of the calm and inner confidence which has been missing for some time. For me it was a chance to uncover a little more of the person I used to be who has been a bit lost since becoming a mother. For me it was a chance to start again.
&Breathe is the award-winning family wellbeing company, running postnatal and family fitness retreats in France, Morocco, the USA and the UK. New and not-so-new parents can get fit, eat well and feel good with little ones in tow, childcare included. &Breathe is passionate about self-care and wellness for new mums and dads; they bring together experts in pre and postnatal exercise, physiotherapy, nutrition, mindfulness and relaxation to help sleep-deprived parents come up for air.
Future dates for &Breathe Postnatal Retreats at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire:
- 16th May 2018
- 12th June 2018
- 17th September 2018
- November 2018 date to be announced
Bookings may be made online.
*This retreat was gifted to me but all opinions are my own.*
By Christina Pickworth