At the end of summer 2015, when Herbie was seven months old, I was struggling with sleep deprivation, depression, and an expanding Bourbon biscuit-based waistline, and Stu was lamenting what little time he got to spend with Herbie every day. So when we were invited to a (disclaimer: free) week-long postnatal retreat in France, we jumped at the chance.
Although the notion of being stranded in the countryside with a bunch of strange families sounded at first like an ITV2 reality show, the retreat blurb said it focused on rebuilding post-natal fitness and wellbeing, with exercise classes for the mums, quality dad-time for the dads, and hearty living for everyone. Plus we live right by a Eurostar station, so it almost seemed rude not to go.
Here’s our first ever family Eurostar selfie:
La Jugie is an ivy-strewn 18th Century farmhouse with its own bergerie (converted sheep shed), pool, and apple orchard. It sits deep in the green hills of Limousin, a 30-minute drive from Limoges (you can fly there or get the train from Paris). Inside it’s all exposed beams and graphic rugs thrown over stone floors, with delicious cooking smells coming from the cosy kitchen.
It turns out hosts Clio Wood and Bryn Snelson redecorated the manoir in their unique style when they bought it; it was only after having her own baby in 2014 that Clio founded &Breathe Postnatal, when she couldn’t find a retreat that suited her.
The house sleeps 16, so we basically had a floor to ourselves, which was great for shushing Herbie to sleep, relaxing after an exercise class, or just to bury your nose in a book when communal life got a bit too communal – there was even a delightful book-filled reading nook for this very purpose.
This is the bit I wasn’t looking forward to. In adult life I have basically been super-thin but horribly unfit (thanks, cigarettes!), or sort-of fit but kind of chubby (thanks pizza/running!). I took up competitive biscuit-eating during pregnancy, though, and hadn’t stopped, so the notion of sausaging my post-C-section bulk into lycra didn’t really fill me with joy. However, La Jugie’s own buoyant trainer Caroline Bragg allayed my fears.
Our ensemble twice-daily sessions took place in the bergerie or the covered terrace, and incorporated circuits, pilates, cardio, and even resistance training with our babies in carriers – but all carefully modified for postnatal bodies (did you know you shouldn’t do crunches after a C-section? Nor did I), and at our own pace. Despite myself, I enjoyed my sessions, and have kept up (sort of) with the bespoke training plan Caroline gives you at the end (although I do it too sporadically at the moment, and mainly for Herbie’s amusement. MUST DO BETTER).
Honestly, when I heard I was going on a ‘fitness’ retreat I expected to be on a diet of celery, and said a tearful farewell to ‘real food’ before I left. But I hadn’t reckoned on Clio’s amazing hearty fare and love of long, boozy dinners. Breakfasts were a smorgasbord of fruits, oats, cheese and bread, lunches were chunky soups (my favourite was the curried apple) with huge hunks of bread, and dinners were giant pots of cassoulet and pots au feu with salads (and pudding!). Everything tasted fresh and fabulous. Plus, the fact that all the families came together every evening, chatting and eating with our babies on our laps, added to the sense of bonhomie, and made dinners all the more delicious.
Part-and-parcel with the week came an hour-long in-house professional massage for everyone. Mine was so good I passed out within minutes and shelled out for an extra session later in the week. Hot showers, late mornings, fresh air, good food, and getting your heart rate up all contributed to an overall sense of wellbeing, and on good days Bryn even ferried us out for trips to the village, shops and even the zoo. It was a bit rainy for the pool, but we explored the grounds and even scrumped a few apples (don’t tell Clio). And, as we all know, theft is very relaxing.
Was it worth it?
Oh my god yes. The entire week was a much-needed series of deep breaths after the panic of early parenthood, and left me brimming with a sense of wellbeing I hadn’t realised I’d lost. Meeting other new parents was a bonus to this; we all put a brave face on to begin with (I was horribly intimidated by everyone) but slowly we came together and realised that we were going through very similar struggles. I honestly credit Clio, Bryn and Caroline with saving my sanity, a bit. The retreats are a wonderful idea generally, but I think few people could run such events with the warmth, welcoming and sense of fun that they possess. I’ve made some friends for life here. Thanks so much, you three.
If you’re a new mum and you’re dithering over your summer holiday, take a look at the 2016 retreats – they might be just what you need. If you can’t commit to a week, keep an eye out for the day retreats that are coming soon to London.
Oh, and if this review sounds overly enthusiastic, it’s because I am. In fact, to paraphrase Victor Kiam, I liked it so much I joined the company! I now help with &Breathe Postnatal‘s social media and content, because I found my retreat so valuable in terms of recovering my equilibrium after the drama of becoming a mother.
If that’s not a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is.
Oh, and here’s a final note from Herbie:
Sorry about all the spit.