It takes just one week at this award-winning life-affirming health retreat to feel your best. Located on the picturesque North Devon coastline, Yeotown is raising the bar with its holistic approach to wellness.
We all want to know the secrets to achieving optimum health. Yet, with no shortage of health documentaries, cookbooks and expert advice out there, most of us are still left searching for the answers. We know the importance of a healthy diet, exercise and enough sleep to maintain a healthy balance in our lives, but it is one thing to be told, and another to be shown as you live through the experience yourself.
When the opportunity for a five-day Yeotox first came into my inbox I hesitated. Memories of punishing bootcamps with heavy detoxing on Bentonite clay and numerous pills while being cooped up with a group of strangers suffering from caffeine headache withdrawal, almost had me hitting the delete button quicker than a round of fastest-finger first.
Then I remembered a friend had told me about a beautiful North Devon wellness retreat – one she recommended highly – describing it as both enjoyable and luxurious, a world apart from the juice-fasting calorie-counting fat farms – and yes this was the same one, this was Yeotown.
Although offering some people the kick-start they need, extreme bootcamps are in my view similar to yo-yo dieting. Guests might shed the pounds and see some health improvements during and shortly after their stay, but so often they do not help people to address the underlying problems which need to be considered in order to maintain positive change for the long term.
Yeotown Health Retreat takes a different approach – it is not so much about weight loss, although this can happen for guests – but about sustaining and maintaining a more mindful ‘lifestyle’. There’s plenty of walking and cycling, delicious (largely vegan) meals, saunas, massage, ultra-luxurious accommodation, daily yoga and mindful workshop sessions. Yeotown describe this way of life as ‘Wellgevity’ (living a long and illness free life).
Owners Simon, an avid surfer and hiker, and Mercedes, one of the UK’s top Vinyasa Flow Yoga instructors, have turned their own healthy lifestyle into a unique mindful experience for others to enjoy.
“The idea behind Yeotown was to create a healing environment for guests to find a space to rebalance, de-stress and find healthier self-care practices for a long and happy life”, explains Simon who first met Mercedes during a yoga class in London, where she was teaching Vinyasa Flow having arrived from Sri Lanka where she had been doing Tsunami relief work.
It was in 2009 when they first identified a space for wellbeing in the UK. “Friends of ours were travelling 3000 miles across the Atlantic to the Ashram in Santa Monica for a week-long programme of yoga and hiking,” explains Simon. “We felt that, based in the West Country and with our lifestyles of yoga, surfing, and plant-based diets, we could offer our own carefully curated UK based wellbeing programme – and so we opened our doors to the first Yeotox guests in 2011”.
“We felt that, based in the West Country and with our lifestyles of yoga, surfing, and plant-based diets, we could offer our own carefully curated UK based wellbeing programme…”
Yeotown is set in 50 acres of rolling North Devon countryside with beautiful sandy beaches in both directions along the South West Coast Path for guests to relish mile-upon-mile of scenic hikes. “The connection between healing and nature is an important topic,” Simon explains, (one he predicts is going to grow substantially in the coming years), “especially now with so much science to prove it, and finding the right environment and location for Yeotown was fundamental to our success. North Devon with its abundance of nature, the Atlantic Ocean and fresh sea air was perfect”.
Having previously owned a design and furniture business, Simon also had the skills needed to transform Yeotown. Set in the retreat there are five ultra-luxurious surfchic eco-lodges (each named after a key character strength and virtue in the ‘Science of Happiness’, including Gratitude, Courage, Wisdom and Curiosity), a fitness studio, sauna, four treatment rooms, a vegetable garden and outdoor hot tub with views out across the fields.
Simon was keen to ensure the eco-farmhouse was designed with sustainability in mind, and he has committed to running the retreat with minimal impact on the environment.
“All of our eco-cottages run on eco-technology, insulated with straw hay bale and powered by solar energy. We work only with eco-friendly suppliers.”
Inside the farmhouse there are further bedrooms, two lounges with open fires, plenty of books and blankets, and rustic farmhouse kitchen complete with large farmhouse table adorned by a centrepiece wooden antler tiered ceiling pendant. Dotted about there are antiques, sculptures, paintings and other interesting artefacts, including Jimi Hendrix limited edition prints.
The beautifully converted barn turned yoga studio with underfloor heating and wood-burning stove is located in a pretty courtyard, where there is a smell of incense and a family of beautiful white doves live and make coo call sounds during practice.
Each day guests get time to relax with a muscle-melting massage, either Deep Tissue, Thai or Shiatsu. The local therapists at Yeotown are incredible, so much so that just 18 months after launch, Yeotown was voted UK Spa Retreat of the Year by Conde Nast Traveller magazine.
“I think it’s because of the unspoilt nature in Devon that attracts a very connected and conscious crowd that we have been able to find the wonderful therapists and teachers we have working with us,” explains Simon.
The atmosphere is extremely laid back and upbeat. All the staff including the kitchen staff, therapists, yoga teachers, and fitness guides seem so genuinely passionate to be a part of the team. In this warm environment, it doesn’t take long for the group to bond and there is an incredible fun-loving and supportive energy – whether you are a national athlete (like Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton, a recent guest), a highly successful CEO (such as previous guest Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company) or someone like me, just wanting to try something new.
There is no calorie-counting or rations at Yeotown, just wholehearted meals with natural ingredients prepared by super-talented chefs. Think BBQ cauliflower wings, mushroom miso broth with crispy tofu, and the occasional locally-caught seafood treat – not to mention the scrumptious puddings including sunshine cake with turmeric passion fruit and orange cashew cream.
Guests are not usually told what is happening more than 45 minutes in advance as a way of enhancing the overall experience – encouraging a mental-cleanse as much as a physical one. While you are not given a day-to-day itinerary, you do get a sense of routine from the usual 7.30am morning yoga class, followed by breakfast, then the first outdoor adventure of the day. The group are chauffeured by a Yeotown guide to a nearby idyllic spot for a morning of hiking, cycling, watersports or similar.
All fitness abilities are well catered for, with options for joining different groups taking on challenges with varied difficulty levels where everyone is supported without judgement. From cycling 15 miles along a disused railway line from Great Torrington to Barnstaple on the Tarka Trail to passing by feral goats on the jagged cliff edges of the famously u-shaped Valley of Rocks.
You are exercising of course, but super fit ex-army guide Mo and ex-tennis professional and yogi Bertie, manage to support and ensure every guest is smiling and laughing from start to finish.
Back at the ranch, a member of the team stands ready to greet you with a Yeotini, anything from a vegan hot chocolate, chai latte to a refreshing immunity-boosting juice. Following a nutritious lunch, the rest of the day is a surprise mixture of mindfulness and meditation, fitness and strength training, nutritional workshops and cookery sessions – with a few unusual activities thrown in for good measure, including selfhealing and energising group singing lessons and qigong sessions.
Outside of the main weekly programme there are also a wide range of different experiences at Yeotown including surfing, open water swimming, coasteering, as well as other treatments including Reiki, Reflexology, Hypnotherapy, and (Simon’s personal favourite) Kinesiology.
Simon is also passionate that they are fortunate to be working with some of the UK’s leading experts in their fields such as psychotherapist Julia Samuel, Ironman Triathlon Champion and sports doctor specialising in Biohacking, Dr Tamsin Lewis, Gut Health specialist Lucinda Miller and menopause coach, Mariella Frostrup. “We have a number of programmes each year where alongside the usual Yeotox activities we have added input from experts in their field – we call these our collaboration retreats”. Yeotown even has their own Devon version of Wim Hoff, surfer, swim coach, triathlete in the Arctic circle and cold water immersion specialist, Paul Irwin.
Paul takes Yeotown groups to the River Yeo just across the fields from the farmhouse each week for cold water immersions. “The benefits of cold water immersions are plentiful both for physical health and mental wellbeing”, explains Simon.
“On a physical level exposure to cold water, whether an immersion or even a cold shower, boosts your body’s immune system. Wim Hoff talks about how we are degrading our immune systems by choosing to live in 18-degree temperature-controlled environments and thereby not challenging them.
To me as a year-round surfer, this makes sense and I am lucky to rarely get colds or other illnesses as my immune system is being challenged on a regular basis. On a mental and wellbeing level we see groups coming back from the sessions ‘high’ from the experience”.
In Devon you see people swimming in bathing suits embracing the cold Atlantic for its health benefits all year round, and Yeotown is a great place to give it a go, especially as a first-timer. If however, you prefer a warmer climate, then perhaps Simon and Mercedes’ new retreat in Madeira could be the better option for you.
“Madeira is a stunning island also known as the ‘Hawaii of the Atlantic’ just a three-hour flight from the UK. The nature there is much like Devon but ‘on steroids’. It’s a small island with a 2000m high mountain range located in the middle – so you can be hiking in the clouds in the morning and swimming in crystal clear waters of 22 degrees in the afternoon,” explains Simon.
“Sometimes our guests feel guilty about taking time out for themselves, but it is really important for people’s well-being. We always say if you are not healthy, grounded and happy then you won’t be of so much good to those around you.”
With two children (Rumi and Indra) at school near the retreat, North Devon is still very much their family home, but they will now spend time in Madeira each year as well as taking regular trips to their London restaurant – Sussex Gardens. Based in London’s first Mindfulness hotel, Inhabit Hotel (www.inhabithotels.com), Sussex Gardens is about to expand into a new, larger flagship restaurant at the hotel, complete with their signature complimentary Yeotown Meditation Pods.
Simon believes in four main pillars for optimum health; nutrition, exercise, yoga and meditation and sleep.
Each evening little cards and herbal teas or other small gifts are left in your room as reminders of the important pillars Simon describes, re-inforcing some of your daily workshops. The importance of breathing into your diaphragm (as opposed to your chest) for example, avoiding using electronics, (answering emails, browsing news, etc), or anything that may take you out of your relaxed state. We learned from a sleep specialist that it is not so much the blue light from your phone that keeps you awake at night but more the stimulation of all the information and messages your brain is calculating – especially as you scroll through social media feeds.
And my favourite, a reminder that “sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together,” and that the science behind the proven health and wellbeing benefits of getting a good night’s sleep is stronger than ever.
With it, a Yeotown specially crafted sleep-spray made using fresh, pure Devon water from their very own River Yeo running through the retreat. Following your deep breathing exercises you are encouraged to simply spritz some over your pillow a few times and enjoy a deep night sleep.
“As sleep is such an important foundation of well-being we have been very grateful to work with The White Company. Creating the right environment for sleeping is vital and the White Company’s linen, mattress’ and pillows are perfect for a good night sleep – their whole look along with candles and room sprays all go to create a perfect restful environment.”
After a full day of activities, a bath filled with organic bath salt, heated fluffy towels, beautifully soft dressing gowns and crisp white bed linen from The White Company, uber comfortable beds, and the scent of geranium and lavender it is easy to fall into a quick deep sleep at Yeotown.
Then the most important part of all, taking a little of the Yeotown magic home with you. Whatever that might mean to you. For some that could be a life-changing turnaround, as with the youngest of our group, deciding to pack in her marketing job in book publishing to travel the world, others were left glowing from their weight loss more determined now than ever to continue on their better-body journey, and for me, I have continued my daily yoga sessions, kept off the coffee, and introduced a more plant-based diet into my home. I regularly make my own blue spirulina banana Yeotown smoothies (delicious!) and have settled into a much better sleep routine – which is thanks also to my new Lumie clock and Egyptian Cotton bed linen and Sleep Soothing Pillow Mist from The White Company. Overall, I feel more positive, fitter and healthier. Do I feel more mindful? Yes, thank you Yeotown, there’s no doubt I do.
“Sometimes our guests feel guilty about taking time out for themselves”, Simon concludes, “but it is really important for people’s well-being. We always say if you are not healthy, grounded and happy then you won’t be of so much good to those around you”.
Yeotown is running a collaboration retreat with Lucinda Miller founder of Naturedoc.co.uk Happy Gut, Happy Mind between 5-9 October 2022 in Devon. Prices from £1950 all-inclusive, per person. The retreat is open all year round, every week from Wednesday to Sunday. → yeotown.com
Words | Jessica Way
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