The Spread Eagle 24 hr yoga & wellness break review | spa hotel, Sussex, UK
24-hour yoga & wellness retreat in Midhurst
The Quick Read: The Spread Eagle Hotel & Spa is one of the oldest coaching inns in the UK, and as well as offering indulgent spa breaks it runs occasional, invigorating one-night yoga and wellness retreats led by yoga teacher and wellness coach Elaine Vaughan, who has 30 years experience of yoga teaching. Aimed at all levels and abilities, the retreats are designed to help people get their health back on track through the use of breath, food and positive energy. As it’s a hotel, there is alcohol, puddings and cream teas on the menu if you so choose, and you can elect to spend all your spare time in the spa.
Who it’s best for: The 24 hour wellbeing retreat is suitable for anyone – from complete yoga novices to experienced practitioners, solo travellers or companions – who want to have a relaxing overnighter away from it all. On our break there were seven other retreaters – five single women of mixed ages, and a retired couple. The other guests we encountered during our stay were generally 50+. Those with a love of history and historic buildings might like it here – the hotel has kept many of its charming original features.
What you can do: The 24 hour healthy break consists of two yoga classes, two wellness talks and a 25-minute treatment (you can make this longer or book more as extras), all hosted by Elaine Vaughan, a yoga practitioner and wellness coach with some thirty 30 years of experience.
On our visit, the wellness talks took place in a cosy drawing room just outside the Queen’s Suite. During both, freshly made healthy juices were served and Elaine told us how a combination of yoga and breathing as well as eating more raw foods could help to support our immune system and prevent fatigue. The classes were more of a conversation and not at all preachy, which made everyone open up and ask questions.
Elaine qualified in Sivananda yoga teaching in 1998, but her style combines hatha, Iyenga, vinyasa and Scaravelli yoga. All her classes have an emphasis on body alignment and creating space within the body through standing, sitting and supine postures followed by a period of deep relaxation. The yoga was accessible and super-relaxing, and we enjoyed being in the yoga room, which was bright and airy and infused with an uplifting incense.
When not doing yoga, you can relax in the hotel’s spa, where scented candles and aromatherapy oils fragrance the air, treatments rooms are clean, well maintained and smell delicious, and decent towels, robes and flip-flops are provided.
A 25 minute treatment is included in the yoga and wellness retreat, which you choose from a range of five. Do book more if you need. There’s a good range of pampering and holistic treatments on the menu using Temple Spa products, which are free from paraben and petrochemicals and offer anti-ageing, results-orientated skincare.
There’s a swimming pool set in its own conservatory with a wood and glass roof, and doors that open out to a pretty little garden with contemporary wooden sun loungers. The (chlorinated) pool is long enough to do lengths and has a mosaic of an eagle with its wings spread on the bottom. You can sweat out your cares in a sauna and a steam room, and there’s a small jacuzzi overlooking the garden with good, strong jets.
The hotel is in the heart of Midhurst – a smart little town, with some interesting shops and the Cowdray Park Polo Club just down the road. Right across the road from the hotel is a public footpath that meanders along and takes walkers to the ruins of Cowdray Park castle.
Where you stay: The Spread Eagle Hotel is full of Tudor charm, beams, nooks and crannies and original features, including floors that aren’t totally level and plenty of open fires that would be amazing to snuggle around in the winter. If you’re not driving is easily accessible by road and train – although you would need to take a taxi from Haselmere station.
We were given the Queen’s Suite, built especially for the hotel’s most famous guest, Queen Elizabeth I, and complete with its original wig and powder closet and super-comfy antique furniture. There was an open fire place with two winged-back chairs either side, and a huge bed we felt like we wanted to stay in it for ever. The suite had a separate lounge with a TV that we never even turned on, and a lovely bathroom with an antique claw-foot bath. Thick bathrobes hung on the back of the door, with proper slippers in the pockets, and Temple Spa toiletries are provided. The big, colourful fruit bowl was more exciting than many hotel fruit offers, with melon slices, red currants, strawberries, peaches, orange slices, an apple and grapes beautifully arranged. three huge, handmade chocolate shortbread cookies tempted us in a jar – we enjoyed one before our early morning meditation class, though naturally we didn’t divulge this to our teacher.
How was it for us: I attended the retreat after a bout of tonsillitis, so needed some proper R & R. I badly needed 24 hours of peace, quiet and gentle yoga, and this is exactly what I got.
Elaine’s talks were easy to understand and I found her passion, enthusiasm and sense of humour a breath of fresh air compared to the slightly precious and preachy teachers I’ve encountered in the past. She has class, which totally complemented our surroundings.
We learnt that taking baby steps – like eating a raw salad before each meal – could bring enormous positive health benefits to us. There was a real focus on the breath, and on my return I was certainly more mindful of my breathing, which was made easy to grasp and put into practise.
The first yoga class was an hour of gentle restorative breathing and movement. There were lots of props to support our bodies – in particular we got to straddle a bolster and hug it which was super-relaxing. It was early morning – 8am, so not hideous – and a good way to start the day. The second yoga class was more dynamic, but still suitable for all levels, so the asanas were do-able (even though on our visit we hadn’t seen a yoga mat for about six months).
Between times I took a dip in the pool – which was the perfect temperature – and then had my 25-minute massage. I opted for the Media Drift Away, which consisted of a neck, back and shoulder rub. Steph – my therapist – asked me to take three deep breaths while she held a yummy aromatherapy oil blend under my nose to open my airways. Then she massaged my legs with warm mitts before putting on Temple Spa’s product aptly named Aaaahhhh which eases aches and pains. Then she massaged the rest of me. I like not to be talked to and a firm touch, and Steph happy obliged, working hard to get my knots out. I felt like a new woman afterwards, which goes to show how desperate I was for some R & R even though it was fairly short – an hour would have been better.
The only downer for me was the patchy WiFi and lack of phone reception here. This would be seen as a bonus by some, but I like to face time my small people if I am away for a night and it proved impossible.
What we took home: Copious notes made during Elaine’s wellness talks, new ideas on how to eat and drink for optimum energy and a typed crib sheet of the restorative yoga class so I could continue our practise at home.
Would we go back: In a heartbeat. As a history buff I found the hotel and its past fascinating, and the yoga, wellness, food and comfy beds gave me the most relaxed and enjoyable 24-hours I’ve experienced in ages. Next time I’d book another night just to have another night in that bed!
People watch: Elaine Vaughan, the yoga teacher and wellness coach, is fabulous, passionate and totally unpretentious. All the staff are very friendly and go about their work happily and with a real sense of pride. Nothing felt too much trouble for any of them.
Food watch: We were given the option to take our meals as a group or on our own. For the most part we ate as a group, although one married couple took themselves off for a romantic dinner. On our visit the food was heavenly, with fresh and local ingredients and a good mix of fish, meat and veggie options. The portions are not overwhelming, which means you can happily put away a three-course meal without feeling like you have overindulged.
Dishes are creative and unfussy, allowing natural tastes to take centre stage. Breakfast was plentiful, with thick sliced ham, fresh pastries and fruit salads on offer as well as a decent selection of cooked additions – we had the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. For dinner we enjoyed a heritage tomato and mozzarella starter, deep fried baby courgette complete with flower and served on a bed of spicy lentils and grilled asparagus, and a rare roast beef salad (we also tucked in to a decadent chocolate mousse served with poached cherries and cherry ice cream, yum). The traditional afternoon tea served at the hotel looked scrumptious (though of course we resisted this!).
What’s lowly: The treatment included ought to be at least an hour long for you to reap real benefit. Do extend the time or book more if you want.
Insider tip: If you are after a firm massage, ask for Steph.
Price with a companion: £498 for two sharing a room. Includes one night’s accommodation in a Traditional room, two yoga classes and two talks with Elaine Vaughan, a 25-minute Temple Spa treatment, two course lunch on both days, three course dinner, full English and Continental breakfast, full use of the Spa’s facilities with juices and smoothies.
Price going solo: £299 per person in a room alone, including all of the above.
Value for Money: The quality of the food is outstanding, and with the yoga and wellness talks included we felt this was real value for money.
Sister retreats: The Spread Eagle is one of the three Historic Sussex Hotels which all offer indulgent spa breaks and gourmet food. Ockenden Manor Hotel & Spa at Cuckfield also offers short yoga, Pilates and nordic walking retreats and a 3-day break called ‘Learn to Love Yourself’ led by Katie Phillips; while Bailiffcourt Hotel & Spa at Climping also offers ad-hoc Fitness Retreats with personal trainer Elaine Peace.
Reviewed by Antje Derks
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