The Zest Life review | healing holiday, Wales, UK
Yoga with extras on a stunning estate in Anglesey
The Quick Read: The Zest Life is run by yoga teacher Laura Bell who organises nine weekend retreats a year at the spectacular Plas Cadnant estate in Angelsey, just beside the Menai Straits between the delightful towns of Menai Bridge and Beaumaris. We tested the three-day Yoga and Wild Swimming retreat, which consisted of two varied yoga and meditation classes a day, morning and evening, with a guided walk, supervised wild swim and picnic in the middle of the day on both the Saturday and Sunday. All the retreats revolve mainly around the yoga, but each has an add-on, either an activity such as hiking in Snowdonia, wild swimming or fitness, or else yoga with mindfulness, detox, nutritional therapy, wellness and relaxation.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who is keen on yoga but would value either the challenge of another activity or just the chance to relax in beautiful surroundings, eat healthily, and, depending on the time of year, either recharge and energise themselves or slow down and be nurtured.
Laura welcomes all age ranges from late teens to about 65. On our retreat, we were the oldest by about 20 years, but it couldn’t have mattered less. Mostly it was women in their thirties, but there were also two couples and one group of four friends.
The yoga can accommodate all levels. Most of us had done it for a while but there was one rank beginner who thoroughly enjoyed it. The numbers are limited to 15 and there is plenty of opportunity to bond in the lovely sitting room or during the activities. Equally, if you don’t feel like talking, you can lose yourself in the famous historic Hidden Gardens which have been lovingly restored by private owners.
What you can do: The day begins at 8 am with an hour and a half of yoga preceded by a little meditation in a beautiful newly restored barn with underfloor heating and enveloped in incense. All the necessary props are provided and Laura is a superb and experienced teacher whose classes are primarily vinyasa flow with lots of modifications. She manages to keep an eye out for everyone, makes adjustments, and – a nice touch this – rubs your neck with some heavenly oil. Her instructions are absolutely clear and precise but nobody felt pressured into doing anything they didn’t feel like.
After yoga comes a leisurely breakfast followed by the drive to the place in which you will swim that day. Laura has a team of three experienced guides who fit you up with wetsuits if required and take you to the best possible spot depending on weather conditions that day. On Saturday we walked to a lovely sheltered cove and swam in the sea, and on Sunday we braved a mountain lake in Snowdonia National Park. Each day we swam for around 40 minutes then gratefully wolfed down a picnic lunch with plenty of warming homemade soup, savoury titbits and cake.
In the afternoons, massage is available (£25 for half an hour or £40 for an hour) administered by two experienced masseurs. Other options were relaxing with a book, strolling in the glorious grounds, having a nap, or, for the uber active, jumping into the glorious swimming hole in the river at the end of the gardens fed by waterfalls in a lush valley. The public pay to come and see the stunning gardens from time to time, but for the yoga guests, they are there to wander in at will which is lovely.
After that, there is tea and cake and then another hour-long yoga class before dinner. These evening sessions are more restorative and we had a fabulous Yin Yoga class one evening.
Where you stay: In some retreats staying in a splendid house is all part of the specialness, but because the owners live in the main house, Laura reserves two of the luxury holiday cottages on the estate for the yoga retreats. The main one is The Coach House, a large stone building which sleeps 11/12 in rooms full of character. Bathrooms are all shared. There is huge welcoming and atmospheric sitting room with a log-burning stove and dining room with a long rectory table at which all meals are taken. The other one is The Old Dairy, also with a sitting room area and three bedrooms, one with a four poster bed. Up to five can be accommodated here with two bathrooms between them.
Both houses are pretty luxurious and have been elegantly fitted out with open beams, slate or wooden floors with rugs, lovely curtains and fabrics, nice lamps, oil paintings and hangings on the walls, decent furniture and beautiful bed linen. No expense has been spared.
If you are on the ground floor, you can hear those above you thanks to the wooden floors and all the doors have rather noisy, heavy latches, but although some lingered in the dining room to talk after dinner, most people were tired enough to retire early and it didn’t become a problem. The cottages are on either side of a gravelled courtyard big enough for everyone to park their cars. The main walled garden is just the other side of the courtyard. The Coach House has fabulous views over the rolling parkland on one side and the courtyard on the other; The Old Dairy has the courtyard on one side and a small garden area on the other. Both are very stylish and comfortable. Humphrey, the long-haired cat who lives there (but not inside) makes himself available to be petted.
How it was for us: Personally, Yoga and Wild Swimming have got to be the dream team. I have been practising yoga for 13 years and have encountered very many good teachers but Laura was exceptional – very calm, very focused, very clear but also flexible and attuned to everyone’s needs – a natural teacher who came to yoga after breaking her back at 18. She has studied Ashtanga in Mysore India and trained with various well-known teachers around the world. The wild swimming also was everything I had hoped for. So often, you rather take your life into your hands when you jump into an untried river or lake but with Laura’s expert team, we felt entirely safe and went to places that were not only beautiful but well off the beaten track. We even had at least one day’s sunshine which I’m assured is a terrific bonus in Wales!
The Plas Cadnant parkland and gardens definitely contributed to the whole experience. Even I, a non-gardener, could see that they are a plantsman’s paradise and I loved my solitary evening strolls there after dinner marvelling at the beauty and peace of the place.
Laura takes advantage of the grounds to do yoga outside when the weather is kind. On the last day, there was partner yoga on the lawn and a mindfulness walk too. There are one and half miles of paths to explore with all kinds of surprise vistas and woodland delights.
One glitch for me – I struggle with sleep at the best of times and because I was a last minute shoe-in, found I had to share a room, which sent me into an unyogic panic.
What we took home: I definitely felt more energised than I have been for some time (it would be difficult not to having jumped in an icy lake!). I also enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the retreat and the friendly vibe.
What I actually took home was a box of proper Indian incense which I love and a determination to find a Yin Yoga teacher in my area.
Would we go back: I would certainly like to try another of Laura’s retreats – maybe the wind-down one before Christmas. She is looking for another Welsh venue for retreats in addition to Plas Cadnant for 2016 so I would be keen to try wherever she chooses.
People watch: Laura not only runs the retreats but also does all the cooking and teaching. This might bode ill for some but I have to say that she is supremely capable and admirably unflappable.
Food watch: In addition to her other virtues, Laura is a Cordon Bleu chef and creates interesting vegetarian menus which are balanced,wholesome and nutritious. Wheat, dairy and sugar are all avoided where possible and people with allergies or special preferences are catered for. There was no alcohol but both ordinary tea and coffee was available as well as decaffeinated coffee and lots of herbal teas.
Breakfast was two types of muesli, natural yoghourt, berries, seeds, nuts and raisins and as much wholemeal toast as you like with homemade jam, marmalade, marmite and peanut butter. Lunch on this retreat was a picnic lunch with homemade soup, boiled eggs, tomatoes, raw peppers, bread, raw prana balls, cake and tea or coffee.
Dinner was more substantial. The first night we had a delicious quinoa, avocado and spiralised courgette salad which was incredibly filling followed by cookies made with raw carob. The next night, a veggie burger with lots of different salads followed by a very good avocado and kiwi fruit tart. All good, simple nutritious fare and perfectly filling. And of course there was always tea and cake at 5 o’clock for anyone who was peckish, and a large bowl of fresh fruit out at all times. Laura likes to cook seasonal food so lighter meals with a strong raw element in the spring and summer and more hearty Moroccan tagines and vegetarian chillis and soups in the winter.
What’s queenly: It’s got to be Laura herself, who is a queenly hostess. We also like her philosophy of life which is worth repeating and perhaps pinning to your fridge door: Revitalise your body through yoga, Nourish yourself with wholesome food, Nurture your soul with positive company, Inspire your mind through the beauty of nature, Rebalance your life with time to relax.
What’s lowly: There are very few rooms with single occupancy. Book a single room well in advance if you don’t want to share.
Insider tip: Bring your own toiletries, hairdryer, soap etc – it’s not a hotel and these are not provided. You might need a hot water bottle in winter too.
Price with a companion: £395 for twin room or double room for 3 nights.
Price going solo: £455 for a single room, or £555 for a double room (single occupancy).
Value for money: Good considering all costs of the swimming expeditions are included.
Reviewed by Carla McKay
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