Caroline Sylger Jones reviews a bespoke family wellness workshop with organic skincare company ila at their barns in the Cotswolds and immensely enjoys the down time with her husband and seven year old daughter
My daughter is gleefully pouring perhaps a little too much of a divine smelling rose oil into a large bowl of pink Himalayan rock salt and stirring it sagely. ‘What word would you like to spell out in the potion?’ her helper Denise asks her. ‘FUN!’ she beams, and starts to spell out the letters as she stirs. ‘But I’ll just add an extra bit of sandalwood before I do’.
My seven year old, Annoushka, is clearly loving this, as is Denise Leicester, the founder of organic skincare company ila whose sense of delight in life today matches my daughter’s perfectly. We are in one of ila’s converted working barns near Kiddington in the Cotswold countryside, on a private family wellness workshop which ila offers on demand throughout the year.
Across from me, my husband Tom is also stirring happily, and all three of us sport a personalised wrist band adorned with a mantra chosen by Denise as we measure and mix sweetly fragranced essential oils, salts and base oils into our own body oil and bath salts to take home. The words Tom and I trace in our products mirror the intentions we were asked to gently set after a short health consultation with Denise on our arrival. Tom spells ENERGISE, while I spell CALM, before Denise seals our potions in carefully marked containers for us to take home.
Kicking off with a turmeric latte and some healthy snacks, our afternoon has given us a taste of wellness together and some enjoyable down time too. As well as making her own products, Annoushka has tried her hand at using a set of sound healing bowls, sat across from Denise on a gloriously multicoloured rug in one of Ila’s rooms. She’s also stretched out on a perfectly bright ila-pink yoga mat; pressed rose petals in a glass water jar in Denise’s budding rose and herb garden; and massaged her daddy’s head using Tibetan massage techniques, instructed by Shilpa, a nurturing Indian therapist clearly great with kids and one of Ila’s star massage trainers. Mummy particularly liked this bit, as she got to be massaged expertly by Shilpa at the same time.
‘Annoushka has tried her hand at sound healing, pressed rose petals in a glass water jar and massaged her daddy’s head with Tibetan techniques’
Annoushka responds naturally and spontaneously to every activity that Denise suggests, but her highlight is communing with Tashi, Denise’s Lhaso Apso dog, a cute little creature that Denise vows will feature in all kid-led workshops from now on. Annoushka is in her element at the end of the day, as she races across the barn courtyard with the dog running at her heels.
Later we stay over in Denise’s wooden floored guest studio in the grounds of her serene home near Sherborne about a 20 minute drive from the barns. Draped by buddhist prayer flags and with its own courtyard terrace, the studio is a comfortable place to while away a few hours together before bed. We sit in the outdoor hot tub under the stars, then get a good night’s sleep in the mezzanine bedroom. We could also have checked into nearby Soho Farmhouse – Soho House’s outdoorsy countryside hotel of which Denise is a member – or a carefully selected B&B in nearby Woodstock – the ila team will help you choose where suits you.
The highlight for mummy and daddy comes the next morning after a breakfast of fruits and scrambled eggs when Denise gets us to lie down in her wooden floored sitting room and treats us to a real sound healing. The dogs and Annoushka stay with us in the room, moving gently about, but I am floored by the vibrations of Denise’s singing bowls and literally pass out into a deep sleep, waking an hour later to the smell of fragrant fresh chai being brewed next door. We all walk in the woods nearby, Tashi Annoushka’s constant companion, before a healthy veggie lunch to set us on our way and back home.
I’ve done retreats led by Denise Leicester before, and am always becalmed by her benign easy to be with presence. On this one, adding my daughter into the mix has made it more of an adventure, yet we’ve still all felt the decompression that Denise and her approach provides.