A remarkable haven for wellbeing, including people with cancer
Best for: Restore and Revitalize is for people who have, or have had, cancer and their family, friends and carers. You are equally welcome if you currently have cancer or if you have been out of treatment for some time. Moment for Me and Hands on Health Cookery and Wellbeing retreats are open to anyone in need of rest and wellbeing.
Not for: Puyssentut is not a hospice, and Restore and Revitalise retreats are not suitable for anyone who needs nursing care or who is not fit to travel. It is also not suitable if you have not had cancer or are not caring (or have cared) for a loved one with cancer.
Puyssentut, which means ‘protected high place’, is a carefully restored, beautiful 14th century chateau where Anglo-Dutch couple Angela and Dirk have created a remarkable haven for wellbeing including for people with, or recovering from, cancer. Nestled amidst fields of sunflowers in the glorious countryside of the Gers in South West France, the house has 10 super, ensuite rooms for sanctuary and comfort and spacious gardens and a swimming pool for calm and relaxation. Puyssentut runs various retreats on set dates throughout the year that include daily yoga and meditation, treatments, nourishing meals and a wonderfully restful, supportive and nurturing break from everything.
The passion and compassion of the hosts, Angela and Dirk, who make it their week-long task to meet all your needs with a constant smile and good cheer. They are also very understanding about the problems that can arise for anyone with cancer who has last minute medical problems, so deposits will be returned if necessary. This of course makes it a very uncertain business for them to run, as they can lose participants at the last minute. Despite this, they remain committed to provide a haven for all those suffering from cancer. A note of caution only to those who want more silence on a retreat – this can be rather social, especially at mealtimes. But the garden provides plenty of space for you to find a quiet spot, or you can retreat to the sanctuary of your comfortable, spacious room.
A note of caution only to those who want more silence on a retreat – this can be rather social, especially at mealtimes. But the garden provides plenty of space for you to find a quiet spot, or you can retreat to the sanctuary of your comfortable, spacious room.
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Puyssentut offers different week-long retreats throughout the year, including a Restore and Revitalize retreat for cancer sufferers, and Moment for Me and Hands on Health Cookery and Wellbeing retreats that are open to anyone. Each retreat offers daily yoga and meditation sessions and has at its core a highly nutritious vegetarian diet lovingly prepared for your health needs. You are free to do as much or as little as you choose, and between times to rest, lie in the hammock or by the pool, take a stroll round the garden or into the woodlands nearby.
There is no medical supervision, but medical assistance is very close by if its needed. Great care is taken at the time you book to ensure this is the right retreat for you. You are required to fill in a medical questionnaire so that Angela and Dirk know what you have been through and what you are still having by way of treatment, to ensure they and the therapeutic team provide the right level of support and care. This is to help them prepare for each individual; and Angela will say if she thinks Puyssentut cannot cater for your medical needs. You are also asked to provide written confirmation from your doctor or medical practitioner that they see no reason for you not to travel. On our visit, Angela was extremely quick to respond to any queries regarding our booking and also quick to reassure us about anything we were worried about, giving a sense of welcoming and safety even before we arrived.
On your week Dirk and Angela ‘hold’ the retreat space and generally make sure all the needs of the participants are met, physically, mentally and emotionally. Dirk is Dutch (but a perfect English speaker) and ran his own business sourcing and selling furniture for 18 years, but after supporting three close friends with cancer, decided to do something with a greater social impact and eventually founded Puyssentut with Angela. Zen Buddhism and macrobiotic cooking help keep him centred and focused. Angela is English and a qualified counsellor and Core Energetics therapist with a masters degree in Development Economics. She worked on social and economic policy issues in developing countries for 10 years, but then wanted to focus on issues closer to home.
Restore and Revitalise retreats provide space for you to rest and relax, reconnect with yourself and regain your focus and energy. You can choose from daily yoga and meditation classes, three complementary treatments, informal talks on helpful topics such as skin care and herbal remedies, counselling and guided walks. And there is plenty of free time to rest and relax. Holistic chefs lovingly prepare (mostly) plant-based meals – avoiding sugar and gluten – to gently detox and nourish you and all dietary requirements can be catered for.
‘Moment for Me’ is a stress busting retreat that takes place once a year to help you rest and re-energise with yoga, meditation and relaxation sessions, complementary treatments, great food and plenty of time to relax in the beautiful, tranquil environment of a medieval château. It’s especially good for those who feel frayed at the edges and take care of everyone else with little time to you.
This week-long equip runs once a year and helps you equip yourself with new skills, knowledge, inspiration and confidence to adopt a more plant-based, holistic diet to support your health. It’s suitable for all levels of cooking experience. You’ll also get to nurture yourself with yoga, meditation and relaxation sessions, complementary treatments, detoxing and nourishing meals and time to rest and relax.
These can include yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong and dance and take place in a wonderfully light and airy stone barn which has been converted into a workshop and studio space. On our visit we particularly liked the aerial yoga with Amy Charnay, yoga teacher and herbalist, and the morning and evening meditation sessions, to which everyone, including the team, are invited. The day begins with Zen meditation led by Dirk, while the evening sessions allow you to experience a range of meditation styles and offer a calming end to the day.
Therapies on offer will vary depending on the therapists that have been invited that week, but can include reflexology, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), creative writing, art therapy, art workshops, cranial sacral therapy, massage, shiatsu, visualization and various energetic healing techniques. Angela is English and a qualified counsellor and Core Energetics therapist.
Nutritional information and advice is available at Puyssentut. At each retreat there is a nutritional Question and Answer workshop offering general information and advice as well as ideas on how to include new ingredients and adapt diets. If you have specific questions, you can consult the chefs, who are qualified in nutrition counselling.
Puyssentut is surrounded by woodland and gentle rolling countryside with no nearby neighbours or roads to disturb the peace. The air is fresh and the climate gentle. There are plenty of walking opportunities so you can take a leisurely stroll or, if you fancy something more vigorous, stride out across the hills. Angela can provide route instructions and often loves to guide you herself.
The Chateau has 10 ensuite rooms, two of which are wheelchair accessible, all tastefully designed with a mixture of modern and more traditional features. Modern art from Dirk and Angel’s travels collections grace the walls, and all the rooms have good views out to the garden and surrounding countryside – ours, for example, looked out onto daisies, the vegetable garden and golden fields. Organic natural insect repellent is provided should mosquitos strike during the summer months, and hot water bottles during cooler months, so bed-time is always cosy.
Other spaces to be
There quiet corners in the garden where you can swing in a hammock, and a dovecote hidden down a grassy path overlooking sunflower fields where you can sit to reflect quietly or meditate.
Bring a swimsuit for Summer (or if you don’t mind braving an unheated pool in Autumn and Spring), and a hat and sunscreen. Trainers or light walking shoes are ideal for local strolls, while slippers will keep your feet warm on the stone floors during Autumn and Spring. There are few pests to bother you, and organic, locally produced mosquito repellent is provided, but bring something stronger if you are particularly susceptible. If you are allergic to bees and wasps, bring anti-histamine medication too. Do ensure you have enough supply of any medications you are taking to last throughout your stay.
When to Go
The climate in the Gers, with its proximity to the Pyrenees mountains, is very agreeable. Early Summer days are typically sunny, averaging a comfortable high of 23-27 degrees centigrade, with very pleasant temperatures from April to October. In the Spring and Autumn days can be fresh in the early morning and late evening but warm up quickly. Bring layers that you can shed through the day.
Everyone eats together in the large dining room inside the house, or when the weather allows – which is largely most of the summer – there’s a communal eating space outside in the courtyard, shaded from the heat of the sun by a large sail suspended from the house, which creates a charming place for socializing late into the balmy summer nights.
At Puyssentut, food is taken very seriously. The result is wonderfully colourful and varied cuisine, and meals that have been lovingly prepared by the visiting chefs, who are dedicated to making sure that healing is experienced both inside and out.
The food is vegetarian and carefully planned to make the most of the local largely organic produce. The chefs gain inspiration from both macrobiotic and ayurvedic traditions, aiming to produce nourishing and environmentally sustainable meals. You won’t be bored, and you won’t have cause to miss any of your usual treats.
Breakfast might be gingered noodles in broth or wholegrain porridge with apple compote; lunch vegetable soup, aduki bean stew, fried noodles and a cucumber and lettuce salad; dinner a lentil and pea curry, nori Tempura, pressed carrot and Daikon or turnip, a raw salad, a tomato raita and coconut macaroons to follow.
While you are encouraged to support the detoxing effects of the food by not over-indulging in alcohol and caffeine, Angela and Dirk’s philosophy is about you being in control, and so are happy to provide wine and coffee if you would like it. Filtered water and herbal drinks are always available. And you can enjoy smoothies or other delicious in the afternoon tea break.
Vegetables and fruits are locally sourced and where possible organic. Most of the fields surrounding Puyssentut are organic and supply many of the grains, legumes and beans used in the cooking.
The team also aim to minimise their environmental footprint by purchasing as little packaging as possible and recycling as much waste as they can, including making their own compost to enrich the garden. In the garden they have planted lots of different plants to attract a variety of insects and bees and in the warm months there is a constant hum of activity. They don’t use any chemicals and rely on nature to keep the balance. Likewise, while they are very attentive to hygiene, throughout the house they aim to use as few chemicals as possible and to use eco-friendly cleaning products.
Lieu dit Puissentut, 32120 Homps, France
Airport: Toulouse (Blagnac)
Transfer time: 50 minutes