yoga pose


Rural retreats are the go-to

Countryside spots to soothe the mind, body and soul

When Soho Farmhouse arrived on the scene – a rural retreat spin-off from the hip London members’ club Soho House – it surely confirmed that country getaways are truly in.

Rustic-luxe barns and bucolic crash pads have become the go-to for celebrities and trendsetters looking to escape and restore. And it is even better if they come with an added dose of “healthy”. Swimming, tennis and horse riding are some of the activities available at the Farmhouse.

Many countryside retreats now combine state-of-the-art fitness studios and top-notch eating with their tranquil natural setting, offering the complete reboot package – and giving them major pulling power for health and fitness junkies. Whether it’s a yoga holiday in Wiltshire or a surfing weekend in Jersey, a rural retreat really could be the breath of fresh air you need.

The zen effect

Noticed that the great outdoors instantly flicks your chill switch? Dr Valerie Gladwell, an expert in green exercise at the University of Essex, says: “Biophilia theory, developed in the 1980s, suggests an instinctive affiliation with nature. We’re drawn to natural habitats. They’re where our ancestors lived and we’re programmed to thrive in them.”

Outdoor gym

A green setting is perfect for kickstarting an exercise regime. Dr Gladwell says: “Research has shown when we exercise in a natural environment we perceive it to be easier and more enjoyable – and therefore we’re likely to do it more often.” So pack your hiking boots or pick a retreat with alfresco fitness classes.

Fresh fare

Many country retreats serve food sourced from their own garden or local producers. Dietitian Emer Delaney says: “I think supporting local businesses is important. Farmers put a lot of love and attention into their livestock and produce, and this definitely shows in the quality of their products. While freshly picked fruit and veg may not be ‘better for you’, as such, you may feel they taste better which may encourage you to eat more.”

The classic British dishes often on the menu can also encourage healthy habits. “Simple meat, veg and carb dishes that are balanced and healthy are a great approach to eating,” says Ms Delaney.

“They provide the energy, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fibre that the body needs. And they’re easy to make at home, encouraging you to continue a healthy diet.”

The Tech disconnect

So you’ve discovered there is no 4G coverage where you are heading for your chill-out? Great stuff, according to Dr Gladwell: “Using a smartphone requires what’s called ‘directed attention’, whereas being out in nature allows ‘indirect attention’ – where objects and settings engage us without requiring effort or energy. Many studies show that time in nature, because it doesn’t require this directed attention, is restorative.”

So good advice is check that phone into your bedside drawer.

Green feeling

“A University of Essex study found even five minutes of green exercise can help improve mood and self-esteem,” says academic Dr Valerie Gladwell. So a short stroll in the park could give you a boost.

Have a net detox

Can you disconnect for even one day a week? Turn Wi-Fi off so you are not bombarded by emails and social media.

Shop Smart

“Markets are a great place to go for local produce, and tend to be cheaper than large supermarkets – especially at the end of the day, when you’ll often pick up bargains,” dietitian Emer Delaney says.

Kitchen wisdom

“Eating fresh, home-cooked food puts you in control of what you’re consuming rather than relying on processed foods,” says Ms Delaney. “Batch-cook at the weekend and freeze in smaller portions for midweek.”

5 of the best countryside getaways to boost your well-being

1) Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire
Boating, swimming and crazy golf are among the activities on offer, with a kitchen garden offering seasonal produce.

2) Revitalise Fitness Retreat, Cornwall
Featuring sessions such as “woodland workout” and “beach blast”, this retreat takes your exercise regime into the great outdoors.

3) Littleton Mill, Wiltshire
Offering yoga retreats at a renovated watermill set in 10 acres of woodland and meadow

4) Yeotown, North Devon
A five-day retreat that includes plenty of hiking in a stunning coastal setting, as well as strength training, meditation and more.

5) Drift Retreat, Jersey
Stay in a Wi-Fi-free historic tower in Jersey National Park for a long weekend of surfing lessons, yoga and healthy veggie meals.