Perhaps more than ever before, people are discovering the mental health benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Chart-topping apps like Headspace and Calm are at the vanguard of a multimillion-pound industry, while online classes in meditation and yoga have soared in popularity during the global lockdowns of the last year. Nothing beats immersing yourself in a residential retreat though, and whether you’re interested in delving into the millennia-old wisdom of Buddhist teaching or prefer a strictly secular approach, there is a range of options available to you.
Though schedules are regularly changing in line with the shifting restrictions around Covid-19, the retreats listed here are planning to restart in-person courses in 2021. Increased safety measures are being put in place such as offering only single-occupancy bedrooms, social distancing, and smaller group sizes. Many of these companies are also offering new online courses alongside their regular schedule, so you can join in from home.
The exquisitely manicured gardens of Capability Brown form a suitably relaxing backdrop for meditation retreats at Sharpham House, an elegant 18th century estate in rural Devon. If you’re a total novice, or looking to rekindle a long-neglected meditation practice, a one-day mindfulness course is a good place to start; other shorter events include foraging and wild medicine days in the estate’s rich woodland. For a more immersive wellness retreat, five-night residential courses are on offer which bring together classes in mindful moving, creative writing, guided meditation and woodland walks into a holistic retreat which rejuvenates body and mind.
Ashprington, Devon. Day courses from £45 per person
The Zest Life
The Zest Life offers three-day retreats at the rustic Plas Cadnant estate in the east of Anglesey, with the daily schedule divided between meditation, yoga, massage and guided walks in the countryside. Luxurious accommodation is in the estate’s historic coach house, while the vegetarian food, free of sugar and dairy, is wholesome and restorative. The estate’s own river provides opportunities for a bracing wild dip, after which the living room’s log fire is all the more inviting.
Plas Cadnant, Anglesey, Wales. Three-day courses from £425 per person
Rivendell Retreat Centre
If you’re interested in discovering more about the Buddhist origins of mindfulness meditation, a retreat at Sussex’s Rivendell Centre might be for you. The centre is run by the Triratna Buddhist community, which stresses that the retreats are open to those of all faiths and none; a good place to start is a weekend-long introduction to meditation, focusing on breathing exercises and emotional positivity. More advanced week-long courses are on offer for those comfortable with long sessions of sitting meditation and periods of silent retreat. Rivendell sits in idyllic surroundings in a Victorian rectory set in the rolling hills and woodlands of the Sussex Weald; to really get away from it all, you can also choose to stay in a standalone wooden chalet in the garden, with vegan food delivered to your door.
High Hurstwood, East Sussex. Weekend courses from £195 per person
Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery
Ready to really take your meditation practice to the next level? A truly immersive, three-month retreat in the wilds of Northumberland awaits guests at Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery’s winter retreat. Run by monks and nuns from the Thai Forest Tradition of Buddhism, the monastery follows a tough daily schedule: with days starting at 5am with morning prayers and chores, and silence from 9pm every night, this is not for the weekend practitioner. However, the serenity and beauty of the Northumberland countryside, with the peaceful Bolam Lake Country Park and Whalton Manor Gardens nearby, are highly conducive to meditative practice – particularly when adorned with the frost and snow of winter. If you’d like a taster of monastery life but don’t want to commit to the full three months, it’s possible to arrange to stay for a night outside the winter retreat season.
Harnham, Northumberland. Monastery runs on donations; contact them to arrange one-night visits or three-month retreats
Dorset Fitness Retreat
Wellness traditions of all kinds, whether ancient or modern, religious or secular, know that “body and mind” is a false dichotomy. Physical and mental fitness are inextricably connected, and both are the priority at Dorset Fitness Retreat, which combines yoga and meditation with punishing bootcamp classes. After five days of home-cooked organic food, HIIT classes, paddle boarding off the Jurassic Coast, and restorative yoga sessions, you’ll feel reborn. Home for the week is the charming Old Rectory, an elegant stately home dating back to 1730, while the surrounding village of Symondsbury has a long history as a place of healing – in medieval times, people would come here to bathe in the spring, said to have medicinal properties
Symondsbury, Dorset. Five-day retreats from £634 per person.
Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat Centre
British landscapes don’t come much more transcendent than those of the Scottish Highlands, and the shimmering lakes and mighty mountains of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park makes a jaw-dropping setting for wellness getaways at Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat Centre. The programmes here are eclectic, with courses combining tai chi, poetry, meditation and photography – bringing together multiple disciplines to promise the perfect tonic for body, mind and soul. Your surroundings here, though, are medicine enough: your room from the whitewashed farmhouse building overlooks the mirror-like surface of Loch Vail, and the forested hills all around offer endless opportunities for relaxing walks.
Balquhidder, Scotland. Suggested donations begin at £280 for a weekend course
Maenllwyd Retreat Centre
To really get away from it all, it’s hard to imagine a better spot than the Maenllwyd Retreat Centre, hidden in a remote valley in Powys, mid-Wales. With no electricity or phone reception, and spartan accommodation in a draughty wooden farm building heated by paraffin stove, this is not one for beginners. It is, however, a fantastic setting for delving deep into extended periods of intensive meditation, with your fellow practitioners and the odd passing sheep the only other souls in sight. The centre is maintained by the Western Chan Fellowship, a lay Buddhist organisation, and healthy vegetarian food comes courtesy of a Zen Buddhist cook.
Powys, Wales. Prices on application
All too often the rhythms of modern life mean that we neglect our connection to the natural world, with ruinous results for our mental health. If you’re interested in embarking on a wellness retreat, but the mention of religion makes you run for the hills, Thera-Sea’s rewilding escapes in the Cornish countryside might be just the ticket. Staying in a rustic cottage, shepherd’s hut or treehouse on the banks of the River Fal, you’ll embark on a schedule of workshops and activities designed to help you reprogram your relationship with sleep, wellbeing, and the natural world. Surfing, wild swimming, foraging and bushcraft classes in the forest are some of the highlights, while workshops focus on mindfulness, relaxation and yoga.
Cornwall. From £315 per person for a two-night course
Vajraloka Retreat Centre
The well-established Buddhist-run Vajraloka Retreat Centre advertises the tantalising promise of helping to “liberate you from your electronic devices”. Retreats are not for total beginners, but the minimum recommended experience is just six months of meditation, so this is a great place to take your practice to the next level. An average day might see you rise at 6am, packing in nine hours or so of meditation and teaching before the day is out – but there’s always time for some relaxing walking meditation in the rolling hills of the Denbighshire countryside. For the ultimate in relaxation and seclusion, opt for a solitary retreat in the Castell – a rustic but comfortable stone cottage set away from the main complex, where you can focus on your practice completely free from distractions.
Denbighshire, North Wales. From £315 per person for a week-long retreat
The Tree Relaxation Retreat
The windswept moorlands and soporific woodland dales of the North York Moors are your backdrop at The Tree, an award-winning retreat which forgoes allegiance to any one teaching tradition or religious practice to offer an all-encompassing, holistic approach to relaxation. Your day might begin with an early-morning yoga session, before lessons in mindfulness meditation take you up to lunch. After a restorative vegetarian meal, a walk on the moors might await, followed by a hot stone massage, aromatherapy, or a qigong movement session. Accommodation is in modern, comfortable rooms either in the main building or a refurbished chapel, and – you might be relieved to discover – mobile phones don’t work here.
Rosedale East, Yorkshire. Weekends from £265 per person