A rural idyll

GTW’s Emma Parkes heads to the south of France, where a week’s R&R comes in the highly decadent form of the wonderful St Jean Retreats

Emma with the retreat’s owner Christopher Bedford

We all daydream of escaping the rat race and sloping off with a group of like-minded friends for a few days’ R&R, but earlier this year I got to do just that at the wonderfully chic St Jean Retreats, just a short drive from Toulouse airport. ‘Relax. Rejuvinate. Refresh’ is its mantra, and this fantastic retreat – housed in a picturesque clutch of historic buildings – now solely caters for groups looking for the ultimate in relaxing mini breaks.

A quick look at stjeanretreats.com gives a taste of what’s on offer. Think beautiful location and a team of holistic and creative instructors and teachers on hand to help you focus on, well, you, as

Tea on the terrace…

you sample the swimming, tennis, yoga and woodland walks… you name it, and the team will ensure you can relax doing it.

THE FEEL-GOOD FACTOR

One short haul flight from Gatwick into Toulouse airport later, I was collected by the retreats’ owners, the Bedford family, for the pretty hour-and-a-half drive to St Jean. Greeted by welcoming double kisses (well, in Rome and all that) from Christopher Bedford and his family, who all live on site, I could feel my stress levels began to melt away as I took in the views of the landscaped gardens, gorgeous outdoor swimming pool and hillsides lined with woodland.

Views of the surrounding gardens and hillsides are spectacular

There was just time for a dip in the pool before dinner, and after being shown to my room – a converted stable block with French chic interior to die for – canapés were served al fresco before we adjourned to one of the spectacular dining areas. The food was all bio (organic in French), locally sourced and cooked to perfection by the chef who comes in to prepare all the meals. The wine, which is included in the price of the stay, was wonderful too.

The following day was a treat of massage, reflexology, Reiki and a chance to practise yoga on a special platform that looks out onto the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel, built at the beginning of the 13th century as a bastide, or fortified town, in the Midi-Pyrénées.

Yoga with a view of nearby Cordes-sur-Ciel

Later during our stay we were driven to the town of Albi, home to the first red brick UNESCO medieval cathedral, with some of the most intricate Gothic décor I’ve ever seen – with time for a spot of shopping in the market of course and the obligatory coffee.

After a few days of downing tools and being treated to a slice of St Jeans life, I came away feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to find more me time to practise yoga outdoors. I’m not sure how I’ll ever top the views I had from the retreat’s yoga platform, but c’est la vie…

Get me there:

  • St Jean is a retreat for small groups of up to 12, with nine guest bedrooms. Find out more at stjeanretreats.com
  • It’s all-inclusive with regards to all meals and wine, with massage, Reiki, reflexology, acupuncture and one-on one or small group wellness training all available on request.
  • The price to hire the whole retreat is £8,000 for five days or £10,000 for seven days, including transport to and from Toulouse airport, though not the actual flights.
  • The airport is well served from a number of UK airports, including Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh.
  • Ryanair, British Airways and easyJet are just three of the airlines offering regular flights.
  • It’s worth noting that Cordes also has its own railway station, and you can be met there if you prefer.