&Breathe retreats: a reboot for all the family in France
Need a break that is relaxing and reviving for parents as much as children? Try this postnatal and family retreat in a farmhouse near Limoges
Holidaying with small children can feel like the same daily grind of parenting but in a nicer location. While the good moments are extra special, the lows can be particularly stressful when you’re out of your usual environment and have an overtired, cranky baby to contend with.
If you’ve ever returned home from a break needing another holiday to recover, then a postnatal retreat could be the ticket. &Breathe was created by mum-of-two and women’s health advocate Clio Wood due to her own experiences of birth trauma, postnatal depression and relationship problems after becoming a mum.
Her concept is to offer holidays that cater to the whole family in a nurturing and comfortable environment, supported by a team of experts and alongside parenting peers. I’d previously attended a 24-hour retreat in the UK when my eldest was three months old, but was keen to experience Clio’s signature six-night break in France, with my now five-year-old and his two-year-old brother, born just before the pandemic.
Here's what we discovered…
Clio hosts retreats at her country house in southwest-central France, known as La Jugie, a 30-minute drive south of Limoges. While Limoges Airport is small, it has flights from Stanstead, East Midlands and Manchester year-round and seasonal services from Leeds-Bradford, Southampton, Gatwick and Bristol. The journey takes between 90 minutes and two hours.
From here, you can either hire a car to give you the freedom to explore during the week or take a taxi. Alternatively, it’s possible to drive there from the UK (Limoges is about 550 miles from London) or take the Eurostar followed by a regional train to arrive in style at Limoges Bénédictins, the city’s spectacular Neo-Regional style station with a domed concourse and 67m tall clock tower.
La Jugie is all your French farmhouse dreams come true. Think white shutters, stone walls covered in creepers and tons of original features. This 18th century building used to be the manor farm for the hamlet and still has six acres of land, including lawns, meadow and woodland, plus a vast barn attached to the main house. The old sheep shed has been converted to a fitness studio for classes, with a side room for massage therapies.
The house has eight bedrooms of different shapes and sizes, plus six bathrooms (some en suite), along with a grand dining room, airy living room, games room, covered terrace and a kitchen with big communal table.
Clio has a background in interiors and has created a stylish yet welcoming setting, packed with quirky elements and personal touches, that you don’t feel terrified that your kids will destroy. Think homely rather than luxe. There’s plenty to entertain little ones, with lots of toys, books and games, plus a heated outdoor pool with safety fence.
Due to the nature of the property, rooms vary in size and style, but Clio attempts to allocate guests one that best fits their needs. As the only family with two children over two, we enjoyed The Old Games Room overlooking the garden (other rooms have views across the valley), which had two doubles and a single bed. There was no ensuite but we had a private shower room right outside our door. The bed were divine and the bathrooms were stocked with luxurious toiletries and plenty of fluffy bath and pool towels.
There’s access to a washing machine and tumble dryer, for when kids inevitably get covered in food, mud or water. Or in the case of a poor fellow guest, your baby gets a tummy bug.
Fit, Food, Feel is the philosophy of &Breathe and the six-day programme focuses on these elements of wellbeing, for every member of the family. However, this is a re-boot not a bootcamp and there’s no pressure to do more than you feel up to. Our group included children ranging from four months to toddlers, while some parents came as couples and others were travelling solo. This meant the team attempt to be flexible to fit each person’s needs and schedules.
The days followed a pattern of a simple outdoor meditation for 15 minutes after breakfast, led by Clio, followed by a workout session for mums and another for dads before lunch. Afternoons were left free for exploring further afield, taking naps or simply enjoy the peace of the location, with a longer ‘rest day’ on the Wednesday.
Each guest also received four hours of dedicated childcare from the retreat nanny to enjoy precious alone or couple time, plus an hour’s massage. There was a final workout session for mums each afternoon at 4pm too.
Other families enjoyed walking around the village, using the garden swing and visiting the ponies, while my sons were fans of the pool. We also took the chance to explore the region, with its rolling green hills and peaceful towns and villages. Clio had plenty of superb tips of where to go and eat. Our favourites included the picturesque village of Ségur-le-Château and Les Tables du Bistrot restaurant in Limoges, with its hearty menu and live Limousin cows in stables downstairs! Only in France…
Fit, Food, Feel is the philosophy of &Breathe and the six-day programme focuses on these elements of wellbeing, for every member of the family.
Fit – what’s involved?
&Breathe has a team of trainers who are experts in postnatal fitness and health. Our PT for the week was Helena Gibbon, a pocket rocket of care and enthusiasm who pushed us to trust our bodies and build our confidence in what they could do.
Before departure, each parent had a one-to-one Zoom consultation so she could get to know our physical histories, ailments, concerns and targets. Helena used this to structure the week so that every adult could get something out of it, whatever their level of strength. For some of the other women, this was their first time working out after pregnancy and birth, while I had specific niggles that I wanted to ease after six years of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and lugging about toddlers.
The classes were fun, uplifting and a real bonding time, incorporating all sorts of elements, like weights, HIIT, boxing and strength training. They were either in the studio or in the glorious sunshine, for added motivation. Helena had a clear and memorable way of explaining correct positioning and technique (“Hinge like you’re shutting the car door with your bum!”) – and at the core of her teaching was the importance of the core, which a few of us relocated during the week.
For the dads, Helena pushed them to extend and improve existing levels of fitness, and think about areas to work on. My husband runs regularly and plays golf, but realised through the week the need to vary his exercise regime to improve his strength in certain areas and protect his joints.
Personal PT sessions were available too and I took advantage of this for a one-to-one and make the most of her expertise. Once we returned home, both of us were sent a personal exercise plan to continue our progress.
Food – what do you eat?
Food is the fuel that keeps parents of small kids running but fatigue and lack of time mean we often make nutritious meals for our little ones and neglect our own diet. Clio’s mission is to show guests that healthy dishes can still be satisfying and taste good, without too much stress.
Included in the retreat is three daily meals, plus fruit, water and hot drinks on tap, and homemade afternoon snacks. Breakfast is between 8am and 9am, with a selection of homemade granola, yoghurts and toppings, breads and fruit available, along with porridge with chia jam and hot options like scrambled eggs and French toast.
Lunch was a colourful buffet of salads, French cheeses and meats, along with homemade soups, roasted veg or ratatouille, served at midday, with people able to slope off with a plate or casually dine together. With all meals, Clio catered to the children and their age and stage, providing purees and alternatives as required. Kids also had their own dinnertime around 5.30pm, where my boys wolfed down roasted chicken and potatoes or beef ragu, even enjoying seasonal vegetables like celeriac on the side.
The grown-ups ate later, after bedtime, an occasion we all grew to cherish as we got to know each other. Monitors were supplied to keep an ear on sleeping babes although my pair never stirred all week, thanks to the plentiful fresh air.
Clio knows her way around the kitchen (all done while holding her 10-month-old daughter in a carrier) and the dishes were unassuming but spectacular. Particular highlights were a duck cassoulet and salmon with a delicious sauce of mustard and cornichon. Puddings were particular inventive and included a moreish chocolate mousse that she revealed was dairy-free and made with chickpea water, along with homemade ice cream and tarte tartine.
Wine is served with dinner and fuelled by a glass or two, we found ourselves getting deep into conversations about the stress and strains of parenting – as well as the humorous moments too. There were couples who had dealt with IVF, reflux, sleep deprivation and bringing a child into the world during a pandemic – and we could all relate. There was one particularly enlightening and amusing evening when we all shared the ridiculous whispered rows we’d had at 3am!
Feel – what’s involved?
This element is a combination of activities offered and the overall vibe of the retreat. From a formal point of view, Clio runs a short meditation exercise each morning at 9.30am to allow you to start the day from a good place. If you’re not a mindfulness fan, don’t fear – this is very accessible and entry level.
The weather was dry on our trip so we walked together in the grounds away from the house, with Clio explaining that active meditation can often help if you struggle to ‘be in the moment’ sat down. This was definitely my kind of activity, as she talked us through taking in our surroundings, breathing techniques and methods such as 5 to 1, which involved invoking our senses. I loved these shorts breaks from life and the chance to look closely at the world around me, including some stunning tiny spider webs amid the dewy grass.
Halfway through the week, my husband and I left the boys in the charge of experienced nanny Kerry so we could each have a massage and down time. This was utterly relaxing and the masseuse was extremely intuitive, informing me afterwards that I held a lot of tension in my chest, surprisingly. Afterwards I had a deep nap and woke feeling more energised than I had since before I fell pregnant with my youngest.
But Feel is built into the whole week, from the team on hand to help watch your child when you grab a cuppa to the fact you don’t need to lift a finger to cook and clean. It’s also the connections you make with the other guests and the team, the fact you have a shared experience.
There’s an option to go out for dinner one evening, with babysitting provided, and we had initially intended to take advantage, especially with our 11th wedding anniversary falling on the final night. But we were enjoying the company and relaxed dinners so much, we opted to stay in and drink fizz with our &Breathe crew.
For the kids
With the retreat’s focus on parental wellbeing, my husband was worried that our children would just be ‘tagging along’ and this was really a trip ‘for us’, particularly given their ages. But they felt very special and included from the start, having a blast with the toys, kicking footballs in the garden and playing at the pool. They also benefitted from plenty of time as a family minus the stress that comes with standard weekends at home or trips to less thought-out destinations.
They went to bed without fuss and slept like logs each night, although they did insist on a double bed each, meaning we had to split up at night and bunk with them! My five-year-old also enjoying practising his French when we went out and about, along with Clio’s porridge bars snacks.
For guests with younger kids, each room has a travel cot, baby bath, changing mat, baby monitor and nightlight. There are also highchairs, playmats, stairgates, baby tableware, a steriliser and blending, spare nappies, swim nappies and wipes, and a buggy.
They say you can’t pour from an empty cup and our trip to &Breathe was a reminder of how our kids are happy when their parents are rested and relaxed. While health and wellbeing are at the core of what Clio has created, it’s wrapped up in a laidback, nurturing atmosphere where you are truly made to feel at home.
This retreat is a perfect first break away for new parents, to ease you into travel and working on your welfare, but it also refreshed our family as we move into the next ‘post baby’ stage and the new challenges it poses. Sometimes you just need a chance to breathe.