Shamballah Yoga retreat is located on the beautiful picturesque west coast of Portugal, Sintra, a 30-minute car ride from the country's capital city, Lisbon.
Run by Zarqa and Patricia, the retreat encompasses yoga, meditation, therapies, health and wellness and a variety of activities all focused to provide the retreatee with a mindful, healthy and rejuvenated stay.
The day starts at 7.30am with restful guided meditation followed by an awakening yoga practice with a daily evening session and meditation to close the day. The yoga, taken from the Ashtanga series, is applied to suit the group, from beginners to advanced. Patricia is a thoughtful, insightful and steady teacher who gives helpful advice and teachings to each and every individual.
Patricia opens each session with an essential oil for energy and healing, and dedicated the class to focus on one of the seven Chakra body focal points, based on ancient meditation practices. I personally found this grounding and enlightening. Being able to spend time on the self to create space and focus on aligning energies was time well spent.
Conscious living is at the core of the retreat and the Shamballah kitchen is the heart of the home.
The food served is vegetarian, based on the practice of Ayurveda, with recipes that aim to boost health and wellness. This style of cooking encourages the body to detox and complements the yoga and meditation practice. For those with food allergies and intolerances, they will happily cater the menu with advance notice.
The breakfast and evening meal is a group affair served at a big wooden kitchen table, offering a family relaxed informal vibe. Breakfast is a selection of wholesome grains and oats, fresh fruit, freshly baked bread and delicious, locally sourced cheese. Packed lunches are made and left for the group daily, packaged up in a handy travel pack and include quinoa, wild rice, fresh vegetables, and a tasty snack, which is perfect to enjoy at the local beach. Afternoon snacks are served mid afternoon and included creamy vegan coconut blueberry cheesecake as well as fig and almond energy balls.
Dinner is served after evening yoga and included options such as chick pea curry, baked butternut squash and delicious vegan-inspired side dishes and salads. I really enjoyed the smell of herbs and spices wafting faintly into the practice room, but on occasion it took my thoughts away from practice to my tummy!
There is no coffee wine or processed food, so if you crave these kind of things, you can always pop to Sintra or the local town for a coffee and a Portugese tart.
The activities and local area
Patricia and Zarqa carefully handpick all the experiences and activities, providing guests with a wealth of recommended options from which they can create their own agenda. There are day trips and activities to suit all tastes, from surfing, walking, and forest therapy to in-house therapy sessions.
Walks to the local beach are favoured, as are day trips to Sintra to explore the local palaces and gardens. We recommend visiting the enchanted gardens at Quinta da Regaleria and its castle and palaces.
Zarqa and Patricia are both trained in therapies and massage including Ayurvedic and Shiatsu. Therapies are on offer throughout the week, with prices starting at €40. Body work is a key aspect of a retreat as Patricia shared; “the body holds a lot of memory, so therapies are there to help awaken the body mind and awareness, as a key part of the healing and mediation process.” During my visit, I enjoyed a revitalising full body Ayurvedic massage with Zarqa, I shan’t say he has magic healing hands, but it was close.
A 10-minute walk from Shamballah is the breathtaking west Portugese coast. Here there are a couple of local cafes where one can enjoy the views while indulging in local delicacies. Guests are invited to take a walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, which I must say was one of the prettiest I’ve seen and I’ve seen a few in my day! The expanse of the ocean is calming and peaceful, and the nicest thing is, there are not too many people around, so peace and quiet is guaranteed.
Shamballah’s vision is to share a way of living, to create a space where people can come together to practice conscious living and eating, daily yoga meditation and practice and for some who wish, spiritual healing. During my stay their vision was well and truly fulfilled and I left feeling calm and refreshed.
Retreats are from Monday to Saturday and costs start from 600€. Shared and single rooms are available on request. Retreats are run all year round, aside from a few weeks late Jan early Feb.
Far from the madding crowds in our fabulously vibrant UK cities sits The Zest Life Retreat, one of the best retreats the UK has to offer.
Situated on the Isle of Anglesey in the beautiful grounds of the Plas Cadnant Estate and Gardens, the weekend retreats are for those who wish to escape the busy life to immerse in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, fitness and walking in some of Wales' most breath-taking scenery.
The Country House and Accommodation
The weekends take place in the stylish, secluded country house, nestled in 21 acres of private parkland with stunning views over Snowdon, a meandering river and magical waterfalls, all combined for your pleasure.
The luxury holiday home cottages and the Coach House offer a simple and serene place of rest. The latter offering an impressive upstairs dining and sitting room, open wooden beams, beautiful art and wall hangings with glorious views of the countryside. By night, a cosy spot to enjoy the log burning stove, sumptuous sofas and relaxing candlelight. The dining room boasts a big oak table where breakfast, lunch and dinner and the daily delicious healthy snack is served as well as the optional talk on yoga practices and wellbeing themes like detox. Bedrooms are very comfortable with crisp white linen, fresh flowers and views over the rolling green Welsh valleys.
The retreat was set up by founder Laura Bell who runs classes alongside a team of accomplished teachers. For two days, Claire Riley, who has been practicising yoga since she was eight – took 12 of us on a detox yoga journey.
Every day there were two 90-minute classes that covered a selection of Asanas from the Ashtanga series in both yin (moon) and yang (sun) flows, delivered and suited for all levels of yogis from the very beginners to those developing their practice. The classes also offer music, meditation, teachings on kundalini (energy) and pranayama (breathing) with handy tips and techniques to take home. Claire taught us all at a steady pace and ensured all participants were happy and settled.
The yoga space is reached by a short stroll through the peaceful walled garden that offers majestic views out to the tranquil surrounding parkland. Completed in 2012, the shala is a combination of handcrafted beams, high ceilings and under-floor heating, the perfect space for yoga and meditation. You know you’re fully immersed in the countryside when you hear the occasional bleat of a sheep!
The teachers at The Zest Life go out of their way to guide you through the yoga practice of living and guarantee that you will leave feeling that you have allowed to give yourself the luxury to relax, recharge and surrender to your mind and body.
In-house therapists are on hand to offer a range of massage treatments, using organic oils to ease away stress and strains. Treatments cost £45 for one 40-minute treatment.
The Zest Life Retreats offer a chance to enrich your body and mind with energy, positivity and happiness with a fresh look and approach to life. The weekend arms retreaters with the tools and methods to bring a simple healthy passion to live a well and vital life. Life can be hectic and overly stressful at times so make a choice to stop, take a break, step outdoors and breathe the air and give yourself some self-realisation and love – you deserve it.
A Summary of our Experience at The Zest Life Retreat
Following a crack of dawn start travelling to Heathrow airport, before flying to Zurich then followed by a four hour incredibly scenic train journey to St Moritz, I was looking forward to a hearty dinner. So when a small plate of fresh vegetables with rice arrived, I naturally thought courses two and three were to follow. It was only when the waiter cleared the plates and said he had hoped I enjoyed the meal, did I realise the detox had officially begun.
I was after all on the newly launched detox program at the Kempinski Hotel in the Upper Engadine Valley. But I must confess I had banked on having a blow out meal before I started the next day. Still, I had signed up for the three day detox and there was no way out. Not even any nuts in the mini bar. In fact the usual contents of one were replaced by six cold pressed juices of varied colours.
The normal programme consists of six overnight stays consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared from raw, vegan ingredients and the aforementioned six Fit ‘n’ Tasty Juices to be drunk throughout the day. The activities included gentle hikes, cycling, yoga and pilates, And the bonus? Three detox treatments at the spa including a wrap, scrub and massage.
Day one began with an almighty wake up with my first detox juice of the day. It was a citrus lemon flavour and oh my it really did have a sharp taste. But hungry from the night before it really wasn’t a time be fussy. Juice down and it was off for a yoga session at 8am in the studio. Our instructor Ivonne Mazzel was kind to us as she gently eased us in before moving on to complicated poses. The shivasna at the end was very much welcomed.
Breakfast was interesting – over a litre bottle of suspiciously looking green juice and a small bowl of fruit with coconut shavings. The latter was lovely but the juice not much so. I’m used to having some protein and fruit in my green smoothies. This was rather bland but beggars can’t be choosers. I had made sure I also sat well away from the normal gourmet offerings of this five star place.
As detox is all about measuring our success, we had our body analysis taken including our height, weight, fat, water body via a machine. Day four would be d-day when we found out how well we had done.
There’s nothing quite like a hike in the beautiful mountains to get your mind off food and we were also in good company. Wolfgang Hoffmann is a specially appointed activity concierge who knows the valley like no other. He can arrange numerous activities including boulder climbing, flow trail downhill biking, climbing, miniature golf, paragliding, horse riding, swimming, windsurfing, stand up paddling to name a few. So our three hour hike was just blissful and incorporated several stops to admire views – and drink juice number two. It was a carrot juice and not at all unpleasant.
Lunch was tiny but beautifully presented. Spinach, avocado, strawberries formed the meal and despite being deflated at the paltry portion I realised I wasn’t even hungry. Besides, with a wrap and scrub scheduled for the afternoon I certainly didn’t need a food coma of a belly.
The wrap and scrub was lovely – exactly what you need after a morning full of activities. As the masseuse scrubbed and exfoliated I visualised stress leaving my body. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent dozing in the chill out lounge. A gentle stretch class and dinner ensued. Again beautiful raw food adorned the plate and I gulped it. I realised I wasn’t actually even hungry and that our eyes really are bigger than our belly. The six juices had kept me full. I slept peacefully through the whole night.
Day two began with a fasted hike before breakfast. The juice was a lot nicer made of carrot and oranges. It went down rather well and I was excited to get out on my bike around the lakes. St Mortiz has some of the most beautiful lakes that you can’t help wanting to be by them in any weather. The afternoon followed by lunch was spent on my back again as I enjoyed an hour long massage. I felt like I really was giving my body the best treatment ever through nourishment, exercise and treatments. If people think detoxifying is depriving themselves, they should rethink. You’re actually doing yourself a huge favour and giving it the best you can to kick start healthy long term goals.
As each day went by I felt more and more relaxed and the exercises did not feel strenuous at all. I even enjoyed the HIIT training with Francesco because I had the energy to do it. During our stay we covered a number of walks including the MTB Tour which takes you along Champfer to Lake Silvaplana, pass castle Silvaplana, close to Sils. On another day we took in the views along a pass through the Olympiaschanze pass Lej Nair viewing point Crastatscha (view to Silvaplana) and Lake Champfer.
And surprisingly I started to really enjoy the juices and looked forward to the foods. In three days I felt like my taste buds were changing and I was developing a keen interest in raw food. The final day’s smoothie of strawberries, nuts and almond milk was just divine.
So how did I do come judgement day? I lost TWO pounds of fat in three days. I was chuffed to bits to say the least and felt great. In fact so much so I vowed to keep it off and continue having at least a couple of raw food days a week. It’s been three weeks since my return and I have lost 4kg as I’ve kept up with eating healthy.
Again life is about balance and about making sustainable healthy choices. The detox program here at the Kempinski Hotel gives you a much needed boost to start that journey. Even the General Manager Reto Stockenius embarked on his healthy journey by doing the programme and has lost several kilos so far. And did I feel like I was on a luxury holiday at the same time? How could I not with the beautiful surroundings I found myself in – both in and out of the hotel.
Located on Northumberland Avenue just a few minutes' walk from Charing Cross tube station, you'll find Thai Square Spa, a top-notch spa that’s ideal for frazzled Londoners looking for a relaxing respite from the daily grind.
Thai Square has a plethora of treatment options and spa services to choose from including the option of half-day spa packages (from £195) or full-day spa packages (from £440). For those who don’t wish to indulge in the half or full day spa package, spa samplers are also available (from £145). For those on a shoestring budget, a good option is the ‘Sens Space’, which provides visitors with use of the steam room, sauna, hot tub and relaxation areas (£40 for 60 mins or £70 for 120 mins). To ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy, there are also packages for gentlemen (from £230), couples’ (from £350), the bride-to-be (from £185) and maternity (from £215).
My visit to the Sen Spa at Thai Square Spa
As I wanted to make use of the sauna, hot tub and relaxation areas, I booked in for the Sens Space and the Himalayan Salt House (£35 for 30 mins or £50 for 60 mins), so I could get a quick hit of bright light on a dreary day.
The small but perfectly contained Sen Spa area is intimately lit to help aid relaxation. I loved the Jacuzzi, which provided a cocoon of elegance with its curved ceiling and luxe gold tiles. After I had soaked away my cares, I hopped into the sauna to cleanse my pores and then finished off my spa experience in the salt house, which was a bit like going to the beach (and far cheaper than a flight to Spain) with its bright light, sand pit, lounge chairs and magazines.
Once I’d completed everything I wanted to experience, I retreated to one of the three relaxation areas to enjoy a cup of herbal tea prior to my Thai massage. Here the décor was a bit of a mixed bag with a blend of Italian and Thai décor - think towering Roman pillars, comfy loungers, a multitude of smiling and reclining Buddha statues and Roman battle scene paintings, which seemed an odd combination, but it was certainly unique! In typical spa fashion, peaceful Asian inspired background music (think woodland flutes) plays gently in the background to help keep the mood restful.
Near the relaxation areas, the treatment rooms are found at the end of a long hallway, which is glamorously decorated with a runway of tea light candles and a large Buddha statue as its centrepiece. The ultra-luxe treatment room was absolutely gorgeous and boasted a striking copper bath, which sadly I didn't get to use, but it looked seriously indulgent!
The 60-minute Thai massage from the talented therapist was divine and really helped to ease my neck and back tension. In fact, I was so relaxed afterwards, I had to go home and have a nap in the middle of the afternoon, which is a first!
Beauty treatments on offer include manicures, pedicures, waxing and a hairstyling and a make-up bar. With so many options to choose from, Thai Square Spa really is a one-stop shop for all of your pampering and relaxation needs. For those who wish to take a bit of the spa experience home with them, there is also the option to purchase a wide selection of spa and beauty products, which can be found in the reception area.
A special mention is in order for the exceptionally friendly staff. Having forgotten my swimsuit (and apparently my mind) at home while en route to the spa, I had to move my appointment at the last minute, so I could quickly trek across London to retrieve it, which meant that I arrived at the spa feeling ridiculously frazzled. Luckily, thanks to the helpful staff and the zen-like environment, my stresses quickly dissipated. Throughout the duration of my time at the spa, the staff were truly committed to ensuring I had a relaxing experience, which in my estimation is the measure of a great spa.
Offering five treatment rooms, a 15 metre swimming pool, sauna, steam room, gymnasium and exercise studio, The Balmoral Spa is the perfect retreat for frazzled people who want to recharge their batteries in style. A designated spa lift takes hotel guests to the spa area- perfect for those who wish to pad around a robe and slippers (without the scrutiny of other hotel guests). Day passes are also available for non-hotel guests.
The pool area at the spa
Cool blue mosaic tiles and muted lighting create a sense of serenity, providing the perfect retreat for rest and relaxation. Enjoy lazy laps or for the more enthusiastic, a vigorous swim in the pool or sweat out your toxins in the Finnish sauna or menthol scented steam room.
The spa offers a dizzying array of spa treatments certain to impress even the most seasoned spa goer including hot stone massages, facials, manicures and pedicures and detoxifying body wraps. If you’re not sure which to choose, the helpful spa attendants are on hand to happily guide you through the options to provide the best recommendation based on your individual needs. Men’s and women’s day packages (which also include champagne afternoon tea or lunch at Hadrian's) are also available and are the ultimate treat for couples really wanting to spoil themselves.
Rocco Forte Spa
The Balmoral Hotel
1 Princes Street
Spas and wellness experiences reviews
Here you'll find our reviews on some of the best treatments and retreats to soothe your mind, body, and soul.