Is this the best wellness centre in the UK? We visit Glass House Retreat, Upminster
- Credit: Glass House Retreat
Hannah Gildart discovers why Glass House Retreat in Upminster is the go-to wellness centre in the country, and the perfect place to rest and reset
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the daily grind. Stress has almost become a way of life in our society. Sometimes taking yourself out of the craziness for a few days is just what you and your body need. At the end of March, just as the days started getting longer and signs of spring were everywhere, I was invited to Glass House Wellness Retreat in Upminster for a weekend of relaxation and realignment.
The retreat is a tailor-made wellbeing getaway, with fitness facilities and classes, spa treatments and nutrition lead by a team of experts all in one place. As a bit of an exercise-phobe, I was a little worried about being pushed into sweaty workouts with personal trainers barking orders – but it couldn’t have been more different. You can go at your own pace with gentle swims, yoga classes and morning countryside strolls. Definitely more zen that sweat. Stay longer, and you’ll experience a transformative programme of classes and dietary plans to get you heading back into the world with energy and zest for life.
I got chatting to owner Joy Jarvis over a delicious afternoon tea, with delectable treats of coronation tofu sandwiches, warm scones, Portuguese custard tarts and chocolate orange cake (head chef and raw-food pioneer Miguel Gouveia must be some kind of magician as the retreat is entirely vegan, caffeine and alcohol-free). Joy, who comes from a property development background, tells me that she has been on every wellness retreat going, but none had the perfect balance of what she was looking for. ‘So, I built one myself!’ she smiles.
And what a place Joy has built. As you step in, you’re bathed in warm light from the floor-to-ceiling windows, the pared-back décor soothes your mind – and the scent! I need that in candle form. There are just 21 bedrooms here, so after the hubbub of checking in, the place feels serene. Just like the pastoral beauty that surrounds it.
Once you’re unpacked and cocooned in your fluffy robe and slippers you are free to explore the indoor swimming pool, Himalayan salt sauna, steam room and the Outdoor Wellness Dome, which hosts a number of workshops, including yoga, sleep and meditation. For the more daring, there’s an unheated natural swimming pond in the grounds and even a rather space-age-sounding cryotherapy chamber. Popular with athletes and celebs, it exposes your body to intense cold, which has a plethora of benefits from soothing muscles and aiding weight loss to cellular regeneration and heightened oxygen absorption. Is it for me? Absolutely not.
Recently, my skin has decided it’s 15 years old again, with a delightful mix of blocked pores and outbreaks. So, it was the perfect excuse to book in for a facial. The retreat has recently teamed up with clinical, clean skincare brand Image Skincare (imageskincare.co.uk). Its facials start with a skin scan, which involves a machine taking detailed images of your skin to assess your needs. I was pretty chuffed to find that my skin age was only a year older than I actually am. However, it showed up those years of cooking myself in the sun has taken its toll, so I left with a big bottle of Image Skincare SPF and faithfully promised my therapist that I would wear it every day.
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After the skin scan, I went in for my tailor-made facial. I had a peel, which fizzes and crackles on your skin like popping candy and leaves your complexion glowing and squeaky clean.
In the evening, as the sun sets and casts a hazy glow throughout the building, it’s time to settle down and surrender to a meditative sound bath. You lay in the dark as a practitioner 'bathes’ you in sound waves from singing bowls and other instruments. We're told at the beginning that it can be a truly emotional experience for people, releasing blocked energy. Someone snoring in front of me set me off into a mild fit of giggles so euphoria wasn’t reached this time – however, by the end I was in a state of zen so took myself off to bed before 9pm. Something I haven't done in years.
In the morning, we were up for a crisp countryside walk, where we even saw an egret perched above a babbling stream. After a delicious breakfast of pancakes (how are they healthy when they taste so good?), it was back down to earth with a thud. Although I certainly approached my Monday with an uncharacteristic spring in my step. Hannah Gildart was hosted by Glass House Retreat.