A retreat saved my life — now I choose fasting over fly and flop

At the Retreat in the Lot Valley, France

In my previous life I holidayed in lovely places such as the Caribbean and Italy, indulging in games of poolside poker, spotting who was the best dressed by the beach or pool. I enjoyed the people-watching, less so my feeling that everyone else’s lives were better than mine. I was 50 before I realised that I craved more than a vitamin-D boost and a tan. Despite working for years in health and beauty — helping brands to promote wellness and inner calm — I had never felt those benefits.

My journey of self-discovery started at the Retreat in the Lot Valley, France — a sanctuary for the soul run by the British nutritionist and fitness expert Yvonne Wake. I delivered my blood samples, packed my gym gear and said: “Please teach me what I need to do to feel better about myself every single day.”


Wake was kind and supportive. With my fellow retreaters (mostly women) I eased into the exercises — gentle stretching, walking, Pilates — before moving onto aerobic workouts in the pool. More important, the experience led me to explore a brave new world of inner enrichment and personal transformation at wellness sanctuaries all over the world. At Buchinger Wilhelmi, a science-backed clinic above Lake Constance in Germany, I even learnt to love fasting.

I now use most of my holidays to invest in my vitality and happiness, and while beautiful settings remain key, I’m now the person I watch, as I revel in feeling and doing better. Others have noticed the change; they see me as a lighter person (in every sense) who has learnt to be at ease with herself. But health retreats aren’t just for women heading for burnout — they can play a therapeutic role for all sorts of people, at different stages of their lives.

Here are my recommendations, with prices based on single occupancy and inclusive of a number of classes and treatments, though these can be tailored to individual needs.

Six transformative wellness escapes

The Retreat

1. The Retreat, Lot Valley, France

The setting for this fantastic starter retreat and introduction to intermittent fasting is Le Relais de Roquefereau, a beautiful old stone hunting lodge with a pool and views of the rolling hills in Penne d’Agenais. The aim is to boost energy and heal through a holistic programme of liver cleansing, exercise and plant-based food (starting with three juices and two portion-controlled meals on day one).
Best for People of all ages, as the programme can be adapted. Most guests are female, from worn-out mums to middle-aged women seeking a new health regimen and a new direction.
Daily routine Each day starts with a body-conditioning, cardio, Pilates or yoga class, and ends with a countryside walk before the last meal of the day. The walks get longer and more intense as energy levels rise and nutritional intake increases.
Details Seven nights’ all-inclusive from £1,300pp, on selected dates in June (wellbeingandlifestyle.co.uk). Fly to Bergerac or take the train to Agen

2. Buchinger Wilhelmi, Lake Constance, Germany

This renowned clinic is housed in a renovated Bauhaus building in Überlingen with views over Lake Constance and the Alps. It was co-founded in 1953 by Otto Buchinger, a German naval doctor who turned to fasting when he was afflicted by rheumatoid polyarthritis, along with his daughter, Maria, and her husband, Helmut Wilhelmi. I have stayed here after marital separation, health scares and career changes. It is my “happy place” — a safe and nurturing environment.
Best for Anyone who wants to try medically supervised fasting (the vegan food is some of the best I have eaten). Most guests come alone, but the programme is increasingly appealing to couples and younger people too — fasting can be a bonding experience, producing a feeling of euphoria in addition to weight loss.
Daily routine Wake up, visit the nurse, then meditation and a stretch class, followed by functional training. Broth at 11.30am and a liver pack at 12.30pm, followed by a nap. There’s tea at 2pm, then a four-and-a-half-mile walk at 2.30pm before returning for a treatment (my favourites are craniosacral therapy, shiatsu and chi nei tsang). More broth at 6.30pm then a talk on health, wellbeing and diet, followed by chamomile tea and bed.
Details Ten nights’ full board from £3,115pp (buchinger-wilhelmi.com). Fly to Zurich

Masqi Energy House

3. Masqi Energy House, near Alicante, Spain

This picturesque 19th-century farmhouse hotel in the Serra de Mariola Natural Park focuses on restoring energy levels through sound, movement and diet. The macrobiotic food is delicious.
Best for There’s a hipster vibe here, with the hotel drawing women in their forties, in part thanks to its glamorous founder, Sonia Ferre.
Daily routine Watch the sun come up, take a stretch class and have breakfast, then hike through the stunning natural park, go skinny dipping and return for a treatment. The rooms are simple and beautiful, and the treatments include an abhyanga full-body massage with sesame oil.
Details Six nights’ full board from £2,300pp (masqi.es). Fly to Alicante

4. Oasyhotel, Tuscany, Italy

Oasyhotel stands in the protected Oasi Dynamo reserve, close to the Apennine forests, about an hour’s drive from Florence. A family-owned non-profit project, it seeks a synergy between environmental conservation and responsible tourism — all the produce reared or grown on site goes into the kitchen or shop. Guests stay in 16 simple but stylish wooden lodges, and massages use organic ingredients, with the emphasis on getting into nature for yoga and other activities.
Best for Active adventurers, nature enthusiasts and anyone else looking for a digital detox in a remote and remarkable wilderness — whether solo, or as a couple with family or friends.
Daily routine Nature walks at dawn, forest yoga and meditation, paddleboarding and lakeside picnics. Best of all are the silent night-time nature walks, accompanied only by the sound of your footsteps and the forest wildlife.
Details Seven nights’ full board for two from £3,963 (oasyhotel.com). Fly to Florence

Atlantis Spa at Palmaia

5. Atlantis Spa at Palmaia, Maya Riviera, Mexico

Palmaia is an exclusive seafront hotel on Playacar beach, with oceanfront suites and an admirably sustainable approach that extends to plant-based cuisine. The Atlantis spa offers holistic treatments from traditional massages to fire ceremonies that have their roots in the local Anahuac culture. The spa’s buildings make the most of the jungle setting with floor-to-ceiling windows.
Best for Experienced wellness aficionados and vegan families — there is a dedicated treatment menu for children and teens.
Daily routine Sign up for the Architects of Life programme — 20 rotating classes, from cacao ceremonies and gratitude rituals to yoga and sound healing.
Details Seven nights’ full board from £6,398pp (thehouseofaia.com). Fly to Cancun

Joali Being

6. Joali Being, Bodufushi, Maldives

Joali Being bills itself as the first dedicated wellbeing resort in the Maldives, offering an array of therapeutic treatments, transformational experiences and classes with ayurvedic doctors, specialist healers, herbalists and chefs. Programmes are customised around the four pillars of “mind, skin, microbiome and energy”, and facilities include an overwater meditation deck. It all takes place on the 68-villa atoll of Bodufushi, which is a 40-minute seaplane flight from Malé.
Best for Affluent health aficionados looking for a considered wellbeing experience.
Daily routine Every experience is tailored, with a focus on tips and tricks to making lifestyle changes that last.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £14,994pp (joali.com). Fly to Malé

The pool at Palazzo Fiuggi

7. Palazzo Fiuggi, Fonte, Italy

The palatial mansion of Palazzo Fiuggi was built in 1913 in a village that has been celebrated since the 14th century for the healing powers of its waters — Michelangelo is believed to have visited. This is a luxury hotel in its own right with a medical retreat and Roman-inspired spa: its week-long programmes combine medical analysis with luxurious thalassotherapy and hammam sessions.
Best for Anyone who loves the Italian countryside — there are 20 acres of private parkland to explore — and fine dining.
Daily routine Customised programmes begin with a raft of tests including an ECG and 3D body scan, followed by fitness, yoga, meditation and treatments. A personalised menu is designed by Heinz Beck (La Pergola, his restaurant in Rome, holds three Michelin stars), so even if you’re following a weight-loss programme you can expect three proper meals a day.
Details Seven nights’ full board from £6,299pp (palazzofiuggi.com). Fly to Rome

Tracey Woodward has worked in health and beauty for more than 35 years, for brands including Estée Lauder and Aromatherapy Associates. She is the co-founder of Kalmar Lifestyle (kalmarlifestyle.com)

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