"So, what are we doing this weekend?" my husband, Cal, asks as we're arriving down the mile-long driveway to Hawkstone Hall about two weeks after I sent him the itinerary of the Escape & Energise Retreat. "We're going on a wellness retreat, darling," I reply. "We'll be doing HIIT sessions, fitness classes, yoga, hikes, the works." His face drains of colour. "But I've only brought swim shorts," he says. We were not going swimming...
Needless to say, the stress levels were quite high as we rocked up at Hawkstone Hall after a four-hour drive in the torrential rain. Cal is frantically finishing off some work emails in the passenger seat before we try to gather all our belongings for the mad dash through the rain to the hotel. We didn't need to worry; a friendly chap in a tailcoat introduces himself as the butler and calmly takes our bags, gets us checked in and shows us up to our room. Reclining on the huge bed I take a deep breath and let myself relax into what'll be an indulgent weekend designed solely to help us unwind.
A world away
I wasn't quite prepared for how magnificent Hawkstone Hall and Gardens was going to be. Offering incredible weddings and events, fine dining and luxury accommodation, the Grade I listed 18th-century mansion has been renovated to its former Georgian glory, standing proud in the middle of 88 acres of manicured gardens and grounds. Far-reaching views across the undulating Shropshire countryside make you realise that you're truly away from it all in this rural idyll. Coming back downstairs to take a nosey around, we found high, sculpted ceilings, rich drapes and a sweeping staircase alongside paintings and antiques. It's been expertly designed to highlight the historical features of the property while breathing new life into it with contemporary touches. The staff were so incredibly friendly that it's almost impossible not to feel at home. Despite the grandeur, I felt more than happy to wander around and check out the different spaces. I particularly loved the Winter Garden with its floor-to-ceiling windows, mosaic floor and indoor-outdoor feel I could just lose myself in there imagining a fabulous drinks reception on a midsummer's night. I really love a wedding venue where you can attend events and spend time there pre- and post-nuptials, making it feel like your own, and that's exactly what this place offers.
All well and good
During the weekend, we were looked after by the dynamic duo of group development director Hannah Petrouis and Alex Addison, founder of wellness company We Leap (weleap.co.uk). With their expert guidance we sashay our way through an itinerary to get us feeling our absolute best. It'd be a fantastic excuse to get away as a couple for some pre-wedding prep. When engaged couples join us on a retreat you can see their shoulders drop between day one and three, Alex says. We've had newlyweds come on our retreats for their mini-moon. Taking time out as a twosome to indulge your mind, body and soul is a hugely empowering experience. There'll even be retreats for bride squads and joint hen and stag dos over the coming months, putting a healthy spin on the more traditional boozy affairs. Now, I'm not the fittest person in the world and I'm partial to a takeaway and a bottle of wine, but I decided to wholeheartedly throw myself into the exercise sessions, which took place in the beautiful Orangery.
These are my highlights: