No doubt about it, wellness retreats are all the rage. And for very good reason.
It's fair to say, we millennials find it difficult to escape our concrete-jungle 40hr weekly grind. From smartphone separation anxiety, to being physically unable to switch on our 'out of office', swapping a boozy 'loliday' for something more wholesome and relaxing is fast becoming the newest vacay trend.
And with so many wellness retreat packages around to help ease fried minds — my own included — there really has never been a better time to book.
After looking at various retreats across the globe, I opted for the Jamaica Inn's Yoga & Wellness Retreat in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Running from the 13th-17th September, I flew from Gatwick to Montego Bay. I had two goals. To a) relax, and b) be 'well'. Here's how I got on...
What was your first impression of the Jamaica Inn?
Being greeted with a ‘welcome home’ from the front desk attendant (and a Planters Punch, not very ‘wellness’ but come on, when in Rome/Jamaica) was enough to secure a great first impression, especially after a particularly long, and stressful flight.
The property dates back to the 1950s, and has since ranked among some of the top luxury hotels in the Caribbean. Situated in Ocho Rios (about an hour's drive away from Montego Bay airport), the hotel sits on its own private beach, and is made up of rooms, suites and cottages, all overlooking the ocean. While the Jamaica Inn itself isn't an actual dedicated wellness retreat, the hotel offers all the facilities one could hope for during your stay. There is a gym, award-winning spa and outdoor yoga vista all on site, plus if at any point you want to take some downtime, there is a cosy library and games area - and yes, a rather lovely beach bar if you fancy a cheeky Red Stripe once all the wellness has ended for the day.
My room looked a little something like this...
What were the rooms like?
Keeping in custom with the colonial vibe of the hotel, my beach front room boasted loads of dark wood, original slatted shutters and its very own veranda leading out to the beach, complete with sofas and armchairs - perfect for sunset spotting post-work out. The sound of the ocean right outside added to the room's overall sense of calm, and after each wellness session I felt I was returning to my own little slice of quiet luxury. Small attentive touches from the staff (some of whom have worked at the Jamaica Inn for over fifty years) such as local flowers left on the veranda, and fresh water for washing the sand off your feet after class, were both subtle and charming. I felt very relaxed and welcome from the offset.
Yes, this was the view from my room...
What did the wellness programme entail?
There were two yoga classes twice a day; one at 7am which aimed to wake up our muscles and energise our bodies for the day ahead; and a second one in the evening (backdropped by one of the most incredible sunsets I've ever seen) which focussed more on breathing and meditation. Instructor Abbie (who specialises in Vinyasa Flow yoga) was particularly good at reading the collective mood, and adapted her routine accordingly. For example, if she noticed the class were feeling a little exhausted (a combination of jet lag, sun and exercise will do that to you) she'd concentrate more on drawing the practice inside ourselves, giving us ample opportunity to reconnect with our sense of well-being. She also offered 1:1 yoga sessions throughout the retreat to help guests work on certain moves or muscles, that would benefit from a little extra attention.
Me, nailing a tree pose against a Jamaican sunset...
This programme also provided beach boot-camp sessions aside from the twice-daily yoga rituals to give you a thorough work out. Each 15-20 minute class focussed on one key area, from core to arms, and the retreat's experienced personal trainer Jonny Sayle (of Inspire Fitness London) took full advantage of our tropical surroundings to further enhance the experience. Training in the sea (glorified water aerobics, awesome) and TRX lines hitched up to the palms (‘Tree’ RX, as one snappy guest aptly named it) gave us all a thorough work out, and were offered twice a day. Jonny also took the time to give each guest a personal fitness assessment, and as much 1:1 coaching as they needed. This was particularly great for someone like me who often needs direction (and inspiration) when it comes to getting a regular training schedule locked down.
What did you eat?
I loved the fact that both healthy options and traditional Jamaican fare were made available to guests. Being a long-distance runner, I tend to eat a lot (no joke), so was terrified that this retreat would require me eating shoots and tofu for five days. I couldn't have been more wrong. If you wanted to partake of a more zen-like breakfast, platters of fresh fruits were available, served alongside egg-white omelettes (with or without salmon) and herbal teas. Or, if like me, you need a good feed post-training, the coconut pancakes served with banana and syrup were to die for. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner were all included in the wellness package, and the complimentary fresh juices served after each wellness class (the papaya and mint was especially delicious) were a real nice addition.
It’s not every day you go to Jamaica. Did you do anything else apart from be well?
Even though we had a fitness schedule to follow, the rest of the itinerary offered guests the chance to see/do some fab stuff outside of daily sun salutations. Two excursions are included in the wellness package, and can include anything from chef demonstrations to helping hatch baby turtles.
Our party travelled to the Irie River (just down the road from the tropical paradise that Disney movie Fern Gully was based on, yes really) for an afternoon of lagoon swimming and forest hikes. A healthy picnic lunch of roasted chicken and salads was packed courtesy of the hotel, and we spent a lazy few hours soaking up the scenery and enjoying the fact that our mobile phones had zero signal. Yes, the smug Instagram updates had to wait until we were back at the hotel.
Would you recommend this retreat?
Speaking as someone that isn’t really a hardcore fitness person, I did feel scared that a destination wellness retreat would throw me into a lion’s pit of muscular yogis and gym bunnies. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone on the retreat had reasons for being there, and in many ways, discovering these people (and their stories) was paramount to my own enjoyment of the experience. There's no doubt in my mind that the Jamaica Inn is definitely a place reserved for the dreamiest part of your psyche, and staying there would be a life-changing experience with or without out the wellness. However, having partaken of the retreat package I can honestly say that I left the holiday feeling relaxed, and more physically connected to both body and mind. In fact, I have already made plans to continue my yoga practice with Abbie now that I'm back on home soil - turns out we live just down the road from each other! In conclusion, I really can't recommend this retreat enough.
Do yourselves a favour and book the next one as soon as humanly possible.
The 2016 Yoga and Wellness Retreat cost $1,937 (approx. £1,452) per person based on single occupancy or $1,473 (approx. £1,150) per person based on double occupancy, including tax and service charge. Airport transfers were also included in the price.
Room rates at Jamaica Inn start from $329 (approx. £254) for a Superior Balcony Suite, based on double occupancy, excluding breakfast, tax and service.