Combe Grove has set itself an audacious task: to harness the healing power of Nature, to improve guests' metabolic health and reverse the first signs of Type 2 Diabetes — all in a country house hotel setting on the outskirts of Bath. We sent Emma Hiley along to check it out.
We do country house hotel spas and wellness spaces very well here in the UK; yoga breaks, bootcamps and wellness weekends are ten a penny (though the standards vary wildly), but for more comprehensive and in-depth personalised programmes and half a chance of getting long-term results, there has to date been very little on offer.
A newcomer though, on the glorious outskirts of Bath, looks set to provide the answers. It’s called Combe Grove and days at this retreat revolve around a packed schedule.
The morning might begin mindfully with a 7am walk through the grounds or meditation session, but the pace soon picks up, with full-pelt heath audits (insulin resistance tests, heart health monitoring, cholesterol level checks, muscle- and fat-mass reports), one-to-one consultations with the nutritionist, and holistic therapies including acupuncture, reflexology (which was some of the best I’ve ever had) and structural integration (a revelation for poor posture culprits).
You might want to pause for breath because there’s even more: including, a roster of fascinating workshops with specialist on-site medic Dr Campbell Murdoch, movement specialists and sleep experts, an indoor and outdoor pool, Pilates classes, tennis courts and 70 acres of ancient woodland and meadows that beg to be explored via marked out running trails.
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This is somewhere that is taking wellness and more accurately, good longterm health, very seriously indeed.
Combe Grove arrived on the scene with little fanfare earlier in the year — a passion project and charitable trust from philanthropist Helen Aylward-Smith. The initial goal is to tackle Type 2 Diabetes, which is done as part of the seven-day Metabolic Health plan. There is also a menopause-focused week and on the horizon, a gut health one too, displaying a much-needed awareness of the critically under-served medical issues of our time.
If that all sounds terribly severe, remember that this is a retreat, with a group of guests all in it together. There is camaraderie and community spirit, especially when it comes to waiting until 11am for breakfast (time-restricted eating — concertina-ing all meals into an eight-hour window — is an important part of the process.) Lots of the produce comes straight from the industrious kitchen garden, but there is meat on the menu because protein plays a huge part. Expect lots of nuts, seeds, beans and pulses too. It’s delicious and filling. Think feta tarts, oak-smoked mackerel, cheddar, leek and mint frittatas. You’re not going to get any sugar though — which means potatoes rarely feature and alcohol is off the menu.
Relearning the important pillars of diet and debunking the myths on what good metabolic health looks like is key here. It’s not rocket science, and the process of being reminded is incredibly compelling. Also compelling is that view, which draws your eyesight down the valley, towards the ancient centre of wellness and hot springs that is Bath.
Two-time Chelsea gold medalist Amanda Randall Cox was brought in to bring the gardens to life. A rewilding programme is already underway, designed to complement Combe’s existing ancient and indigenous tree groves and clusters of rare bee orchids — and provide even more habitats for the 17 endangered species of bats already in residence. Soon, there will also be a herbarium and a fernery on site too.
This deep reverence for the land is fundamental to the ethos of the place. Guests experience that first-hand during evening badger watching trips into the forest, the guide so in tune that he knows just when the animals will come out of their set to sniff around and play. Moments like this are grounding and eye-opening, reinforcing the idea of the importance of nature.
Fundamentally, a stay at Combe Grove is about gently, but firmly shifting your mindset, building new habits, being open to making some radical changes and sticking with the progress as part of a year long support programme which is provided after you leave. Some guests arrive feeling incredibly stressed; some want to lose weight; some are very specifically trying to reverse the first signs of Type 2 Diabetes. And they are met with a transformational and educational experience — one that feels incredibly relevant and essential right now.
Everyone will take away something different. Lifestyle tweaks are a given. Such as never eating supper really late again or staying away from processed food and changing how and where you do your food shop. Perhaps you will feel empowered to reverse and revise your metabolic health. One thing is for sure, you’ll leave enlightened and likely lighter too.
Combe Grove prices from £2,600 for the all-inclusive Metabolic Health Retreat and year-long support programme, and from £2,900 for specialist versions. Visit www.combegrove.com or telephone 01225 595 744 for more help and to book.