Birch review: A wellness retreat with a difference

By planetm | November 30, 2021

Part hotel, part wellness break, part family-friendly festival, Birch is a retreat with a difference. Planet Mindful‘s editor Holly Johnson went to see what it has to offer…

The front of the manor house. Photo by innakostukovsky.com

When it comes to a weekend retreat or wellness break, you might picture a luxury spa, a detox escape filled with healthy juices and meditation, or perhaps a back-to-basics stay in a yurt. But how about a mansion playground where you can take the children along too (should you wish), enjoy local, sustainable food, a host of classes, and late-night drinks in a tipi bar?

Birch is all about escapism – a retreat away from the busyness of everyday life, but also the usual constraints and formalities of a traditional hotel – there’s no rushing, no TVs, no need to queue.

The interior of Birch
The beautifully ornate interior of Birch. Photo by innakostukovsky.com

Our stay at Birch

We arrive on a crisp November afternoon, via a gravel driveway where the sight of four striped zebras pulling a carriage would have once been a regular occurrence. Lady Valerie Meux, who lived in the manor house in the late 1800s, loved to ride them into London and it’s clear that her eccentric spirit is very much alive and well at Birch today.

The cinema room at Birch, complete with deck chairs and beanbags.

Besides the zebras, whose stables today form the Zebra Riding Club restaurant, Lady Meux also created an indoor roller skate rink and swimming pool as part of her countryside playground for London’s aristocracy. The estate has taken many forms since her death in 1910, but you can’t help thinking that she’d approve of what the new owners have created with Birch.

As we pull up outside the Georgian building, complete with two stone lions guarding the velvet-curtained entrance, a bright green flock of parakeets pierces the blue sky. We are welcomed by Gian-Paolo – one of the ‘placemakers’, whose job it is to make our stay as easy and restful as possible. His enthusiasm is infectious and after our whistle stop tour of the grounds, tipi bar, wellness space and lido, we too feel an overwhelming infinity with this eccentric estate.

Wellness retreat near London
The grand entrance hall is beautifully decorated. Photo by innakostukovsky.com

Wellness activities at Birch

There’s no chance to get bored during your stay. There’s a cinema room complete with deckchairs and bean bags should you or any younger guests wish to zone out in front of a film.

outdoor yoga near London
Outdoor yoga classes take place during summer. Photo by Photo by Steve Wood

Activities are available to book throughout the day – from morning yoga and meditation to bread baking, pottery throwing and flower arranging. There’s a full treatment menu should you want a massage or facial, or you can choose to work out in the gym, join a ‘rave cycle’, or practice ‘mindful movement’.

watercolour workshop near London
Learn to paint with watercolours. Photo by Steve Wood

We try the late afternoon ‘Pause 30’ class, in which we lie down snuggled in blankets and listen to a blend of meditation, sound bathing and chanting. We leave feeling calm and zen-like, clutching a handful of crystals handed out at the end.

Outdoor fun at Birch

Heated outdoor Lido at Birch
The heated Lido at Birch. Photo by Lesley Lau

Staying at Birch is as much about getting outside as it is enjoying the activites inside. In summer, the outdoor heated lido (situated in the old walled garden) comes alive with DJs, BBQ area and bar, but during winter a daring few can still be spotted enjoying an icy dip to refresh their body and mind. After all, cold water swimming has been proven to boost your mood and even your immunity.

Whatever time of year it is, the 55 acres of grounds offer the chance to walk, wonder and explore. From formal garden areas to rare breed pigs and treehouses, you can book in for a free guided nature walk with head gardener Anton Blackie to learn more about the biodiversity and history of the place.

Dining at Birch

For dinner, there are various options to choose from, including tapas in the outdoor tipi bar and a casual meal in Valeries – situated in the main house. We book into The Zebra Riding Club and head down early for a drink on the Valeries terrace, complete with twinkling fairylights, cosy blankets and heaters, before walking over to the old stables.

Valeries restaurant at Birch
The Valeries restaurant is named after Lady Meux and was once a school canteen

We’re greeted by a soaring, beamed roof made more intimate with the clever use of vintage décor and low-level lighting. Judging by the throng of activity, this is a popular place for guests and locals alike (always a good sign).

Zebra Riding Club restaurant near London
The Zebra Riding Club is situated in the old stable block. Photo by Adam Firman

Food is also local – and seasonal too – and we’re treated to course after course of delicious dishes including smoked carrot with white garlic miso, wild mushroom and corn velouté, spiced aubergine with crispy sage and plum sorbet with candied almonds to finish. Meat and fish options are also available.

tipi cocktail bar at birch
Cocktails by the fire in the tipi bar! Photo by innakostukovsky.com

Not ready to end the night, we retreat to the Tipi Bar for cocktails by the firepit and a DJ set at The Hub with fellow guests.

Wellness with a difference

wellness break near London
Garb a drink outside by the fire pit. Photo by innakostukovsky.com

Self care can mean something different to us all and whilst some of us will enjoy more traditional mindful activities like meditation, yoga and guided walks, others might find comfort in good food, music and fitness. Birch really is a wellness retreat for everyone – even if you do go with the kids in tow.

Birch (Handle.Silk.Comet) in Hertfordshire is open to guests and members, with double rooms available from £150. Book now at birchcommunity.com

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