Spa of the month
The latest pampering places, products and treatments
A breathwork course in Portugal’s western Algarve.
SPA OF THE MONTH Macdonald Monchique Resort & Spa, Portugal
As a busy working mum with a couple of young children, I leap at the chance to try a relaxing Breathwork retreat in a five-star hotel while my husband and kids explore the surrounding woodlands of the Western Algarve. For the uninitiated, Breathwork refers to breathing exercises that improve mental, physical and emotional health by altering your state of consciousness, releasing trauma, clearing blockages, restoring spiritual balance and providing deep relaxation, as well as detoxing your body and mind.
HOTEL Surrounded by fragrant pine and eucalyptus, the Macdonald Monchique Resort and Spa sits high up in the Serra de Monchique mountains. Minimalist and modern, the resort is made up of three blocks set into a hillside, 30 minutes from the beaches of the Costa Vicentina. The hotel’s 185 suites feature floor-toceiling windows and balconies or wraparound terraces.
THE SPA Small but perfectly formed, the spa is tucked into the bottom of the hotel and boasts an extensive Espa treatment menu showcasing the therapists’ talents. My back and neck massage is one of the best I’ve experienced. This area of Portugal is
'I'm not scared, I just feel a deep sense of sadness and also a profound release - I finally feel at peace.'
known for its healing thermal waters, and the hotel’s spa is a sophisticated space featuring bespoke steam, sauna and sensorial showers. There’s also a relaxation room and Zen garden.
THE FOOD I drag myself away from the relaxation room for lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, Mon-Chic. Dining on the terrace above the outdoor pool is a fantastic way to appreciate the beauty and serenity of our surroundings – miles of green slopes and only a handful of other guests. The food is a triumph; the rosemary-smoked chicken is divine; the gazpacho soup exceptional.
Dinner is more formal than lunch, with a set three-course menu showcasing local specialities. The staff can offer alternatives and I sample options from the Wellbeing menu – my favourite is a knock-out vegan chocolate mousse.
THE BREATHWORK On the day of the Breathwork retreat, I take my place on a yoga mat in near-darkness among a dozen strangers in a meeting room and wait expectantly. The screen above us shows feedback from previous participants, praising it as the most
powerful healing method they’ve tried and crediting it as life changing. My expectations are high, but I’m nervous – what if I can’t get the breathing right? – and sceptical; how can breathing be transformative?
Martin McNicholl, the charismatic creator of Activate Breathwork – a guided multisensory breathing experience – assures us we’ll master the breathing and feel the benefits. I lie on the mat, eyes covered, and follow Martin’s instructions, breathing in time with the music – as it crescendos, so too does my breathing, becoming faster and shallower. The combination of short breaths, incense, drumming and guided meditation soon makes me light headed.
After an intense hour, the music stops and Martin encourages us to reflect on how we’re feeling. There’s no denying I feel calmer and more relaxed. Then we’re encouraged to think about who or what we needed at a time of high stress. Suddenly, I’m lying prone on an operating table, surgeons at my feet and my husband by my side, undergoing an emergency C-section. Tears of fear and relief, mixed with other, more complicated emotions, river down my cheeks. I’m not scared – I just feel a deep sense of sadness and a profound release. Thanks to breathwork, I finally feel at peace with the frightening way in which my sons were born.
GET ACTIVE During the next few days, I try some of the free fitness classes on offer, including a challenging bootcamp in the sun-soaked grounds of the hotel. Yoga and Pilates are also on offer. That afternoon, we visit the indoor pool, but there are also outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art gym, hiking or biking in the countryside or you can try activities from kayaking to birdwatching.
COST Suites cost from £87 per night on a B&B basis, based on two sharing. A Breathwork Day, including a Sensorial Spa experience, Activate Breathwork session and an Activated healthy lunch costs from £205 per person; macdonaldmonchique.com.
The food is exceptional
The stunning outdoor pool provides welcome relief from the midday heat