How long does it take to find a sense of zen? About an hour, if you’ve started your Farncombe Estate zen journey with an energising yoga class, although I commit to a thorough level of research and spend another 23 hours in pursuit of zen. This is worth repeating. Zen and only zen. Focusing on myself and doing nothing as distracting and un-zen as checking emails, preparing meals, meeting deadlines, defrosting the car, remembering to send that birthday card and oh god the kids need a costume for tomorrow… Breathe.
At Farncombe everything is designed to help you abandon your mental load (mine felt particularly heavy in the festive month of December) and having as deeply relaxing a time as possible, whether you’re on the Zen programme or not. Leave your cares, worries, woes and responsibilities outside the perimeter of the sprawling 500-acre Cotswolds estate and enter a world of crackling fireplaces, yoga classes, nourishing meals, breathing deeply, not checking emails – all ticking the zen box nicely.
The estate, for those not already fully aboard the Farncombe train, comprises three glorious hotels (Foxhill Manor, The Fish and Dormy House) and three Hillside Hangouts; self-catering rental properties sleeping between eight and 16.
It is the largest of the three, Elsker, which I call home for the duration of my stay putting Farncombe’s Zen wellness programme through its paces. With a capital, Zen is a form of Japanese Buddhism that emphasises the value and power of meditation and focus. Otherwise, ‘zen’ is a state of mind many of us probably dream of achieving: peaceful, calm, relaxed and worrying not one iota about things we can’t change. Farncombe’s new wellbeing centre offers holistic experiences to help you find your zen, ranging from weekly classes and one-to-one treatments to special events and workshops. All are “designed to give you the tools to make small, tangible changes to your everyday life and empower you to improve your own health and wellbeing.”
And so we begin, having travelled from London Paddington to Moreton-on-Marsh by train (easy, followed by quick taxi transfer) or by car (also very easy – plus Elsker has electric car charge points). Yoga instructor Beth quickly sets the tone; lean, lithe, smiley, she is the epitome of uber-zen and renders us all relaxed and hungry in one fell swoop with a fantastic class in the Cameo Studio. Lunch at The Fish is hearty, delicious and pleasingly carb-heavy. We gorge on crispy sweetcorn ribs, Nduja scotch eggs, creamy burrata, truffle and parmesan chips, and huge pizzas heaving with fior di latte mozzarella, piquillo peppers and king prawns. In an Eat, Pray, Love kind of way, being so well-fed adds to our developing, enveloping sense of zen.
What it also does is increase the likelihood that at least one of your class will drift off during breathwork. My neighbour is snoring gently within 10 minutes of instructor David (tall, reassuring, very zen) starting to speak, and another participant whispers afterwards she found his voice so soothing she didn’t actually hear a word he uttered. If you think you might get fidgety and uncomfortable during 45 minutes on the floor, ask for an extra mat at the outset.
Just to make sure we finish our first afternoon in a state of max-relax, we drift into the Zen building adjacent, which has its own studio, coffee station, boutique, massage room and consultation room. It’s run by the lovely Bobby Griffiths, who’s also Spa Manager for Dormy House, where she presides over the offering for everyone from locals to guests. Lots of natural materials and natural light give the building a calming feel and the rough, slim tree trunk handrail up the stairs is a nice touch, as is the unsanded tree trunk in place of a pillar in the studio.
Our crystal sound bath practitioner is everything we’d want her to be. Jo enters, from the dark, dank winter gloom outside, dressed head-to-toe in white, complete with floaty pink scarf and beads. It turns out this class is quite divisive; my group can’t agree on our favourite sounds and all respond in different ways to different parts of the session. It reminds us that what’s zen for one might not be for the next but overall we are blissed out in a way we would never normally be at 5pm on a weekday.
What is zen for us all is returning to Elsker for tea, a dip in the hot tub and some R&R before supper. A gorgeously decorated house that manages to be cosy and spacious at the same time, it has eight bedrooms, a huge open-plan kitchen and dining area, living room and library, plus a pool for the warmer months of the year. I’m in the downstairs master bedroom, Greengage, adorned in hues that complement the rolling landscape outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. A fun addition is the disco ball above the bed; hit the big red button, gameshow-style, to get it going for a blast of twinkly light and upbeat music. I dry my hair in front of the roaring fire and we all dress up for a lovely supper over at Dormy House’s Back Garden restaurant.
The next morning arrives too quickly; I’m desperate to extend my zen and pull up the blinds to make the most of the beautiful, calming view. After a leisurely breakfast in Elsker, with plenty of tea and coffee (heaps of croissants and caffeine are thankfully not incompatible with zen), we head back to the studio for our final class and I discover that I’m quite partial to Qi Gong. Karen Soo leads us through the moves and I surprise myself with how grounded and steady I feel afterwards.
Until next time, Farncombe. I have my eye on a treehouse stay at The Fish…
Rooms at Farncombe Estate start from £220 per night; group sessions at Farncombe Zen start from £35, visit farncombeestate.co.uk.