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When invited to attend a raw-food and Pilates retreat in the depths of West Sussex, in an old boutique country hotel, it wasn’t a tough decision to say yes.

Upon arriving at Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa, the mock-medieval exteriors of its buildings and extensive, lush green grounds had me locked under its country-living spell as my shoulders descended from my ears to their rightful place. It’s amazing what a single breath of fresh air and a bit of historical architecture can do to a girl.

I was immediately greeted by the hotel’s cheerful and charming manager, Chris Alger, and whisked off to one of the estate’s Superior bedrooms. Through winding corridors, beautiful courtyards and secret underground passageways I went, until I turned the key of my own arched wooden door to be greeted by a room of such medieval grandeur that my jaw fell off. A plush four-poster bed covered with squashy cushions, blankets and duvets, a huge, double height, vaulted ceiling with a massive church-style window letting in the light, and lots of smaller leader ones punctured three of the walls. Dark wood furniture and complimentary TeaPigs tea with homemade shortbread (admittedly not raw, but I’ll skim over this minor detail) and a gorgeous bathroom meant that I felt like royalty.

Shortly after my arrival was the raw-food and juice talk, which was anything but dull. The chef, Martin Hadden a Roux scholar and raw-food expert talked through the benefits of eating clean and raw, with help from Shirah Mustardé, the retreat’s incredibly knowledgeable and interesting nutritionist. That evening’s feast was prepared before my eyes and I left believing that I was as capable as this culinary mastermind, and would of course be able to impress friends by making raw scallops with nori at my inevitable upcoming raw-food dinner party…

Shirah had prepared some delicious cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and explained the benefits of this particular method of juicing. It retains the nutrients from the ingredients in their most natural form, whereas blending or heating juices massively reduces the nutritional gains, much the same as cooking strips food of natural minerals. Watermelon and strawberry, pineapple and ginger and a fantastic green juice tantalised my inner health-freak and my tongue.

Full of healthy nutritional knowledge and inspired to create my own juices and raw-food meals I headed off to my spa treatment. I chose the 25 minute ‘media’ massage (us media types have it incredibly rough, darling) in the hotel’s impressive barn-style spa building. It was wonderful, and just what I needed to loosen up before a quick swim in the outdoor pool and the evening’s inevitable feast.

Martin had pulled out all the stops to impress. Canapé’s of raw vegetables (not just carrots, but parsnips and beetroot as well) with delicious dips and prosecco, wine and/or spirits mixed with Shirah’s juices from earlier (an inspired idea!) lined my stomach for what was to come. I’ve already mentioned the delicious scallops with Japanese nori, which was served as a starter; what followed was an incredible carpaccio of beef with a homemade pesto and vegetable stack. Dessert was juicy strawberries with mascarpone cream by which point I was surprisingly full (I have a huge appetite) and yet didn’t have the heavy, groggy slump that usually washes over me after a large meal. Everything served was absolutely heavenly; I was in my element.

After supper I retreated to my chamber (I can hardly call it a bedroom) and sank into the four-poster with a satisfied stomach and a happy mind. Sleep took over instantly…

Morning time and along came a pre-Pilates raw snack of an açai bowl with granola, fresh blueberries and a banana and strawberry smoothie, delivered promptly to my room at 7 o’clock, an hour before the class was to start.

The Pilates class lasted for roughly 90 minutes, and focussed on gentle stretching and core-work. The instructor, Susie Mermaid (isn’t that a lovely name?), spoke of the benefits of Pilates, its origin and what the class would consist of. She was calm, sweet and informative, keen to help each participant improve alignment and technique. Candles dotted the edges of the studio and a sweet detail was a pebble inscribed with the names of each classmate placed on each mat. We used Pilates circles, bands and bodyweights and the class seemed to be aimed at people getting to know the practice. I would hope that throughout the three-day retreat the classes would progressively become more difficult. But then that’s just me.

Breakfast followed and the buffet that sprawled across the table in the Tapestry Restaurant was laden with salads, local cheeses, vegetables, fruit and juices. Eggs and toast were on offer for those who required something more substantial and I confess I succumbed to scrambled eggs alongside my varied and delicious salads, only because I had a big day back in the capital ahead of me. Despite my weakness for well-done eggs, the raw offerings were simply sublime, and I could have devoured a whole roll of the local Sussex blue cheese that was served with chicory.

The management boast that the beach is a seven-minute walk from the hotel’s front door, via the road or a path in through the grounds. Desperate to breathe some sea-air into my lungs before a two-hour train journey back to London Victoria I swiftly grabbed an umbrella (it was April, after all) and marched my way to the beautiful, blustery, briny coast. Bliss.

Pilates retreats at Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa include two nights’ accommodation in a superior room on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. Three 60-minute pilates classes, a raw food ‘cooking’ demonstration, a nutritional talk with a Q&A session and a 25-minute spa treatment of choice – massage, facial or mini-manicure, are also included. From £399 per person based on two sharing or from £528 based on single occupancy, subject to availability.(www.hshotels.co.uk), 01903 723511

The next Pilates retreats at Bailiffscourt are Monday- Wednesday 23rd-25th June and 1st-3rd September 2014.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa room rates start from £229 per room per night, based on two sharing a Classic Double Room, including breakfast, full use of spa facilities and VAT.

words by Lucy Marshall

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