Tuesday, June 25, 2024

From surfing to self discovery: five of the best male-only wellness camps in Europe

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One definition of wellness is the state of being healthy, especially when it is something that you actively try to achieve”. However, in today’s society, wellness seems to be a catch-all term for anything remotely health-related, fitness, dietary or cosmetic. You name it: biometric facials, sleep syncing, orgasmic meditation. Perhaps that’s why wellness is a word that’s still taboo among many men, particularly those from more traditional, working-class backgrounds.

Aside from a dilution of the term by fads and crazes, such as the ones listed above and those floating around on TikTok and Instagram, another issue may be a lack of retreats for men. We’re not talking the Ant Middleton-style “man-up or go home” military fitness camps, nor Wim Hof woo-woo, just solid, safe spaces for men to talk, improve physical and mental wellbeing and escape the pressures of everyday life to develop meaningful connections. Thankfully, there are some pioneers leading the way in male wellness, ranging from hiking escapes in Snowdonia and breathwork getaways in southern Spain to a GBTQ pop-up retreat in Europe, promoting communication and emotional connection.

Mindfulness in the Devon hills

A meditation session at the Sharpham Trust retreat. Photograph: The Sharpham Trust

On the outskirts of Totnes, this wholesome Being in Brotherhood male-only Sharpham Trust retreat, set in a rustic barn, and part of the idyllic Sharpham Estate, overlooks the river Dart. The landscape here – rolling hills and endless green – sets the tone for what to expect: calmness, connection and nature. Guests enrolled on the seven-day meditation retreat live in a community setting, participate in mindful gardening practices, go hiking in the Devonshire countryside, and muck in with meals for the group. In return, they’ll get a private room, three home-cooked vegetarian meals and three 40-minute meditation sessions daily.

In true Buddhist style, there is no end goal. Still, testimonials profess that regular mindful practices, guided meditations and male-to-male emotionally driven communication opened up a world of connections with others, nature and self.
Six-night retreat from 18-24 June, from £375, sharphamtrust.org

Soul surfing on the Cornish coast

Breaking the waves at Cornwall’s Rewilding Surf Retreat. Photograph: David Pick/Alamy

Before embarking on his own self-development journey, like many young men, Ali Hellmuth was fond of boozing and overindulgence. However, by his mid-20s, after growing tired of chasing instant highs, he discovered breathwork, surfing and other therapeutic techniques. In February 2022, he combined these passions to create Rewilding Surf Retreats, partly inspired by Resurface – a Netflix documentary on surf therapy used to treat traumatised and suicidal US military veterans.

Ali will host his first men’s retreat in June at an idyllic campsite surrounded by nature in Cornwall with traditional camping (tents not included), glamping and wood-fired yurts. The two-night getaway will see a newly formed brotherhood talk earnestly, share vulnerabilities and challenge archaic ideas of what it is to be a man.

They’ll also get stuck into activities including coasteering, surfing and nature walks. Healthy plant-based meals are included.
Two- and three-night camping retreats from 30 June, from £399, rewildingsurfretreats.com

Self-discovery for gay men on the Portuguese coast

The Rainbow Men retreat in Portugal, for gay, trans and bi men. Photograph: Rainbow Men

Rainbow Men is a seven-day pop-up retreat set up by three queer friends. Each of them brings something different. Ofer is a talented writer, director, producer and men’s circle facilitator. Roy has dedicated his life to philosophy, yoga and meditation. And Tamir is a skilled masseur, dancer and performance artist. They set up Rainbow Men to provide gay, trans and bi men with a safe environment to explore new ways of fostering deeper emotional connections with each other and themselves. Bi-annual retreats feature sharing circles, meditation, intimacy workshops, dance sessions, body art classes and beach days.

The trio’s next retreat is at a hillside eco-community in south-west Portugal. Guests can stay in triple, twin or private rooms, and the price includes all vegetarian meals.
A six-night retreat from 24 August, from around £950, therainbowmxen.com

Harnessing awareness in the Spanish highlands

The Suryalila yoga community in the Spanish highlands. Photograph: Suryalila

The futuristic, white dome in the foothills of Grazalema national park stands out like a sore thumb in an area covered in nothing but undulating green hills, dusty farmland and the odd sleepy pueblo. The large, peculiar-looking construction belongs to Suryalila, a yoga community on an old olive mill that hosts various retreats, from yoga teacher training and holidays, to permaculture courses and, most recently, a men’s retreat.

Irish former builder turned breathwork coach Liam Colfer runs a seven-day escape consisting of breathwork classes, yin yoga classes, ice baths, gym sessions and mountain hikes. The cost includes restaurant-quality, organic meals daily. There’s also a saltwater pool and a sauna on site. For men of all ages, the retreat is designed to harness the breath to help reduce stress, develop deeper body awareness and improve sleep.
Accommodation ranges from eight- and four-bed dorms to private deluxe suite doubles. Six-night retreats from 19-25 November, from about £570, suryalila.com

A moment for reflection during the six-day Menspedition pilgrimage in Snowdonia national park. Photograph: James Osmond/Alamy

A meditative pilgrimage through Snowdonia national park

This men’s hiking-led retreat in Wales is centred around nature, movement and emotional exploration. The six-day Menspedition pilgrimage allows men to not only explore Snowdonia national park’s landscape, but also helps them challenge modern definitions of masculinity and embrace their emotions.

Founder Zak Avery says the twice-yearly retreat is a “space to truly galvanise what it means to be a man, to question the masculine persona that modern western society projects on to us” and to “reconsider how we treat one another, how we treat women and how we treat ourselves”. After scaling some of the UK’s highest peaks, guests partake in meditation classes, cold water immersion sessions, cacao ceremonies, sharing circles and archetypal exploration workshops. Accommodation is at Cae Mabon, an eco-retreat centre with a scattering of dwellings, including a cob cottage, a Cedar cabin, and a hobbit hut. Camping is also allowed.
Five-night retreats due to run in October this year and May next year, from around £295 including meals and drinks, menspedition.com

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