Vicky Smith finds a very different Piccadilly to the one she’s used to at this idyllic Dorset retreat
“WE’RE not sure where the name comes from,” Middle Piccadilly owner Dominic Harvey tells me, “but the term ‘Piccadilly’ is said to come from ‘piccadill’, a lace collar that was popular in Elizabethan times. That would make sense as research suggests that, once upon a time, there were lace factories in Sherborne.”
The same goes for London’s Piccadilly Circus and, of course, Manchester’s bustling train station - but this particular namesake, a 17th century farmhouse complex in the Dorset village of Sherborne, couldn’t be more different to either. Now a rural retreat, founded 30 years ago by Eliana Harvey and her husband - presently run by their son Dom and his wife Lisa - it’s renowned for its holistic therapies, great food and relaxed home-from-home atmosphere.
After reading up on Middle Piccadilly, I didn’t need any more persuading. Desiring a change of scene, one sans stress, last month saw me take a trip down south to see if time spent in retreat really was the antidote to hectic 21st century life.
Relaxing, restorative andinvigorating: if only all Piccadillys were like this...
Handily, I find the taxi firm is located immediately within Sherborne station, and a ten-minute drive along sun-dappled country lanes leads me to my destination; a listed thatched cottage with guest annexes, set within two acres of grounds. The evening is spent settling in, with a brief introductory tour from Dom and a quick health consultation with his equally friendly mum Eliana: a fascinating woman who, while now 86, still helps around the retreat alongside running a long-established shamanic school.
By now quite tired and admittedly ready for bed - ‘slow down’ mode already kicking in - I’m nonetheless looking forward to dinner; having heard that, such is Dom’s culinary prowess, he’s soon to publish a cookbook. There are three food options - juice (good for detoxers), raw and vegetarian - and meals, including help-yourself continental breakfast, are always served up in Middle Piccadilly’s rustic bespoke kitchen.
I’ve opted for veggie and am greeted with nut burger with roast potatoes and greens, followed by apple crumble for dessert. All homemade, meals are largely made with locally-sourced produce (much of it organic) and the proof is most definitely in the freshly-baked pudding. Mealtimes also offer an opportune time to catch up with other guests and I discover that three of my fellow diners are regular visitors: always a good sign.
A key ethos of Middle Piccadilly is its personalised approach. Eliana tells me they receive many guests who have booked pampering weekends at large spas, only to feel like part of a conveyor belt. Here, visitors are limited to just nine, and a treatment plan is drawn up on your first evening to ensure you don’t miss out. From facials to body scrubs and more unusual options like Eliana’s shamanic healing, treatments are varied and are recommended at a maximum of two per day to gain full benefit.
At first I am surprised at this: two treatments a day doesn’t sound much, particularly since most are an hour or less. But I am soon to realise just how fast time goes when you’re...well, doing nothing. Between mealtimes, a brisk country walk and a sudden penchant for napping, I admittedly don’t even finish one chapter of my book in my two-night stay. Massage in particular can make you tired afterwards and, since the whole idea while here is to relax anyway, one or two treatments daily is actually spot on.
I opt for the classic full body massage, a Balaton mud wrap and Spezia Hand on Heart; which, I am told, is like a luxurious fusion of reiki and reflexology. Both this and the massage are done by Claire Pateman, one of a small team of carefully-selected freelancers. Despite my tendency to feel slightly awkward when it comes to massage, Claire is very intuitive and puts me at ease immediately. The candlelit purple room helps, the only noise some soft background music and the tweeting of birds outside the window.
While both treatments are deeply relaxing and expertly tailored, I surprisingly prefer the Hand on Heart. Concentrating on specific points in the hands and feet, this also targets the body’s chakras (seven points of spiritual power) and is truly revitalising whether you believe in energy healing or not. I leave with the faint scent of Californian sage in my nostrils, a cup of herbal tea in hand, with the only contrition that I don’t have time for another.
Luckily, my Balaton mud wrap is ample compensation. Wraps and scrubs are done by Dom’s wife Lisa and take place in the small but well-equipped spa. Having donned a practical disposable bikini, I am painted in warm Balaton mud; sourced from a Hungarian lake, this is said to contain around 180 skin-enriching herbs and minerals. While there are various different wraps to choose from, Balaton is recommended for sensitive skin and can even be used on those with conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
The mud cooling quickly, I then lie on a covered bed and am wrapped in about five layers; both for warmth and to allow the wrap to infuse. Lisa leaves on some meditative music and I’m left for (an alarmingly quick) half hour before she returns to prepare the shower and remove the layers, leaving me a fresh pot of coconut oil for afterwards.
After washing off all the mud, I’m dubious about putting on my skinny jeans again - normally a nightmare post-shower - but my skin is so silky they slip in on with ease. I thought things like that only happened on adverts...this place really does do wonders.
After a delicious lunch of courgette soup, quiche and salad, it’s unfortunately time to depart. Having now seen what all the fuss about ‘retreats’ is, however, I will certainly be back. Relaxing, restorative and invigorating: if only all Piccadillys were like this...
Find out more about Middle Piccadilly here