It is a pivotal, primordial paradox, feeling fifty at your fingertips. For me, it’s queued up for this July, and with it, a wealth of anticipation, hope, ambivalence, and aspiration. There is a reckoning of self, a reflection of soul, and a reunion of reality and dreams. It is the lesser known, lesser spoken, undeniably transformational coming of age. And in the South of France, in a two-hundred-year-old mansion, this transition is celebrated, and stewarded in a five-day retreat I was entirely honoured to attend, at Les Marguerites.
The setting is a bit beyond description. Nestled in the Pyrenean mountains in the Occitanie region of France, Alet les Bains is one those storybook villages that exist if only to allow our belief that these places do. Bound by the Aude River, the region itself is known for its thermal spa waters, arcaded stone and timber homes, a visual rhapsody of ruins, abbeys, countryside and castles. A sensorial reverie of surreal surrounds.
Four different wellness retreats are hosted throughout the year at Les Marguerites. I selected the Menopause Retreat, because frankly friends, it’s coming for me. Learning how to breathe through this next metamorphosis with mental clarity and emotional embodiment, learning how to govern my journey with intention and an education, where better, than the place that captured my heart nearly two decades prior.
The retreat itself is four fully inclusive nights (Monday afternoon through Friday morning) of activity, edification, compassion, and nourishment, limited to an intimate group of at most, six women. Niche knowledge surrounding this specific shift is delivered so thoughtfully, so conscientiously, it is clear we are in the presence of sages of the sweetest kind. With them, we tap into the deep. We are goddess cards in spiritual circles, secret gardens, stone casters into the sea, sharing and connecting and the unity… it is euphoric.
The grounds of this chambre d’hote (French bed and breakfast), with the soaring trees and the pebbled gardens, where you can literally lie in the lap of lavender and take in the alchemy of garden roses and greenery, the rushing Aude River, and the indisputable tranquillity of Alet les Bains, cobbled and pastel shutters, it makes me weep. Genuine, honest, tears down the face, weep. I can’t wrap this kind of beauty in words. I don’t even know if we’re meant to.
What I do know, is that the gentle, enveloping, empowering magic that happens here, I know we are meant for that. And I can attest with utmost confidence, that exploring this transition into perimenopause or menopause, while ultimately may be an inside job, the communal camaraderie that happens here, is something extraordinary. There is power in it. And the emotional Etch-a-Sketch that comes from venturing beyond our norm, stepping outside our comfort, exploring a deeper dive, an awakening arrives in its place.
We profoundly connect with women from around the globe. We are bonded by brave, vulnerable, conversation, and we have time to ourselves. On my own time I walked the village (see aforementioned weeping), I went on hikes with views of the river and the Pyrenees. I finished a book and started a new one. The balance of schedule and free time is perfectly on point. The final night is the last night of summer camp. Bonds have been forged. The thing that happens when all masks are off and only truths are exchanged. In a very short time, something beautiful has been built.
Antoinette Fairhurst, creator and host of Les Marguerites, together with her glorious family and team of specialists, they are the sacred guardians of this journey. Antoinette’s gift with graciousness cannot be overstated, nor can her culinary aptitude. They flock for the food alone – she is village famous. Every meal, a rainbow of wellness, cooked with intention and explanation of what healing properties are provided within. Her goodness is as comforting as her cuisine, both a master class.
With a background in nursing and psychotherapy, Hazel Ratcliffe worked in Women’s Health and Wellbeing for pretty much always, and her infectious warmth combined with her wealth of knowledge is vast and intoxicating. She gorgeously spans the gamut of the silly to the spiritual, wildly wise and wonderfully versed in all things wellness. And a little more than a little moxie in that sparkle.
Suzanne, spunky and fun and full of holistic teachings, guides us through pilates and yoga, ending with a one-on-one reiki session, my first bathing in vibrational energy. And finally, Pedro Morrell, whose background in massage therapy and Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy integrates mind, body, and touch, reminds us of the slow, deliberate bodywork that produces how health can feel. And how to find it if we forgot. With Pedro, by a crackling fire, we are graced with a 90-minute full body massage. If massage is an art, and massage is a therapy, Pedro, without question, has mastered the ability of both. Otherworldly.
The compilation of this experience, wholeheartedly, I cannot think of a more worthwhile, more meaningful gift. To anyone coming of age, to your friend, to your sister, to your soulmate, to yourself. This is the ultimate destination of soul searching, self-respecting, scenery saturating and sensory stirring awe. I wish it for every woman I know and don’t know.
Eighteen years ago I fell for Provence in life altering fashion. The experience affirmed my affinity for savouring life’s pleasures, basking in any found beauty, breathing in the details, from the glorious to the imperceptible: writing about them. Letting them change me in the way that travel is meant to. For eighteen years I have dreamed of a return to France’s south, wondering if the deepest caverns of my idealistic imagination painted a picture that elevated the truth. Thank you, Les Marguerites, thank you Antoinette and Hazel and everyone who steered and stewarded us, for validating that some places are meant to live with us and in us always, where reality holds the hand of fantasy, and intersects our unwavering want with a tangible, breathtaking reminder that the same world that can break our hearts, can also repair it.
Les Marguerites, 57 Avenue Nicolas Pavillon, 11580 Alet-les-Bains, France.
Tel +33 468 20 53 56 / +33 633 41 12 10
Les Marguerites is set amongst the Pyrenean mountains and just an hour’s drive to some beautiful Mediterranean beaches. The closest airport is Toulouse, where transport arrangements will be made from there. If you are driving, there is private off-road parking available for guests.
Type of Hotel: Luxury Bed & Breakfast / Chambre d’hote and restaurant
Number of Rooms: Double bedrooms, family suites and large singles available. You can also rent the entire house which can sleep up to 15 guests. There is complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the house and garden. A new private swimming pool is available for all guests to use.
Price Band: Low to medium
Insider Tip: While rooms can be rented for the night, their retreats are well worth a flight around the globe for. Transformation aside, the value is extraordinary.
Fact File: The tiny town of Alet-les-Bains is an absolute dream. Staying at this property and experiencing a retreat here, I am convinced, there is no better gift to yourself or other.
The entire week, outside of air expense, cost under $2,000 for what I have described (inclusive of giant single room and giant gorgeous bathroom), and under $1,700 should you go with a friend and opt to share a room.
Three unbelievable meals a day (some served al fresco in the garden, weather depending), a stunning bedroom with a view, magical, meaningful, activities, yoga, pilates, reiki sessions, hikes, 90min full body massage, a genuine master class of self-care and a wealth of wellness experienced in the south of France, for well under $2,000. I cannot encourage or recommend this experience more highly.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.
Photographs by Rupert Soskin courtesy of Les Marguerites and Jolie Loeb