How Jumping Off in the Alps Helped to Reset my Sails


Reviewed by Gemma Johnson

There I was sitting in a hot tub against a back drop of breath-taking Alpine beauty, quietly reflecting on my life to date. I flit from getting lost in the incredible scenery and the calming sound of the waterfall, then I am jolted back into the present with a bump as I glimpse my very unsightly but hilarious flip flop tan marks after a recent trip to Bermuda. These marks have given many a chuckle including myself when wearing heels.

Rewind a few days previous and I was locked in the same state of overwhelm that many working mothers feel. Sometimes suffering quietly and sometimes vocally as we try not to buckle under the increasing pressure of bringing up a family whilst working in a hyper connected world add to this the social element of keeping in touch with friends and family who may be scattered around the country and the world.

As a spokesperson on Digital Mastery and Co-Founder of National Unplugging Day I still occasionally struggle with keeping the balance between my digital and off-line usage. There are many days where I slip up and go over my boundaries but as I say to many, it’s about awareness of your usage and getting back on track each day to see the small positive changes in your relationship with technology.

Busy seems a permanent state for most these days and as life feels ever more hectic we can’t deny that stress levels are rising and we are bouncing from one situation to the next with very little pause for thought, this can leave us feeling anxious and unsettled.

As a busy mum of three and in a regular state of overwhelm from trying to juggle a busy family life and career, I knew immediately that I would be the perfect candidate for this life-changing retreat and was willing to open myself up to the experiences and potential emotional rollercoaster that going on this insightful and reflective journey would inevitably bring. Tissues were at the ready as was an eagerness and childlike curiosity to learn more about myself.

Despite Sally-Anne sending through a comprehensive programme prior to the retreat, I still didn’t really know what to fully expect but welcomed the opportunity to grow, unplug from the digital world with open arms and an eagerness to come through the experience more aware of myself and patient with those around me.

The Location

Maison La Cerisaie is a luxury chalet set in the Sixt Fer à Cheval in French Alps close to Geneva. The accommodation is of the highest quality and every small detail has been well thought out and planned to ensure each guest has a comfortable and relaxing stay.

It’s clear that extensive renovations have taken place to create Sally-Anne’s dream home and her calm, welcoming and sophisticated personality shines through in each and every room, not to mention the awesome job that the McCoy Contractors, foundation repair experts have done to her basement.

The bedrooms have private bathrooms and underfloor heating and are each decorated slightly differently. The chalet can sleep in total around 8 – 12 people, so it’s the perfect choice to hire out during the ski season or as a B&B option for a smaller group all year round.

The quality of the beds in particular, bedding and soft furnishings ensure an expensive hotel quality feel and a fantastic night’s sleep. I would usually need more coaxing to get out of bed in the morning but the combination of healthy, nutritious food, no alcohol with the evening meal, fresh air and positive and nurturing environment had me bouncing out of bed as fresh as a daisy feel refreshed and ready to fully immerse myself in the day’s activities.

The Eating Plan

The quality of the retreat package is not only reflected in the lodgings and Sally-Anne and her team’s delivery of the programme but also in the food which is truly exquisite and planned to perfection. The chef worked tirelessly to wow us with an interesting and nourishing vegan menu. At each and every meal we were left dumbfounded by the simplicity and love that went into the food by the chef, Jess de Jong. She is a true and passionate foodie and no question from us was left unanswered. She even gave away a few of her recipes and secrets.

As a huge fish eater, I did struggle at first when I was told no cheese, no meat or fish and no alcohol. It became a running joke between the group that I was constantly circling for chocolate, cheese and wine.

On the third day, Jess surprised us all with a chocolate vegan brownie with toffee sauce. I almost cried tears of joy as I had battled with that little devil on my shoulder telling me to head down to the beautiful little village which is full of cheese, wine and chocolate shops.

The fact that I stayed steadfast in my decision not to break the rules is testament to not only Jess’s cooking but also to the rapport and respect that was forged between the group.

The Retreat

The retreats are run by Sally-Anne Airey, her husband Simon Airey and her team of executive coaches, Jan Brause and Carroll Macey. All experts in different methods of coaching and mindfulness. The quality of the retreat is apparent in the distinct and high-end delivery of the programme segments. Each coach brings their own personality, softness, toughness, knowledge and experience to the table making it a unique and highly personalised programme.

Each day starts with a group mediation at 8am where a different mindfulness technique is explored across the 4 days. The meditation takes places in a dedicated space which is light and airy and can hold 7 – 8 people comfortably. Both Sally-Anne and Carroll have such a beautiful and calm presence that the meditation is truly delightful and leaves you feeling refreshed and centred. The meditation lasts around an hour and is then followed by a sumptuous and filling vegan and gluten free breakfast. With so much choice of nuts, seeds, fruit, yogurts, fresh bread and spreads, it’s a delicious and fulfilling way to start the day. The only thing I missed was Marmite, which isn’t bad when you think of all the other yummy breakfast items you would usually have.

The days are broken into sections with a mixture of fairly intense coaching exercises, mindfulness strategies, personal coaching, goal setting and round-table discussions about our shared and collective experiences. I thought the opportunity afforded to us all to share any thoughts that cropped up during the retreat an interesting process. Sally-Anne and her team respectfully encouraged us to share if we felt it appropriate. It can be very easy within a group for someone to feel under pressure to follow the crowd but Sally-Anne and Carroll made everyone feel so comfortable, that you truly could ‘just be’. The team dynamics on this retreat were particularly special and I do still feel very privileged to have met such wonderful people.

Throughout the day there are pockets of structured silent time, mainly at meal times for the first course, during guided walks or movement and then after 10pm. It’s a strange but enlightening experience to be in such close proximity to other people and to have your need for silence respected. Uncomfortable at first, as we are all so used to noise and filing in any silences but to truly be still and let your thoughts wander, using your breath to come back to the present moment is an amazing feeling and something that you can include in your everyday life.

Each day was perfectly balanced with group and individual sessions, exercise and discussion time. There are opportunities to sit quietly and write in your journal or do a little bit of work. The programme has been extensively planned and the natural ebbs and flows of energy taken into consideration.

I can honestly say, that I don’t think there was anything lacking apart from a chocolate stocked fridge as a midnight feast isn’t as fun when it’s full of dates.

Who Would Benefit from this Retreat

There are seven retreats available all with a bespoke element as Sally-Anne will have a skype conversation with you first to get a good understanding of what you are hoping to achieve. The retreats range from helping busy executives build resilience, manage transitions, develop their leadership qualities etc and there are also retreats geared to digital families wanting to unplug and also one just for ‘me time’.

It’s key to remember that the world isn’t going to stop turning because of any life changing event or if you find yourself in a state of overwhelm due to work or personal pressures. The best gift that you can give yourself is an opportunity to recharge, reset your sails and take a ‘slow approach’ in the welcoming and supportive environment of the team at the Alps Retreats or for that matter, any retreat that offers you a place to be still and the space for introspection. It’s not often we give ourselves permission to go off the grid and invest in our own emotional, mental and physical well-being. We are usually too busy pleasing others to recognise we also need to please ourselves.

I have been on a fair number of retreats around the world all with a similar theme ‘Digital Detox or Digital Mastery’ as I speak about this and regularly appear in the media on tech overuse in the family unit. I can honestly say that this has been one of the most profound retreats due to the mindfulness element, the silence, vegan dietary plan and team of experts on hand to support and guide me through the experience. Each retreat I go on has its own benefits and personality from the people that have put their passion into their businesses. Somehow, they all weave into each other and bring their own enlightening moments to my journey of ‘how to survive and thrive in a digital world with all my mental faculties intact’.

This retreat comes highly recommended and I wouldn’t hesitate to book in for another one. Prices start at £650 for a shared room and you can find more information by emailing [email protected] and you can visit their website for more information on their truly life changing experiences

Are you ready to jump off and kick-start a new life? if the answer is yes, then what are you waiting for?

If you are a digital family and fancy taking a break from technology and discovering the Alps the ‘Unplugged in the Alps‘ retreat could be for you.

Unplugged in the Alps retreat is an opportunity for families to enjoy quality time together, to rest, unwind and have fun. You’ll be in an inspiring place, with fresh Alpine air, away from everyday pressures. And you’ll be nurturing the emotional, physical and mental well-being of you and your family.