Did anyone else struggle with the return to work after the Easter break?! I know I did – and especially so after the most glorious and creatively restorative Ballintaggart Seasonal Retreat in Highland Perthshire. You know that feeling when a setting, people, activities leave your creative cup flowing over? Well Ballintaggart was all that and more for me, a sensory overload of inspiration. So good that I almost considered not sharing – but in real life I will rave about it to anyone who will listen and I can’t resist telling the story of our visit. Ballintaggart Farm has been on my radar for some time, and coincidentally I was chatting to a friend about them recently when I saw they were hosting a Spring retreat. The focus was on yoga, among other activities, alongside good food and an idyllic setting – so without a moment to lose I clicked “book” and Al’s birthday present (he is the yogi, not me!) was set in motion.
The early rise to get to Highland Perthshire was more than worth it. Greeted with mugs of steaming tea we took in the spectacular views of the valley from the elevated position of the farm and chatted to the other retreaters before commencing our morning flow session in the most beautiful light and airy setting. This was my first ever time doing yoga, although it is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. I’m not sure I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for as a complete beginner as the first class was challenging – but I was determined and made my way through the vast majority of poses and felt the glow of achievement with the support of the lovely people around me.
After all that exercise, we had certainly earned our brunch. Luckily, at Ballintaggart this is a multi-course affair. Starting with the spectacular sourdough and homemade preserves (I’m still thinking about the caramelised apple one), followed by their homemade sunshine granola, fresh fruit and Katy Rodger’s yoghurt and, last but not least, the tastiest dhal I’ve ever had – topped with a soft boiled egg from Ballintaggart’s own chickens. The perfect balance between wholesome and indulgent, we left the table comfortably full and ready for a little exploring…
Ballintaggart is the brainchild of family partnership Chris, Rachel and Andy Rowley. I first came across the team in the guise of Charlie and Evelyn’s Table, Edinburgh supper club, at an event by Google here in the capital five years ago and raved about their food even then (retro post alert!). Consequently, I was sad when they seemed to disappear – but this was matched by my excitement when I heard of their new venture. The first thing that strikes you at Ballintaggart is the friendly, relaxed atmosphere – and those views. They’ve worked to reflect the surroundings in the food, the decor and the ambience and everything they do is marked by thoughtfulness. It’s clear to see why the family fell in love with the setting, and Rachel’s dreams of keeping chickens came true! Now to work on my own avian aspirations…
After a chance to relax and explore after the morning’s activities, we were treated to a tour of the grounds and kitchen garden by Rachel and Ballintaggart head chef Jess Young. We learned all about apple gluts, growing from seed as total beginners (this gives me hope) and Ballintaggart’s considered menu planning. The team keep their finger on the pulse of trends in Europe’s culinary capitals – all with a contemporary Scottish spin and focus on local and seasonal ingredients as well as flourishes from the farm itself. On a personal note, it was particularly inspiring to be surrounded by such able, professional and imaginative young women and the creative atmosphere on the Farm and Cook School was infectious.
Jess talked us through various recipes and demonstrated key techniques in a Spring cooking masterclass. Al and I were charged with making the asparagus salad (my first of the year and all the more special for it!), which we chargrilled and served with toasted almonds, goat’s cheese and Jess’ expertly made wild garlic aioli. Simple, beautiful and contemporary – it was far more than the sum of its parts. With some tips thrown in for sourdough bread baking (I’m not sure my set-up can compete with Ballintaggart’s three-day process, but the taste difference certainly shows!), smoking, knife skills and so much more, I now feel ready to shake up my Spring cooking repertoire. After a pause for a cuppa and a baked good or two, we reconvened to make our own soothing essential oil sprays – surprisingly simple and the scent was sensational. Another thoughtful and creative twist on the day.
Then it was time for our second and last yoga session of the day, this time a slower yin variety with added meditation and nidra. I found this a lot less strenuous and although I had trouble stopping my mind from wandering (it has a lot of wandering to unlearn!) I certainly felt relaxed, and the whole group seemed to enter a zen-like state as we chatted before dinner over a cup of hot honey, ginger and lavender on the terrace (I am still dreaming about this otherworldly beverage).
You would think it wasn’t possible to be hungry again, but the food was so thoughtful (again!) and balanced that it hit the spot and we were ready for our dinner; Rachel and Events Manager Katie had transformed our yoga setting. More of that dreamy sourdough followed by asparagus, kale, wild garlic and Isle of Mull cheddar risotto made with pearl barley – fresh, light and creamy – and a rhubarb financier to finish, complete with Katy Rodger’s creme fraiche flavoured with blood orange. The table styling was particularly delightful, with lovely personalised touches, edible seeds as favours and even a candle for the birthday boy – completely unprompted. We retired to our room at the Grandtully Hotel just down the road, showered in the most beautiful blue bathroom and sank into the comfiest hotel bed I have ever slept in. Thanks so much for taking such very good care of us, team Ballintaggart – we can’t wait to come back and visit you again one day.