Review: Eco Retreats yurts, north Wales
Feeling the need for a big dose of wild woods, big mountains, fresh air and very little else? Eco Retreats, tucked away in Wales’ Dyfi forest on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, makes the perfect off-grid hideaway. Eco Reteats is well-named – this peaceful site is about as far from big cities, main roads roads and civilisation as you can get, and is designed to work in harmony with the natural world. Just five yurts dot a 1,300 acre farmland, so all you’ll really have for company are the forest, a rushing river and a flock of sheep.
Be aware of just how remote Eco Retreats is – it’s hidden 25 minutes up a dirt forest track. Simply finding it is an interesting endeavour – especially if you’re as disorganised as us, and choose to turn up in the dark, in a lashing storm. Mary and I splashed through floods along pitch-black country roads, trying to read a tiny illustrated map via my signal-less phone. It all felt a bit Twilight Zone when we ended up on a forest track that led to a deserted, and extremely creepy clearing plastered with Keep Out signs, the storm lashing at our car window.
By the time we’d finally found the correct winding forest track out of many, and pulled into Eco Retreats, the night was pitch-black and it was still raining hard. We managed to locate a footbridge over a rushing river and walked into a wide-open field, hoping to somehow make out the yurt in the dark. We both got excited when the weak beam from our headtorches lit up what looked like a string of fairy lights, until we realised that the lights were moving – and were actually sheep’s eyes.
Luckily, we did eventually stumble into our new canvas home, where our friend Lydia, who had wisely arrived in the daylight, had lit the fire and poured the wine. And once you finally do find your yurt at Eco Retreats, it’s very hard to want to leave. Inside each one are huge, comfortable wooden beds, a hob and kitchen equipment, blankets, lanterns and a dinky wood stove that we had lit for our entire stay, topping it up constantly with logs and staying snug and warm even as the rain patted down on the roof (this is Wales after all – it basically rained non-stop for the entire three days we were there).
The yurts are completely off-grid. Expect to find no plug sockets or phone signal here – this is about disconnecting and embracing a slower, simpler pace of life. Each yurt, which also has a wood-fired bath, a fire pit and a compost loo, is pretty much invisible from the others, so you feel like you have the whole of the hills to yourself. The yurts are deserving of their ‘eco’ name, and have as light a footprint as possible, with wood sourced locally and waterless compost toilets used to fertilise the site’s organic sheep farm. Living with and using less turned out to be a great tonic for frazzled city life, and a good lesson in how little we really need for day to day life.
You could easily just stay put here, walking the forest trails around Eco Retreats or cosying up by the firepit, but there’s also plenty to explore in the surrounding countryside. Cadair Idris, one of my favourite mountains in all of Britain, is a short drive away. The 893-metre summit of this storied mountain makes for the perfect five-hour hike – on hot days you can even swim in Llyn Cau, the lake at its foot. We walked it in more inclement weather, but it was still a joy to be out in the untamed mountains, looking back down at Snowdonia’s rolling hills, which were turning rich shades of orange and brown as autumn approached.
The other delight on your doorstop at Eco Retreats is Wales’ Centre for Alternative Technology, an inspiring – and very charming – eco centre dedicated to showcasing a more sustainable way of life. Accessed via a water-powdered cable car, the centre is designed to show sustainable ways to live a zero-carbon life, with examples of eco-friendly housing, beautiful organic veggie gardens and greenhouses to roam around as well as a cafe that does fantastic veggie lunches and quirky cakes. It’s the perfect place to spend the day if you’re keen to find new ways to live sustainably.
Back at Eco Retreats in the evening, it had finally stopped raining – so we decided it was high time to light our outdoor bath, which sat hidden amongst the trees next to our yurt. To have a bath at Eco Retreats, you light a wood fire beneath the bath and once the water is hot, pop in a ‘bum board’ made of wood into the bottom to sit on. Great in theory, but we totally failed to get our fire hot enough for a warm bath on the afternoon we tried it. By the time the water was even pleasantly tepid it was dark. And raining. But since we’d had a few glasses of wine, the three of us piled in anyway. Who needs hot water when you’ve got good company?
Stay at Eco Retreats: A stay in one of Eco Retreats‘ five yurts costs from £265 for a two-night mid-week stay and £319 for a two-night weekend stay. Find more cosy places to escape to in Britain in autumn and winter here.