Whether it’s a detox coming out of the festive period or a weekend getaway with the girls minus the extra holiday kilos, there’s no denying that health and fitness retreats are in high demand. But are they really worth your hard-earned coin?
We sent WH&F editor Katelyn Swallow to world-renowned Golden Door Elysia Health Retreat & Spa in the Hunter Valley, NSW, to find out what all the fuss is about.
I’ve been to a fair few health retreats in my time, but nothing could have prepared me for the rolling hills and glimpses of grapevines my friend Tiffany and I experienced as we drove up to the iconic gates of the Golden Door Health Retreat. Perched on a hill overlooking the valley’s wineries and Brokenback mountain range – about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Sydney and just 45 minutes from Newcastle – we were welcomed by Golden Door [hyperlink: goldendoor.com.au] staff in their luxe marbled foyer. Almost instantly, I felt the stresses of the week’s work begin to melt away thanks to the steady trickle of their indoor water feature.
As a self-confessed gym junkie, I was a bit wary of bringing a friend with differing interests along for the ride. But on closer inspection of Golden Door’s program, I realised there was something for everyone – no ‘go hard or go home’ bootcamps here. Whether you’re wanting a week-long wellness reset with the girls or just a romantic two-night getaway with your significant other, Golden Door’s all inclusive packages have you covered.
Designed as an oasis for the mind, body and spirit, you can opt in or out of any activity on the retreat timetable, accommodating meditative yogi to squat enthusiast – and everyone in between:
For the lover of creature comforts
Both Tiffany and I are unapologetically fans of a good night’s rest and Golden Door’s voguish accommodation did not disappoint. A leisurely two-minute stroll from the front desk found us outside one of their 74 on-site villas (there are one, two or three bedroom options available), which we would call home for the next two nights. Stunning views from the balcony, huge ensuite bathrooms, a spacious king bed and even a self-contained kitchen, it was the perfect place to curl up with a book and recoup after a ‘busy’ day exercising, eating and relaxing.
For the foodie
If there isn’t food, don’t invite me – particularly if I need to step a toe into the kitchen. And it seems Golden Door knew I was coming. All main meals plus two snacks are delivered daily by the in-house chef, including a buffet-style breakfast, so all you have to do is eat.
Meals are mostly plant based and dairy free, aside from small portions of chicken and fish, and coffee was banned to give your hard-working adrenals a rest. But who knew healthy cooking could taste that good? And that’s coming from a self-confessed carnivore!
“Our Golden Door menu is not completely vegetarian and we do provide options for a caffeine non-detox [if requested] to guests wanting a soft landing into health and wellness cuisine. However, limiting animal proteins to poultry and seafood keeps the menu nice and lean,” says executive chef James Knight.
“Our menu has been crafted to nourish guests as well as inspire them, so we limit things that tend to be consumed in excess and show them how it’s possible to use this variety of produce at home. With plenty of colourful fruits, salads and vegetables (many straight from our organic kitchen garden), our guests experience a cleaner way of eating that is still incredibly satisfying.”
By the end of the first day, once the detox headaches subsided, my digestion had improved, the bloat was gone and I slept through the night for the first time in a long time. And if, like me, you hate beetroot on your salad – no fret. Kitchen hand Lita (who knew all 30 guests’ names by the end of day one, just FYI) will accommodate all your dietary preferences.
For the yogi
If you think sweating it out in a HIIT class is akin to torture, or if injury is a concern, choose to take the path to Zen. Tiffany and I started our first day at the retreat with an early morning tai chi class, overlooking the valley as the sun was just peaking over the horizon, followed by a walk around the adjacent golf course.
Beginner to advanced yoga and Pilates classes are offered throughout the day, or learn how to harness the power of breath in one of the evening workshops.
But whether you’re a budding yogi or as conservative as they come, don’t skip the daily Meditation 101 classes. The experienced instructors can get even the busiest brain to relax, trialling different techniques so you, too. find your best fit.
“A huge block when it comes to meditation is that people believe they have to empty the mind and completely stop thinking. When that fails to happen, a barrier is formed, ‘I can’t meditate,’” says program and guest experience manager Damian Rocks.
“But meditation is not about not thinking, it is simply about finding a point of focus for a period of time. This focus can be on anything, as long as it is with intention, and can last for three seconds or 30 minutes; focused intention, regardless of length of time, is still a form of meditation. And just one physiological benefit of many is an increased capacity for problem-solving in the pre-frontal cortex, allowing the brain to work more efficiently.”
For the gym junkie
If you’re using the retreat as a way to get back your fitness mojo, prepare to be sore but inspired by the end of your stay. Each morning starts with a short and sharp stretch session to loosen tight and tired muscles. You can then choose to sweat through a high intensity spin class, tough it out in their fully equipped gym as part of a group circuit, book a one-on-one personal training session or work out your frustrations with a boxing lesson.
Our pick? One of the AM low-impact deep water running classes! Far from your typical aqua aerobics class, you’ll leave the huge heated pool with a definite sweat. Follow it up with a quick sauna and spa and, like us, you’ll feel light and satisfied – all before breakfast.
For the self-indulgent
Many of our fellow retreat guests took a day to simply de-stress, sipping herbal tea and getting pampered at the retreat’s in-house spa. Offering all your standard spa treatments such as manicures and facials – plus a few just left of centre – you get one to two treatments complementary, depending on your package. Tiff and I opted for the Cleopatra: essentially a full-body exfoliation treatment and mud wrap – we had skin smoother than a baby’s bottom for weeks.
After just three days at Golden Door Health Retreat, I felt completely at ease: my skin was glowing, my stomach flat and the usual ball of stress and anxiety in my stomach had unknotted. My digestion and sleep were improved, and I was two kilos lighter on the scales.
But far beyond the physical were the nutrition and exercise habits and education I took away home with me. In a sentence, I would describe Golden Door as an intensive health, fitness and mindset overhaul – with beautiful long-term benefits. And with 2-night weekend programs starting at just $1,210pp twin share, it’s worth every penny.
GOLDEN DOOR SPECIALS – VALID UNTIL MARCH 31 2018
$1000 off: 7-night program
$800 off: 5-night program
$1000 pp weekend offer
To book, visit their official website.
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