Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Review of the Golden Door Health Retreat - Elysia

Hello all!
I'm back from a 7 day retreat at The Golden Door, arguable one of Australia's finest health retreats.
The Golden Door has two retreats, one in Queensland and one in New South Wales. I was staying at the New South Wales one - Elysia, in the Hunter Valley which is famous for its wineries.

Interesting fact for the day: it is Australia's only purpose built health retreat. So there you go.

So, what do you actually do on a health retreat?

This is the question that most people have been asking me, so let me spell it out in envy inducing details.

We were woken up at 6am every morning (keep in mind that absolutely everything was optional, so you didn't have to be woken up) and at 6.30 we did half an hour of Tai-Chi on top of a hill. Check out these views:

At 7.00 am we had a choice of Deep Water Running (will do a review of that later) or a 4.5km walk around the lake. 

8.00 am was a gourmet breakfast with a buffet of fresh fruits, toasted and otherwise muesli, and always a different hot food: omelet, barley porridge, poached egg with smoked salmon. All the food was super healthy with no caffeine, alcohol, reduced sugar and salt. The first few days they also cut down on the complex carbs, dairy and meat to help you detox, but brought more of this back in later in the week. 

9.00am was half an hour of stretching, enlivened one day by the male instructor (a 12 year old stuck in a 30 something year old's body) subtly using a whoopie cushion while we were in a compromising pose and blaming it on one of the guys. 

9.30am every day there was a seminar on something interesting such as setting goals, detoxing, nutrition etc. At the same time another activity would be run that you could choose from such as gym circuits, cardio box, etc. 

From then on there were usually two activities running that you could choose to go to, or you could just relax reading a book by the pool (which I did on a few days). 

Morning tea was served at 10.30 and lunch was at 1pm with always a hot dish and salads. Afternoon tea was at 3.30 and dinner was at 6pm. The portion sizes were small (though you could eat as much salad as you wanted), so you never felt full, but you always knew that you would be eating again soon so it wasn't really a problem.

As well as all the activities, there were a range of treatments to be had in the spa or wellness centre. I had a one-on-one guided meditation session as well as two Swedish massages and a facial. 

After dinner there would usually be another talk. Then at 8pm, when you returned to your room, you would find the bed turned down and the oil lamp in your bathroom lit waiting for you to draw a hot bubble bath. 

A nice hot bath, a bit of time catching up on the Foxtel movie that night, and you were ready for a good nights sleep.

Now repeat 6 more times. 

Is It Really That Good?

The next big question is: is it really worth it? There are no two ways to look at it, it's expensive.

I was looking at going on a cruise which would have been 11 days, started in Sydney and went up around the Whitsundays. Food, accommodation and most entertainment would have been included and it would have come to roughly $1,500 for a room with a balcony (less if I wanted an inside room). 

The Golden Door was 7 days with all this, though it did include drinks as well (but since they only let you drink herbal tea, this isn't much of an addition) and the treatments I had as part of my package probably would have cost an extra $300 roughly. I also had a larger room, but it wasn't on a ship that took me to tropical islands. It was $3100. 

So the question from my mother is: is it really twice as good? (My Mum is a HUGE cruising fan. She took me on my first cruise two years ago, and I've been wanting to go again since.)

For just a holiday, probably not. If you just want to relax beside a pool go on the cruise twice.

If, however, you want to come back from your holiday looking and feeling better than you left, go to the health retreat. 

There is a huge advantage not having to choose to eat well or to exercise. On cruise ships they offer you fruit etc., but they also offer you crepes with ice-cream and chocolate sauce for breakfast. How is a girl meant to fight that? 

And they don't give you nearly as much information or attention. The staff at the Golden Door were great, always happy to have a chat or give you a hug when the caffeine detoxing was driving you insane. They wanted to help you work through your issues, and give you information so you could have a better life.

The reduced temptation and self-development aspects really appealed to me. I definitely liked the health retreat, as I felt I was relaxing but also achieving something for my holidays, and wouldn't come back heavier than when I left. 

Is The Golden Door The Best Health Retreat To Go To?

This is the first proper health retreat I've been on so I don't have a lot to compare it too. 

One thing in its favour is the huge number of returning guests. Out of our group of 40 (which appears to have been quite large by general standards) I would say about 1/3 were returning guests. Some of them come every year for a number of years. They all love it and are very loyal to this particular retreat. 

While I was there people did mention other retreats they had been on, some more strict, some less strict, but most seemed to love Elysia. 

Personally, I loved the set up and the people, but the architecture and aethetic really did not work for me. It was a purpose-built health retreat, opened 9 years ago. The trees and inside the main builds were beautiful, but...

Couldn't someone have told them that corrugated iron and concrete was a passing architectural fad and not really all that relaxing? 

Out of pretty much all the common architectural styles, it is one of my least favourite, so found that just stopped me fully appreciating the experience. 

The other point I will make, as a lot of my friends (and thus my readership) are strong Christians: they did try to focus mainly on nutrition, exercise and relaxation, but did introduce other forms of spirituality which I did not find ... helpful. I felt awkward trying to explain why I didn't want to do certain things, and made uncomfortable because I was trying to be faithful to my religion. They just did not consider for a moment that what they were doing might create difficulties for some people. 

Therefore, I have a brilliant plan: in a few years, once I'm a world famous author, I'm going to start my own health retreat! 

The best part of this plan (whether it happens or not) is that for the next few years I can use it as an excuse to do 'research' by visiting other health retreats around the world! Brilliant, no?

Anyway, in future posts I'll go through some of the individual classes I did and great things I learnt about fitness as their instructors were all really knowledgeable.

Anyone else been to a health retreat? Any good recommendations that I can start researching at?