Creating golden memories
Before I left for the Golden Door, Elysia Health Retreat I was told it was a “must-do” experience. The A-list of health retreats. You know: brilliant food, sensational accommodation, incredible location. Yeah, yeah, yeah, heard it all before. I arrived at the Hunter Valley health resort with a minimum of fuss, using the directions I printed from their website — a good sign, I thought — and watched as my car and bags were efficiently whisked away on arrival. Impressive. When I was graciously ushered into a beautiful reception area facing an open lounge with a roaring fire, a library/reading area and an expansive dining room offering views of vineyards, mountains and soaring hawks, I thought maybe all the praise I’d heard was more than just hot air.
The Golden Door, Elysia Health Retreat isn’t for the faint of wallet. However, doing the maths, I calculate that it’s much better value than staying at a five-star hotel where all you get is a fabulous room. Set high on a hill with views that breach the horizon, Elysia is pure, healthy, unadulterated luxury in which both women and men can, and do, indulge.
The rooms — actually villas — sit in a large circle facing Meditation Hill, a lavender-encrusted mound atop which tai chi is taught each morning facing the rising sun. Each villa has floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a balcony with views across the valley. Frosted sliding glass doors separate the king-size bedroom from the king-size bathroom with its deep soaking tub, and thick, white bathrobes hang tantalisingly on coat hangers.
To purge you of the sins of the city, Elysia offers two programs: a five- or seven-day “full” program and a three-day “independent stay” option. Having explored the three-day option, packing in more exercise than I’ve managed in all year, I’d recommend the longer stay, not just for the benefit but for the recovery time.
In three days I managed: tai chi, laps in the 25-metre indoor heated pool, volleyball, stretch, meditation, yoga and the most exhausting cycle class I’ve ever experienced, a spa and the gym. I missed out on the sauna, steam room, outdoor pool and tennis courts. But, hey, I only had three days.
Elysia also offers sessions with professionals working in areas such as psychology, hypnotherapy, diet and health with regular seminars covering health, life and wellbeing issues.
At the pure luxury end is the Elysia Spa. This is hedonistic heaven with everything from collagen facials to mud baths, to algae, herbal volcanic and Cleopatra body wraps, to hot stone therapy, spray tanning, massages, waxing, tinting, pedicures and watsu (a specialty aquatic bodywork treatment in a private heated pool that is a cross between shiatsu and water massage). And everywhere there are white fluffy towels. Be advised, though: these treatments are additional to the stay price and need to be booked ahead of your arrival to ensure you’re not disappointed.
The food, even without condiments — salt and pepper are not used other than in cooking — is designed to please the palate not just heal the body. Offerings such as Tuscany roasted onion, garlic soup, brochette of king prawns, scallops, calamari with zucchini flower stuffed with seafood mousse and sun-dried tomato salsa are the norm rather than the exception.
Fish is served three times a week, vegetables are the focus of every meal and local and organic produce is used when available. Dessert is served only on Saturdays and coffee and tea — except for herbal teas — are prohibited. The real perversity, though, is that while moments from some of Australia’s finest vineyards, no wine is served or allowed on site, banishing yet another sin of city living.
People go to the Golden Door, Elysia Health Retreat to get fit, lose weight, detox, relax, get well or for a healthy dose of pure luxury. Personally, I’d go there just for the bathroom and the proliferation of fluffy white towels.
The writer stayed as a guest of Golden Door.