Sometimes you need to stand back to see the big picture. Imagine taking a few…
Martina Taliano was recently invited to spend a weekend at Hopewood Health Retreat – a sanctuary for good health and wellbeing that provides the perfect environment to unwind and rejuvenate. Here she shares her experience…
THE LEAD UP
I cannot tell you how excited I was at the prospect of a weekend at Hopewood. Their website promised, “natural healing, delicious vegetarian food, relaxation, stress management, nutrition and weight control, gentle exercise, first class massage and beauty pampering”, and I was up for all of it!
But first, to get prepped. Hopewood are purist in their approach to health and wellbeing and I was advised to reduce my intake of caffeine, tea and sugar in the days before my visit to alleviate any withdrawal symptoms. As I only have one coffee a day this wasn’t too hard for me, but I expect that many people may struggle with this aspect. There is as much herbal tea as you like but it won’t give you that caffeine boost!
The drive to Hopewood Health Retreat is an easy three-hour drive. Thanks to Google Maps, the hardest thing about the trip was choosing what songs to listen to.
A bit of background – Hopewood was the first retreat of its kind in Australia when it was opened in Wallacia in the 1960s. Once a rural village and holiday destination for families seeking some time away from the city, Sydney has now expanded right up to Hopewood’s door and it’s nestled between houses (not the sprawling estate on vacant land that it once was).
But as soon as I walked in the front door whatever was outside didn’t seem to matter at all, it was though I had been enveloped in a blanket of kindness. The saying ‘leave your troubles at the door’ is no truer than when you walk into Hopewood.
The main building is estimated at around 90 years old and art deco in design; a characteristic that lends itself to its feeling of gentleness and old fashioned goodness. The guest accommodation is much newer; having been built in the mid-late 1980’s and has been refurbished in recent years. The furnishings are comfortable bordering on luxurious; everything has its place and yet still feels homely.
I arrived in time for lunch, so after checking in and receiving my schedule for the duration of my stay (my massage and facial bookings), I was shown to the dining room. All the meals are vegetarian smorgasbord and I was not disappointed with the selection on offer.
After lunch I was given a tour of the retreat and shown to my room. I’m more than pleased with the ‘essentials’ – a king size bed all to myself, and recently renovated and very clean bathrooms. And then there’s the extra delights – my balcony overlooked the reserve and between all the birds chirping and the wallabies nibbling on the grasses it was hard to remember there are residential houses just a few hundred metres away.
2pm rolled around and it was time for my first treatment. The Vibrosaun is a new therapeutic series said to relieve muscular aches, increase circulation, rid your body of toxins and simulate exercise. Hey, if I can trick my body into thinking it’s doing a workout without me actually having to move, I’m all for it!
The aromatherapy oils and lowered lights created a relaxing feeling before the machine was even turned on. The technician explained how the machine works – it warms up to 39 degrees while vibrating – and showed me how to control the vibrations and temperature from inside the machine. I was then left to relax, enjoying soft music and the sensation of a fan blowing lightly on my face while I felt my body warming up. The 30 minutes went way too fast but I felt wonderful… I decided to prolong the bliss by taking my book and a ginger tea to the Silent Garden.
Later in the afternoon, even though it was raining, I couldn’t resist going for a swim. The pool is outdoors and heated to 30 degrees, warm enough to just slip into the water. At the deep end of the pool, I looked over out over the valley and thought how lucky I was to be at Hopewood. The pool was so peaceful, warm and calming I stayed there for nearly an hour just floating around!
By the time I slipped out of the pool, I was starting to get hungry, so after a shower (with fantastic water pressure – win!), I wandered up to the main house. Soup is served every afternoon at 4.45 – this time, it was Potato and Leek – really, really good.
After slurping it down, I wandered into the games room where a puzzle is laid out on the table. I was joined by Tega who is nearly 80 and has been coming to Hopewood for nearly 30 years. She told me that she had a heart attack in 1979 and had to undergo a triple bypass in 1989 – in the midst of her heart trouble Tega started searching for ways to improve her health and found Hopewood. She credits the Hopewood ‘way of life’ to her longevity and the good health she enjoys today. While she mostly follows the healthy way of eating while at home Tega returns to Hopewood every year to ‘reset’ her body.
Michelle joined us in the puzzle attempt and told me travels to Hopewood from Perth each year – she has been coming here for four years after beating cancer and says this is now a way of life for her. Michelle was completing the Fasting regime as a way to give her body a rest and a chance to repair itself. She said that every year after her visits to Hopewood she feels healthy and strong again.
Bea is a mother in her early 30’s who is going through a tough separation. Her Mother decided that Bea needed some time to look after herself and so she booked Bea into Hopewood for the weekend while she had time with her grandchildren. Bea said that with all the stress she had experienced in the past few months she hadn’t had opportunities to watch her health as closely as she usually would. What a fantastic Mum to recognise that her daughter needed to rest and restore her health and positive outlook.
It was time for dinner, and the choices looked delicious – I found it hard to select what to start with – I may have fallen in love with nutloaf. The ladies were all so welcoming and kind, and the table is filled with chatter and laughter.
After dinner, it was time for the Relaxation session – Yoga Nidra – another exercise which involved me lying very still. I’m not the bendiest of people so this was a Yoga exercise I excelled in!
After Yoga Nidra a few ladies and I sat, had some ginger tea and chatted for a while. It was really nice to hear their stories and to know we were all there for a common purpose; to relax and bring ourselves back to one of the most important things in life – our own health.
At 9pm, I headed for bed. It wasn’t late but all that fresh air had worn me out! I took my book to bed and was asleep in just a few chapters.
While I fully intended to get up for the 7.15am walk, the bed was too comfy for me to get out of it at that time of the morning! I did find the energy to make it up for breakfast – my favourite meal of the day. The selection of natural mueslis, nuts and fruits meant I had to go back for two bowls of cereal just to taste everything!
The fresh fruits were cut on a platter and were the perfect accompaniment to the meal. I struggled with the guideline of not drinking while eating a meal, as I always have a glass of water when I’m eating but it is said that this is not good for digestion. I decided I could do this one small thing to aid my body to work to its best ability.
At 10:30am, I met Chloe in the Day Spa area and she took me to the massage room for my Relaxation Massage. All the Hopewood therapists are highly trained and I was confident I was in good hands. Chloe’s hands were magic and I was very quickly put into a deep relaxation.
After an hour, Chloe and I moved to the Beauty Therapy room for my Waterlily Rejuvenating Botanical Facial. The Waterlily products use pure botanical ingredients and active essential oils and smell and feel beautiful. I could feel my fine wrinkles being plumped up and disappearing as my dry Canberra skin soaked up the moisture. While the Rosewood and Passionflower hydrating face masque was doing its job, Chloe massaged my feet and I ‘practiced Yoga Nidra’ by floating into a sleep like state. I am awesome at relaxing!
At 12:30pm, I floated off to lunch in a blissed out state, the mushroom and cashew nut loaf confirming my new love of nutloaf. The Baby Spinach and Strawberries Salad was just delicious and prompted me to promise to improve my salad expertise.
After lunch, a cooking demonstration is was held – while chefs have come and gone at Hopewood over the years, they have been supported by 15 cooks who (mostly) have been with the retreat for 10+ years. Their expertise and commitment to quality vegetarian food reflects in their awesome dishes.
The message I took home from the cooking demonstration was that even though life gets busy, you don’t have to cook gourmet dishes to make quality food; sometimes the quickest and most simple dishes are the healthiest for you. The Hopewood website has quite a few different recipes and I’m sure I can find a few that will keep my family happy. I sweet talk the cook into giving me the recipe for the Baby Spinach and Strawberries Salad and get permission to share it with you all. You’re welcome!!
To refresh myself after such a ‘hectic’ day, I took myself off to the pool for another swim. The water must have magic in it – there is certainly something special about swimming in a warm pool outside. After my dip, I had every intention of a walk, but I spent too long trying to get close enough to a wallaby to take its photo. I didn’t get a good photo of it, but spent the time listening to the sounds of the birds, feeling the soft grass under my feet and noticing all the different colours in the landscape. Mindfulness practice at its best.
It was dinner time again. The mushroom, avocado and cashew nut salad may have been my pick of all the salads – although the rocket and roast vegetable salad was also delicious, so it’s a tough call. While eating dinner we chatted about the history of Hopewood and when the different areas were built.
Tega said that some of the rooms are closed off in the main building because too many people reported sighting ghosts and hearing voices of women and girls laughing. I love a good ghost story so I asked for more details. Tega elaborated with more reports of little children laughing and playing, probably from the time the main house was a boarding house for families holidaying in the 1960’s. Diana said that although she hasn’t heard the ghosts, she lives not far from Hopewood and the local Indigenous people consider the area to be very spiritual. While I may not believe the ghost stories I can believe that the land has a spiritual feel to it, there is something special about this place that has to be felt to be understood.
After we finished our dinner and ginger tea we made our way to our rooms – en route, Diana gave me a ‘ghost tour’ of the sections that are no longer used as guest rooms. There is nothing spooky about them at all; they are just older than the rooms we are staying in. Feeling a little disappointed about not seeing a ghost, I left to read my book in my big king size bed that I lay diagonally across to use up all the space – just because I could! How luxurious!
Although I woke a little disappointed that this would be my last day at Hopewood, I had little time to feel sad as I met up with other early birds for the morning walk. We walked along the path towards the river that flows behind the retreat, and it was hard to feel anything but blessed as we listened to the bell birds, are watched by some wallabies and soaked up the early morning sunshine. Every day should start this way.
We were back in time for breakfast and it was just as good as the previous day. I make a promise to buy myself some more gluten-free muesli from The Muesli Bar and start my day off with quality food every day. It really does make a difference to the way I feel all day when I have a healthy and delicious breakfast.
Check out is at 10am, but guests are able to stay at Hopewood and participate in activities or continue to relax until 4pm, so I stayed a little while after check out just sitting in the Silent Garden soaking up the atmosphere. I wish I could bottle the serenity that comes with a stay at Hopewood. It’s not just the atmosphere, it’s not just the food and it’s not just the wonderful staff. It’s all of those things and more that makes Hopewood such a special place.
You don’t feel special at Hopewood in some fake ‘you are paying to be treated special’ way. The retreat is honestly authentic in its willingness to make your stay with them a beneficial one for you. Their purist attitude towards health is not a fad; it is steeped in scientific proof and has over 60 years of testimonials to prove its worth. The longstanding staff members and waiting list for people who want to work at Hopewood says something about the dedication of the staff to the ideals and values of the organisation.
There are so many wonderful parts to a visit to Hopewood that it is too difficult to try to capture them all in writing. To quote Helen Keller, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched they must be felt with the heart”. I urge you to experience Hopewood Health Retreat; it will do your health, your wellbeing and your soul good.
Martina stayed as a guest of Hopewood Health Retreat.