I Went To A Health Retreat And The First Thing I Did When I Left Was Go To A Cheese Shop

The days of boozy lunches are fading. Replacing them is a generation of execs who are opting to strategise over a few laps in the pool, a run at lunch or a trip around the city on the bike.

Offsite retreats are also transforming from blurry trips interstate to clear and clean days out of the office.

It’s this focus on health and wellbeing which is changing the way deals are being done in Australia’s business world.

Noticing the transformation, health retreat Golden Door has launched a corporate wellbeing program which Business Insider trialed recently.

It’s been a big year, I was getting a little rundown and it felt like I had the flu coming on when I packed my bag and left for the Hunter Valley retreat on Friday afternoon, a 150-minute drive north of Sydney.

I was feeling more like I needed a glass of wine rather than a herbal tea.

The Golden Door is a no technology, no sugar, no coffee and definitely a no wine zone.

I figured I could hold out for the glass of wine, but no technology or sugar for three days had me a little on edge. I have a slight problem with a dark chocolate addiction and there’s this awesome shop down the road from the Golden Door which makes some of the best I’ve ever had.

Driving through the big gates, up to the retreat perched at the top of a hill overlooking the vineyards, I walked through a big gold-coloured door – (yes they have one!) and was greeted by friendly staff and given a name badge. I was told to wear at all times and also handed a drink bottle which I was told will be my crutch over the next three days.

Touring the grounds, which are designed on Feng Shui principles, there are ponds of water trickling from the top of the retreat to the bottom, indoor and outdoor pools, a day spa, tennis courts, yoga rooms, spots to meditate and a big dining hall.

It feels a little like school camp for grownups.

I took my mum for the weekend. It’s something we’ve been talking about doing for a while now, it was a nice mother-daughter hangout opportunity.

Here’s the run down.

Driving through the vineyards, Golden Door is surrounded by a world of temptation.

The actual 'Golden Door'. Yes there is one which you have to walk through to enter the retreat.

When you check in you're given a water bottle and a name tag. You're told not to be without either during your stay.

The retreat circles a hill. You can actually walk in circles past lines of identical buildings and not get lost.

We eventually circled to our two bedroom villa, number 47. Our door was purple - not gold.

The rooms are spacious, filled with natural light and look out over the valley.

But they're very neutral. There are no crazy furnishings or outlandish pieces. It's all very beige.

There's a kitchen with an oven but I'm not really sure why. One of the rules of Golden Door is you're not to bring your own food on site and I'm told if housekeeping finds contraband in your room (which includes coffee and chocolate) they'll report you to the trainers.

The king beds are made with fresh white linen and big puffy pillows. Super comfortable.

Each bedroom in our apartment had glass sliding doors leading to an ensuite with full-size bath, fluffy white towels and a rain drop shower. It's also stocked with Golden Door products, which are divine.

The soap is also gorgeous and it's not wrapped up in that annoying plastic that's difficult to open.

The Golden Door chefs serve 5 meals a day in the communal dining hall, which is simple but a little dated. The food is organic where possible, sugar free and usually dairy and gluten free too. The servings are quite decent although the guys at our table asked for second helpings at dinner.

After dinner we returned to our room to find staff had turned down our beds and placed the following day's schedule on the table.

The room smelt beautiful, entering the bathroom I discovered the staff had also lit a candle. A nice, soothing touch.

Lighting the candle was also handy because I couldn't find the bathroom light. After scratching around for about 10 minutes I discovered it was actually beside the bed. An awkward place to put it, but at least now you know if you're in villa 47.

Every room is stocked with tea made especially for the retreat. It's the only other drink, besides water at Golden Door so you'll consume a fair bit of it. One day a week they have green tea, which has a small amount of caffeine and can smooth out the coffee withdrawals.

Surprisingly, there are also TVs in the rooms but it's an early night. The interns wake you at 6am by ringing the door bell, calling out your name and telling you it's time to start the day. This is the view I woke up to from bed.

Tai Chi starts at 6.30am at the top of Meditation Hill - the very top of the resort. It's a quiet pilgrimage of guests wandering up to the class.

As we climbed the hill hot air balloons could be spotted floating in the distance. It really is beautiful.

Breakfast is a big buffet, which meant I ate a lot more than I usually would. There were scrambled eggs, muesli, fruit and even coconut pancakes. Although the pancakes sounded and looked better than they tasted. I think the health factor made them a little bit bland.

After breakfast there is a stretch class to get to. While it was nice to have a bunch of activity choices they aren't separated into ability levels so some felt a little basic as they had to cater for everyone.

There was even a little time to reflect, catch some rays and sit by the pool before my spa session.

One thing about the spa: aside from being a quiet, tranquil setting, the bill at the end can quickly wipe that relaxed look off your face. If treatments aren't included in your package, and mine weren't, they can hurt the hip pocket. My facial was $155. I probably would've been better off staying by that sunny pool with my drink bottle and book.

There are plenty of walks around the estate to do and classes to attend. The challenge was to not try and do every one of them and instead take some time out for yourself.

Life is all about balance. So after a weekend of exercise, health and tea, we made a b-line straight to the Smelly Cheese Shop down the road when we left. This is what we had for dinner that night. Whoops.

The specifics

Cost – Prices begin from $900 for 2 nights, including all meals and some activities.

Food – Healthy but simple. They’re cooking for a crowd. While we were there breakfast was the usual buffet spread with muesli, fruit, a hot option and tea. Morning and afternoon tea was fruit or a healthy muffin and dinner was a white meat with veggies.

Accommodation – Clean, spacious and simple. The villas are private and self contained with big balconies and plenty of space to lounge around if that’s your thing.

Activities – Plenty of them. There are organised classes including tai chi, deep water running and guided walks. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court and gym so if doing your own exercise is more your style you can do that too.

Experience – It’s very personal. Trainers all call you by your first name, they’ll tailor meals, activities or spa treatments to suit your needs. It is all about what you want.

The verdict

Was it a nice experience? Yes.

Should you try it once? Yes.

Would I go again? Probably not. The number of health retreats popping up around Australia and the world has me wanting to try different ones rather than repeating the same experience again.

*The journalist was a guest of Golden Door. However spa treatments were paid for by the writer and her mother paid for her own stay.*

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