A country spa retreat with yoga, meditation and wine? Breathe in, drink up and feel the serenity.
My usual “wellness regimen” consists of eating green and purple things – not all of them jelly snakes – and getting the odd massage from the dollar- a-minute shop down the street. My sole experiment with Pilates was when a Chinese film star invited me to a private class: just her, me, her personal instructor, three assistants, a minder, a guard and a gaggle of fans to whose high state of excitement I contributed by accidentally kicking her miniature poodle across the room. Meditation? I have an app.
So arriving at Gaia Retreat & Spa in the Byron Bay hinterland of NSW is not so much ascending to a higher plane of wellness as it is turning up in a new solar system. One with a magnolia- scented atmosphere never shaken by the trill of a mobile phone and where the natives have been bred to make every guest feel at home. And I do – despite my actual home not featuring a personal infinity plunge pool or views across 10 hectares of landscaped grounds.
“Breathe with me,” says Tim, the king of Kahuna massage at Gaia’s spa. He dances around the table, rhythmically kneading me into submission as I match him inhalation for inhalation. (“I liked the heavy breathing,” I later say to another guest, who looks at me dubiously and replies: “I think of it as quite paternal.”)
In another round of treatments, I am steamed like a dumpling and polished by the regal, steely haired Angelika. She informs me that the scrub combines wattle seed, macadamia oil and brown sugar. I say it’d make a nice salad dressing. “We put nothing on the body that would be bad to put in the body,” she responds.
Post-spa, I recline like Scheherazade among silk- covered pillows in the harem- like alcove of Kukura House. The zhooshed-up Samoan-style longhouse is the communal heart of Gaia. I’m in a near- stupor of wellness.
Some of my new friends gather for a pre-dinner glass of organic wine. This is no boot camp and thank goodness for that; wellness goes down so nicely with the odd glass of wine or cup of coffee, I find. That said, tonight I forego the aperitif and make my way through the evening mist to the hilltop yoga studio for a meditation session led by an ethereally serene young woman called Grace. Legs on the wall, backs on the mats, we guide our breaths to the soles of the feet... and an hour has passed, somehow, and it’s time for a three-course dinner.
The food here is both insanely delicious and absurdly healthy. In my post-meditative state, I understand that to resist the pistachio crumble would be unenlightened. I eat everything placed in front of me over the next three days and mysteriously return to Sydney a kilo lighter. Chef Dan Trewartha is clearly a magician. When he offers a cooking class, 15 of us show up and take dutiful notes on the making of kale chips and healthy chocolate mousse.
I also take every other class going. The reclining nude I make at clay sculpture has feet like Grandma’s slippers. And I’m quite sure the yoga teacher is talking to me when she gently observes that the dog in the downward-facing dog pose is not a chihuahua. But there’s no pressure, no judgement.
There’s so much to do that I retire to the outdoor hot tub to work out how to fit it all in. My plush, mink-hued bathrobe hangs on a peg. A breeze rustles the top of an umbrella tree. The air fills with the whistle-and- crack of eastern whipbirds... what was the problem again?
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