I didn’t know what to expect when I booked in for three days of R&R with my two daughters at the iconic Gaia Retreat and Spa in the Byron Bay hinterland in northern New South Wales. Well known for one of its founders, Olivia Newton-John, who is part of a team of owners, whose first names spell the acronym “GROW”, Gaia has for the past decade been providing weary and stressed executives, overwhelmed and sleep-deprived parents, couples needing quality time away and singles wanting to create some space in a jam-packed life, with much-needed rest, respite, relaxation and rejuvenation. Like other health retreats in Australia, such as Gwingana, which I had visited the year before, Golden Door and Camp Eden, Gaia promises an experience to restore the mind and body to a more healthy equilibrium.
Some retreats are more extreme than others when it comes to diet and exercise, so Gaia seemed to be a good choice for my 20-something daughters, escaping the Melbourne winter, and I, needing some time to reflect and reassess, to spend some time together in a nurturing environment, with a bit of pampering and restorative yoga, but without compromising on food (the quantity and quality) or the odd alcoholic and caffeine-filled beverage!
Gaia’s location is magical, perched on 25 acres on the highest point in the region, soaring above the coastline, with views to the ocean in the east and endless green rolling hills to the west. Both the sunrises and sunsets are stunning, and you can view either from a number of vantage points, including inviting day beds replete with cushions and muslin curtains to encase you in a sense of dreamy otherworldliness.
Gaia, meaning Spirit of Mother Earth, exudes an abiding sense of serenity and nurture. The decor is Balinese-tropical with water features, an abundance of greenery, floral displays, sculptures and buddhas sprinkled around the property. Our rooms were luxuriously comfortable, with the added attraction of cosy blankets and cushions and pebble-edged bathrooms with louvres opening to a garden backdrop. There are no televisions or wifi in the rooms, but you can borrow DVDs and players from the ample library and there is free wifi in the central dining area and lounge.
Our days began at a very civilised 7.30am for one and half hours of yoga with the inspirational Danielle, who at 58 years of age, looks and bends more like a 45 year old ballerina! Her flexibility was truly amazing and has convinced me that yoga should be in my daily practice.
Breakfast was a magnificent affair, with an overwhelming selection of quinoa porridge, gluten-free grains, seeds, fruits, yoghurts, teas and coffee, as well as a different hot meal each day, which included a delectable selection of poached eggs, avocado, grilled asparagus and other vegetables, accompanied by various artisan breads.
Following breakfast was an activity which varied each day from circuit training and boxing, to walking and a cooking class. Lunch was similarly delicious, and usually consisted of the most enormous vegetarian salad and roast vegetables, followed by muffins, and washed down with herbal tea, in the sunny surroundings of the outdoor deck.
The afternoon was free for spa treatments and wellness consultations, and we indulged in massages, facials and various other beauty treatments. Despite the pool looking very tempting, it was a bit too cold for a Queenslander such as myself to dip my toe in the water! However, in summer I am sure it would be a welcome reprieve.
All this healthy activity usually meant an afternoon nap was in order, taken on a tempting day bed or in the seclusion of your room.
The three course dinners were worthy of any top restaurant and usually included a soup or salad for entree, fish or chicken with creatively-concocted vegetables for main and a dessert made from trend-setting ingredients such as cashew cream, cacao nibs and organic honey. Wine is available for purchase, and if you don’t want to indulge too much, you can request more diet-conscious foods. All needs are accommodated, no matter what your particular allergy, affiliation or desire.
After three days of pure indulgence in such a cosseted environment, we really didn’t want to leave. Our various ailments had been cured, we felt rested and restored, and we reluctantly set off, vowing to return when our batteries have been depleted once more!
Why not combine a stay at Gaia with some extended time in the Byron Bay region? There are plenty of wonderful places to explore and stay in this stunning part of the world…
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