Looking for a quick getaway to recharge your health?  If you live in Sydney, Hopewood is within easy driving distance and could be just what you need.  I was lucky enough to spend a weekend there, indulging in some R&R, as well as a couple of complimentary treatments.

All the cool stuff

What did I like best?  The staff are super friendly and go out of their way to make your stay comfortable and enjoyable.  The grounds are well kept and designed to give you options for outdoor time, including quiet spots where you can read or even take a nap in the sunshine.  The fireplace is welcoming and the perfect place to curl up and read a book if the weather is cooler.  While there are plenty of optional activities you can engage in – think yoga, exercises classes, cycling, an escorted trip to the beautiful Penrith Gorge etc. – you are not obliged to do anything, and can simply choose to sleep or rest until the next meal time. I had an amazing facial treatment on the Sunday, but wasn’t so impressed with the relaxation massage the day before.  Although I repeatedly asked the therapist for ‘firmer pressure’, there was no adjustment made and the whole experience was more stressful than relaxing, feeling like somebody was just plastering you with oil, rather than using this as a basis for a massage.  I was particularly disappointed that the therapist didn’t ‘check in’ with me as to whether the level of pressure was appropriate for my needs – it is common practice of good therapists, to check in with the client’s experience and needs, so they can adjust their treatment accordingly.

The tucker

As for the food – well, it reminded me of 70’s style vegetarian fare, lacking some lustre. Cheese and egg seemed prevalent at every meal and a total plant based main, including both legumes and wholegrains, was usually missing.  But, at least it was meat free, something you would expect of a health retreat.  And the choices were still better than what you might get in an average hotel if you checked in over the weekend and spent the equivalent amount of money.  One other aspect, that some may find unsettling, is that fluids were not served (or encouraged) with meals.  While it’s a good idea, generally, not to drink lots of fluids with your meals, I found this meant that it was tricky to stay well hydrated unless you kept track of how much you consumed and made a conscious effort to drink up between meals.  Water carafes were plentiful and replenished in the rooms, but if you didn’t spend much time there, except to sleep, this wasn’t very helpful.  Also, the small ‘medicine sized cups’ near the water filters found throughout the communal areas meant you would need to drink around 20 of these throughout the day to get enough fluid!  I did appreciate the hot ginger tea stations freely available throughout the day.  But again, tea cups only hold 150-200 ml so you’d need to be topping up frequently! 

I was excited to see that they offered some cooking classes for guests during their stay with the resident chef, who was a happy and approachable chap.  As someone who runs similar events, for a wide range of audiences, I understand the importance of showing people how to eat better rather than just telling them.  However, my suggestion (if they wanted to improve these) would be to involve a qualified dietitian or nutritionist to co-host these with the chef, who appeared to have many confusing ideas about nutrition and dispensed certain erroneous information.  For example, we were told “you can’t fry in olive oil as you get saturated fats forming” and other interesting but incorrect tid bits. The truth is, if you use a high quality extra virgin olive oil with a low free fatty acid content (less than 0.1 %) you can fry foods as the oil will not smoke until around 220 degrees Celsius!  This has been known since the 1930’s but few chefs seem to be up to date with this fact – or they are frying using incorrect temperatures.  It is well known that the correct temperature for frying foods is around 180 degrees so you would have no need to fry at higher temperatures if you wanted to achieve a final product with optimal organoleptic qualities.

What could be improved

What could be improved?  While the rooms were very clean and the bathrooms completely renovated, I felt that the towels should be replaced as some were starting to look a bit threadbare.  For the cost of such a weekend experience, I believe people would appreciate fluffy towels – even if it meant replacing them each year for the returning guests.  Further, I felt the main communal areas desperately needed a makeover.  Without being denigrating, I felt they had a ‘nursing home’ feel about them – something that struck me the minute I entered the premises.

Overall verdict

Still, would I visit again?  Absolutely.  I met several people who have been repeatedly dropping in on an annual basis to re-stock and get back on track with their health goals.  My overall experience was that the environment at Hopewood is very peaceful and relaxing and the staff are super nice.  It’s a terrific opportunity to get off the fast paced ‘treadmill’ of a Sydney lifestyle and I would recommend it to anyone wanting some chill time, where they could focus entirely on their health goals without the distractions of work and family obligations.  While you could also take a break in a city hotel for the equivalent cost, there’s something particularly healing about spending time closer to nature.  With less exposure to screens, gadgets and bright city lights I found it gives a better recharge.

Sue Radd attended Hopewood in June 2014 as a guest from a lucky door prize competition.

Fore more information on Hopewood please visit: www.hopewood.com.au

Please note: Hopewood closed operations on the 9th June 2015