You don’t go to a health retreat to eat, or do you? After five days enjoying the food at Gwinganna, I say you should! When it comes to health retreats in Australia, Gwinganna is at the top of the food chain with a highly rated chef and their own cookbook. Guests during my stay were universal in their praise and I must agree.
The truth about food at Gwinganna
The day before I leave for five days of healthy living at Gwinganna, I am sitting around the table with old friends enjoying a weekend getaway in Queensland’s most fertile farming region.
We are tucking into burgers and pies, chips, and cakes, enjoying the abundance of food on offer. I’m trying to avoid another coffee as I know that that’s definitely not on next week’s list, but the mind is weak.
The couple next to me have just returned from a Wellness Weekend at the lifestyle retreat and one was not impressed by what he ate. As he listed his complaints (which included no salt on the table and not enough food), his wife rolled her eyes beside him and mouthed ‘You will love it. The food was great!.
We finished the conversation with his plea that I would tell it as it is, and so I will. The food was great 95 per cent of the time (I only rejected one soup dish). It was fresh, full of natural flavours and sustaining. So filling, that I skipped afternoon tea one day, which I regretted when I found out this is when they served the legendary Mountain Bars.
Gwinganna’s Head Chef Darryn Bonhomme. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Meet Head Chef Darryn Bonhomme
The man heading in charge of your food at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat for the past year is head chef Darryn Bonhomme.
Formerly Executive Chef at the gorgeous Ruffles Lodge on the Gold Coast Hinterland, Darryn has lifted the retreat’s food and the guests are enjoying his garden to plate style. Darryn’s experience also includes the hatted Allure On Currumbin (now closed) and much-loved Cinco Bistro, Camp Hill. The Lake House Daylesford, another stunning location, also features on his CV.
I was attracted to the garden to plate philosophy working with a gardener,” says Darryn. “We work with what is fresh from the garden and that supplies 80 per cent of the kitchen’s needs.
“Once a week a chef goes picking in the garden with Shelly and there’s always something new to learn and it gives us cooking inspiration. At the moment I enjoy working with new micro herbs including micro kale and pineapple sage. The kitchen team includes five qualified chefs plus a casual and three kitchen hands. It is a happy, positive and well-established team which means plenty of love on the plate.”
The next project for Darryn is a new Gwinganna cookbook so look out for it.
This selection of dishes is just some of the delicious food at Gwinganna Photos: Kerry Heaney
Your food at Gwinganna
Apart from herbal teas and small portions of fruit, there’s nothing to eat at Gwinganna until breakfast at 8.30 am. That’s to encourage natural fasting overnight from dinner, which starts at around 6.30 pm. Typically, breakfast includes seasonal fruits and nuts, granola or porridge. There’s a hot dish too, delicious eggs or beans with plenty of veggies on the side.
Lunch begins with soup of the day, followed by a protein source such as salmon, turkey or prawns with salsa and dressings. Of course, there’s always a salad on the side.
For dinner, there’s a choice of dishes with a vegetarian option. My favourite dish was the walnut crusted fish with chilli and coriander, tahini sauce and charred lemon. Still, the organic braised beef with chim churri roasted sweet potatoes, wok-fried greens, and a fried tomato was fabulous.
Gluten-free and dairy-free, the food at Gwinganna is designed to support and improve digestion and liver detoxification, reduce inflammation, improve gut bacteria and balance blood sugar levels. It’s a low human intervention menu where the food has undergone minimal or no changes from its place in nature to create an ideal balance between macro and micronutrients. This allows your body’s biochemistry to convert food into what it needs for optimum health and prevention of major lifestyle diseases.
I stayed in the Meditation Suite. Photo: Kerry Heaney
Where you’ll stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
There is a range of accommodation at Gwinganna which includes rooms in charming close to the action heritage buildings, split level villas high on the hill with their own steam room, villas with private plunge pools, and Meditation Suites.
I was lucky to be placed in Mediation Suite which quickly won my approval with its beautiful bath! The outdoor deck included a sitting area and a day bed while inside there was a spacious living area and king-sized bed. At night I went to sleep to the gentle sounds of nature and woke each morning with the light to prepare for the first sessions.
Little touches such as the premium bathroom products and in-room teas enhanced my stay. I enjoyed the suite’s clean lines and couldn’t help thinking it would make an excellent upmarket beach getaway in another location.
Even though the flow-through ventilation was superb, the suite was fully airconditioned as well. I much preferred to have the bifold doors and multiple windows open to enjoy the high elevation cool mountain air.
What to do at Gwinganna
Enjoy a spa treatment
One of the highlights of a stay here is the spa, which is a big one. I was told it is designed in the shape of a womb to comfort and nurture guests.
It was here that I had one of the best facials of my life – an Extreme Hydration Facial – with highly experienced therapist Jan. (Do ask for her). I was amongst the first in the country to experience a Vanessa Megan Naturaceuticals facial at Gwinganna! Vanessa Megan is an award-winning Australian brand offering natural skincare that works. Cruelty-free, it is a streamlined skin specialist range that has been developed to solve a range of skin concerns.
I also luxuriated with a Marma Point Relaxation Therapy treatment, but if you have to choose between the two, the facial wins hands down!
There are six Vanessa Megan Naturaceuticals Facials, including the Gwinganna Cryo Facelift which is custom designed for the retreat. It is over 110 minutes of dynamic, natural skin resurfacing treatment using ingredients from nature and extreme temperatures to deliver immediate and long-lasting results. Sounds like heaven to me!
Take a garden wander
Of all the morning options available, this was the one I enjoyed most. Shelley, who describes herself as a ‘hedge witch’, has extensive knowledge of plants and herbs. She has built an enviable garden around the retreat which includes orchards, herb gardens and a prolific vegetable patch.
The retreat is not entirely self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables but makes full use of the garden’s bounty. Chefs can make planting requests and Shelley tells them what is in season and coming into season on a communal whiteboard. The chefs also regularly work in the garden.
Shelley has inspired a rework of my garden. I’ve planted so many leaf crops and herbs that I start the day with herbal tea gathered from the garden and enjoy salads filled with freshly picked leaves and flowers each lunchtime.
Watch the sunrise over the ocean
Mornings begin at 6 am watching the sunrise out of the ocean while practising the ancient art of Qi Gong, a restorative moving meditation. During the day also you can join yoga, Pilates, and dance activities.
Experience a nature walk
Gwinganna is located on a 200-hectare section of a plateau high in the back for the Tallebudgera Valley. The daily program includes both soft (yin) and more advanced (yang) exercise options. It varies daily but there is usually a walk around the extensive grounds with 16 walks on offer.
For the tough or those who like a challenge, there’s the chance to walk up the driveway to the retreat. It’s a challenging, steep drive in a car so not something I was going to tackle but others did.
I much preferred a morning walk along the ridge which finished with a contemplative session on the Labyrinth Path.
Dear Stress, let’s break up
I signed up for the Triple S Wellness package which tackles three big baddies – sleep, sugar, and stress. It is an opportunity to break the unhealthy cycle of high sugar foods, stress and insomnia and restore balance. I thought it would be an easy fix but discovering my high reliance on caffeine made it much harder. Caffeine and I are infrequent friends now and I’m planning to keep it that way.
For the rest, that means gluten, lactose, sugar and alcohol, I’m working on the 80/20 rule.
The wellness seminars are held late morning, before lunch. Afterwards is free time which could include a treatment, a walk, or a nap. It’s up to you
In Body assessment
Despite sounding like something highly invasive, this just involves standing on a specialised biometric analysis machine for a few minutes while it works its wonders. The result is a breakdown of your body’s composition which is an extremely helpful starting point if you are planning any changes. You might be a little shocked (I was) or hopefully, very pleased with the results. Either way, you can tackle the results and plan ahead to maintain or change.
See your blood under a microscope
I must admit that I have long wanted to have a lifeblood screening and Gwinganna provided the perfect opportunity. Live blood analysis reveals key indicators of your general health and wellbeing, and I found out that my white blood cells are a bit slow and tired.
Naturopathic practitioner Shannon McNeil gave me a detailed analysis of my health and prescribed supplements that, more than a month later, I can say with confidence are really making a difference to my life. Thank you, Shannon!
Bring home A Taste of Gwinganna
Gwinganna has its own store which is convenient if you have forgotten an essential or want to take home some beautiful products, books and clothing. I came home with their cookbook, A Taste of Gwinganna which was the source for many of the recipes I enjoyed during my stay. You can buy it online.
The World’s Best
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is the sort of place that you may not realise how much you needed until you get here. It was like that for me.
I do think Gwinganna is a winner, but now it is official! In a first for an Australian health retreat, Gwinganna won the World’s Best Eco Spa in the 2020 World Spa Awards. Other nominees were in California, Ecuador, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia’s Wolgan Valley retreat.
Things to do on the Gold Coast before or after your health retreat stay
Disclaimer: Eat drink and be Kerry was a guest of Gwinganna.
I would say all the food look delicious, from the pictures and your descriptions. I think your friend’s husband was teasing you. Hehe… The salad and the salmon look beautiful and I’m pretty sure they are delicious to the last bite. The place is also gorgeous. Definitely I don’t mind spending a weekend here.
He certainly did a good job teasing me! The food is as good as it looks and you would love it there. Put it on your list.
This is my kind of place! I would absolutely love to visit. The food looks amazing and I really appreciate that they grow most of the produce themselves. There is something very reassuring about eating imaginative but healthy food. I also love being pampered in a spa so would definitely like to check out that magic facial. I am intrigued, though, as to what shocked you about your body analysis!
I think you would really enjoy Gwinganna Jane and definitely treat yourself with a facial. Mine was epic! The body analysis was an eye opener for me because of the results it revealed. I have a bit of work to do on my body to bring it closer to peak and I am totally committed to doing that now. It was a real wake up for me and I’m really glad that I did it.
What an interesting experience. I have to say, for my mental state, the idea of staying at a health resort does not sound very relaxing in general to me. I clear my mind through activities like backpacking and hiking. So I was kind of surprised how Gwinganna has so many cool looking hiking trails and outdoor activities. I may be able to manage this for the sake of my wife, especially since she would love a stay in that meditation bedroom.
Now on to the food! I am not sure how anyone could possibly complain about the menus you describe at Gwinganna. It seems that Darryn’s Garden to Plate ideas look yummy to me. Never heard of that terminology by the way, I usually hear Farm to Table so that is a neat spin. I am glad that even though he is experimenting with different flavors, spices, and herbs he is keeping it simple and not trying to hard to be bizarre or unique. Nothing worse than a pretentious chef shoving down some macrobiotic bland tasting plate of sludge that will supposedly clean out my flux capicitor to extend my life span by 3 hours all for a mere $500 a plate! So kudos to Chef Bonhomme for keeping it real!
Darryn is a real treasure and such a chilled chef. His kitchen is full of laughter and his team are great friends which shows through in the food. I enjoyed the way that he let the natural flavours of the food shine through in each dish. It’s my favourite way of eating. The Garden to Plate concept is a bit different. We usually see Farm to Plate but as this food is grown on the property’s vegetable, herb and fruit gardens, the description is much more accurate. It’s so fresh too! I hope you and your wife do get the chance to enjoy this wonderful place when you visit the Gold Coast.
I love my spa days and I am missing them right now (thank you Mr Covid). If I was in Australia right now, I be hitting up Gwinganna. The room looks clean, spacious and comfortable but its the surroundings which does it for me. Taking walks, gardens and just relaxing. But the food, oh my god, that really does look lush by the chef. Seriously need some TLC right now. 😀 Made a note of this place for my next visit to Australia, hopefully I can take the misses here for a relaxing weekend.
It’s a fabulous place to stay Danik and their weekend packages are a great soft introduction to the concept. There is plenty of spa time too! You could pair Gwinganna with a few days on the Gold Coast and enjoy a wonderful holiday in the sun.
Yes please, I would love this. I did something similar but not as glam as this a few years ago and felt fabulous afterwards, i vowed to treat myself every year – sadly life and lack of finances got in the way. But I’m saving this post because we are planning to be in that part of the world, probably not next year but definitley 2022.
This is a lovely part of the world to explore Sarah and if you can top it off with a stay at a fabulous health retreat, all the better. I hope you get to experience Gwinganna in 2022.