Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Light it up: Life at the Golden Door

The "fat is flavour" mantra that oiled its way through my months at cooking school (see first 30 odd blogs) and since, takes its toll and I feel the need to get back to clean living.  A fist full of due-to-expire airpoints  inspire me to make a return visit to Queensland and the Golden Door Health Retreat for seven days of what appears to be, an oxymoron: indulgent deprivation.

Indulgent, for the unalloyed ME time that is the focus of the retreat, and relates to physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Deprivation for the lack of ingredients which, for many, make life worth living: tobacco, alcohol, sugar, meat, oils and fats, most dairy products, bread, and preservatives, but not as you think, fun.  I laughed a lot every day, a tribute not only to the fun that is inherent in what we do over the week, but also to the excellent staff and the fellow guests with whom I was lucky enough to find myself that week.
The huge fig tree outside the gym, and yes it did get hugged a few times,
not necessarily by me - OK, maybe once but the bark snagged my new
t-shirt so I wasn't feeling very nature friendly after that. 
What is not to like about a day that starts with a 5.30am wake up call?  Quite a lot I hear you say.  
We greet the rising sun each day with a short form of Tai Chi. This includes poetic moves such as flying doves and painting rainbows across the sky. Very meditative and zen like, though one of the unscheduled and less poetic moves  that becomes popular is slapping sandflies.  

Rainforest chalet accommodation
Tai Chi is followed by a bush walk, of which there are three circuits varying in difficulty.  Risking cardiac arrest I take the middle one each day and follow it up with the easier one back to my rainforest chalet for a shower before breakfast.  Yes! All this and we haven't even eaten yet.

The Spa at the Golden Door
The 20 chalets are sited up a hill of increasing steepness.  Knowing the terrain from prior visits, I exercise rat cunning when making my booking: I request chalet # 5; it's up enough of a slope to make me puff, but just before the steep rise that makes you long for an early death.  In fact it doesn't matter where you stay, the architecture of the site means you climb hills many, many times a day as you go to the spa, pool, gym, meals, bed.   - In the GD world this is known as incidental exercise.  In my world it is frequently known as another bloody hill.

After a truly lush breakfast - you can't beat Queensland for delicious tropical fruits - there is a 30 minute stretch class, usually the most popular class of the day (second only to the cooking class later in the week).  After that, each day is different with 90 minute seminars of aspects of health and wellbeing for first time guests and typically an alternative for returns.  The rest of the day sees various activities - yoga, circuits, boxing, volleyball, swimming, dance classes, feldenkrais, meditation, spin, deep water running and so on - interspersed with spa treatments you book, 3 or 4 of which are included in the price. 

And this, for me, is where this trip didn't live up to the expectations I have after three previous visits. It's four or five years since I was last there and the changes are apparent.  First time guests wouldn't spot the cracks.  However it seems burgeoning competition (the long standing Camp Eden, GwingannaCabarita - all in Queensland - plus the newer Golden Door in the Hunter Valley), along with the global financial mess are taking their toll.  

Although the list above makes it look like there is non stop activity, in the past every hour had choices, usually one active and one more restorative session.  Now there is typically only one activity and sometimes none at all.  These gaps are promoted as time for reflection.  While I am not the most active person, and there are some  whose sole exercise is opening a biscuit tin, most people are there to either kickstart their fitness or are fit people who want to do stuff.  There needs to be opportunity to engage in some activity every session.  In the evenings there is still an after dinner activity, but the external providers have been pretty much cut for, I'm guessing, budget reasons.  

In general, the infrastructure is creaking - much like me after a few of those 5.30 starts -  and everything could do with a good refurbishment as it is starting to look tatty in the communal areas.  What remain excellent are the staff and the food.  

Despite the long list of what we don't have, the talented chef's passion for non processed, non fiddled with generally, food  means he finds ways to pack in heaps of flavour without resorting to fats and refined sugars.  At lunch there is something like sushi, ocean trout spring rolls or perhaps a wrap.  Every night there is a very delicious soup, such as my favourite cauliflower and cashew, followed by a main courses such as chilli (beans and lentils, not beef of course), fish curry, or linguine with avocado pesto and roasted pumpkin.  Each meal is accompanied by plentiful salads with a wide range of colourful vegetables, most often raw.  

After a week of healthy eating, relaxation and exercise along with wonderful spa treatments you can't help but feel good.

So good in fact, I am following a seven day juice fast, inspired by Joe Cross's documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.  We watch this one night after dinner, and even those of us cynical about a fat guy who gets healthy drinking juice, are engaged.  If I am ever going to reboot my system it's now while I am in the swing of a healthy diet.  My rather meagre effort - in comparison to Joe's - is detailed in the last two posts on this blog.  I am nearing the close of day six as I write this and will give a final update at the end..

So folks, as they say at the Golden Door, embrace this wonderful day and go light it up!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Bev. There are so many subtle joys that emerge over the week its hard to describe to others. I can see the cracks you mention, but I still think its the best place I know to put the points to good use and get a total health experience. The food, the hills, the trees, the sleep, the pools, the spa treatments, the wonderful staff and of course the talks, sharing and laughter of all the great guests. Thanks for sharing :)
    Anna Bu