Hip & Healthy contributor, Daniella Isaacs, finds a retreat to help her understand how to un-wind, re-balance and find her zen….
I have always been interested in staying fit. I eat well. I move lots. In fact, it’s a huge focus in my life. So when I booked the Helios retreat, I was anticipating that the 5-day trip would be spent perfecting my burpees followed by eating very light meals (which are frankly boring). I’ve done those types of retreats before and I hated them but I’ve always been under the impression that retreats aren’t meant to be fun.
Arriving just in time for breakfast, the six guests (never to be referred to as bootcampers) are all chauffeur driven up the spiralling narrow roads to the stunning villa which perches at the top of a hill overlooking the incredible vista of Mykonos. On arrival, founder of Helios Retreats, Hugo-Martini Mensch is waiting for me with smoothie in hand. We are all briefed about the ethos of the escape- which is to learn to be truly kind to your body. This means that alongside the high-intensity workouts, we can also enjoy lazy afternoons by the infinity pool! To complement our beautifully crafted menus consisting of very ‘clean foods’ we can also have a glass or two of organic wine in the evening- without any shame or guilt whatsoever. It’s time to return to our natural, mindful, yin-yang approach to wellbeing. And so the retreat begins.
I make my way to my room, which would even put a smile on Kelly Hoppen’s face. The zen-inspired decor summons up a Feng Shui feeling which makes me consider diving deep into the King Size bed and resting there for the next four days. Of course, I resist. The bathroom is filled with organic toiletries, a linen Helios dressing gown and slippers and a goodie bag filled to the brim with ‘wellness’ delights including- leggings, chocolate (dark and raw, of course) and even a beautiful candle which I light straight away to get into the relaxation spirit of things.
We kick-start things off by going on a morning hike down to the Aegean Sea to dip our toes into the turquoise water. Hugo has bought along bags of toasted nuts and dried fruit and bottles of mint-infused waters for us to enjoy whilst sitting on the sand. After soaking up the Mediterranean sun, we make our way back up the steep hill in time for lunch. For those who would rather skip the extra-exercise, they get driven back to our abode. Hugo organises it with zero fuss- that seems to be the theme of the trip, anything is possible and stress is banned.
The smell of garlic oozes out of the villa just as we return back in time for lunch. The menu at Helios is unique. It follows a ‘chrononutrition’ structure – a method first developed in 1986 by Dr Alain Delabos. His (and their) thinking is that the time of the day that you eat affects your metabolism and health. It basically means that the majority of our food is enjoyed before 5pm. This allows us to naturally detoxify overnight which is not only proven to aid weight management but also improves sleep and helps our muscles to recover from any exercise we’ve carried out in the day. Lunch is an impeccably made wild sea bass, cooked in basil and garlic with potato puree (thankfully carbs are celebrated not demonised in Mykonos). There’s also a beautiful green salad with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and balsamic which is shared between us too. Each meal includes a good source of protein, which aids muscle recovery and also helps keep us fuller for longer.
For the rest of the afternoon we relax, and what’s perfectly considered is that if we want quiet time away from others, there is a private upper deck or if socialising is on the cards then there are sunbeds lining the pool.
Just as I crave an afternoon glass of Sangria, we are invited to a sunset yoga session led by Sarah Highfield. Sarah is a yogi with a pretty impressive track-record. She has taught at some of the best studios in London including FORM and Bodyism and has a hugely impressive client list (which unfortunately I am not allowed to disclose). Basically, she knows how to help unleash the ‘yin’ out of the very ‘yang’ personality types. And with me, she does it in a matter of minutes. As we take the first sun salutation on our mats, Sarah massages tiger balm into my tight shoulders and I surrender. For the first time in what feels like years, I mindfully stretch, breath deep and unwind for the 45 minute practice which ends with a 10 minute meditation as the sun sets over the Greek island.
Dinner is light, which in normal London life, would be enough to make me feel moody for the rest of the evening but for some reason, perhaps it’s a by-product of Sarah’s mindful meditation, the dish which consists of mussels lightly steamed and served with a broth of onions and fennels is all I need to feel nourished and ready to melt into my king size bed. By 9pm I’m sleeping like a baby.
We are woken the next day (and for the rest of the trip) at 7am, which on day two feels unwelcome but after getting used to early nights and early mornings actually makes me feel pretty smug and I quite like it. After a quick espresso, we walk to the villa’s Helipad where personal trainer, Danny Osbourne, greets us with a warm welcome (he’s topless). I’m not going to candy-coat it, his workouts are hard, sweat-inducing and pretty relentless (think burpees, hill sprints and endless ab exercises) but when you have the vigour of the other guests on your side, anything seems possible. Also, knowing that breakfast is only 50 minutes away is enough to keep me going all the way to the end. After a very-much needed cool down, we head off to breakfast alfresco.
Breakfast is organic buckwheat and quinoa cooked in fresh coconut water, walnut milk and a spoon of homemade mango and passionfruit jam. It tastes as extravagant as it sounds and I deserve every single morsel after Danny’s workout. Each day, the very well-deserved, Michelin-rated chef rustles up something even more fabulous- from eggs on toast to fresh fruit salad to fresh smoothie bowls, Greek food is there to be celebrated and healthy food suddenly feels decadent and no longer boring.
Breakfast is followed by a deep-tissue massage (of course) and a few more hours lying by the pool. Snacks are served halfway through the morning- which over the week ranges from homemade sugar-free ice cream, juices, smoothies and even grilled vegetables with a range of locally-sourced cheeses.
Some choose to go for another hike, others choose to do some boxing practice and pad-work with Danny, others choose to do nothing but lie horizontal until the afternoon comes around. That’s the beauty of Helios, there is no pressure to do anything at all. It’s all about tuning in with your body and re-finding your natural balance. I watch other guests beginning to let go of their habits, heady drinkers begin to opt for another glass of fresh juice instead of Chablis, I opt for another stretch session with Sarah instead of my typical high-intensity practice and those who normally don’t switch off their light until the early hours are tucked up by 9pm. The beauty is, this isn’t scheduled or ordered by Hugo, it’s actually just having the time and stress-free space to tune into our individual needs.
The days melt away in a similar vein, early rises, sweaty morning workouts followed by relaxing afternoons and mindful yin yoga sessions. Between the expertise of Hugo, Danny and Sarah, we are all carefully looked after and any wellbeing request is met with a smile. On our final evening we are treated to a night out on the ‘Mykonos tiles’, we go to a famous Greek restaurant synonymous for wild late-night parties and endless plate smashing. However the six of us, find ourselves ordering fresh mint tea and fruit to round up the evening, we also are all openly sharing the discoveries we have made from the retreat. I mention that it’s the first time I have felt free from my iPhone screen in years, others say that they are going to change their entire diet when they get home and one even says that he is going to hand in his notice (a broker in the City) when he gets home because he has realised that always being ‘on’ is not the way it has to be.
Helios has made me realise that to be truly ‘healthy’ you need balance. There is no need to go mad on a spinning bike every day. There is no need to eat ‘clean’ 7 days a week. There is no need to beat myself up if I miss a day (or week) of exercise. We all spend so much time beating ourselves up with ‘having’ to ‘eat well’, ‘work harder’ and ‘exercise more’ when actually, Sarah, Danny and Hugo prove that sometimes taking a moment to breath, relax and walk away from outside stresses has the power to improve your work, your mindset and your body. Balance is everything and now I’m back in the hectic city, I hope this new calm approach lasts.
Dates for 2017 in Mykonos
27-03 May – Sarah Highfield and Madeleine Karlsson
18-24th May – Danny Osborne and Yoga TBC
01-07 June – Natasha Kerry and Paola Di Lanzo