Sunset Yoga, Hiking & Healthy Food | This Could Be The Best Wellness Retreat You've Never Heard Of
Looking for a health kick this spring? A week at the Hillside Beach Club could be exactly what you need...
It's Friday morning. Normally I'm waking up to the sound of my alarm shrilling, hauling myself out of bed and peering outside to the grey cloud covering the sky. But this Friday was different.
As I open the curtains, sunlight streamed through. I could hear the sea was lapping on the shore and smell the fuschia pink bougainvillea wafting through the window.
Today I wouldn't be practicing yoga in my living room surrounded by crusty mugs of tea and laundry, I would be on a beach in Turkey watching in the sunrise over the leafy mountains of Fethiye.
Tucked away on the south-west coast of Turkey overlooking the Aegean Sea, the Hillside Beach Club is normally seen as a family-friendly luxury resort, but we were here on their Feel Good Week for four days of sunset yoga, hiking, stand-up paddling, personal training sessions and expert nutritional advice.
After a breakfast of eggs, bread, fresh fruit and Turkish tea, it was time for my session with celebrity personal trainer, Christina Howells.
As someone who has never had a personal training session, I was apprehensive. Do you really need someone to tell you when to squat, crunch and how many minutes to do on the cross-trainer?
"Every meal is laid out in the huge dining room with dozens of different kinds of salads – from quinoa to couscous to every vegetable combination under the sun..."
Christina has been a personal trainer for decades – and looks unbelievable for her age. If exercise and healthy eating are the elixir of life, we need to all be doing what Christina Howells is doing.
We quickly by-passed the treadmill, much to my relief, instead focusing on body weight exercises and using the suspended TRX bands to work biceps, quads and muscles I didn't even know existed.
Christina doesn't bark orders at you like an army general, instead she takes the softly-softly approach, encouraging you with her calming voice to “hold that pose just a little bit longer". She tailored my routine to suit my lifestyle and even adapted one of the TRX exercises to include a surfing pop-up movement.
By the end of the session, I felt exhausted – but in a good way. As we picked up our water bottles and towels to leave the gym, I could see the guys behind us trying to mimic Christina's routine.
Food is something Hillside Beach Club definitely does not skimp on. Every meal is laid out in the huge dining room with dozens of different kinds of salads – from quinoa to couscous to every vegetable combination under the sun.
There is a whole counter dedicated to cooked meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, fresh bread – even a chef making omelettes for you. And dried apricots. Turkish dried apricots are so delicious, you'll want to pack them all up in your suitcase and take them home with you.
We were joined by nutritionist Rob Hobson who came to offer us expert nutrition advice and cooking demonstrations. Every mealtime he was bombarded with questions from whether we should be eating coconut oil over olive oil and if it's true you shouldn't eat after 7pm.
Rob calmly answered all our questions with a philosophy that is so refreshing. He explained that he would never tell someone to just live on a seven-day juice diet or cut out carbohydrates completely and just live on raw vegetables. It's all about balance.
While Rob is an advocate of eating healthily, he explained that every body is different. It's best to listen to what your own body needs at certain times and feed it with wholesome nutritious meals. Rob insists that you have to be careful about avoiding carbs completely, for example. We need essential vitamins and fibres from foods like carbohydrates for our bodies to function properly.
It might sound like basic stuff but in the modern day – with so many fad diets and conflicting nutritional advice – it was good to hear a balanced perspective from Rob. Instead of feeling chastised, he left us feeling clued up and inspired to cook more healthily at home.
Just before sunset, we sat under the palm trees and Rob gave us a cooking demonstration from the book that he co-authored, The Detox Kitchen Bible. It is packed full of healthy nutritious recipes – ideal for meat eaters as well as vegetarians and vegans – designed to leave you feeling energised and full, rather than sluggish and bloated.
One of my favourites was the orange, beetroot, chickpea and lime dip he made for us – which was really simple to make (you just throw it all in a blender) and tasted delicious.
In the evening, we boarded a huge yacht for our sunset yoga session. Everyone rolled out their mats on the huge open deck, sitting cross-legged and connecting to their breath as the boat gently slid out of the harbour.
It was a warm still evening, the sky melting into an orange-pink colour as the sun dipped behind the mountains. The smell of incense was in the air as the class began – run by a Turkish yoga instructor with an English translator. As we lay in savasana at the end, the entire boat was silent, until we finally opened our eyes to see the stars twinkling above.
Yoga is on offer twice daily during the Feel Good Week, we were already planning our 8am morning session on the Silent Beach the next day - followed by a massage in the amazing Balinese style Sanda Nature Spa.
"With so many fad diets and conflicting nutritional advice, it was good to hear a balanced perspective from nutritionist Rob"
If you're thinking this all sounds a little too quiet and meditative, Hillside offers an unbelievably large array of activities on site.
We spent one morning on a three-hour guided hike through the mountainous woodland with spectacular views across the crystal blue bay – stopping off in a local village to smell the pomegranates growing in the trees and snap photos of the camels.
Onsite, there are tennis courts, football pitches, a volleyball court, archery and a gym plus you can use the catamarans, kayaks and SUP boards on the beach for free, plus there is a PADI diving school on site so you can complete your Open Water Diver while you are there.
The beauty of the Hillside Beach Club Feel Good Week is that it is as strict and intense as you want to make it. There is no one here saying you must only eat raw vegetables or frowning if you have a glass of red wine with dinner. It is totally up to you how you want your week to be, which is a much more relaxed and let's face it, honest way of putting together a wellness retreat.
As we spent the last day paddling around the jade-green waters on a SUP board, I was sad to be leaving the beach yoga sessions, the couscous salads and the warm sunsets behind but at least I've got a suitcase full of dried apricots and a way to weave those manageable aspects of healthy living back into my daily life.
The Hillside Beach Club Feel Good Week takes place on from 8th – 14th May 2016, costing from £992 per person based on two people sharing, and is available to book via classiccollection.co.uk.
Personal training, private yoga classes and nutrition consultation spaces are limited to 25 people and bookings are on a first come first served basis. All three sessions are available for £100, or priced individually at £40. Guests can book by contacting Hillside Beach Club directly.