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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon

Banana lounges at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon

Morning stretch class? The only morning stretch I do is reaching over to hit the snooze button. But there I was. Seven am. Yoga mat. At a health retreat in the Southern Highlands. A pig just flew by.

I don't remember seeing the words "health retreat" on the 24-hour media invite to Solar Springs. I just remember the words massage, relax and massage. And did I mention they do massages? Oh god, yes please.

Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Solar Springs, Bundanoon

Solar Springs has been around for about thirty years, first starting as a weekend retreat for members of a fitness club in Sydney. Eventually it opened to the general public, providing accommodation, relaxation classes and health and fitness facilities.

Bundanoon train station
Bundanoon railway station

It's an easy two hour drive from Sydney to Solar Springs, just up the road from Bundanoon village and Bundanoon train station (the retreat will even pick you up from the station if you organise ahead).

Rear balcony at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Solar Springs main residence with verandah overlooking Morton National Park

We drive up a gravel driveway which opens up to a huge estate with manicured gardens and accommodation buildings ahead.

Thursday daily activities at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Thursday schedule at Solar Springs, Bundanoon

We're here for 24 hours, a lot shorter than most visits which tend to run for 2-5 days. They have regular guests who will stay for two weeks or longer every year.

It's hard not to miss the whiteboard of activities near reception. I'm immediately reminded of school camp, but relax, there's nothing mandatory here. The only slots you'll want to pay attention to are meals, which are served between set hours in the dining room. Everything else is up to you.

I've never been to a health retreat before and I'm not quite sure whether I'm meant to be exercising (ie. not relaxing) or relaxing (ie. not exercising). I'm used to either doing everything all at once, or crashing out on the lounge and doing nothing at all.

Lunch buffet at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Buffet salads at lunch

1.00pm After checking into our rooms, we start our 24-hour stint with the most pressing thing on my mind: lunch. It's a buffet-style affair in the dining room with dhal curry and rice in the bain marie to the side, and salads set up on a long table.

Dhal curry with rice, cabbage salad and damper at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Dhal with rice, cabbage salad, roast pumpkin and damper

The pumpkin salad is undressed but you can add your own olive oil and balsamic if you prefer. The cabbage salad is pepped up with a generous handful of roasted cashews but it's the dhal that's the crowd pleaser, warm and hearty and full of spice. The damper is also still warm from the oven, its chewy crust encasing soft and fluffy innards.

Dining room at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Dining room

2.00pm I've been set up with a mini consultation with the retreat's naturopath. She normally conducts a thorough interview but I ask her to skip straight ahead to an iridology assessment, where your eye is examined closely for colour and fibre structure variations to identify underlying health issues. She says she can see possible digestive issues and also signs of stress - both potentially true - although she does know I'm a food blogger and writer...!

She explains that they use a holistic approach in treatments and will usually prescribe herbal tonics, concocted from the bookshelf filled with jars and bottles.

Mountain bikes at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Free mountain bikes for use

3.00pm I skip the scheduled bootcamp class and hop onto one of the free mountain bikes provided for guests, pedalling my way to nearby Morton National Park.

Walking trail in Bundanoon
Walking track in Bundanoon

There's nothing but the sound of wind rushing through the trees and the occasional twitter from a bird. It's cool and quiet and peaceful.

Horses, sheep and alpacas in Bundanoon
Horse, sheep and alpaca on a property in Bundanoon

I feel a bit like a kid again as I stop at a property fence to check out the residents. A horse trots over to say hello but the alpaca just stops and stares with curiosity.

Autumn leaves in Bundanoon
Autumn leaves

There are plenty of autumn leaves to admire too, bursting into fireballs of reds, oranges and yellows amongst the greenery.

Almond and chocolate slice afternoon tea at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Almond and chocolate slice for afternoon tea

4.00pm I make sure I make it back in time for afternoon tea at 4pm (priorities!). Today's treat is an almond and chocolate slice, with a note reminding everyone that portion control is about one slice per person. And dammit that guilt trip actually worked.

Indoor 25m heated pool at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Indoor heated 25m swimming pool

4.30pm Swimming time! The 25m indoor pool isn't as warm as I thought it would be, but as long as you keep moving it's fine. The water is clean but thankfully not overly chlorinated and I force myself to do 20 laps as I think of that almond and chocolate slice with every stroke.

Jacuzzi spa at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Heated spa

5.15pm Hot tub time! The heated spa is like a gloriously hot bath, relaxing all your muscle aches and pains. Things get even crazier when you turn the spa jets on - it's like a volcanic eruption as the jets go into overdrive creating a whirlpool of froth and bubbles.

Sunbeds at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Outdoor deck chairs

Pumpkin and ginger soup at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Pumpkin and ginger soup

6.30pm Dinners are always three course meals although there are no choices available between dishes. Dietary requirements can be logged in advance.

Head chef Francois Razavet is a French ex-pat who moved to Australia permanently in 2005. He previously worked at Peppers Manor House in the Southern Highland, earning a SMH Chef's Hat in 2009 and 2010.

Sous vide chicken with fondant potato, roast beetroot and beans at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Sous vide chicken with fondant potatoes, roast beetroot, pesto and green beans

The pumpkin and ginger soup is light and clean-tasting, moving into more complex territory with the main. When I'd spoken with Razavet earlier that afternoon he'd admitted that because so many of the guests here are long-time locals, changing the menu has been difficult. Sous vide fish dishes were often sent back to the kitchen because people presumed the fish was still raw and needed more cooking.

Tonight the sous vide chicken looks like it's been determinedly cooked to well done, served with fondant potatoes, roasted beetroot, a dollop of zingy pesto and crisp cooked beans doused in butter. Ahhh butter.... that's better.

Honey baked ricotta with apple jelly at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Honey baked ricotta with apple jelly

Dessert is impressively plated: wedges of honey baked ricotta interspersed with cubes of apple jelly, matchsticks of Granny Smith, fresh strawberry halves and micro leaves.

8.15pm We head off on a night-time walk to the glow worm glen armed with torches. The night sky is spectacular, dazzling with all sizes of stars. It's like someone threw a whole pile of glitter into the air.

Residential streets give way to a path into the forest. It's pitch black with an occasional ominous rustle in the shadows of the bushes but we make it down 200 steps into the glen. The glow worms are at the very bottom of the valley, hanging from rock ledges and looking like Christmas lights. There aren't a huge number tonight but it's still a rather magical sight.

We set off up the steps at a cracking pace back to the retreat. The board says the walk should take 90 minutes but I'm sure we did it in sixty.

9.30pm Eat an apple from the fruit bowl in the communal living room.

9.45pm Retreat to bedroom and polish off a chocolate bar I'd packed in my suitcase. Oh god it was good.

10.00pm There are no TVs in the rooms here. There are no alarm clocks. There is no wifi. Watch videos on my iPhone instead.

Views of Bundanoon
View from Solar Springs towards Morton National Park

6.15am Wake up at the crack of dawn because I'd actually gone to bed early the night before. The morning light is stunning out here as the landscape shifts from greys and blues to warmer tones of greens and yellows.

Hedges at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Hedges and greenery in the garden

Fountain at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon

Morning stretch classes at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Morning stretch class

7.15am Unless you've remembered to put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, staff will cheerfully provide a wake up knock at 7.00am. That gives you fifteen minutes to get down to the gym for the morning stretch class.

Our instructor has an eerily soothing voice. We're encouraged to re-set our minds, to consciously let go of the stress and pressures in our life and "Just accept. Accept it for what it is".

We stretch, we elongate, we inhale, we exhale. It's not an overly vigorous class and there's an overriding sense of acceptance and humility. "Massage your feet. Thank your toes for all their hard work. If you feel pain in your arch thank your body for enduring so much, and for letting you know how much work it has done".

We lie on our backs and pull our knees into our chest. "Now invite your knees a little closer." I want to make my knee a cup of tea and offer scones with jam and cream.

Breakfast at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Breakfast buffet

8.00am Breakfast is a self-serve buffet. There are fried eggs, porridge, cereals, yoghurt, fruit salad and toast.

We note that although many guests had arrived as strangers, they all choose to sit together at breakfast and dinner, creating a communal table of new friends. The heartfelt friendliness of everyone at the retreat is immediately noticeable. When we leave, we discover that three groups who had met that weekend all booked themselves for the same weekend the following year as some kind of impromptu reunion.

Garden decorations anad homewares at Bundanoon Bloomery
Garden decorations and homewares at Bundanoon Bloomery

9.30am There's a morning bushwalk scheduled but I walk down to Bundanoon Village instead to explore the local shops. It's only a short strip of businesses, but there's enough here to keep you occupied for a couple of hours.

Artist tools at Bruce Pryor's Kilns, Bundanoon Pottery and Gallery
Artist tools at Bundanoon Pottery and Gallery by Bruce Pryor

Local potter Bruce Pryor happily gives us a tour of his studio and kilns.

Handmade ceramics at Bruce Pryor's Kilns, Bundanoon Pottery and Gallery
Handmade ceramics by Bruce Pryor

Homemade jams and marmalades at The Good Yarn, Bundanoon
Homemade jams and marmalades at The Good Yarn, Bundanoon

And you can pick up a whole heap of homemade jams, marmalades, pickles and chutneys from The Good Yarn on the corner. They also have second hand crockery, jewellery and handmade knits.

Rotunda, swing and gardens at Solar Springs Health Retreat, Bundanoon
Rotunda, swing and gardens at Solar Springs, Bundanoon

12.00pm Facial. There are no massage therapists today so we settle with facials. There are pan pipes, candles and fluffy bathrobes. Scalp massage, treatments and face massage. I could get used to this.

1.00pm Lunch. We load up on wraps and salads before the drive back to Sydney. It doesn't take long for us to hit bumper to bumper traffic.

I miss those night skies already.

Grab Your Fork stayed as a guest of Solar Springs Health Retreat.

Railway tracks from Bundanoon train station

Solar Springs Health Retreat
96 Osborn Avenue, Bundanoon, Southern Highlands, NSW
Tel: 1800 044 944 or +61 (02) 4883 6027

Bundanoon Pottery & Gallery - Bruce Pryor's Kilns
39 Railway Avenue, Bundanoon
Tel: +61 (02) 4883 6453

The Good Yarn
3 Railway Avenue, Bundanoon
Tel: +61 (02) 4883 6542

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20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/08/2014 02:58:00 am


  • At 5/08/2014 9:42 am, Anonymous TY said…

    24 hours without the kids sounds like a dream escape to me!

  • At 5/08/2014 9:45 am, Anonymous kk said…

    I haven't been to Bundanoon but it looks so pretty. I love how you captured those autumn leaves Helen!

  • At 5/08/2014 9:57 am, Anonymous Bel | Ooh, Look... said…

    I love Solar Springs; I stayed there a few times many years ago (Russell Crowe was in one of the villas). I also remember the food being fantastic and falling asleep during the yoga :\

  • At 5/08/2014 11:28 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh my gosh this place looks delicious!

  • At 5/08/2014 1:24 pm, Anonymous Eha said…

    Am feeling sorry for myself as was booked in for a week as a birthday present for myself a few years back and had to cancel late! Am smiling as I think that I would have fully appreciated the place a wee bit more than most and it would have set me up for a year of less healthy pursuits :) !

  • At 5/08/2014 8:51 pm, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    I feel refreshed and rejuvenated by reading your post alone. And damn, was hoping to see at least one pic of you getting stretchy in the flexibility gym class. I would have snuck an extra piece of the almond & chocolate slice.

  • At 5/08/2014 9:16 pm, Anonymous Fiona said…

    Stayed there a couple of years back and LOVED it. So much better value than other retreats~!!

  • At 5/08/2014 11:29 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    yep im with john, i wouldve snuck extras of that slice

  • At 5/09/2014 12:46 am, Blogger Vivian - vxdollface said…

    I've always wondered what a health retreat would be like! Very detoxing that's for sure

  • At 5/09/2014 10:28 am, Anonymous Karen said…

    I've always thought about going to a health retreat but thought they would be too strict and it would be run like an army. I do like the sound of this one, and how lovely that you get afternoon tea too. I don't know if I cuold stop at just one! They look so yummy!

  • At 5/09/2014 5:47 pm, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    Places as wonderful as this should definitely go open themselves to the public. Close to nature, close encounters with animals, healthy food!

    Gourmet Getaways

  • At 5/09/2014 11:22 pm, Anonymous Macky Blaise said…

    Seems to be a great place to hang out. I wanna go there.

  • At 5/10/2014 5:27 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Ah yes, but that makes for a lot of morning stretching, what with your seven different alarms and snooze buttons each morning and all... ;)

    "9.45pm Retreat to bedroom and polish off a chocolate bar I'd packed in my suitcase. Oh god it was good.

    10.00pm There are no TVs in the rooms here. There are no alarm clocks. There is no wifi. Watch videos on my iPhone instead."


  • At 5/10/2014 2:20 pm, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Great post Helen - such a joy to read. :) "Ahhh butter.... that's better." - awesome slogan right there! :D

  • At 5/11/2014 3:12 am, Anonymous Richard said…

    It looks so green and peaceful. Maybe it's time I had my own retreat too. Thanks for sharing.

  • At 5/11/2014 11:56 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    I love the Southern Highlands especially so during autumn when it's so vibrant with crimson, orange and gold.

  • At 5/11/2014 11:15 pm, Anonymous Daisy@Nevertoosweet said…

    What a great place for some R and R :) I'd love to visit if I had the chance, and I love how you gave an itinerary because that means when I go, i can just follow it! :)

  • At 5/15/2014 1:00 am, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I think the art of snooze button stretching is very underrated. I have never been to a health retreat, but I think a couple of weeks at one would do me the world of good, a complete kick start to the body. I also spied wine with dinner, my kind of retreat :)

  • At 5/25/2014 12:38 pm, Anonymous Eva@thehungryplum said…

    Yay! Glad you enjoyed my neighbourhood :D

    Haha, I love how all the comments reflect on how food-obsessed we all are, I guess the food wasn't supposed to be the main theme hey?

  • At 5/26/2014 11:49 pm, Anonymous Keren said…

    Looks so awesome!!! Food looks so good and pretty vegan friendly.. Would be nice for a short weekend break I think.


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