It’s hard to believe that just an hour from Sydney lies a little sanctuary where you feel so far removed from everyday life, that you could be a billion miles away. With not a care in the world.
But that’s exactly what Billabong Retreat is. A low-key haven for stressed-out busy-busy Sydneysiders to switch off, calm down, get quiet, comfy and really well-fed.
Nestled in the bush at Maraylya (near Windsor), Billabong Retreat needs to go right to the top of your bucket list this year. Two days was enough to completely calm my uptight nervous system right down.
I came home feeling super zen and relaxed, and feeling super healthy too.
Let me tell you a little more about it.
How Billabong Retreat was Born
Around 6 years ago, Eastern Suburbs couple Paul and Tory von Bergen fell in love with a plot of land around a picturesque billabong an hour or so out of town.
Inspired by health and wellness retreats in Thailand and motivated by the desire to help people find connection, contentedness and peace of mind, they set about making their dream a reality.
Starting with just the original residence (The Lodge), Paul and Tory ran the small retreat themselves, with Paul teaching yoga and Tory in the kitchen. They took it in turns to look after the kids while welcoming guests to Billabong every few weeks.
And those guests just loved it. Word of mouth meant demand for stays grew and so opportunities to extend the retreat appeared. Over time (with considerable hard work, heartache, persistence and investment), Billabong has been able to grow into what it is today.
A huge and beautiful yoga room has been added (amazing views of the treetops as you tree pose, yogis). And a multi-room Wellness Centre where you can book in for a massage, reiki, kinesiology and more.
Throw in a magnesium pool and some beautiful new deluxe cabins and this little slice of heaven is complete. For now, anyway 😉
More than a yoga retreat
One thing that you notice about Billabong is that it’s more than a yoga retreat. It’s a family-run business with a small team of people, and they’re all on the same track.
Rachel (the GM) and Tillie on reception welcome you like a friend. And you get that same warm vibe from the whole Billabong gang. Their sole purpose is to nourish you from the minute you arrive until the minute you leave. Not just your body, but your soul too.
Of course, the first thing you think about when you say ‘nourish’ is food, so let’s start there.
Seriously. Amazing. Food
O.M.Geeeeee. The food is unreal.
The food philosophy at Billabong is SLOW food (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Wholefoods). And you can taste the difference. The food is all gluten free (mostly dairy free too), and if you have any other intolerances, you just let them know in advance and they’ll have you covered.
It’s also vegetarian. But don’t worry if you’re a regular meat/chicken/fish eater (I am), you will not feel lacking in any way. It’s all so DELICIOUS.
And so nutritious, you totally come away feeling healthier and you will perhaps see for the first time how amazing a plate of vegetables can be. I honestly want to eat like that for the rest of my life. If I could just get those chefs to pop along to my house every night….
Speaking of chefs, Billabong has three. They kind of job share, so on any one 3 day visit you might be cooked for by one, two or all three of them, depending on the days.
On the first night during my stay, we had Simon Favorito from Your Conscious Kitchen. I can’t stop thinking about that eggplant, with miso and honey dressing, accompanied by a couple of delish salads, pumpkin puree that was to-die-for, and a yum capsicum sauce. Please, please, please can I have the recipes?!
Then Angie Cowan took over and served us some more crazy-good dishes. Like a pumpkin and sweet potato curry, and vegetable shepherds pie. Plus breakfasts you could literally eat all day (every day) like buckwheat pancakes, stewed apples with cinnamon, homemade muesli, egg slice and roast veggies. Oh and some afternoon tea treats that I may have had double servings of. Too good not to.
Check out Angie’s Love Life Gluten Free cookbook which you can buy at the retreat (I did and she signed it for me).
None of the food is super fancy. It’s just great, honest, nutritious fresh food cooked with love. The chefs tell you what’s on offer and maybe a bit of a background before you tuck in.
The Billabong Retreat Philosophy
Honesty and kindness underpin everything at Billabong. Towards the guests, the staff, the environment.
At the welcome talk on your first day, you will hear how Billabong has achieved it’s eco-rating and how you can help while you’re there (spoiler alert – don’t waste your water!). You feel a sense of both mindfulness and community just by being there.
One of the great things about Billabong Retreat is that there is a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets.
There’s the fancier Deluxe Cabins with aircon, and that glorious bath on the balcony (how divine does that look?!). Or the more modest Ensuite Treehouse Cabins (I was in one of those), some Ensuite accommodation in The Lodge, or private bedrooms with shared bathrooms in The Lodge and Harmony Cottage.
Plus there’s even a ‘quad’ dorm, so if four of you are going, you could book that and pay about half the price of the top-of-the-range cabins! Even if you’re going by yourself, you could book that option and make a new friend. Everyone is very friendly.
What to do at Billabong Retreat
I went on the Meditation Essentials program, which includes a daily workshop on meditation, and introduction to the practice, and some practical hints and tips. And importantly some experience of different techniques you can take home to continue in your ‘normal’ life (if only Billabong life was normal life!).
There are other programs available around wellness, yoga and mindfulness. Check them all out here, and pick one that grabs you.
Or don’t pick one at all – regardless of whether you’re booked into a specific program or not, you can attend twice daily yoga classes (7am before breakie, and 3.30pm) and a meditation class every other night at 7.30pm.
The yoga and meditation teachers ‘job share’ in the same way as the chefs. We had Natalie and then Basia. Both were brilliant teachers and hosts.
The yoga was as gentle or strong as you like it, given they cover off all levels. I usually consider myself ‘not very good’ at yoga, and at times it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable if I can’t quite ‘get’ an asana. Not at Billabong. I felt great enjoying my child’s pose while someone else might be doing a trickier movement. It’s all good. Natalie and Basia made me feel completely relaxed about it.
Another thing I absolutely loved is there’s loads of ‘free time’ even if you’re on a program (ha I sound like I’m on school camp, don’t I?).
So you can snuggle on a sofa and read a book, drink multiple cups of herbal tea and snooze. Or you can hang in your room for some super quiet time.
Or take a dip in the pool, book a treatment in the Wellness Centre, or go for a walk around the pretty, pretty billabong. Or chill in the water-side pavilion (read, meditate, chat, do yoga…).
I even went for a 5km run/walk outside the property and met some beautiful horses and goats along the way. Only saw two cars. Can’t do that in Sydney!
Oh, and there’s absolutely no pressure to do any of the classes if you don’t want to. If you just want to chill and eat, that’s totes OK too.
Training for Chocolate’s top tips
Can you tell how much I loved my short stay at Billabong Retreat? Wish I could have stayed longer and would love to go again. I thoroughly recommend it, people.
I’ll write another blog post soon specifically about the yoga and meditation side of things, but in the meantime, here are my top tips for your stay:
- Just do it. Book yourself in. Go for three days and see how different you feel upon your return to normality.
- Have a massage. I had an amazing relaxation massage with Sheree. Soooooo good.
- Take mozzie repellent. They do have some in the communal area, but I did get one or two in my cabin, sent to torment me and test my new-found zen.
- Don’t forget your reusable water bottle. You’ll refill it at the bubbler outside the dining room and take it everywhere with you.
- Leave your make-up and toiletries behind. In your Billabong bathroom, you’ll find biodegradable shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap. So you don’t need to take any of those. And you won’t need make up.
Be open. Open to a gluten-free vegetarian diet. Open to mooching about in your yoga gear all day, not really doing so much. Open to new people. Open to letting go of everything that is stressing you out. Open to learning more about yoga, mindfulness, meditation and yourself.
Thank you, Billabong Retreat, for temporarily transporting me to a far away land of relaxation and tranquillity.
Now it’s my job to make that state of inner peace and calm a permanent one.
If you have any questions about Billabong Retreat, pop them in the comments box below, and I’ll be happy to answer as best I can. X