A Michelin-featured chef, view of the Ionian sea, luxe hotel rooms and breathtaking massages on the beach made getting fit pretty bearable for Healthista Reboot blogger, Caroline Williams who tried a HHH Retreat in Kefalonia Greece. Best news? Healthista readers get £200 off rooms!
I had never been to a health retreat before but I love exercising and am interested in healthy eating so have always quite liked the idea of it. When my personal trainer came back from a recent retreat week with Hellenic Healthy Holidays (HHH) and told me about the beautiful setting, the other trainers and the workouts they were doing I loved the sound of it. So when I found out there was a space left on a retreat last May at the same location I jumped at the chance to go.
It focuses on weight loss and improved fitness through detox
HHH is a week long health holiday run four times a year at a lovely 5 star hotel in Kefalonia, Greece. It focuses on weight loss and improved fitness through detox food and a wide range of varied fitness activities.
The week started with us all meeting up at the small airport in Kefalonia, having arrived on different (very early!) flights from the UK and Scotland. I flew direct from Gatwick to Kefalonia, a 3.5 hrs flight of which I slept most of the way. I was feeling a bit run down and had been having a nasty cold all week so after stocking up on some cold remedies at Boots at the airport I took the chance to rest, knowing it would be an intense schedule for the next 7 days.
I took the chance to rest, knowing it would be an intense schedule for the next 7 days.
On our arrival we were greeted with a deliciously creamy and sweet berry smoothie made of raw almond milk and berries and some refreshing towels as well as a snack pack with apples and almonds (something we would see a lot more of in the following week). We were then transported to our home for the week, Emelisse Art Hotel, on the north side of the island. The journey took about 75 minutes and we were entertained by Henlu, the co-founder of HHH and one of the trainers, who talked the whole way, seemingly unbothered by the early start to the day.
The thought of being able to work out intensely for a week and get a kick start with my fitness really appealed
I was looking forward to a week focusing on myself and my health and to get away for a proper break from everyday life. My life at home in London is always quite busy, with two daughters, Ebba, 7 and Mia, 3, a husband that works a lot and running my own graphic design business. I try to find time at least 3-4 days a week for exercise but the thought of being able to work out intensely for a week and get a kick start with my fitness really appealed. I’ve signed up for the Royal Parks half marathon in October so with that in mind too I needed to up my game.
I have sworn not to go back to the yo-yo dieting and quick fixes any more
I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life and over the years it has fluctuated a lot. Having been given the chance to work with a personal trainer and a nutritionist during the Healthista Reboot challenge at the beginning of the year for 12 weeks, I felt I was on a really good track. I have sworn not to go back to the yo-yo dieting and quick fixes any more. A healthy holiday seemed a fantastic way to get some much needed me-time and boost my fitness level at the same time.
Several hidden terraces and three pools around the grounds were perfect for chilling out between exercise sessions
I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect setting. Just outside the small picturesque fishing village of Fiscardo, referred to as the ‘poshest village’ on the island, the hotel sits on the rocks above the turquoise Ionian sea, nestled in a mass of cedars and cypress trees. Its 90 rooms are spread out in clusters around a main building which houses the reception, a spacious lounge area, café and breakfast room. Several hidden terraces and three pools around the grounds were perfect for chilling out between exercise sessions (there are even bean bags scattered on the rocks by the sea for a total escape). At night, the grounds are lit up with soft lamps and candlelight.
My room with its sea view was decorated in a subtle natural palette with a large canopy teak bed stacked with cushions and had a bathroom full of the luscious Greek Korres products. Oh and I spent a lot of my spare time by my semi private pool and I was often the only person there.
The first day we had lunch by the pool of turkey burger with rocket pesto, artichokes and pepper and a selection of salads. The chef Alan Wichert trained at the acclaimed La Potinière restaurant in North Sydney, Australia and got the Swag Tails of Knightsbridge where he worked into the acclaimed Michelin guide in 1999.
HHH told me Al’s menus are head and shoulders above your standard retreat food
Since 2000 he has been specialising in healthy food and has worked on more than 250 retreats world wide since then. The more seasoned retreaters that I met during my week at HHH told me Al’s menus are head and shoulders above your standard retreat food. Though superbly tasty, it was detox food and Al’s food philosophy is to cut out any added salt, sugar, wheat, cows dairy, caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats while not compromising on flavour.
I am now down to the occasional treat coffee.
We had been advised to cut down on caffeine and alcohol the week before the retreat to minimise withdrawal symptoms. I was fine as I had dealt with my caffeine addiction earlier in the year when I took part in the Reboot challenge and worked with nutritionist Alli Godbold. Having previously been drinking three cups of coffee and at least one diet coke a day, I am now down to the occasional treat coffee.
I had only ever tasted shop bought almond milk before and got hooked on the rich flavours
We were all eating the same food apart from a vegetarian who had alternatives to our chicken and turkey dishes. Often porridge in the mornings with nuts and seeds and always a different raw milk plus green juices and smoothies. I had only ever tasted shop bought almond milk before and got hooked on the rich flavours of the fresh macademia, almond and cashew milks on offer.
I had been worried that I would be hungry and had secretly sneaked a packet of almonds in my suitcase but actually I didn’t need them.
A few nights we were even treated to decadent but apparently healthy desserts – chia seed and coconut pudding with acai berries, cashew nut parfait with goji berries and the grand finale, raw chocolate
cheesecake. I had been worried that I would be hungry and had secretly sneaked a packet of almonds in my suitcase but actually I didn’t need them. The portions seemed to be the same size for everyone, regardless of age and gender which struck me as slightly odd.
We had a large variety of fruit and vegetables throughout the day not only with the meals but also made into restorative smoothies, juices and soups.
I was keen to lose a couple of kilos and most other guests also wanted to lose some weight. Al explained that he includes a lot of immune boosting foods and spices like garlic, turmeric and ginger in the food which not only made the food delicious (honestly it was like eating at a Michelin star restaurant, every meal for seven days) but also super healthy. We had a large variety of fruit and vegetables throughout the day not only with the meals but also made into restorative smoothies, juices and soups. The raw avocado and carrot soup with cayenne pepper which we had on our ‘raw day’ mid-week was a favourite and definitely something I will try recreating at home. The beetroot and ginger juice was also amazing with a real kick of flavours.
The herbs and some of the vegetables were grown in the hotel’s own herb garden and most ingredients were locally sourced and organic. Al adapted the menu depending on what ingredients he could get hold of and being by the sea this often meant fresh seafood. We had large langoustines, king prawns, scallops, sea bass and calamari to name a few. Al did a cooking demo where we learned some of his amazing recipes, making raw nut milk, dipping sauces, porridge and sushi to name a few.
A few people added in extra sessions of squash, tennis or cycling too, whereas some opted out of a few sessions.
Our group had all types – an international DJ, a lawyer, a public relations woman, an IT consultant and an artist. Fitness-wise, most people joined in with all the activities which ended up being about four hours each day, I kid you not. A few people added in extra sessions of squash, tennis or cycling too, whereas some opted out of a few sessions. Having three highly experienced trainers on hand meant that the level of the sessions could be adapted to fit everyone. Each day consisted of around four hours worth of varied amounts of hikes in the beautiful surroundings, running, cycling, PT sessions with the trainers (two sessions were included in the price), sea kayaking, group sessions of circuits and high interval training, pilates and yoga.
The group classes held in the afternoons on the tennis court were hard work
I like running so I chose to do that on a couple of occasions when we had a choice of what we wanted to do. The terrain around the hotel is hilly which was challenging but one of trainers would run with each of us for parts of the run and give tips on breathing and running technique which was useful and completely new to me. The group classes held in the afternoons on the tennis court were hard work; old school circuit training with sprints, lots of squats and lunges, ab crunches, boxing and the dreaded burpees that trainer Henlu loved throwing into the mix when we least expected them.
like sweating and feeling that I have done a ‘proper’ workout so always found yoga a bit too slow.
I was curious about the yoga sessions. I do Pilates at home and love it but have never really got into yoga. I have dabbled in it on holidays and on a few occasions over the years, mainly pregnancy yoga and mum and baby yoga, but was never really sold. I like sweating and feeling that I have done a ‘proper’ workout so always found yoga a bit too slow. However I realise that ‘slow’ is a good thing and of course know of all the benefits of doing yoga – de-stressing, flexibility and balance for example so I was keen to give it a proper chance over this holiday.
We practiced series of movements
The sessions were taught by Jacqui who specialises in fitness for women. In the morning sessions it was quite flowing and we practiced series of movements, whereas in the evenings it was more focussed on stretching and unwinding. In the end I perservered with it and did really enjoy the yoga, feeling a good increase in my flexibility in only a week.
My absolute highlight of the hikes was on the second hike when towards the end of the hike
We did three hikes during the week. We climbed high up in the hills and ended up with breathtaking views of the sea, walked through small villages with little churches and old ladies greeting us from their coffee breaks, through fields of wild flowers and fresh mint. But my absolute highlight of the hikes was on the second hike when towards the end of the hike (they were typically around 15km and took us 3.5 hours to complete) ended up sweaty and tired at a gorgeous little secluded white beach. Benny the dog jumped into the sea first and a few of us followed. Heaven. When we had dried off and started our walk back I made a throwaway comment that I could have spent a few more hours there it was so lovely. Immediately Jacquie decided that if we wanted to stay for a while we should. So a few of us returned to the beach for another hour or so of chilling out and swimming. This was quite typical for the week, the trainers were flexible and adapted and adjusted things to make sure we had a great time.
The three massages included in the price were a welcome break for our tired bodies. Two of the massages were by the hotels Elemis spa therapists, Bessie and Sotiris. The spa was the most luxurious space I have ever been treated in. The rooms were enormous, with an extra wide massage table, decorated in lovely deep colours and with relaxing scents flowing out of ‘urns’. Bessie and Sotiris were amazing and I was treated to body brushing and stretching as part of the massages and warm oil was dripped all over my skin. I felt truly relaxed afterwards and it took all my will power to drag myself to the afternoon’s circuit training afterwards.
He worked on the whole body, alternating more gentle strokes with quite deep and firm moves depending on how the muscles felt.
The third massage was by John Orum who is also one of the trainers at the retreat. This was a real wow moment. I have had my fair share of massages over the years but never anything like this! John works with the Esalen technique and was trained at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur California. He worked on the whole body, alternating more gentle strokes with quite deep and firm moves depending on how the muscles felt. A big part was to try to get the body to relax and he encouraged me to try to let go of any thoughts. He explained it can sometimes take a few sessions to achieve this as we are so used to tensing up. I could definitely feel myself relaxing as the massage went on, which I am sure was partly due to the fantastic setting. John had set up his table outside on a secluded terrace by the sea so not only was the sun warming my skin, but all I heard was the waves against the rocks below and the occasional bumble bee attracted to the scented oils. It was the most relaxed I have been in a long time. I have already booked a session with John back in London where there are only a handful of trained Esalen massage therapists available.
Mid morning and before our afternoon exercise sessions we always got a fresh juice, and in the afternoons cruditees and dips, to level our blood sugar and flush out toxins. These juices, in all kinds of colours, ranged from really delicious to er, healthy tasting… There were a couple of muddy looking juices that I won’t be upset if I never see again but most of the juices were delicious and refreshing, many of them were beetroot based or with celery and spinach.
At the optional weigh in at the end of the week some people showed amazing results on the scales, with the average weight loss of 2-3 kilos in the week. One of the guests had lost 11 cm around his waist, a HHH record. I had lost about 1.5 kilo and a few centimeters off waist, hips and bust and I could feel my fitness improving throughout the week. On my run the last morning before heading off to the airport I ran further up the long hill leading from the village than I had been able to do earlier in the week.
Although I am not juicing daily at home I definitely also got a lot of inspiration for how to cook healthily and flavoursome.
A couple of days after we got back home, we were sent Al’s recipes and a lot of information on healthy eating. I felt that I was given a lot of useful tips on my training throughout the week that I will be able to bring with me home. Although I am not juicing daily at home I definitely also got a lot of inspiration for how to cook healthily and flavoursome. I have tried to change a couple of small habits and have cut down dramatically on salt usage in my cooking, something I know I used way too much of. I also start every morning now with a cup of fresh ginger and lemon tea, a lovely and gentle way to start the day, that we had every morning at the retreat.
The weather was lovely all week, with temperatures of around 27-28 degrees so I came home with a bit of a tan, a more toned body, great new friends and more relaxed then I have ever felt after a holiday before. I will definitely re-book for next year.
HEALTHISTA LAST MINUTE SPECIAL!
Hellenic Healthy Holidays run Health and fitness retreats in Kefalonia, Greece during the months of May through to October, the next one is May 7-14th. There are five rooms left and Healthista readers can exclusively get £200 off price off £1895 twin share (down to £1695 for Healthista readers) and £2495 single (down to £2295). Get in touch at hhh-healthretreats.com or call (+44) 07970008727 and quote ‘Healthista’ when booking. Prices include all accommodation, meals, spa treatments, personal training, fitness activities, transfers etc. For more dates and more info please check hellenichealthyholidays.com. Prices exclude airfares.
Caroline, 37, was previously one of our reboot candidates and she lost 29.5cm in the 12 week reboot challenge.
Read more about her reboot journey here: