…Europe is graced by a number of classy retreats, particularly in Spain. Olive (00 34 619 120 195; in Andalucia runs gentle weeks of cleansing food and relaxation in a converted farmhouse. (The Independent)

Ruth from Queen of Retreats nominated Olive Retreat as one of the 10 best retreats in December 2014 🙂

Olive Retreat review from Queen of Retreats

Caring, cleansing breaks in Andalucia, Spain

El Noque queen of retreats review

The Quick Read: Based at La Huerta, a beautiful renovated farmhouse near Ronda in Andalusia, an Olive retreat is perfect for those who want to relax and cleanse gently. The wellbeing retreats help you clear your body and mind with healthy food, gentle exercise, optional classes in wellbeing activities such as healthy cooking or natural facials and plenty of free time to spend as you choose. Numbers are small, staff are exceptionally caring and the emphasis is on helping you change your habits on a long-term basis. It’s likely to leave you feeling relaxed, stress-free and energised by the time you leave – bespoke retreats on demand as well as workshops and home retreats can also be arranged.


There’s a wealth of inspiring books to read on an Olive wellbeing retreat in Spain

More on the wellbeing retreats: Olive’s ethos is about allowing your body to detox through healthy, hearty and tasty vegan whole foods aided with nutritional supplements, morning wheatgrass shots, and a gentle programme of exercise, yoga and meditation. There are wellbeing talks, healthy cooking classes and plenty of down time, and the retreat includes a guided daily walk of around an hour (with a little bit of interval training or jogging thrown in for those that want it) and a sightseeing trip to Ronda. All activities are optional with an emphasis on listening to your own needs – read a word from the queen on her stay. As the emphasis at Olive Retreats is on healthy habits for life, the team is available for a month after you return on phone, email or Skype to answer any questions or offer additional support.

More on your hosts: Your main host is Cristina, who has an MBA, has received Ashtanga Yoga training in the Mysore tradition in Stockholm, and holds a masters from the International School of Yoga in Madrid – she leads most of the classes and is the resident nutritionist and general health expert. We found her friendly, sociable and compassionate, happy to give you plenty of her time and answer any questions or queries that arise throughout the week. The team take your wellbeing during the retreat seriously, and aim to arm you with tools and techniques both in and out of the kitchen for improving your health on a long-term basis.


The pool is heated the whole area is a peaceful place to read
More on the wellbeing activities: Cristina leads a class every morning after breakfast, covering a range of topics, but mainly focusing on healthy eating. She is a mine of information on diet, nutrition and health. Ray, Olive’s personal development teacher, may also make an appearance and lead a talk. The exact topic will depend on the mood and needs of the group – it could be on meditation and mindfulness, leaving the rat-race, following your heart, or just stimulating a discussion about what holds us back in life. There is sometimes a bread-making class in the kitchen with the chef (and opportunities to assist her in the kitchen one morning), and a natural facial session led by Cristina.

There is plenty of time in between the morning and evening scheduled activities to spend as you wish. At La Huerta el Noque, this could mean working your way through the extensive library or swimming in the outdoor heated pool. You can also make more than one trip to Ronda if you choose for sightseeing or shopping – it’s 15 minutes in a taxi (10 Euros/£8).


Yoga sessions include pranayama and meditation

More on the yoga: Cristina leads the yoga classes– either in the morning or afternoon, depending on the temperature. Classes are likely to follow the traditional Ashtanga primary series (depending on experience of the guests) as well as a few other asanas for detoxing or wellbeing, plus Pranayama and meditation. She’s a fairly decent teacher for beginners; everything is explained and demonstrated, and groups are separated if there are vastly different levels of experience and capabilities.

More on the treatments: The retreat includes one full body lymph massage designed to complement the detox process with Betty, a local therapist, who will relax you while also soothing any aching muscles (though don’t expect a full-on pummelling). Additional massages can be booked for 60 Euros (around £48). Theoretically, it would be possible to have three or four massages during your stay, depending on demand.


Olive Retreat is based at a restored farmhouse

More on the property: Olive retreats are based at La Huerta el Noque, a beautiful renovated old farm house near Ronda in Andalucia. There is a large garden with plenty of greenery and views of the Grazalema National Park in the distance and a heated outdoor pool set away from the house with sun loungers, hammocks and sofas. Indoors, the spacious lounge and dining room has plenty of natural light, ample comfy sofas and chairs and an extensive well stocked bookshelf along one of the walls. It’s simple, yet very comfortable with high quality furniture and stylish decor – the earthy tones of the floor tiles and wooden lamps contrast with the white and cream soft furnishing giving the room a natural and homely feel.


There’s soft white linen in the bright and airy bedrooms
More on the bedrooms: There are just seven bedrooms, each pretty spacious, with decent sized bathrooms that have plenty of space for leisurely grooming, most with both a bath and a shower. The owners have clearly prioritised comfort and all bedrooms have decent beds, and lovely soft White Company linen. Some of the larger rooms have small armchairs to sit in, and all rooms have a view of the garden or the courtyard.

Bookshelves in all of the bedrooms add to the atmosphere and make the rooms feel like someone’s home rather than an impersonal hotel. You’d have to stay there for years to work your way through all the (mostly fiction) books. Titles ranged from classics such as Jane Eyre, pulp fiction from John Grisham, modern chick lit, John Le Carre and literary fiction from authors such as Margaret Atwood and William Boyd. Whatever your taste, you’re bound to find something you want to get stuck into.


Olive Retreat offers a gentle cleanse with ‘liquid’ days

More on the food and drink: Meals are usually eaten outdoors on the terrace, or in the dining area. The menu throughout the week is planned to assist your body to detox, as well as give you an example of how to eat well when you get back home to your regular life. There is an option to do one or more ‘liquid’ days to make your retreat more detoxifying. Rather than being pure juice days, these include soup and other savoury juices and smoothies ensuring that you don’t get too hungry. On our visit the food was prepared by talented chef Bettina, who has subsequently left. Everything was freshly cooked using local fresh fruit and vegetables in season, and there was plenty of variety throughout the week. Expect imaginative salads, healthy grains such as quinoa or buckwheat, beans, pulses and nuts. Fresh herbs and spices are used to enhance both the flavour of the food and the cleansing process.


You can also learn how to cook healthy dishes at home

Breakfasts tend to include a healthy multi-grain porridge, fresh fruit, avocado, and breakfast breads (gluten-free). The main meal is taken at lunchtime, with a lighter, soup based meal served in the evening. Expect dishes such as: coconut, turmeric cauliflower ‘rice’, vegetable curry served with salads for a lunch meal or bean pate and broccoli soup as an evening meal. There are (sugar and dairy free) desserts most days. Snacks, such as fruit or nuts, are available for those that need to eat between meals.

Fellow guests: Olive’s groups are small, with a maximum of ten people. Guests are often (but not exclusively) first timers to detoxing or retreats and many come from the corporate or business worlds with a deep need to de-stress and get healthy. You can expect a mix of people from all over the world, many from the UK, and of all ages. Although Olive is relatively new to the retreat market, it is already getting repeat visitors.

What’s queenly: The relaxed schedule and short workshops mean that this feels like a real break from the regimented schedule of daily life.

What’s lowly: Olive would not suit anyone wanting a retreat with a full schedule or lots of strenuous activities.


A view of the Grazalema National Park from the Olive Retreat house
Getting there: Fly to Malaga airport, from where it’s around a 90 minute drive. If your flight arrives at around the same time as other guests on the first day of the retreat, your transfer will be included in the cost of your holiday. Outside of these times, a taxi transfer will cost you around €120 – 160 (£97 – £129). Olive can help arrange one for you.

For UK readers, many of the low cost airlines fly to Malaga airport for under £200 including taxes and hold luggage. Try Jet2, Monarch or Ryan Air. Transfers to La Huerta el Noque take around 90 minutes.

Costs: A week at Olive Retreats costs from £1350 per person for a shared room or £1750 per person for a room alone. Most guests do opt for single occupancy. This includes all meals, workshops and classes, one lymph massage, all supplements, a trip to Ronda, and follow up support once home if required. 3 day detoxes cost £675 for a shared room, £875 for single occupancy.

Extra massages cost €60 (£48) per person. An hour’s one to one coaching session with Ray, the personal development teacher costs €80 (£65). This depends on Ray’s availability. (Olive note: Since this article was published the program has changed and all one-one sessions with the staff is now included)

Reviewed by Ruth Rossleson

© Queen of Retreats


Inside Olive Retreat in Andalucia it’s simple yet comfortable

Rediscovering our natural energy at Olive Retreat in Andalucia


Ruth Rosselson found cleansing easy with the delicious treats on offer at Olive Retreat in Spain.
‘The team gave me such a warm welcome that I felt relaxed and at home within minutes of walking through the door’

Ruth Rosselson checks onto a week-long Body and Mind detox with Olive Retreat in Andalucia, Spain


Olive Retreat is based at a restored farmhouse
When I booked onto Olive’s Body and Mind detox, I didn’t think about what I was letting myself in for. Although I’m pretty healthy, I’m used to my guilty pleasures of coffee and cheese and wasn’t looking forward to going without either. I’d never done a full detox and I was sceptical about whether it was necessary given my generally healthy lifestyle.

Olive’s retreats are currently held at La Huerta El Noque, a comfortable, newly restored farmhouse in rural Andalucia. Olive’s hosts gave me such a warm welcome that I felt relaxed and at home within minutes of walking through the door.


A satisfying lunch soon put Ruth’s fears aside

Our first meal on the Saturday evening was all about easing us in gently, and I needn’t have worried: rather than being a juice fast, Olive’s ethos is about allowing your body to detox through healthy, hearty and tasty vegan wholefoods. We had a huge salad, wilted spinach with brazil nuts and a rice and vegetable curry. By the end the meal, any fears I had about deprivation and going hungry melted away, especially after our avocado chocolate mousse dessert. Even the most ardent meat eaters were satiated and impressed. We’d got an extensive questionnaire before arrival and Cristina, the resident health expert and nutritionist, spent time with us individually at the start of the retreat going through it. These consultations also informed Bettina, the chef (who has subsequently left), who accommodates everyone’s needs and tastes in her cooking. They both had such a warm and caring approach all week, it was clear that our enjoyment and wellbeing were important to them.


The tasty gluten free breakfast

Breakfast was always thorough and included tasty grain porridge, gluten free bread, spread, tomatoes and avocado, and fresh fruit. We had our main meal at lunch, which always included a few different dishes followed by dessert, so we didn’t feel deprived of treats. Evening meals were lighter affairs, with a soup (bean and vegetable for example) and a freshly made paté accompanied by raw vegetables.

Fittingly, for a retreat aimed at re-educating people about eating healthily, mealtimes were central, with everyone eating together. There were only seven guests in total and, even though we started as strangers, there was a real family feeling created as we shared our stories over food. The rest of the guests were in more high-flying jobs than I was, and had arrived looking stressed, needing to relax and recharge.

There were two exercise slots daily: One pre-breakfast, and one in the late afternoon. We did one walk a day along the local roads, and one Ashtanga yoga session on mats by the pool. The Ashtanga was challenging for me (I’m used to slower forms of yoga), but I enjoyed Cristina’s instruction. We ended sessions with Pranayama and a meditation – I was surprised one morning emerging from my meditation to find everyone had already left to go to breakfast! I hadn’t even noticed them leave.

After breakfast we had a half hour talk from Cristina. Over six days, we covered a range of topics such as the principles of a healthy diet (eat real food; mostly vegan; eat mindfully when hungry) and how to detox our minds in daily life (don’t buy anything you don’t need; take a deep breath, hold it in, let it all the way out, hold before breathing in – do this three times in a row when you need to centre or calm yourself). Although a lot wasn’t new to me, I still found the talks useful, if only to reinforce my own approach to cooking and eating well.


Ruth having fun with a DIY facial

There was also a fun DIY facial, a gluten free bread making workshop with the chef during my stay, and a talk from Ray, Olive’s personal development teacher, which turned into quite a lively philosophical discussion about life being a process, which is seamless but not effortless. We covered a lot of ground on topics such as freeing ourselves from fear and worry, how to view life’s choices and whether all roads do lead to the same destination. Olive’s wellbeing breaks are about cleansing your mind as well as your body, and learning new habits.

At the end of the week, we met individually with Cristina who gave us personal recommendations of how we could improve our health further once we were home. I already do quite a lot for my health, so Cristina didn’t have as much to suggest as she might have done if I wasn’t already gluten free, vegetarian and a regular exerciser. But she did suggest a few supplements that I hadn’t yet tried that might help my arthritis and fatigue, as well as some spices (such as cinnamon, ginger and turmeric) to use in my diet on a more regular basis.


Ruth liked her airy bedroom with its views of the garden
La Huerta made a great venue for this intimate retreat. I tended to move between sun worshipping on the lounger round the pool and cooling down with a dip, with curling up on one of the huge sofas in the lounge and reading one of Cristina’s self-help books. On one particularly warm day, I just sat on my own under the shade of one of the garden’s trees, listening to the birdsong. With such a small group, it never felt too crowded.

The relaxed schedule meant that there was plenty of free time. I spent a lot of time swimming, sunbathing, or sat in the shade under a tree reading. A lot of thought has gone into creating the relaxed ambience in the house, and I felt a lot more at home and comfortable there than I have done in any hotel. My room was a decent size, with a double bed with a decent mattress, White Company soft sheets, and a small bookshelf. It was light and airy with a view of the garden, though with such pleasant communal areas, I didn’t tend to spend much of the day in it.


Celebration juices on the final day of the detox

The most challenging aspect was the (optional) all-liquid detox day, the only day that I had strong hunger pangs. Thankfully, Bettina was always on hand with a fresh juice whenever I felt the need to eat something. This was also the day we went into Ronda for some local sightseeing. I’m not sure whether it was the effects of the detox so far or the liquid diet itself, but my senses seemed to be super alert, colours appeared brighter, sounds sharper and smells more pungent than they normally were. While I enjoyed having almost superhuman senses for a short while, it was also a tad overwhelming to experience them on a busy Ronda shopping street.


Ruth was glowing at the end of the retreat

By the end of the week, I could not deny that the detox was having some powerful effects, even though we’d been eating three meals a day, and I was not alone in this. I left lighter (3lbs to be precise), brighter and overflowing with natural energy. A week later and I’m still energised and getting lots of compliments about how well I look. It’s made me resolve to stick to Olive’s healthy eating principles most of the time and to go back for a rerun next time I’m feeling sluggish and in need of a reboot.

© Queen of Retreats

Conde Nast Traveller UK – December 2013

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It seems that every week there’s a new diet fad on the menu. But the age-old practice of cutting out animal products is also back in fashion at a smart villa in Spain. Daisy Finer hunts down her inner vegan.
Dieting has never been more complicated. We are told not to skip meals and then juice-fasting hits the mainstream (a juice bar has even opened in Swindon of all places, and juice delivery companies abound – Radiance, Nosh and Purearth are three of the best). We are told to have three square meals a day and then the 5:2 diet, where for two days of the week you eat only 500 calories, becomes the latest buzz. Dieting has become detoxing, and detoxing has become dieting. And it turns out that fasting is spectacularly good for you.

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‘Cancelling dinner is one of the best things you can do for your health,’ says Dr Harald Stossier of Viva Mayr in Austria, the most forward-thinking of all the FX Mayr & More health centres in Europe, where a diet of stale bread, yoghurt and Epsom salts (don’t ask) fights the flab. It’s funny how old health trends, like in fashion, rear their heads again. Meat is once more getting a bad name. Stella McCartney has known this for years. We eat too much of it, as well as dairy, and it’s acidic, which – some people claim – means your body becomes a breeding ground for disease and inflammation. Vegans may once have called to mind sandals, hairy armpits and no sense of humour, but now there’s Spain’s newest animal-products-free escape, Olive Retreat, set in a villa overlooking the Andalusian hills. I decided to give the latest comeback in healthy eating a try.


Olive Retreat, Andalucía, Spain
Our group of just six are from all walks of life. One woman, let’s call her Angie, is here to give up alcohol. ‘Between you and me,’ she whispers conspiratorially, ‘it’s become a bit of a problem.’ She waits while I nod sympathetically. ‘A bottle a night. On my own.’ She giggles nervously. ‘I’m not an alcoholic.’ Caroline is here to lose weight – not the weight of a neurotic fashionista but solid weight she has accumulated after years of eating the wrong foods. ‘Special K and Müller Light, that’s me,’ she smiles. I’m here with my friend Katie, who announces she’s giving up cigarettes. She’s been smoking on-and-off since she was 13.

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Our stay is supported by a strong staff of three. Cristina is the resident nutritionist who gives daily talks on the eating issues you need to think about: good fats and bad fats, sugar (the fat promoter), caffeine, alcohol and food combining. Cristina’s main focus is a question that should be easy to answer. What is ‘real’ food? Mucked-about meat, fish and dairy products, often pumped with hormones, are off the menu. When you go back to basics like this, it suddenly seems obvious what we should all be eating: raw, unprocessed, traditional foods such as grains, rice, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Nothing artificial. And that is exactly what we eat here.

Bettina is a magician in the kitchen. Every day she conjures an amazing array of different flavours. Vegetables take centre stage, with curries, huge salads, mocktails (Angie perks up), raw-courgette spaghetti drenched in pesto, seed crackers, corn pasta and ingenious sweet treats that are actually good for you, including a rich, silky chocolate mousse made with avocado. It never feels like a deprivation retreat. Even the two ‘drinking days’, which are scheduled towards the end of the week and are entirely optional, aren’t a hardship. They consist of smoothies, hot soups and herbal teas. It’s a far cry from a fasting regime, and it feels much more nurturing. Bettina (aged just 29) says she has cured herself of endometriosis and polycystic ovaries by starting to eat the sort of food she now cooks. She glows.


Olive Retreat, Andalucía, Spain

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Alongside the powerful duo of Cristina and Bettina, we also meet Ray. It’s hard to describe what Ray does. Consider him a Wise Man. You could say he’s a prompter; he gently leads us into thinking in a deeper and more meaningful way about ourselves and how we fit in with the world. The whole idea may feel ridiculously hippy-dippy to begin with, but it all made perfect sense to us by the end. After a week, even Angie, who looks momentarily terrified when Ray leaps up to hug her during a group lecture, has got into the groove. And she doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol. But then there’s none available. Instead, there’s yoga at dawn, hill walks amid carpets of wild flowers, little bursts of interval training should you wish, swimming and massages with a tapped-in holistic healer. There are hard times, too. We all have our turn weeping quietly. Angie talks about escaping. She’s not sure she can do it. Detoxing allows all sorts of buried issues to bubble to the surface. Even if you don’t know what you’re crying about, it’s a release. We go into ourselves. Become quiet. Become still. The staff are sensitive to our shifts. And then, slowly, we start to walk taller. We gain confidence. We start to laugh. What relief.

After we have returned home, members of the team are available to us for a month – on the phone, email or Skype – for questions, further advice or low moments. And, of course, our little group keeps in touch with each other. Katie emails me: ‘Just had my first coffee with full-fat milk, otherwise it’s been vegan all the way. Have also made bread (utterly disgusting) and chai with coconut milk (also disgusting). Spent £300 in Whole Foods and am now regretting it as don’t have the skills to replicate what Bettina did. Just can’t seem to get the right flavour in anything. But will persevere!’ She doesn’t even mention cigarettes.

It is hard adjusting to the real world. Despite a pantry already stocked with the likes of almond butter and chia seeds, I am torn. My husband balks ‘you haven’t gone bloody vegan have you?’ And I don’t think I have. But when it comes to eating fish, meat or dairy, I plump for organic, local and sustainable. Because in a world of quick fixes, plastic packaging and factory-made artificial food (watch the bionic burger video on YouTube – you’ll never have another one), it turns out that now more than ever the old cliché, ‘you are what you eat’, rings true.
Seven nights at Olive Retreat (+34 619 120 195; cost from £1,350 per person, full board, including transfers and all activities and assessments.
Pictured: snacks and salads at Olive near Ronda
Published in Condé Nast Traveller December 2013.
Published 07 JANUARY 2013

Dales Life – Spring 2014


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