A chalkboard goes up with the schedule for the next day: activities start at 6:45am. We had our last meal on the flight. I’m here for a week-long juice fast at the beautiful Wild View Retreat in the Algarve region of Portugal. It’s my first juice fast and (apart from a lack of solid food) I have no idea what to expect.
Disclosure time: this retreat is the brainchild of my cousin Andrew and his wife Erika. Doors open to the public in September 18 but I visited with my mum in July for one of the trial weeks. This was not a freebie or sponsored trip.
We’re joined by 22 more willing guinea pigs, some are nutrition nerds and seasoned retreat pros but some—like us—are just curious detox virgins. As well as supporting a family venture, I was more than happy to try something that would make me feel great, lose weight, and relax by the pool without feeling I should be working on my blog. It’s a far cry from my usual kind of travel: no internet, no coffee (I had at least 6 cups before reaching the airport), group activities, and none of Portugal’s delicious seafood or wine. Not a custard tart in sight.
The retreat’s remote location is key—no diversions, distractions or temptations. In fact, freed from having somewhere new to explore, this is the closest I’ve had to a fly-and-flop for years.
The retreat itself is just a 35-minute drive from Faro airport, up in the hills and surrounded by protected cork forest (the area is a natural reserve, Serra da Caldeirão). It’s completely remote: no human habitation as far as the eye can see, just wilderness. The site is an abandoned village that has been sympathetically restored and furnished with textiles in lush neutrals.
Daytimes are spent padding around the retreat in its cool, clean light; the air flooded with the rainbow smell of fresh juice—carrots, beetroot, avocado, apple. My favourite time of day is sunset, sitting on a bean bag underneath the two majestic old palms on the terrace, listening to the cicada chorus and the sound of the wind ruffling the palm fronds. The forest here was burnt down in a wildfire a few decades ago; there is a sense of renewal everywhere.
I’m in love with the trees, particularly the eucalyptus that shimmers like tinsel as the sun goes down over the foothills. The skies are almost African; swallows swoop against an outline of date palms and a fiery red sunset. The wind picks up as the sun disappears, to be replaced by the moon—it too red with the Blood Moon eclipse, and joined by Mars.
My other favourite time is just before sunrise, silent except for the winds that whip around the retreat. Nobody talks as we head down to the yoga studio for guided meditation and the first yoga session of the day huddled in hoodies and clutching mugs of hot water and lemon.
Juice time comes around too frequently to be hungry. The juices are delicious and a good balance of fruit and veg, with the occasional thicker juice as a treat (communal areas hummed with excitement when we had our first blended avocado juice). The evening brings with it a soup which is very welcome with its savouriness. I have a new found appreciation for celery. And chickpeas.
Let’s not beat around the bush—on any kind of fast you will probably feel like crap for a while. In my case, I spent half the week (thanks, coffee) cocooned in a fug of headaches, lethargy, achiness and irritability. I did not want to socialise and just buried myself in a book.
In nutrition circles, the crappy bit is referred to as the ‘healing crisis’ as your body releases and recirculates toxins before flushing them out. The idea with a juice fast is to support your body with micronutrients whilst giving your digestive system a rest, freeing up the energy used for other processes such as repair. Thankfully my digestive system didn’t seem too troubled by the change, but everyone responds differently.
But at the midway point, something magical happened; I woke up feeling fresh as a daisy and as if my insides had been spring cleaned. Calm, refreshed, definitely not hungry, and blissfully free of the peaks and troughs that come with caffeine and sugar consumption (if only I could feel like this all the time! But I love cheese and coffee too much for that).
There’s a subtle change in atmosphere too as most people break through their ‘healing crisis’ and the mood becomes more sociable and carefree.
My afternoons were dedicated to enjoying the sunshine and blissful infinity pool (where—I confess—I did regularly daydream about a snack bar). Like everything else in the retreat, the pool is eco-friendly so you can snap those pool selfies without guilt. No chlorine here. I notice insects and birds occasionally dropping in for a drink on hot days.
The vibe at the retreat is relaxed, friendly, encouraging and thankfully not dogmatic. I’m a typical introvert so found the group activities a tad draining and choose just to participate in the morning, but there is a packed schedule of fitness, yoga, walks and talks for those who like to keep busy.
I don’t touch wifi or mobile data until 4 days into the retreat, and even then it’s only to top up reading material on my Kindle.
I’m not a health food nut, but I do really love fruit and veg and also learning stuff (and sunbathing) so I found the week thoroughly enjoyable. Particularly the talks—I could feel myself becoming a bit of a nutrition nerd too by the end of the week. It was good to learn the science behind the fast as well as some tidbits you probably know already (chew your food, for example).
On the final day, we get together for some communal cooking; a mountain of veg is turned into fresh salads for breaking the fast. At this point, I’m really wishing the retreat was 10 days long.
It’s good to come back from a trip feeling better than before I left. The scales are definitely a bit lighter. The whites of my eyes are brighter (almost scarily so). I feel calm, clean and strong. And like I’ve had a really good holiday, which is the important bit really.
Big thanks to Andrew, Erika, Mandy, and the rest of the team for putting together such an incredible experience (and to the rest of our retreat-mates for making it a fun week). Wild View Retreat is truly a special place.
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