Moinhos Velhos review | Detox retreats Portugal
The Quick Read: Moinhos Velhos detox retreat in Portugal is set in a magical valley, a series of converted mill buildings that are stunningly pretty but a tad wild and wanton around the edges. The team here has been guiding people through juice fasts for 23 years – way ahead of the pack. While the detox programme itself is squeaky clean and sharp as a pin, Moinhos Velhos as a whole beats to a far deeper, way more spiritual drum than most detox retreats. There’s masses to intrigue, entice and (sometimes) bemuse here – providing your mind is wide open and your spirit willing. It’s rather special.
Who it’s best for: People tend to come to Moinhos Velhos detox retreat in Portugal for a total health tune-up – it attracts more serious health kickers than many detox retreats and a large proportion of guests are returners (many come once a year). You don’t have to join in the more spiritual or way out health elements of the centre, but it really wouldn’t suit anyone who finds the further fringes of natural health and spirituality irritating. The majority of guests are in their 30s – 50s and women outnumber men by a fair number.
What you can do: It’s a pretty full-on programme starting with warm lemon juice at 7.30am followed by around two hours of yoga before your first juice at 10am. ‘Meals’ are taken sitting around the dining room table and before you sip, everyone joins hands to chant three clarion Oms, followed by a rousing round of Om Namah Shivaya and a prayer to the nature spirits. Shaking your head? By the end even the most uptight sceptics join in with gusto.
In between meals, you down a handful of supplements (to get everything moving along nicely and to keep energy levels high) and perform ‘Clysmatics’ (DIY colonic hydrotherapy) in the privacy of your own bathroom. Truly, it’s not hideous and the Clysmatic is the easiest and – dare we say it – most pleasant system we’ve found to date.
Need some extra healing? There’s a magnetic bed and ‘Zapping’ equipment (to smite parasites apparently) which can be used freely (and without charge) throughout your stay – and a trip to a nearby salt cave is included.
A team of therapists are on hand (at extra cost) covering a wide range of therapies both standard (deep tissue, reflexology, acupuncture) and more unusual, such as past life therapy, rebirthing, Physiospekt (see How was it for us), and Herbal Stamp (massage plus a detoxifying herbal poultice).
Sweating out toxins in the wood-fired sauna is recommended daily as is a turn in the Jacuzzi (it was a tad too cool in the evenings to star-gaze from it when we visited but bet it’s fabulous come summer).
Every evening there is a meditation or activity in the temple, ranging from guided visualisation, Biodanza (therapeutic dance) and Osho shaking meditation to gong baths and a Hindu fire ceremony to release whatever is holding you back. It’s all optional and entirely up to you if you’d rather go it alone with private time in your rooms or cosied up in the sitting room which has a DVD player and PC.
On one day there’s the option to go to a nearby (stunning) beach for the day, taking juices with you of course, or to the nearby town of Lagos for a bit of shopping.
Once you regain your energy (and you do, you really do), there are a couple of lovely circular walks around and out the property, through the woods to the nearby dam.
Where you stay: Moinhos Velhos means ‘the old mill’ and the centre has mainly been constructed from a range of renovated mill buildings and an old farmhouse. The site straggles down a relatively steep hillside, so exercise is naturally built in. The main house is the central hub for juices and meeting (with a dining room, kitchen, living room and a gorgeous suntrap of a terrace equipped with swinging seats, tables and chairs).
Down the hill is the temple – a purpose-built serene, light-filled space that exudes peace. Yoga mats splay out, mandala style, from a central shrine and a large statue of Shiva oversees morning yoga and evening meditation. Also on this level you find the library (a warm, comfortable, light space with vintage IKEA chairs and a good selection of books – veering from the healthy and spiritual to trashy thrillers and chicklit). Three therapy rooms lead off of this – they’re fine but can be a little chilly when it’s not high summer.
Bedrooms are clean and wholesome but some feel rather dated. The room under the temple is certainly the most convenient (avoiding that steep walk up the hill) and is light and bright (although not so private as the others). If you like cosy rustic with a liberal dose of pine, the two cottages tucked away amongst the bamboo are very Hansel and Gretel; otherwise we’d opt for the little block with its own terrace.
The grounds stretch all around with plenty of places (both wild and tamed) to pause and meditate or curl up with a book. In spring, when we visited, the scent of orange blossom, jasmine, rose and honeysuckle was intoxicating. Moinhos Velhos has a large team of staff and volunteers so parts have the feel of a hippy commune with the odd caravan or line of huts giving a slightly shambolic look. It’s far from manicured.
How it was for us: I’ve been on a lot of juice fasts and the basic format of this one didn’t surprise. It’s that old tried and tested formula of juice + bentonite clay + psyllium + some form of DIY colonics (though, remember, these guys have been doing this for decades and doubtless provided the inspiration for many of the Johnny-come-latelies around). What did surprise me was the deeper levels of detox that I underwent here. There were three yoga teachers, each with a different style (Dru, Sivananda and ‘plain’ Hatha) but it was Drew (Mr Hatha) who really helped me tune into my body and go deeper and softer with the breath.
My sessions with Anita Fuller formed the other part of the puzzle. She is qualified in a raft of mind and body therapies (NLP, hypnotherapy, rebirthing, past life therapy, cranio-sacral, massage, Tragerwork, to name a few) and she worked on every level (mind, body, heart and soul) using whichever techniques she felt I needed. It was an emotional and intense experience, back into the bowels of my family history, and there were plenty of tears and long-held anger released. I was so impressed I went back for a second session, and went deeper still.
Meanwhile Janni hooked me up to the Physiospekt, a Russian diagnostic computer programme which scanned my body to give an analysis of my health. It’s said to be able to pinpoint problems before they are even detectable with standard analysis. My sceptical side surfaced here (it didn’t detect any problems with my gallbladder and I’m not sure that gallstones just vanish – but, hey, it would be nice to think so) but it did pick up issues in my shoulder, hips, knee and flagged up a possible underactive thyroid (which I have suspected for some time). Once the problems have been diagnosed, the correct frequency can be bounced into the body and healing can take place.
It wasn’t all heavy stuff though. I bonded with my fellow detoxers round the pool, sweated out yet more toxins in the wood-fired sauna (the Swedish guests keeping the temperature racked way up high) and spent several happy hours at the local beach (stunningly beautiful and, off-season, blissfully empty). Fasting is easy here and coming off the juices was a wrench – I felt so light and bright. I returned home feeling deeply cleansed – in body, mind and heart.
What we took home: I’m hoping to bring yoga into every day, every moment, every strand of life if I can – rather than keeping it on the mat. I also appear to have developed a pre-eating Om habit.
Would we go back: Yes, undoubtedly. It’s not the smartest or glitziest of retreats but it has a deep honesty and integrity born of a lifetime’s dedication to fasting, natural wellbeing and spirituality.
People watch: Everyone is lovely here, from founders Frank and Anne Karine, and ex-nurse and co-owner Janni, to the unfeasibly young and enthusiastic volunteers. But two people really took this retreat deeper for us: Drew with his ‘everywhere, everyday’ yoga and Anita with her heartfelt therapy.
Food watch: It’s juice, juice and more juice. ‘Breakfast’ is a litre of freshly squeezed orange juice (often directly from Moinhos Velhos’s own trees). The two other daily juices are combinations of vegetables and fruits with healing properties – so think broccoli, cucumber, pepper, tomato, kale, beetroot and carrot. Information sheets on what they’re doing for you scattered over the table make the medicine go down better. Highlights were watermelon one day, and pineapple another. Evening broth is a thin beast, close companion to gruel, but you can liven it up with miso, fiery piri-piri sauce, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. Herbal tea is freely available, as is lemon water. Water is all treated by reverse osmosis.
The last morning, as you break your fast, you get fresh melon (chewing! The novelty!) and are sent off on your onward journey with a packed lunch of fruit and a little bag of probiotics. If you’re arriving early on the first day, be aware that lunch isn’t provided (although fruit is freely available and there’s a little café/restaurant at the top of the drive for a last meal).
What’s lowly: It’s a bit shabby around the edges in places – the pool, sauna and loungers could do with a revamp and most of the bedrooms would benefit from a makeover.
Insider tip: Products aren’t provided so bring your own (natural of course) body wash, shampoo and body oil (see our Treats section for ideas of great brands). It can get chilly in the evenings, so pack a wrap and some cosy socks or furry boots.
Price with a companion: From €950 (£698) per person in a shared room for seven nights, all-inclusive except for therapies and transfers.
Price going solo: From €1,200 (£882) for seven nights in a single room.
Value for money: It’s great value, compared to many other juice retreats and given the amount of extra activities on offer.
Sister retreats: The Moinhos team occasionally run detox retreats in Canada and India – check the website for details.
Reviewed by Jane Alexander
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