The Gut Makeover Retreat review | healing holiday, Menorca
Heal your microbiome at a luxury island villa
The Quick Read: The Gut Retreat is a clever wellbeing break led by London-based nutritionist Jeannette Hyde designed to tease back into shape your gut’s microbiome, the 1.5 kilos of bacteria we carry around inside us that has been scientifically proven to affect our weight, physical health, and emotional and mental wellbeing – no wonder it’s tagged our ‘second brain’. You can look after it on this 3, 5 or 7 day retreat, which runs during one week four times a year in May, June, October and November at the divine, high-end serviced villa Cugó Gran. It’s a total treat and potential life changer.
Price symbol: £££££
Who it’s best for: Anyone at any life stage who wants a quick health fix to be healthy, sort out their gut issues and relax in gorgeous surroundings – particularly stressed professionals short on time and energy and those who Iive on what Jeannette calls ‘a Western beige diet’. It’s most effective if taken as a kick start to Jeanette’s four week eating plan outlined in her book The Gut Makeover, which is designed to heal and replenish your microbiome and restore your digestive health. Starting with this week and carrying on for a further three, you’re likely to lose any weight you need to, rebalance your physical, emotional and mental health, and deal with health issues that have been bugging you for years – from immunity problems, anxiety and bad skin to IBS.
What you can do: The Gut Retreat combines one-to-one nutrition consultations with Jeannette following a pre-retreat health questionnaire and food diary (so she can get to grips with your personal health issues and what it is you need) with easy-to-understand group sessions explaining gut-friendly ways of eating and health issues such as ‘leaky gut’. Rather gloriously, considering you’re set to lose weight, eating also takes up a large part of your day – you’ll have thee divine-tasting, abundant, gut-friendly meals daily with five hour gaps between (no snacks allowed), and you’re encouraged to eat well and chew everything thoroughly.
A key part of the week is also individual and group Pilates sessions with Ireland-born Pilates teacher Bernadette Phillips, a friendly, witty and expert teacher who uses a highly effective, sport-performance focused method to help you improve flexibility, core strength and posture in a fun way and also teaches you her own little ‘face gym’ to ease out any wrinkles.
Between times you can relax in the grounds of the beautiful villa, lounge by the pool, use the gym or have a spa treatment with the highly capable therapist Kim Holland. Sweet, caring and exceptionally well turned out, Kim helped to launch Pennyhill Park’s great little spa in the UK but now lives on the island, and will tailor all your treatments to your knots and needs.
A driver and vehicle is at the group’s disposal, so do make time to explore the local beaches, go on a boat trip to find out about the island’s rich naval history, have a bike ride, horse-ride or do a spot of shopping (Mahon has some great little shops). Walking along sections of the famous Camí de Cavalls is a treat – it’s an ancient path which encircles the island and provides idyllic, uplifting views of the coastline and is dotted with small traditional white coastal houses and other-worldly caves built into the rock by locals.
Where you stay: Cugó Gran is a supremely queenly destination, a fully serviced, stylishly decorated and spacious luxury villa that sleeps 22 on a private 250-acre estate graced with impeccable lawns and criss-crossed with expert traditional dry stone walling. It’s a delight to explore, from the paved walk lined with scarlet roses to the hen house and fields of wild flowers you’ll find through Menorcan-style curvy wooden gates. There’s a large 26-metre outdoor pool flanked by bronze statues of serene goddesses, serene dining and lounging terraces with stone tubs of lavendar and (our favourite bit) a day bed shrouded with white muslin curtains floating in the breeze near a reclaimed pony cart planted with poppy-red and shocking-pink flowers.
There’s a keen attention to beauty – tea will be served in a glass teapot on a gorgeous tray decked out with a little pot of fresh flowers or a sprig of lavender in a ceramic vase. On retiring after dinner, you’ll find candles lighting your way up the stairs, and in your room, your clothes tidied and hung up, PJs at the ready and bed turned down. In the spacious, slate-grey and white stylish bedrooms there are power showers, White Company candles, thick white bath mats, Verveine toiletries by L’Occitane and little wooden hand fans should you get too hot. The gym and treatment room are in outhouses – on our visit, the treatment room was a beautiful bedroom with a huge, semi-domed white wood ceiling and an array of shelves filled with twinkly tea lights.
How was it for us: I attended the first ever Gut Retreat and it was quite simply one of the best high-end healthy retreats I’ve experienced in years. I loved that both Jeannette and Bernadette were experts in their field but also highly personable, and our group of interesting, intelligent professionals bonded well. I had genuine giggles with lots of people, particularly with the irreverent Pilates teacher Bernadette, who is a scream, and a fun teacher (I usually find Pilates rather dull, but I found myself feeling motivated to work my body in her classes).
I felt well cared for and cossetted, high up in my glorious room, named Monte Toro after the highest point of Menorca. I could see the mountain from my own private little tower room, which had views right out to sea – perfect for thinking, writing and retreating. I would wake early to watch the moon reflected on the sea, find a pot of warm ginger water and lime awaiting me outside my room, do some early Morning Pages (a la Julia Cameron), go outside to find a spot for private yoga, have a shower, then begin the day.
Between meals, I spent large amounts of time reading and drawing on the large carved white-muslin-clad day bed in the garden, and loved wandering the serene and pretty grounds, going for head-clearing walks along the Camí de Cavalls with others in the group and doing a spot of shopping in Mahon. Sweet and excellent spa therapist Kim was expert at building careful treatments to suit my needs and very flexible with timings (her facial massage with the gorgeous and pure Rosalena hydrating oils comes particularly recommended).
I soon got into the swing of eating three plant-heavy meals a day and not snacking or drinking caffeine or alcohol, and though I started the retreat with a banging headache for nearly two days, I ended it full of joie de vivre and found it easy to continue the way of eating for the further three weeks. At the end of this, I had for sure lost a few excess pounds, cleared up an ongoing chest and sinus infection, had clear skin, felt energised and far less emotional than I had in months. The most astonishing thing for me, though, was how it recalibrated my circadian rythmns – during, and for a long while after the retreat, I found myself climbing into bed quite regularly in the mid-afternoons and sleeping soundly for a good hour – it felt like I was catching up on years of missed shut-eye.
What we took home: A delicious Goodness & Tonic Face Mist by Rosalena (perfect to refresh skin whilst travelling and on hot days), two Minorcan baskets and a rug, a minor addiction to the banana bread (I now make oodles of the stuff at home) and a genuine determination to eat the same way for the following three weeks and complete The Gut Makeover – which indeed I did.
Would we go back: I might do a shorter Gut Retreat if I was suffering digestive issues, but as the week kick starts a four week eating plan that you only really need to do once, probably not. I would, however, go back to Cugó Gran like a shot for a relaxing stay – though as it sleeps 22 and costs from £35,000 for the week, I’d need to rope in a few well-heeled friends to join me.
People watch: Jeannette Hyde, a former travel editor of The Observer, became a nutritionist after her own burnout over 10 years ago and is a personable, straightforward, easy-to-be-with and highly knowledgeable BSc-trained nutritional therapist whose knowledge you can mine whenever you want throughout the week. The genuine friendliness and can-do attitude of Cugó Gran’s hosts Toby and Tamsin and their rather dashing team of helpers was also excellent. Finding out I did my own yoga practice each day, they organised for an Indonesian wooden platform they happened to have in their store to be placed in a gorgeous, secluded spot in the grounds so I could do my early morning practice to bird song. Pure peace.
Food watch: The basic eating principles of The Gut Makeover are to avoid snacking and eat three proper meals a day, preferably with a four hour gap between each of them, and to fast overnight for 12 hours (very easy – it just means if you finish eating at 8pm, you do not eat again till 8am). It’s the colour and fibre of food that helps heal and replenish the microbiome, so the idea is to eat at least 20-30 varieties of different coloured vegetables, fresh herbs and some fruits during the week (then for three weeks after), trying for seven portions a day together, served with best-quality protein (meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds). You add to that a mix of prebiotic foods (such as bananas, leeks and cold potatoes) and probiotic foods (such as kefir, miso and sauerkraut). You avoid grains, caffeine, alcohol and all sugars.
This a diet of abundance rather than deprivation, and you can expect long lovely meals on impeccably-laid tables. Jeannette works closely with Cugó Gran’s head chef (who on our trip was the friendly Ben Hooper) to devise delicious, gut-friendly meals inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, from spag bol on courgette spaghetti to extravagant tasty salads with barbecued prawns. Breakfast might be abundant fresh fruits, kefir, nuts, seeds and banana bread with an egg-based dish of the day (using fresh eggs collected from their own hens that morning), and all dishes use locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, including some of the herbs, vegetables and fruits from their own kitchen garden. For drinks there’s kombucha, ginger tea, herbal teas and delicious evening mocktails.
What’s lowly: The swimming pool was supremely cold to swim in on our visit in late April – though we did brave it twice. Only one room has a bath to have a nice long soak in, and as yet there are no hot tub or steam facilities.
Insider tip: Bring a bag with plenty of space in it should you choose to stock up on locally made Menorcan baskets and other treats, as we did.
Price: Choose from three, five or seven nights starting from £1,600 pp for three nights all inclusive except flights.
Value for Money: It isn’t cheap, but it’s exceptionally effective and the surroundings and service are impeccable.
Reviewed by Caroline Sylger Jones
© Queen of Retreats