WellCODE Retreat review | luxury fitness holiday, France
Lavish genetics-based wellness retreat on the French Riviera
The quick read: WellCODE offers a clutch of genetics-based luxury fitness holidays each year in France and Anguilla run by a professional athlete, a nutritionist and a sports injury rehabilitation specialist. We tried their first, on the lavish private estate of Cap Bénat on the French Riviera, a place so stylish that we couldn’t quite shake the feeling we’d landed on the set of a Tom Ford film. An inspiring retreat with a full schedule of exercise and healthy, tailor-made meals, it rejects the notion of a one-size-fits-all fitness plan and instead looks at your key genes associated with diet, fitness and weight management so you have a bespoke health plan for life.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who likes some serious luxe with their fitness and who is fascinated by a scientific approach to diet and exercise. The group meals and house party atmosphere are perfect for solo travellers, though couples or friends can capitalise on the reductions that come with sharing a room.
Who it’s not for: Families. Anyone looking for a quick fix. Those with serious health problems or injuries will struggle with challenging terrain. The villa is perched on top of a steep hill, making for spectacular views across the Med, but it’s not ideal if you’re hoping for a gentle hike or bike ride.
What you can do: Before arrival the team test your genes for a total of 50 different genetic markers by taking a swab from the inside of your mouth. These are used to create an individual diet and fitness report which is handed to you on arrival. A swab is taken using a cotton bud before your retreat which is then sent away for analysis. It’s done face to face in London, or sent to you if you live elsewhere to do yourself.
Your personalised programme will include training sessions with former professional rugby player and ironman triathlete Divan Kombrink, a sports therapist and personal trainer for over a decade, who holds a sports science degree from Stellenbosch University. Your nutrition plan is devised by Institute of Optimum Nutrition qualified Olga Hamilton who, when not on the retreat, splits her time between studying for a masters in nutritional medicine at the University of Surrey and designing nutrition programmes for clients in London health clinics. You’ll also have the chance to try out primordial animal movements with sports injury rehabilitation specialist, Terence Ayuk Eben, who also happens to be a dab hand with the acupuncture needles. Don’t leave without trying his miraculous Daoyin massage, which combines deep acupoint massage, with cupping and body manipulation.
Each day starts with yoga, on the terrace, usually against the backdrop of a spectacular sunrise over the Med. Other activities range from circuit training on the private beach and ‘animal movement’ (working the body in all three planes, side-to-side as well as backwards and forwards, as we are designed to move, apparently) to aqua aerobics in the gorgeous pool and cooking demos. There’s even a hike to the local vineyard for a spot of wine tasting (and yes you do get to taste it).
Despite the high glamour of the location the retreat has a serious educational side, with health lectures and one-to-one consultations to help you change your lifestyle in line with your genetics. You’ll receive one complimentary massage and facial, one private personal training session with excellent Head Trainer, Divan Kombrink, and one-to-one sessions with both Divan and the nutritionist, Olga Hamilton, to discuss your genetic report and what you should do about it. Additional treatments or training sessions can be booked at an additional cost.
Where you stay: La Radieuse is a spectacular, architect-designed, 9-bedroom villa carved into the side of the hill like a Bond Villain lair on the French Riverira close to Bormes-Les-Mimosas. There are plentiful artworks, designer sofas, Arco floor lamps and a hanging elliptical-shaped fireplace. The villa garden offers five acres of hillside, with a hot tub fashioned out of the rock and a lower terrace, where some of the exercise sessions take place.
The bedrooms and communal areas (including a cinema room for lectures) are layered over three floors and multiple terraces, with breathtaking views across the Med. It doesn’t matter which way you look – the view is spectacular, and outside there are plenty of sunbeds from which to admire your surroundings between classes. Bedroom types vary (and this is reflected in the pricing). There’s a snug double, lavish ‘honeymoon suite’ Tower Rooms (two round rooms, with round double beds and a waterfall cascading past the bathroom window) and a Master Suite with an adjoining dressing room and study.
How was it for us: From the moment I arrived I felt like I’d been airdropped into another life or possibly a Bond movie set. An impression that was cemented with the appearance of Olga, WellCODE’s nutritionist, who is the archetypal Bond girl, right down to her waist-length platinum hair, Russian accent and spectacular wardrobe of figure-hugging, white dresses. Indeed, all WellCODE’s team are glowing examples of what the human race can achieve if you eat and exercise according to the requirements of your DNA – but when it came to my report, it was hardly plain sailing.
Even the unflappable Olga could barely restrain her furrowed brow as we worked our way through my endless sensitivities, which stretched from gluten to carbs. On the upside, knowing all this, I could now tweak my diet to allay future health problems, and Olga was able to give plenty of tips so that I could change my diet at home.
Apart from the news that I’m not the genetic star pupil I’d imagined I would be, everything else was great. I left the retreat feeling amazing and having lost 2 percent body fat (the range for the group was between 1-4%) and several centimetres from my chest, waist and thighs. I’ve curbed my carb intake as a result and managed to incorporate plenty of Olga’s recommendations, like eating five different coloured vegetables a day and cooking meat at below 180 degrees F to avoid toxic changes.
What we took home: A detailed diet plan, tips on how best to exercise for my body type and a printed report going into details on my genes that relate to fitness and diet – which usefully included my sensitivity levels to a number of nutrients and food types, from caffeine to carbohydrates. You’ll leave feeling fit and fabulous, but WellCODE founder Nina Skorytchenko is keen to convey that the real benefits should be seen in the weeks and months to come, when (and if) you implement their recommendations back at home.
Would we go back: Yes, absolutely. Though there would be no need to repeat the DNA test, as genes don’t change over time.
Food view: Breakfast and lunch are generally served around a 16-seater table on the terrace next to the pool. Evening meals take place inside, again around a sleek 16-seater table. I chose the three-day juice detox, followed by a further three days of proper meals. At dinner, on day one, I soon began to regret my decision, as the Thai curry smelt delicious. The meals are all tailored to take account of your genetic needs – quite a tricky proposition for any chef given that there were 14 guests, though future retreats will cater to less people – in reality, the base of the meal remained the same, with serving sizes tweaked and the addition of various items, from seeds to chickpeas, taking care of differing micro-nutrient needs. The diet is largely vegetarian, with the exception of salmon and meals are accompanied by little pots of vitamins, again tailored to your individual needs.
What’s lowly: The wild pigs, who kicked rocks onto the roof of our car (yes really!). Take out full rental car insurance.
Insider tip: It takes at two weeks for your DNA analysis, so last minute bookings are best avoided.
Price: From 2500 euros (sharing) to 6000 euros (£2261- £5427) which includes six night’s accommodation, personalised meals and nutritional supplements, two one-to-one consultations with the nutritionist, a fitness assessment, two individual personal training sessions, group classes, two massages and a facial, educational talks, cooking demos, personalised post retreat meal plan, post retreat follow-up consultation, in London or via Skype.
Value for Money: It’s not cheap but it’s similarly priced to lavish destination spas and could arguably be said to offer more individual attention than many, especially on the diet side. For the villa alone, the price is worth it.
Nearest airport: Cap Bénat is half way between Nice and Marseille.
Sister retreats: WellCODE runs healing holidays in different locations around the world, including at Sheriva Villa Harmony in Anguilla, Caribbean. And if you have any sway with your company HR and fancy WellCODE coming to your office, they also offer corporate health programmes based around the genetic testing idea.
Reviewed by Sharon Walker
© Queen of Retreats