It’s my birthday of an undisclosed number, and Mr Fit Foodie has very generously whisked me on a surprise weekend away (not before grabbing my laptop!). Just over an hour from life in Sydney CBD, towards the base of the Blue Mountains, Sangoma Retreat offers an intimate venue for any special occasion.
I sit here from what only be described has heaven on earth for a city-slicker. Surrounded by Moroccan-style lanterns, the morning sun warming my face, I’m enjoying the after-effects of a deliciously satiating brunch.
Sangoma is like a time machine - pausing life and it’s stressors for a few brief days, until life begins again on Monday at 9am. There are no decisions to be made here (other than water, juice or wine) and the surrounding decor soothes a busy mind. Polished concrete floors, crisp white linen and vintage brown leather sofas are simplistic, but oh-so-stylish.
The owners of this divinely unique getaway only add to the experience. Zenga Butler and Michael Podles have created this place from scratch. After leading extremely successful careers in makeup and art consultation respectively, they chose to slow things down by nestling themselves neatly next to Bowen Mountain to build their dream home. Surrounded by lush trees and glorious panoramic views to the city, they now spend their days cooking, talking architecture and socialising with willing guests.
As a foodie, you might expect me to be over-critical on other people's food. You’d be right. I rarely eat out to avoid under-seasoning, fried food and disappointment. So you can image my anxiety when Mr Fit Foodie tells me that the place is all-inclusive, does not accommodate for fussy eaters, and offers no choice. Cue panic. You get whatever is fresh, local and in season.
This actually turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise. Zenga is an extremely talented chef, influenced by Ottolenghi style cuisine, and executes it to perfection with the greatest finesse. He tells us food is much like the makeup he used to work with - he uses textures, layers and colours to create beautiful things. His skills transpose surprisingly well, and from the first dish of smoked tofu, duck and miso soup, I’m hooked. The starter is followed by spiced orange chicken with fresh greens and anchovies, and rounded off with a coconut milk pana cotta with tapioca pearls and chia seeds. Needless to say on my arrival home I’m running out to Kinokuniya to acquire my first Ottolenghi cookbook in the hope of creating some inspiring new flavours.
I could detail every meal I have enjoyed over this 48 hour stay, but I’ll save your keyboard from drowning in saliva, and just say that you absolutely must visit this place.
Local bush walks are plenty, and there's a beautiful infinity lap pool at the centre of the retreat. There’s just 5 free-standing rooms available - each with their own gigantic Phillipe Stark bathtub and rainfall shower. The beds are huge, and make me realise just quite how rubbish ours is at home. They envelop you in the most comforting way to offer deep, restorative sleep. There is also a log fire, large private balcony, and unobstructed views of the rolling hills below. You can utilise the sauna, extensive DVD collection in the sunken cinema room, or opt for a spiritual Ka Huna Massage (which is literally beyond description).
What really makes this place more special than a 6* hotel & 3 hatted restaurant combined, are the people who have single-handedly created this amazing space. Michael and Zenga are wonderfully engaging but not intrusive, entertaining but not knowingly so, and inspiring without ego. You feel inspirited for just having spoken to them, and for experiencing all that they have built.
I’m returning to the city a different person - older, inspired and thankful.
To read more about this awesome place check out the links below. It's worth every god damn penny and more.