2017 Update: Nathalie no longer takes overnight guests but still does day retreats and workshops.
To really get away, to quiet the mind and feel a million miles from all the hustle and bustle, to take a proper body-and-mind break, the average Hong Konger would tell you that you need a plane ride. And most people would agree. Last weekend, we discovered everyone’s wrong. Turns out there is a little slice of soothing paradise where relaxation is the modus operandi and wellness the side effect. And it’s right here in this crazy city, just a ferry ride away.
A mere 20 minute walk from the Mui Wo Ferry Pier, past Silvermine Bay Beach on Lantau Island, is Sommer’s Life Beach Retreat nestled into the jungly hills and overlooking a private sandy beach is Sommer’s Life Beach Retreat, a place where 24 hours felt like a week of recovery no thanks to the owner Nathalie Sommer and her partner Matt, who emanate warmth and hospitality.
After a pleasant stroll from the ferry across the large beach, at around 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, we walk down a tree covered pathway leading to a metal gate and a stone post with 34 carved out of seashells. We have arrived. We hear no humans but a panting French bulldog greets us sweetly. That’s Jolie, their handsome and quietly loyal canine companion. We walk towards the house and finally meet Nathalie, who welcomes us with a cooling glass of cucumber water and advises us to protect our bare legs with mozzie spray (the toxin free Burt’s Bees variety of course).
Next up, a tour of the property, which is a sprawling affair both in terms of surface area and in terms of scale- it is literally carved out of the mountainside. There is a main house with a ground floor that consists of an open kitchen, indoor dining area and TV lounge, where Chef Nathalie prepares an array of mouth-watering vegan dishes from scratch (more on the cuisine later), a first floor where Nathalie and Mat live and a covered rooftop with stunning vistas view of the bay that is perfect for your morning yoga practice. There are two adjacent rooms that feel almost like they are build straight into the hillside, each with its own en-suite and this is where guests stay. A long oval wooden table and chairs covered with a sun-brella sit in the middle of a large stone courtyard – this is where we enjoy all of our meals. It’s as heavenly as it sounds.
The rooms are comfortable and homey, the space uncluttered, save for personal touches like a few well chosen books (from John Steinbeck to Paulo Coelho) and fluffy towels, flowery sarongs and organic bath amenities. The place feels newly renovated and whilst the decor is more relaxed Spanish hacienda (think wooly throws on wide-arm couches and terracotta tiles in the living room), modern’s life pampering additions are all there: rain-shower, air conditioning, high thread count sheets. We loved the balance of being able to let go in a very un-Hong Kong Mediterranean space whilst still being uber comfortable. Most retreats don’t get that right.
We wanted to get some time on the beach before it got dark so we changed into our swimmers and flip-flops, but not before Nathalie accosted us with superfood smoothies in mason jugs- frozen mango, banana and maca root blended with nut mylk- absolutely delish! The sandy beach, surrounded by large rocks, is kept clean by Matt- he lovingly clears any debris every day. In fact, Nathalie informs us that he has been cleaning beaches all over the world for more than a decade. No matter where he goes, he makes sure to leave the sand that little more pristine than how he found it. It’s hard not to fall under Mat, Nathalie and Jolie’s spell, where kindness and an appreciation for the natural world is their way of life. That being said, they mostly stay out of our way, insisting on our privacy and freedom to roam the grounds (only their first floor living area is off limits). Most of the time, we hardly remember they are there, so unintrusive are they, and we feel we are on our own private holiday.
Nathalie has spent the last decade in Australia as a spiritual healer and vegan Chef, running a cafe-cum-holistic-health-practice where she wowed people with her culinary skills and life coaching training alike. Creating a safe space for people to take a breath, reassess and recuperate had always been a dream. When a career move landed her and Matt in Hong Kong, she took it as a sign that it was time to turn her vision into a reality. She stumbled onto the Lantau property by chance a couple of months ago and hasn’t looked back since.
The whole point of the retreat is to take time to just be so we pay no attention to time or schedules and just potter around, reading in lounge chairs and mostly just staring at the lush greenery. The place is full of trees, and plants and flowers and leaves and butterflies and birds and the healing power of Mother Nature is in full effect. We are a million miles from anything that looks like daily life. It’s magical. The sunset is stunning, the sky full of varying degrees of violet hues. Across the bay, the colorful lights of Mui Wo twinkle in the distance. We are also in disbelief at how incredibly quiet it is. No people, no cars, no billboards, no traffic, no buzz- just cicadas and crashing waves.
After a shower, we sit down to a candle lit dinner on a beautifully laid out table with gorgeous crockery and a sparkling glass of homemade rosella kombucha. Our appetizer is a trio of raw dips: sprouted chickpea hummus, green olive tapenade and carrot accompanied by just-warmed onion bread/crackers. The latter was the best raw vegan bread we have ever tried (and we have tasted many). We shamefully gobbled it all up. Next up, a main of zucchini capellini with sun-dried bell pepper marinara covered with cashew parmesan. Again, we almost licked our plates clean. We were so full that dessert, a gorgeous raw chocolate cupcake with a nutty bottom and a fudgey top layer dusted with coconut shavings, proved too much. We saved half for the next day, not wanting to waste even an ounce of goodness. Full and happy, we retire to bed. We are both utterly exhausted and fall into the deepest of slumbers (the mattresses and pillows are so comfortable!), in disbelief yet again at the quiet that surrounds us. Are we really still in Hong Kong?
It’s a rainy morning when we open our eyes on Sunday but our mood is far from dampened. With the rain comes a reprieve from the humidity, and the raindrops make all the tree leaves look like jewels. We sit under the umbrella and to enjoy our breakfast. Nathalie has made us cold pressed beetroot and orange juice, a unique combination that really gets the body going and a bowl of the creamiest rolled oats cooked with coconut milk (the recipe has been passed down from Mat’s grandmother) doused with acai chia pudding, strawberry coulis, sliced banana and crunchy rawnola- superfoods galore! It’s wonderful and we immediately make a plan to recreate it at home. Nathalie sources most of her produce from nearby organic Dragontail Farm, supplementing with the Mui Wo Wet Market.
The rain has stopped so we put on our exercise clothes, do a quick yoga stretching routine on the roof, and then head off into the hills for an energising hike. We end up off-piste on the cattle path and make it to the top of the mountain, the whole side of which is blooming with white-pink bauhinia, Hong Kong’s symbolic flower. More ambitious hikers than us might have turned right and gone on all the way down to Discovery Bay but we are taking it easy. We circle back towards Mui Wo and return to Sommer’s Life. After a shower and some light reading, we sit down to our final meal- and our favourite of the whole stay. Lunch is carrot and beetroot noodles covered in cashew Caesar dressing, curried quinoa & cauliflower couscous and a bowl of yellow dahl with rosella iced tea. We polish off our plates and have seconds of the dahl, which is the best we have ever tried outside of India.
Finally it’s time to go. Neither of us wants to leave, and we end up chatting to Nathalie for far longer than planned. The one night retreat can be enjoyed in one of three ways: accommodation and coaching (HKD 1, 700 for 2), accommodation and meals (HKD 1, 8060 for 2), or the all-inclusive package with all three (HKD 2, 950 for 2). We came for option 2 but Nathalie, being the spiritual healer that she is, did not let us leave without a few minutes of insight into ourselves- everything she said was spot on.
We come home feeling rejuvenated and thoroughly relaxed, and we both agree that we should make it a bi-monthly affair. Sommer’s Life is everything it promises to be and more, and we cannot recommend it enough. Book your stay ASAP as they are filling up fast. We have no doubt the waiting list is going to be long.
Sommer’s Life Beach Retreat, 34 Tung Wan Tau Road, Mui Wo, Lantau Island. As well as offering personal stays, the property is also available for corporate and group wellness retreats. Call+852 5501 8633 or email email@example.com for more information. Check in is 4pm and check out is 2pm and meals during a 24 hour period includes smoothies, herbal tea, dinner, breakfast and lunch.
All images courtesy of Green Queen and Sommer’s Life.