Pulling off the mountain-hugging road to Richmond in the Blue Mountains, you enter a tree-lined gravel road that could be the driveway to a friend’s house. And when you step into the entrance hall of Spicers Sangoma Retreat, the warmth in the welcome from staff makes you feel as though you’ve stumbled across a long-lost family. That feeling is strengthened by the silent, inquisitive arrival of Sangoma’s resident pooch – Sooky the Rhodesian Ridgeback – who strides elegantly along with new arrivals as if to say – ‘welcome to my home.’ If you’re a dog lover, Sooky will no doubt sit at your feet by the fireplace, arrange her svelte self by your lounge while you’re reading, and generally make sure she’s there if you care for her calming company.
Sooky’s owner Pablo is the manager of Sangoma, and before you’ve managed to drink in the sprawling vista of wild Australian bush that is some of the Blue Mountains finest, he’ll have a chilled beverage in your hand and a smile on your face. Even if you are the kind of person who remains a bit pent up shortly after leaving your day-to-day existence behind, you’ll soon feel your shoulders relaxing. That’s when you’ll breathe in the fresh air, notice the native bird calls ringing out, and feel the ever-present tranquility of Sangoma – aptly named because in Southern Africa it means traditional healer or diviner in Zulu.
Once you’ve slipped into downtime mode, your check-in is as easy as an amble across the drive (complete with a rustic homemade fountain surrounded by native wildflowers) to one of five eco-certified luxury suites. All are as stylish as they are comfortable – and are a wonderful showcase of all things Africa, with the furniture and an eclectic range of pieces blending in beautifully with the native bushland. From carved wooden chairs and stools that serve as sculptures and look like artifacts, to animal hide rugs and candle-lit lanterns that reflect the setting sun, the suites are an ode to sustainable, luxury bush living.
The Chief’s Suite is built over two levels, with an upstairs bedroom, en-suite and freestanding rectangular bath with overhanging chandelier that give guests more chances to drink in breathtaking views speckled with eucalypts and Angophora gums. On a good day you can check out Sydney on the horizon – 80 kilometres and another world away. Descend the stairs (the hardest thing here is leaving a bed that’s more like a bundle of clouds with feather-plump pillows on top) and downstairs you’ll find a spacious lounge room that opens on to a wooden deck around your own heated plunge pool, complete with a BBQ and a rust-coloured privacy wall stretching up to the bedroom above. And if you just happened to arrive by chopper, you can also park your mode of transport in the paddock just visible through the trees below.
There are also luxury bush suites with open plan designs and uninterrupted views of the bushland from the bed, lounge, deck and bathroom. For those after a more rustic (yet still completely luxurious) experience, the tent suites have a freestanding bath above the forest canopy, timber flooring and roll-up tent style doors. They also have a private deck with a BBQ, and no matter what style of suite you choose, you’ll be completely ensconced in nature.
The meals at Sangoma are all made on the day with local fresh and mostly organic ingredients. Guests are seated in the lounge and dining area when evening falls, which again has the feel of being a private home. And that’s because the main, split-level house of the retreat was actually a private home that the owners converted into a common space once the suites were built. On warmer nights, guests can also be seated outside under the stars.
The mouthwatering menus — which change daily — are creative yet not fussy. The chef prides himself on letting the fresh produce speak for itself, creating homely dishes with beautifully balanced flavour combinations. A great example is a recent three-course meal that started with charred young asparagus with Spring Bay organic mussels in chili turmeric and pale ale, with a spicy pistachio and miso vinaigrette. Guests were then treated to a main of Piquant roast chicken thigh on a bed of kale, with corn, freekeh (a cereal made from green wheat), sweet potato with a dehydrated beetroot mash. The chef also loves to spoil guests with delicate desserts that you’d be hard-pressed finding elsewhere, such as an Iranian style ricotta terrine with apricot jelly, passionfruit, short bread and salted chocolate pearls. Lip-smackingly delicious.
Once dinner is over you can relax in the lounge with a night cap or take a stroll under the stars back to your suite, which have mini-bars well stocked with delicatessen-style treats, coffee machine and range of lovely herbal teas. Just more reasons to sit back and further indulge in the quietness of the bushland at night.
After a sleep-in that will have you waking to kookaburra and magpie song, breakfast is served at the main lodge in two courses. Think light fluffy pancakes with seasonal fruits and a homemade cream, followed by a hearty fry-up to ensure you’ll be full until brunch or lunch. And then it’s only a matter of how best to relax and prepare for another peaceful day in paradise. A good book while laying back on the balcony lounges could be the go (the library has a great range of inspiring titles and the latest magazines), or the sun lounges by the garden pool are also hard to resist. There’s also a sauna, or for those after some light exercise, there are easygoing walking trails around the property that wind their way gently through the forest. If pampering is on the mind, then some time in the massage hut is the best option before a long, leisurely lunch.
Two master therapists trained in Kahuna massage regularly visit Sangoma. Kahuna massage is a therapeutic approach based on the teachings of ancient Hawaiian Kahunas. In native Hawaiian language, ‘huna’ means ‘secret knowledge’ and so a master of any of the huna arts is known as a ‘kahuna’. The method is vigorous, rhythmic and soothing, with the practitioner using their fingers, palms, wrists and forearms as they move rhythmically around the table, often chanting in a low, calming manner. It’s an incredible experience having a massage in a small wooden hut in the bush, where birdsong is mingled with the gentle burbling of a water spring. Before you know it you’ll be drifting off, heading towards something that everything at Sangoma is designed to achieve – you becoming at one with nature.
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