Mention the Côte d’Azur and what immediately springs to mind are chichi beaches, beautifully dramatic coastal landscapes, fine dining and all things luxe.
It’s fair to say that this charmed corner of South Eastern France is not known for its wellness retreats. In recent years, the Riviera has seen a smattering of vegan cafes, yoga and Pilates classes spring up but it’s still a long way off Ibiza and Bali when it comes to holistic healing.
That is starting to change however, with the advent of Azur Wellness, which was set up by Toronto-born former superyacht chef Christine Paul at the beginning of 2021.
Christine has spent the last decade travelling to different retreats worldwide, cherry picking the aspects she was most impressed by to bring back to her guests, and is a keen adopter of fasting as a cure-all for mood and energy boosting, anti-ageing and weight loss.
Wellness days, weekend retreats and detoxifying fasting regimes take place at her comfortable Provencal villa, in the pretty town of Biot - famous for its glassware. A short hop from Nice and Antibes, the vibe here is very much relaxed reboot rather than military style boot camp.
Weekend retreats are ideal for those looking for a quick fix to rebalance their bodies, either alone or with a group of friends. You can choose from a Juice and Soup Fast, which helps to reset your digestive system as well as cleanse your body with nutritious home-made liquid nutrients, a plant-based detox which mixes raw foods with juices and water or intermittent fasts of varying lengths of time.
I’m here to try out a wellness day and on arrival, Christine presents me with a fresh green juice and an invitation to soak up some warm November sunshine on the pretty terrace before we start a gentle Hatha yoga session.
Long stretches, standing poses and balances are expertly guided by leading local yoga instructor Noona Ayres (another ex-yachtie) and are perfect not only for regular yogis but also beginners.
Next is a food workshop where we gather around the kitchen island to watch as Christine prepares a delicious raw whole food, plant-based lunch sourced from her vegetable plot in the garden and local bio shops nearby.
Spiralised courgettes combined with chopped carrot and red peppers create a delicious raw Pad Thai and we also learn how to make crispy seed crackers using five types of seed plus water, a simple and tasty tahini and ginger dip and indulgent yet super healthy chocolate truffles.
We truly eat the rainbow with additional vibrant, multi-coloured dishes including a kale and red cabbage salad, Asian coleslaw, broccoli and mushroom salad, avocado dip and a platter of crudities – and the best part is that all this takes just minutes to prepare with minimum clearing up.
Afterwards, it’s time for the hardiest among us (me included) to experience the increasingly popular Nordic ‘hot sauna cold plunge’ ritual while others choose the less extreme comforts of the hot tub.
There’s an elegant sauna cabin in the garden just a few steps from the pool and when this hot/cold pattern is repeated a few times, it completely relaxes the body as well as boosting the immune system and enhancing the flow of blood around the body. This ancient practise is also believed to help you release toxins, reduce pain perception and elevate mood.
It’s difficult to explain just how good I feel after an hour or so of hot/cold therapy. Once the initial shock of the cold water subsides, going from hot to cold is invigorating, pleasurable even, and I can feel my entire body, which is stressed from lack of sleep and too much stimulation, seguing into a calm, deeply relaxed state.
Longer breaks also incorporate hikes in the surrounding hills, massages, Pilates and meditation classes, with plenty of time to read, swim or simply just do nothing.
For further information or to book a retreat, check out azurwellness.com.