A wave of calm washes over you from the moment you step behind the heavy-set glass door of Willow Urban Retreat. Warm lights beckon you beyond its stunningly restored heritage-listed grey façade, where purified air, a neutral colour palette, and pared-back materials set the soothing scene. Notes of cedar wood, lavender, vanilla and citrus envelop your senses, wrapping you up in a warm, welcoming hug, while soft, natural light, muted textures, and pops of lush greenery add to the sense of tranquillity, transporting you far away from the hustle and bustle of High Street, Armadale’s bustling strip.
That Willow feels like it could just as easily be at home in Greece or Japan is not coincidence. The world-class wellness sanctuary, which was five years in the making, has considered every possible detail, taking into account modern and ancient wellness practices to create a luxurious urban retreat that seamlessly balances old and new, mind and body, yin and yang.
But this holistic approach to wellness was born well before the building began taking shape. Owner Sharon Bassat, a former teacher, engaged Melbourne-based architecture and interior design firm Meme nearly four years ago, with the vision of creating a space that embodied the principles of wellness from the ground up. That meant exploring how architecture and design can actively contribute to human health, and integrating the latest innovations to encourage restoration, relaxation and rejuvenation.
“The project investigated how the quality of air, temperature, noise and light all affect our experience of space,” lead designer Melanie Beynon says. “The combined alchemy of water, earth, metal and wood evokes a connection to nature, uncluttering the mind for a heightened sense of space, repose and silence.
The vision was creating a space that embodied the principles of wellness from the ground up. That meant exploring how architecture and design can actively contribute to human health, and integrating the latest innovations to encourage restoration, relaxation and rejuvenation.
Skylights tracing the perimeter of the building, coupled with high ceilings and a continuous hand-applied cement render help maximise natural light, space and volume, and everything from the interior paints to the building materials has been carefully chosen based on sustainable, ethical or non-toxic principles.
Willow, which officially launched in May, is set over two levels spanning 500 square metres of prime Armadale real estate and plugs a hole in the market for a one-stop wellness destination that caters to people who are seeking a greater connection to health and wellness but who don’t necessarily have the time to commit to a fully-immersed wellness retreat, or the freedom to travel interstate, let alone overseas, to visit one.
The idea for the transformative retreat was born out of wanting to create a place for people to find themselves in the midst of mayhem; an oasis for the everyday individual to escape, relax, revitalise and just breathe.
“It’s an urban sanctuary,” says general manager and wellness director Amanda Wilson, who has spent 20 years working with luxury spas around the world. “A place that promotes and educates about physical, nutritional, mental and social wellbeing, where you can come to escape from city stressors and stresses; a place that feels like a wellness destination, but that is also convenient and accessible to your everyday life.”
To achieve this, Willow has enlisted a team of hand-picked experts – from naturopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to facialists, intuitive healers, mindfulness teachers, Ayurvedic physicians and celebrated chefs – to help design, innovate and execute its holistic wellness ideals.
WHAT THE RETREAT OFFERS
From natural therapies, massage and movement classes to wellness consultations, infrared saunas, reiki and aromatherapy steam showers, the options at Willow are endless. Book in for a consultation with resident Ayurvedic physician Kalyan Chakravarthy, who has a master’s degree in Ayurvedic pharmacology and is credited with melding modern theories of health with the timeless wisdom of ancient Ayurveda. Or, if you prefer a more scientific approach to wellness, you can see Dr Leela Klein, who holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Chinese Medicine).There are also a range of educational classes and workshops covering everything from cooking to mindfulness, to ensure your journey doesn’t end when you leave the retreat.“Conceptually, it was about providing a sanctuary where you can choose what speaks to you the loudest,” Amanda says. “We are honouring ancient Eastern healing philosophies, but also catering to more modern modalities as well.”
Willow’s holistic approach recognises that movement is paramount for healing and, therefore, offers an extensive range of movement and mindfulness classes, including rebounding, hatha yoga, qigong, meditation and sound bath healing – to complement and enrich people on their journey towards optimum health.
“Part of the retreat philosophy is to treat people holistically, which means we structure our classes to work with circadian rhythms,” Amanda explains. “That means the more active classes are in the morning and then restorative activities in the afternoons and evenings.”
No wellness retreat would be complete without a nourishment component, and the café at Willow is no exception. It is helmed by chef Nick Cree (ex Supernormal, Top Paddock), who worked with Willow’s resident naturopath to create nourishing, nutrient-dense meals designed to encourage healing and support wellbeing. The light-filled space is already a hit among retreaters and locals alike, with an organic, farm-to-table ethos, as well as a dedication to presenting food in a way that delights all of the senses.
HOW IT WORKS
If you’re feeling like a dose of relaxation, a one-day wellness intensive or you’re looking for a long-term health commitment, Willow has an array of options and can meet you at whatever stage of the journey you’re at. Book in for a one-off treatment or class, a one-day wellness immersion or, if you’re looking for a more personalised program, they can even tailor a retreat to your specific goals or needs.
For a limited time, Willow is also offering foundation memberships that cost little more than what you’re probably already paying for the gym.
WILLOW URBAN RETREAT: 1203 High Street
Armadale Victoria Australia 3143
Photo credit: Marina Oliphant, Sharyn Cairns.