Michelle Berriedale-Johnson reports on free-from relaxation in the West of Ireland
This is a Cloona Spinach salad. Its purpose in life is to be a fresh and health-giving spinach salad but, as it happens, it is also totally 'free from'. And that sort of describes Cloona...
Started way back in the early 1960s, Cloona, just a mile outside the delightful town of Westport on the west cost of Ireland, is a 'health centre' whose regime is based, loosely, on the principles of food combining and the Hay diet. This is combined with some yoga, a beautiful location far off the beaten track, some 'structured' walking – and a belief that everyone needs some 'down' time away from not only from their nearest and dearest but from their computers, phones and laptops and all connections with the madcap world such as TV, radio or even newspapers. So, Cloona is an ideal 'down-time' location for anyone already on a 'freefrom' diet or who feels that a diet that excludes dairy, wheat and gluten, eggs and all carbohydrates, plus meat, fish and sugar, could be just what they need.
However, be aware, nut allergics. Cloona is health focused rather than allergy focused so, if you wish to go there you need to warn them that you are nut allergic so that they do not include nuts in any of the soups, salads or fruit platters they serve while you are there – although, since they do use nuts normally, they will not be able to guarantee that the foods will be nut-contamination free.
As Dhara Kelly, who runs Cloona, and has done for the last 20 odd years, will tell you on the evening of your arrival, foods fall into four categories of digestibility: meat products which can take up to 48 hours to work their way through the system; carbohydrates which can take up to 24 hours to work through the system; vegetables which can take up to 12 hours and fruits which normally make it in under four hours. Moreover, the digestion finds it easier to deal with only one type of food at a time so, ideally, you will not mix them.
If this sounds as though it will be a hardship, let me assure you that it is not. The one thing you will not be at Cloona is hungry, nor in any way will you feel culinarily deprived. Even, amazingly enough, on day three when you only get juices to drink!
The Cloona regime kicks off with the assumption that none of us drink enough water. Not that we do not drink enough liquid (tea, coffee, colas, soft drinks, alcohol), but that we do not drink enough water. This is a common enough assumption in 'health' circles and is probably true. So you are required to get down six large glasses of Cloona's own fresh well water a day – warm, so as not to shock the stomach with ice cold imbibings...
The morning starts with water, rapidly followed by fresh, macerated wheat grass – the only appearance of wheat during your five day stay but anyone who is wheat sensitive should tell Dhara on arrival and you will be 'let off'. For those who love it, the freshly macerated wheat grass is fine, but for many it is the only difficult bit of an otherwise very benign regime. It is followed by citrus fruit to 'clean' the system – two oranges and a grapefruit, peeled and eaten at leisure, as is everything at Cloona.
The morning is taken up with two hours of yoga while Rose, Dhara's sister in law, prepares lunch....
Lunch is substantial and freshly prepared every day – a serious bowl of soup (carrot, spinach and coconut, red pepper, mixed vegetable...) followed by two large platters of salad (seaweed, spinach, sorrel and avocado, tomato and onion, carrot, raisin and mint...) – far more than, to your surprise, you can possibly eat. You will find the recipes for some of Rose and Dhara's soups here, and for some of their salads here and, as you will see, they consist of vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables – and nothing else.
The salads are accompanied by bowls of sprouted seeds, grown, like the wheat grass, by Dhara's niece in the cottage up the road.
Lunch is followed, pretty nippily, by a brisk walk in the lovely hills around Cloona under Dhara's guidance and then by optional extra treatments (massage, reiki, reflexology etc), outings to the local town, Westport with its very own stately home or a trip to take a seaweed bath! (For more on the non-food elements of the Cloona experience, see the Foodsmatter blog here.)
Supper is available from around 7pm and consists of a serious bowl of fruit – normally a banana, an apple or pear, dates or figs, maybe some nuts, maybe a couple of kiwi fruit – certainly more than enough to keep you 'rumble-free' until the following morning. Then all you need do is take a sauna (followed by an arctic shower...) and you can fall into bed.
This regime is followed every day apart from 'day 3' which is a 'juice day'. No different, as Dhara points out, from an ordinary salad and soup day, except that the salad and soup have been juiced!
Again, surprisingly, or maybe because Dhara insists that you take 10 minutes each to drink the two glasses of juice you are allowed for lunch and for supper, the two glasses are indeed very filling and you really do not miss the more substantial salads and fruit platter.
Cloona is certainly focused on diet – the opportunity for a thorough bodily detox – but it is not just about diet. The mental detox offered by wonderful peaceful surroundings, the cut off from the everyday world, the daily yoga and walks, are an absolute essential part of the Cloona experience. But, for those with a dietary problem or a food sensitivity, the eating regime is certainly a major draw.
Cloona is not luxurious – it lives in a converted mill – but it is perfectly comfortable, especially since the installation a year ago of four ensuite rooms with lovely big luxurious showers. There is one large communal room for yoga and for being social if you wish to be, but the bedrooms are quite pleasant enough to retreat to with your book if you prefer.
What does a visit to Cloona cost?
Well a remarkably reasonable €590 for a single room for the 5 day programme (Sunday to Friday lunchtime), €740 if you have one of the posh new en-suite rooms. This includes all foods, drinks and facilities apart from any optional treatments that you have in the afternoon. But you can also go for a weekend if that is all the time you can afford. For full details see their site – www.cloona.ie
And for those of you who cannot face the thought that (all too likely) at least two of your walks through the Mayo countryside might be in the pouring rain, Cloona now offer 'the Cloona experience in Italy' – exactly the same regime but tucked up an Apennine hill overlooking the Adriatic. More details from www.cloona.ie.
First published July 2012