After graduating from Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS), Emma worked in Melbourne, Spain and the United Kingdom. Throughout her life, Emma has always been passionate about physical education, yoga and helping people. After marrying and having children, Emma began studying counselling while she was raising her family. Emma always knew that she wanted to combine her passion for hotels, yoga, health and counselling to create a unique luxury experience unlike anything else. This is where the concept for Deśa Retreat was born.
How did you know you wanted to start your own retreat?
I knew that I wanted to start this retreat in my early twenties. While I was studying at BMIHMS in the Blue Mountains, I worked in a local guesthouse and restaurant. After graduating, I worked in a lot of hotels and establishments in Melbourne and throughout Europe. I loved the intimate guest experience where I can connect with people, because it felt like I was welcoming them into my home. In every job I have had, I always treated it like it was my own business, so it was only natural to create a place of my own.
Can you tell me more about Deśa Retreat?
I built the two villas in 2017 on my property in Jan Juc, Victoria, Australia. Both villas have a large bedroom with an ensuite, kitchen, lounge room and an outdoor deck space overlooking the garden. There is also a connecting door if guests want to book both villas.
I built everything in the villas with the environment in mind. I wanted to do everything I could to be sustainable, so there is solar electricity, solar water and all the windows are double paned glass and heavily insulated to make it super cozy and energy efficient. The heating is hydronic, which releases a nice gentle flow of energy efficient heat. The carpet is made from sisal, which is woven seagrass, so it is eco and sustainable, plus it has a great texture on your feet. The water in the bathrooms come from rainwater tanks on the property, which is treated with ultraviolet light as well as a high-level filtration system. I really want the guests to be drinking and showering in non-chlorinated and pure water. Water should be odourless; it should taste sweet and be the best water you can have. Outside we have a hot and cold shower so guests can get out of the surf all year round and enjoy a warm shower in nature.
You have a very impressive veggie garden. What inspired you to grow all your own food?
I am very conscious of the environment, to me, nature is my religion. Nature is where I go to connect when I need to find hope and restoration. The fact that nature is in such a bad way really affects me, so I want to be doing as much as I can to inspire people to see nature and give back to nature – because we take so much from her all the time without realising it.
Especially if you live in the city, you might see organic strawberries for $9 a punnet and think “that’s expensive!” – but have you ever tried to grow a punnet of strawberries organically without pesticides? That’s the cost of real food, and if people were growing more of their own food they would appreciate the food more and stop to savour every bite because you’ve grown that.
The whole process of growing your own food and living from the land is quite therapeutic. I love teaching guests about the possibilities of growing their own food and feeding their friends and family, even on a small property.
What sort of food do you grow for your guests and your family?
I grow all sorts of things such as strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beetroot, celery, spinach, sorrel, tomatoes chillies and lots of herbs. Of course, I grow with the seasons and feed the guests with food that I have picked from the garden that day.
I started a beehive last year to help the garden grow with the help of the bees and their pollination. Now I am learning so much about them; they are fascinating little creatures. These bees are super chill and little yogi’s – apparently, they take on the energy of their owners. We are lucky to be able to use the honey in the meals and tea we prepare for the family and our guests.
We have the chickens here too. These little girls give us about five eggs a day, which is pretty amazing. It is crazy to think that they create a little miraculous egg that you can use in so many different ways, and you know that you didn’t need to feed them anything bad, just veggie scraps and organic pellets.
Outside the villas, I have planted many fruit trees; apples, fig, mulberry and a few citruses. I always encourage the guests to go and pick some fruit if they are hungry.
The vision is also to grow my own herbs to make teas. I want to create a place of education and relaxation where guests can go home to their friends and say “I made this tea from the garden, and it can help with migraines”. I want to bring in all the invigorating principles that teach you about what the body needs to heal itself.
Can you tell me about the guestbook and why it is so special to you?
I put this guestbook into the rooms because I don’t always get to see the guests. Sometimes they arrive late or leave early, and it’s still nice to feel like I am connecting with them even if I don’t get to meet them face-to-face.
My favourite message is from my old boss. I used to talk to her a lot about my dream of creating this place and when I told her that I started Deśa Retreat, she came down in December with her sister to stay. She wrote me this beautiful review:
“Dearest Emma, what a beautiful retreat you have created. My soul feels nourished and restored due to this relaxing space. The delicious food you provided and the amazing yoga session this morning on the deck. It was a wonderful place to share with my sister. Thank you Emma. You are such a loving and giving human being, we will return and tell all of our friends about Deśa. Lots of love, Debbie”
It feels pretty nice; it’s almost like your mum saying ‘wow, you’ve done it, great job’.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about opening their own business?
I’d say find the place you want to live first; find a place that you fall in love with, a place that you’re inspired by every day, a place where you want to live out your days and then create your vision from there. I think it’s pretty hard to love what you do if you’re not living in an environment you like living in.