Cliona Brennan, left, and Gigi Tynan are he founders of Sanctuary Escape.

Cliona Brennan, left, and Gigi Tynan are he founders of Sanctuary Escape.Jasna Pasalic

For Cliona Brennan and Gigi Tynan, food and fitness go hand-in-hand. As the force behind one of Ireland’s coolest new wellness retreat businesses, Sanctuary Escape, the pair’s events offer a chance to unwind while enjoying some nourishing food. Here, Jordan Mooney talks to Cliona, the culinary half of the duo, to find out more about her food ethos.

After meeting while in school, Cliona and Gigi parted ways to follow their respective passions: Gigi trained in pilates and neuromuscular therapy, teaching at some of the best studios in Dublin. Cliona went on to train as a chef and founded her own catering company, before joining Sprout & Co to showcase her talent as the creative force behind the company’s food. Now Cliona’s main focus is Sanctuary Escape, which she hopes will help to offer the public some time to enjoy nourishing food and invigorating pilates in a calm space.

“We decided to start the business over a coffee last year and ever since we’ve been meeting up every Wednesday to plan and source locations for our retreats. We held our first weekend escape last summer, which went really well and since then we’ve been holding as many as we can. Our most recent retreat was at Hotwell House in Meath, which we love because it’s such a gorgeous location, so we’re planning to hold more events there soon.”

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Cliona Brennan. Image by Jasna Palasic

Cliona Brennan. Image by Jasna Palasic

As well as food and fitness, Sanctuary Escape events incorporate mindfulness, thanks to the help of psychologist Alison Dillon. This is something that Cliona believes is especially important to the retreats as it adds to Sanctuary Escape’s holistic approve of nourishing the body and mind.

“The psychological element from Alison is important because it prioritises our guests’ mental health, helping to bring everyone to a fully happy place after they’ve enjoyed my food and Gigi’s pilates. I think there’s a link between these three elements, food, fitness and mental health, and I find that about a third of the people that come to our events are particularly curious about the psychological workshops as a way to focus on themselves and relax.”

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Delighted to win first place @thelittlegreenspoon competition for my Ferrero Rocher Bites.

A post shared by CLIONA BRENNAN (@cliona_brennan) on A glance at Cliona’s Instagram or the Sanctuary Escape website shows how focused on quality food she is; there are many images that highlight gorgeous plant-based meals and treats. Cliona’s recipe for healthy Ferrero Rocher Bites recently won the Alchemy Juice Healthy Treat competition, which was judged by Indy Power of The Little Green Spoon and Domini Kemp, so expect them to pop up at future Sanctuary Escape events – having tried them, we can assure you that they’re delicious! Upon asking Cliona about her culinary process, she told us that the key to her delicious food is colour:

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“I like to make sure that every colour of the rainbow is part of the meal. At every event so far, my banana bread has been the dessert as it’s a firm favourite with our guests. I like to challenge myself and bring something new to every menu. It’s happened that most of my menus so far have been plant-based, but they might not always be like that, it depends on what inspires me. Not all of the people that come here are vegetarian, so I want to make sure that everyone is satisfied when they leave and doesn’t miss the meat element. It’s a challenge that I take on but everyone has enjoyed the food so far.”

The key to Cliona and Gigi’s retreats is that they offer people the opportunity to slow down and enjoy their surroundings. Aside from one-day events, the pair are interested in curating a wider variety of activities, including zen hen parties, corporate wellness days and intimate dinner parties for smaller groups. With wellness such a hot-button issue at the minute, it seems like Sanctuary Escape may have appeared at the right time; encouraging people to take time for themselves is so important to Cliona

“I think people are too busy at the minute, they want life to be fast and food can be the first thing to go by the wayside. I try to make my food bring back memories and I hope to encourage people to try recreate the flavours. If someone likes my food, I’m always more than willing to give out recipes so that they can try it themselves. Food is such a communal thing and I love to nourish people and try to encourage them to eat well.”

A salad bowl of pickled eggs, sweet potato, and avocado from a recent Sanctuary Escape event. Image by Jasna Pasalic

A salad bowl of pickled eggs, sweet potato, and avocado from a recent Sanctuary Escape event. Image by Jasna Pasalic

Read more: Cliona's Spicy Carrot with Chargrilled Aubergine and Carrot.

Sanctuary Escape has a variety of events coming up, including their first Sanctuary Sea Escape in Blackrock, which will involve a dip in the sea alongside Gigi’s pilates and Cliona’s treats. The pair are also hosting another two retreats at Hotwell house, one on March 23rd and one on April 27th, which promise to revive and nourish you. If you’re planning to head along to one of the Hotwell retreats, Cliona and Gigi have given us a code for our readers to receive a 10% discount: When purchasing your ticket, simply enter the code SANCTUARY at the checkout. To check out more info about Sanctuary Escape, head to their website.

Have you attended any Sanctuary Escape retreats? Let us know how it went in the comments below.