The Beet Retreat

Published on 08 June 2017

Jan and pets

Guests typically sleep in at The Beet Retreat, rising at 9am for the sumptuous vegan breakfasts host Jan Saunders has perfected. Some, however, take Jan’s advice and wake before the birds, seating themselves on expansive balconies to watch the sun gently rise over Smiths Gully. “It’s the most glorious time of the day,” says Jan, a veteran of countless dawns. “There’s something magical about the stillness, that brief feeling of being the only person on earth.”

Jan’s 20 acre property is the Yarra Valley's only animal product-free accommodation. But in 2011, The Beet Retreat was simply home and Jan, a career police officer who trained horses and riders for the Mounted Branch, an omnivore. 

By mid 2012, disturbed by the global treatment of livestock, she’d turned vegan. By 2014, after a year long trek around the world, she’d quit her job and, to make ends meet, advertised her two spacious spare rooms on Airbnb. 

It took off, with Jan discovering that guests not only respectfully eschewed meat while there, but were curious about her vegan alternatives. So was The Beet Retreat born. “Many guests are neither vegan or vegetarian, they’re simply interested in eating healthier and plant based food ideas,” says Jan: host, resident chef and a qualified fitness trainer committed to helping people achieve requisite health for “life's great adventures". 

“An athlete is one who shows up daily without sabotaging themselves with destructive behaviour,” she says. “One who cares less about the size of their thighs and more about whether those legs will carry them to the top of a mountain pass and down again.”

Jan should know. She not only climbs mountains, but runs over them, like in the French Pyrenees, which she spent 11 days and 620 kilometres traversing last year to raise awareness and funds for various animal rights organisations. 

As you do…

Fear not, Jan's no drill sergeant, and guests are welcome to join her relaxed pre-dawn jogs. Nor does she trumpet vegan politics uninvited, preferring to let her lifestyle and food do the talking. “For some the ‘V' word can be uncomfortable," says Jan. "I get that. Sure, I do animal activism, but my love of animals is matched by a love of people. The best I can do for the world is be welcoming, non-judgemental and, if they wish, help people reduce animal product intake, for the sake of their health, the environment and the creatures most of us were taught to view as food."

“Guests love discovering the delicious meals we can all make from plants,” says Jan, a once “useless” cook now proficient enough that Sunday cooking classes regularly sell out. Testimonials praise her food and "happy vibe", so too the “glorious” spots she directs guests, who all share a desire to “relax, rewind and refresh” - The Beet Retreat’s tagline. 

They fall in love with resident rescue pets, among them Mac the Kelpie, moggy Krazy Kat and sheep Dot, Tot, Tommen and Bran; animals free to live their days in peace, how Jan wants it for all beings. "I feel so lucky to be doing something meaningful, that helps on many levels," says Jan. "It's beautiful to have a space where people come and visibly wind down.” 


The Beet Retreat
55 One Tree Hill, Smiths Gully
0407 967 462