As an American who has lived in Paris for seven years, I’ve always marveled at how the French manage to stay slender and fit. ESPECIALLY with all the gloriously rich food and drink on every street corner. Maybe it’s the sumptuous red wine. Or the cheese to baguette ratio. Or the lack of chemicals in French foods? Whatever the reason it was a cause for curiosity and, if I’m being honest, a bit of envy on my part.

Cheese and a baguette portion beside white petaled flower.
photo by Alice donovan Rouse

After overindulging during the holidays, and a dry January that didn’t go as planned, I began looking for an economical spa or hiking trip where I could detox and get my health on track. In my search I found numerous health retreats in France online. But there was one in particular that tweaked my curiosity- Jeûne et Randonnée, fasting and hiking. Then I saw another, and another. Soon my computer was populated with dozens of these curious French fasting retreats. 

This isn’t the intermittent fasting en vogue right now. This was something completely different—8 days, 8 kilometers 8 glasses of water per day. Crazy, right? At the end of the week could I even possibly lose 8 pounds?  I decided to take on a new and challenging journey that found me on the beaches of Normandy where I began my own personal HUNGER GAMES. There would be 7 of us on this adventure. GREAT…misère aime la compagnie, misery loves company, as the saying goes.


At this point I was rather skeptical I would survive this self-imposed ordeal. I arrived on the Friday afternoon train just in time for an apéritif. Ironically, we met in front of the local bistro advertising their popular Happy Hour.

I looked at the six serious looking fasters and hikers who were waiting for me, the seventh person in their group. Jokingly I asked “Who wants some chips, olives and an apéro Spritz”? I was met with blank stares and uncomfortable silence. I feared I had become that loud, obnoxious American but after a couple of seconds the group, probably having quickly translated my words, broke into friendly laughter.

It was then a radiant woman with glowing skin approached me and said in English, “I’m sorry I don’t have a Spritz for you, but I have a liter of water from the Alps.” She had a twinkle in her eye I would grow to appreciate over the next week. Her name was Jacqueline and was the owner of the Cherbourg retreat welcoming us to our health odyssey.

We were driven to a storybook-like cottage and sat on comfy sofas situated around a roaring fire while mugs of what resembled a Hot Toddy were passed around. Iit even tasted like one, only sans alcohol.  This would be our last tasty treat before the fast.

left: a cute French countryhome; right a light house at sea.
photos – left: Kathryn Kinley; right: Nicola Morandi

I was pleasantly surprised that our group was far from the new age hippie types I wrongly associated with this kind of “healing” activity. Instead, I found a group of like-minded individuals from all walks of life. Some were anxious for the experience and others, like me, were uneasy about the life-style we were about to embark on.

After a helpful question and answer session and a get acquainted period, we watched a film about the numerous health benefits. I was pleased to learn that around Day 3 of the fast my appetite would most likely disappear. “Yeah, right”, said my skeptical self. They assured us that humans were just as resilient as camels surviving on only water for days. I also learned the importance of exercising during the fast, therefore the daily hiking routine. Fasting uses the body’s reserves and sometimes even muscle. To prevent that from happening—enter the Randonnée to keep our muscles toned. With tummy already growling for dinner I headed to bed feeling a little apprehensive but also optimistic that this detox was going to work its magic. 


It’s 7am. Seventeen hours since my last full meal. Daily we were greeted with hot water and fresh lemon coupled with our choice of herbal tea. The lovely Jacqueline privately took everyone’s blood pressure and inquired how we were feeling. “First morning, all good,” I confidently replied.

I went back to my room, changed into hiking gear, and brushed my teeth as my breath was not exactly fresh. With backpacks dangling, our small but hopeful group headed out the door, down a winding path, across a field and onto an expansive beach. It was peaceful and restorative. I arranged my towel and water bottle on the cool sand and settled into a meditative position. A relaxing morning yoga routine began, followed by dipping our feet into the ocean, and then a hike back to the cottage. It was absolutely invigorating AND shocking to hear our hike was a surprising 8 kilometers.

Hikers walking on the Normandy coastline.
photos by Kathryn Kinley

The rest of the day was spent reading, having a sauna, getting a massage and of course drinking purified water non-stop. In the evenings we would continue the cure with a vitamin and mineral broth. It wasn’t the tastiest but I was sure it was working some detox magic on my bod since it was vaguely similar to unsalted, dirty dishwater with zero calories. As always, a learning session followed with informative documentaries or fact-finding conversations.

Days 2-5: from headaches and homeopathy to fresh breath and energy

The end of my second day a headache arrived. Jacqueline gave me a natural remedy that alleviated it. The third day, it was insomnia and another homeopathic cure. She told me not to worry, that the body was detoxifying itself. The third day was also the most uncomfortable but what followed was to be a revelation. My hunger left COMPLETELY, my breath was fresh, and  I was beginning to feel stronger than ever while the hiking distance was ever increasing…now up to 11 kilometers. By day 5, I felt an abundance of energy. 

white ceramic bowl with yellow liquid
photo by Bluebird Provisions

Days 6-8: New friendships and rejuvination

I was making friends, sharing our detox experiences, and giving lots of encouragement to one another. All my senses were heightened and I even began savoring the now yummy mineral broth. My vision seemed crystal clear as if some sort of film was peeled off my pupils and my brain was functioning at warp speed, void of fog. By the time the last day arrived, I was almost sad to leave Jacqueline and her nurturing retreat.


I had now walked beachside 15 kilometers in one day while fasting and felt strong. It was an incredibly invigorating realization. We had our last supper together which was the first meal to break the fast and toast the completion of our “mission impossible.” How fun it was to chew and crunch on something. The fruits and vegetables never tasted so good and even a small slice of and mango I bit into tasted as delicious and caloric as any piece of candy I could have craved.

So the secret is out! Besides having fresh food and glorious wine, the French have amazing, low-cost retreats to keep themselves healthy and trim, Jeûne et Randonnée. After spending a sejour on the Normandy coast, I feel I have become a new and improved version of myself and ready for bathing suit season. I am super proud of my discipline, my liquid courage, and the fact that in the end, I had weight loss of a little over 8 pounds (4 kilos). What’s not to love? 

By the way…it did rain in Cherbourg just like in the movie. But UNLIKE the film’s melancholic and sad final scene, my ending was nothing short of euphoric. I was undoubtedly the winner of The Hunger Games.

Retreat participants gathered in circle at a Normandy beach

**Definitely do your own fact-finding mission to establish if this kind of group activity is safe and good for your health.

Written by Kathryn Kinley for the HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences.


Kathryn Kinley

Kathryn Kinley is an Emmy award-winning journalist who began her career as an opera singer in New York then made a leap into entertainment news. Her love affair with France started when she was flown to Paris to host a show on the Travel Channel. Kathryn has appeared on a variety international television shows seen on NBC, ABC, HBO, TV5 in the UK and TF1 in France. She is also a film critic, contributor to the Associated Press and has had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of the world’s finest actors and musicians. Kathryn currently lives in Paris and is mom to two French-American children.

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