Let’s make one thing clear – I’m would never have put myself down as a “yoga retreat” kind of a gal. I look ridiculous in harem pants (doesn’t everyone?), I have no idea what “hemp” really is, and my hamstrings are so tight that – aged 36 – I can’t get out of a chair without audibly groaning. But having been through a difficult few months I needed more from my holiday than just a fly and flop. Enter Kirsty Gallagher’s yoga retreat in the South of France…
The Yoga Bliss Retreat is billed as a week to truly get away from everything. Based near the pretty town of Angouleme in South West France, Les Passeroses is a magical secluded house, flanked on all sides by glorious rolling countryside. Walk across the fields in any direction and you won’t see a soul. It’s the ultimate in escaping urban life and reconnecting with yourself – something I had lost in the frantic world of demanding emails, tube mayhem, and never finding enough hours in the day.
The days are carefully structured during the week-long retreat – but Kirsty builds in plenty of down-time and there is never any pressure to join in if you need a little time out. A typical day begins with optional meditation, followed by Vinyasa yoga and a well-earned breakfast. After this you’ll have time to sit by the pool and read, explore the countryside, treat yourself to a massage or reflexology with one of the excellent therapists that visits daily – or just do absolutely nothing.
If you can tear yourself away, trips are available to local vineyards and Angouleme itself is worth a visit. Later on there’s Yin yoga to relax into the evening, and every other day Kirsty teaches yoga philosophy – giving a more in-depth understanding of the meaning behind the classes. Be sure to ask Kirsty to tell you the story of Durga – the kick-ass warrior goddess she has tattooed on her arm.
As a relative beginner I was nervous about my abilities on the yoga mat – but this fear quickly evaporated. The retreat caters for all stages and abilities – with complete beginners just as welcome as confirmed yogis and teachers. The week offers a progressive course designed to develop and consolidate – with options given throughout every class to make things more or less challenging, as you feel like it. Kirsty’s style is inclusive, warm and encouraging – her emphasis less on perfection, and more on doing whatever “just feels good” for the body.
The accommodation at Les Passeroles is high-end, with options at different budgets for shared and single rooms. If you want to treat yourself, go for one of the two stunning garden-lodges. Meanwhile the food – I was delighted to discover – is both plentiful and delicious. Expect vegetarian, seasonal and freshly-prepared food, with not a mung bean or wheatgrass shot in sight. Alex the chef takes you on a culinary global tour – each day ‘visiting’ a different country. With a healthy two-course lunch, three-course dinner and chai and tiffin available mid-afternoon, deprivation is definitely not the order of the day. Keep an eye out for the exceptional carrot hummus and delicious sweet potato brownies.
Yet there’s more to this break than just the sum of its parts. I found myself having conversations about my inner most fears with people I’d only known a day, reconnecting to hopes and dreams I’d all but lost sight of during the daily grind, facing fears and disappointments I’d hung on to for too long, and laughing with my new friends more than I have in years. I felt my body start to change and become stronger, tightness I’ve carried for years in my shoulder start to release, and in a few short days I was able to take a step back and assess what I wanted to change in my life when I went home.
I was curious about this seemingly magical transformation. Had I just lucked out with my group? Was this normal? I asked Kirsty what she sees people gain from a week’s retreat from the world. “You see people physically change”, she confirms. “Their foreheads soften, their jaws and shoulders release – it’s like the weight of the world drops off them over a week. People become happier, calmer, more balanced – and you see people realise that all the stuff we think matters just doesn’t”.
A beautiful setting, delicious food, new friends and a spiritual reset. I can’t imagine a better way to spend your time or money.
Kirsty Gallagher’s Yoga Bliss reatreats run in 2017 from 27 May, 12 August and 19 August, with prices starting at £720 per week including food and accommodations. From London take the Eurostar or fly to Paris, and Angouleme is a scenic train ride away. For more information and to book, see Kirsty Gallagher’s website. Feature by Annie Scott.