Peace And Relaxation In Morocco - Trading Yorkshire For Yoga
Lisa Burn, Travel and Beauty Correspondent
This time of year can be a bit of a wash-out - rain, cold and lack of light casting a gloom over everything. Winter is my least favourite season, so this time round I decided to escape it, just for a few days, and go in search of sunshine.
While looking for my ideal escape, I came across so many spa holidays in exotic destinations - they seem to be more and more popular these days - but they weren't what I was looking for. I wanted something relaxing yes, but with a new experience tied in, something that would stretch my mind as well as rest my body.
I found it under the African sun. A friend mentioned yoga holidays to me and after a bit of research, I discovered what I was looking for in Morocco - a yoga retreat in Marrakech.
Now Africa might sound like a long-haul destination, but we are in fact talking a flight time of less than four hours and temperatures in November of up to 23°C, with seven hours a day sunshine the average. Ideal for relaxing and recharging the batteries.
It doesn't matter if you've never attended a yoga class in your life before, or if you can't contort yourself into wonderfully complex asanas (postures), the Satvada yoga retreat at Hotel Tigmi caters for all levels and abilities.
Located around a half hour's drive from Marrakech, Hotel Tigmi isbarrived at by way of dusty roads, pot-holed tracks and a traditional Berber village. Not for nothing is Marrakech known as the Red City - everywhere you look, you see red houses, fields, and building sites. And they all have a reddish hue, in the nicest possible way of course.
My talkative taxi driver told me there's constant building work and development going on in the city, which is in sharp contrast to the almost Biblical images we encountered on our journey to the hotel. We passed goats grazing by the side of the road, watched over by goat herders in traditional dress, donkeys braying while they picked carefully over rocky hillsides, and homes forged from the earth around them.
It is easy to see why Satvada Retreats hold their yoga classes at Tigmi. The traditional buildings of the hotel form a peaceful cluster away from the noise of the city, the silence broken only by the regular call to prayer sounding from beyond the hotel walls.
The hotel's rooms are decorated in traditional Moroccan style, with bright fabrics, plain plaster-finish decor and wrought ironwork at the windows. Gardens lie all around, home to orange trees and colourful bougainvillea, and towards the front of the main building, just before you descend to one of the two swimming pools, there's a large open terrace where guests can sit and enjoy a taste of Morocco with tagines, couscous and fresh salads. The food at the yoga retreat was mainly vegetarian but meat lovers are also catered for - and you have to try the local mint tea, it has to be the sweetest in the world!
Yoga classes are held twice a day - morning and evening - outside, high on a peaceful roof terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside, with the magnificent Atlas Mountains in the background, or inside, in the traditionally decorated dining hall, with its welcoming open fire.
For me, morning 'vinyasa flow' yoga was the more strenuous of the two sessions - I hadn't done yoga before and I am, ahem, overweight, so I found it a challenge. Not beyond my ability though, as there are always variations on the asanas that are within everyone's reach, so when some of my group were fashioning themselves into the most amazing shapes I've ever seen, others, myself included, were creaking ourselves into more moderate positions.
Evening yoga was a more reflective meeting, a time to focus on your mind, body and breathing in a relaxing way, an opportunity to let go of stress and soak up the heady atmosphere created by the flickering firelight and end-of-day calm.
And letting go of stress is what it's all about. For Tigmi's more adventurous guests there's a free shuttle bus to the centre of Marrakech, to its amazing historical sites and the bustle of the souks, but I stayed put.
When I wasn't at yoga class I was lying by the pool reading in the sunshine, just savouring the warmth and the luxury of being away from work and everyday life. I took part in a meditation session, enjoyed an extremely relaxing aromatherapy massage and experienced my first Hammam bathing ritual - a traditional part of Moroccan culture everybody should try.
By the end of the five-day retreat I felt so chilled and relaxed I returned to the UK feeling like a different person, though sad to leave Morocco. I'd met a group of great people, there like myself, to bring a little calm to their lives through yoga; the staff at the hotel couldn't have made us feel more welcome and our two yoga instructors worked hard to ensure the retreat was a success. I discovered a love of Morocco that I wasn't expecting, and I will be returning to Marrakech later this year to see more of the city. As for the yoga? Yes, I'm a convert and now back home, have signed up for my local yoga class. Namaste.
Satvada Retreats organise yoga holidays to Morocco and the South of France, they also host Art of Relaxation weekends (yoga and mindfulness meditation) in the UK. Their next venue is a yoga and activity beach holiday in Essaouira, Morocco from 21 - 26 February, then they are back at Hotel Tigmi, Marrakech, from 19 - 23 April. For more information visit www.satvada-retreats.co.uk.
Lisa flew to Marrakech with British Airways from Heathrow Airport and stayed at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 the night before her outward journey (www.hilton.com).
Marrakech flights: Easy Jet from Manchester, Gatwick and Stansted airports; Ryanair from Luton and Stansted airports; British Airways currently flies to Marrakech from Gatwick Airport.
Lisa Burn is a freelance journalist who writes extensively about travel and beauty; she also blogs at www.40schic.blogspot.co.uk
Peace And Relaxation In Morocco - Trading Yorkshire For Yoga, 16th January 2013, 14:32 PM