Who runs the world?
I think it’s quite fitting that I’m writing this post on International Women’s Day. I’ve just got back from an amazing six days in the Atlas Mountains spent with six amazing women.
I was in Morocco on a yoga retreat with Yoga Ro. I’m not a hugely experienced yogi, having done it on and off for only a couple of years. On a cold day in January, I picked up one of Ro’s flyers after taking her class at Yoga Edge in Crystal Palace and within a few days, I’d signed up for her Moroccan retreat in the Atlas Mountains. A yoga retreat has been on my travel bucket list for a few years now and the chance to hone my practice, meet new people and enjoy some Moroccan sunshine was just too tempting.
I ended up going with one of my close friends from home and I have to say, it is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Here’s why…
We stayed in paradise
We spent the five night retreat staying at the wonderful Kasbah Angour in the Atlas Mountains. Just 35 minutes’ drive from Marrakesh airport, this beautiful hotel, styled as a traditional Berber castle, is perched on a hilltop with acres of manicured gardens, bedrooms furnished with Berber fabrics, and a swimming pool made for Instagram.
10 chances to practice yoga and meditation
During the retreat, we took part in 10 yoga sessions. We did one each morning and evening with the morning practice also including guided meditation. Meditation wasn’t something I’d done before and I was pleasantly surprised how easy I found it to switch off and relax my mind. With the sessions starting at 7.45am each morning, it was probably easier to still the mind.
Ro had designed each session to be different to the one before and with only five others taking the retreat, it was a great opportunity to improve my practice, tweak my positions and try some new ones too… including a headstand! I didn’t manage to do it but still, it was great to understand how it works and it’s something that hopefully I will be able to do in time.
During the retreat, we did a couple of the sessions on the rooftop, including partner yoga. I was super nervous about this beforehand but it turned out to be the one I enjoyed the most. In between the giggles, I managed to surprised myself by some of the positions I could manage with my friend, including doing child’s pose on top of her child’s pose!
Ro is a brilliant teacher, very patient, encouraging and has really helped me to become more confident in what I’m doing when I practice and push myself to try new things.
The retreat included two half day hikes and one longer hike with a picnic lunch. I really enjoy walking and the hiking aspect was part of what had really appealed to me about the retreat.
On each of the hikes, we were led by a local guide called Abdel, who was quite the character! On the two half day hikes, we went different ways from the hotel through the nearby countryside and explored local Berber villages encountering sheep, donkeys and even tortoises on our way! The first half day hike was across the gentlest terrain but the second half day hike saw us climbing the equivalent of 80+ floors to the caravans road of Morocco. By the time we returned to the hotel for lunch, we’d racked up 7km each time.
The longer hike took us more than 12km through the Atlas Mountains into Toubkal National Park. The first part of the hike was pretty steep taking single file paths up into the mountains with a sheer drop to my right-hand side (it wasn’t the time to admit I don’t like heights!). It then started to even out and we stopped after a couple of hours to enjoy a packed picnic lunch from a viewpoint overlooking a village close by. We then circled back down through the valley, passing another village before ending up back at the hotel 4.5 hours later.
I loved the hikes. As a group, we chatted away as we clocked up the steps and enjoyed taking in breathtaking views of the snow-topped mountains in the distance, the local wildlife of sheep, chicken, donkeys, mules, and tortoises, and the smiling Berber people in the villages.
We ate like queens
Paul, the owner of the hotel, was super welcoming and upon arrival, lunch was laid out waiting for us. Six bowls of fresh, colourful, zingy salads with home-made bread. Each day, we enjoyed a brilliant lunch just like this but with different salads each day. The finely chopped cucumber mixed with orange segments had to be my favourite. Two simple ingredients I’ve never thought of putting together before but somehow it worked so well.
Each evening we enjoyed a tasty three-course meal at Kasbah Angour. We made our orders each afternoon from a choice of two dishes for each course. Having recently gone vegetarian, I definitely got my 5-a-day and my favourite dishes had to be the pumpkin soup, aubergine mille-feuille, avocado salad and stuffed vegetables. Everything was delicious and the helpings were plentiful.
Breakfast was the other food highlight at Kasbah Angour. Each morning I started with a glass of fresh Moroccan mint tea (something I’m continuing now I’m home), freshly squeezed orange juice and then I rotated each day between the Berber eggs (a cross between scrambled and poached eggs mixed with tomatoes) and a Berber pancake with cream cheese and honey. Doing two yoga classes a day plus a few hikes, I made sure I filled up at breakfast to keep me going!
The Jardin Majorelle
During the retreat, we had one free day without a hike so after our morning yoga practice, my friend and I decided to head into Marrakesh to the Jardin Majorelle and the main square. This was my first time in Morocco so I wanted to fit in as much as possible.
The hotel arranged a taxi for us into the city and our first stop was the Jardin Majorelle. This charming garden, owned by Yves Saint Laurent before his death, in the heart of Marrakesh is decorated with royal blues and bright yellows and reminded me very much of the gardens I’d visited in Andalusia last year. We saw cacti, colourful exotic plants and trees all landscaped together creating a visual masterpiece.
We then went on to the main square of Marrakesh, where we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the restaurants overlooking the main square before taking a walk around the biggest mosque in Marrakesh, Koutoubia.
The retreat gave me the opportunity to meet and spend time with six other brilliant, fearless, strong women. We practiced yoga together, hiked together, sunbathed together, drank wine together, laughed together, meditated together and dined together. We left with a Whatsapp group set up to share photos, memories and promised to get together soon for a Moroccan meal in London.
Plenty of ‘me time’
This ‘holiday’ was unlike any other. It gave me a real chance to properly switch off from the grind of everyday life, particularly work, which I often get stressed over, and do something for myself.
I spent less time on my phone (the limited wifi might have had something to do with that but it was definitely a good thing!), enjoyed time soaking in the rays by the pool before the coldest dip I’ve ever had, watched the sunset from our bedroom balcony, worked my way through Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends (which is bloody brilliant by the way) and was tucked up in bed by 10pm each night. Pure bliss. I’d recommend a retreat with Yoga Ro to everyone!