The Washington Post
Yoga in Thailand by Heather Murphy
The stunning island featured in the movie, “The Beach,” does exist and is more than just a playground for Leonardo DiCaprio and his lovers. Phi Phi, as it is called, draws thousands of non-stars every year who are looking to expand their yoga repertoire on its perfectly white sandy shores.
Perched beneath palm trees and limestone cliffs is Yoga Traveller’s retreat center where visitors from across the world gather to meditate, practice yoga and eat communal meals.
It’s a bonding place, says founder Michelle Riordan. Between yoga sessions, new companions can rent kayaks, scuba dive and scale rock formations together.
While many yoga retreats attract primarily women, the abundance of adventure sports at the center tends to draw just as many men as women, says Riordan. At the end of the day, massages and fresh fruit drinks await.
The Yogatraveller Phi Phi retreat center is open all year. The cost is $690 in the high season (Nov – Apr) and $590 in the low season (May – Oct) for one week including accommodation, breakfast, yoga twice a day, meditation twice a day and snorkeling trip. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call +353 868289178.
You have to be a right poseur on a holiday to Gozo by Lauren Booth
It’s mum’s turn to decide where to go for the family’s summer break. Get ready to make some shapes, says Lauren Booth
On the ferry from Malta to Gozo I had time to ponder how my family would cope with a holiday that was all about me. A Yogatraveller break, essentially a yoga course in an exotic location, does not allow for husbandly hangovers. Nor, as it turned out, would sleep-ins be part of the package.
Things started hopefully enough. Halfway between Gibraltar and Alexandria, Sicily and North Africa, Gozo has been at the crossroads of trade and battle routes since Odysseus was a lad. Our first glimpse of the island, whose name means “joy” in Castilian (the title given by the Aragonese in 1282), bought gasps of “oh wow” from my easily unimpressed family.
Dolphins frolicked beside the ferry as little fishing boats bobbed in an azure sea. High above on a rocky peak, the Lady of Lourdes church, her warm orange walls reddened by late afternoon sun, observed the terraced fields in supplication below. Maybe, just maybe, “mum’s choice” of holiday would work out fine after all.
Our apartment, Ta Sbejha, was a plush, traditionally decorated complex on the hills above the village of Gharb. The arches and the stonework spoke volumes about the island’s centuries of Arab rule.
That first evening we strolled into Gharb, enchanted by the giant prickly pears that line the country roads. As dusk fell, the only sounds came from sheep hidden behind the traditional houses – wonderful reminders of the best local delicacy, a white cheese covered in black pepper and preserved in oil.
But dinner was the first of many takeaway pizzas from Rangers, the village’s main bar and restaurant. In other parts of the world, a fusion of flavours from different cultures would create a culinary treat for tourists. This is not the case in Gozo. Here a truly dreadful event marked the end of its culinary evolution: the arrival of pasta and pizza. Apart from freshly caught seafood and rabbit, local food can be so predictable that even Pavarotti would have found it tiresome. Still, full of pepperoni and seduced by the somnambulent surroundings, we fell into a delicious sleep by 10pm.
All very relaxing. Until my alarm rang the next morning. At 7.30am. The schedule for this Gozo yoga experience is simple: three hours of yoga per day, but the first session starts at 8am.
Having arrived in the air-conditioned exercise studio hissing entirely un-zenlike phrases at one another – “Calm down yourself!” – it was pleasing to see that we were in a small group. Erinbel, a young Canadian mother of two, set us to work immediately. With her gently persuasive air, she guided us through breathing exercises, silencing my hyperactive daughters Alexandra and Holly.
The first pose to get to grips with was tadasana, or mountain pose. I used my peripheral vision to spy on both girls and husband Craig trying very hard to keep their ankles together, toes touching, tummies pulled up. It was an hour and a half of holiday heaven, both testing (leg raises on holiday – who except Madonna would bother!) and relaxing (children silent in the same room as me – bliss). My daughters enjoyed kicking their legs up and windmilling their arms during the sun salutations. My husband enjoyed moaning during the back twists.
After the morning’s stretch and stare session, we joined the four other guests for a sunny communal breakfast in another of Ta Sbejha’s apartments. Strong coffee and an informal buffet of fresh fruit, muesli, local honey and regional bread were finished by 10am, leaving the rest of the day blessedly free from attempts at long-term changes to lifestyle. Each day from 11am to 5pm we went exploring.
Gozo’s history is interlaced with that of the Crusades, St Paul having been shipwrecked on Malta in AD60 and quickly converting all the islands to early Christianity. Alexandra and I felt the irrepressible urge to look inside the sanctuary of Ta Pinu during an excellent Jeep tour of the island. A sign at the entrance asks visitors to behave respectfully – this is as much a site of pilgrimage as Lourdes. Since the late 1880s, miracles have been reported by the faithful.
The church was heaving with curious photo-takers and grey-haired faithful who had come to see the pediments and altars sculpted in Byzantine reliefs. Yet the side rooms open to the public made Alex and I feel faint. Room upon room had been hung with crutches, body casts and baby clothes sealed in frames, sent in by those believing they had been helped or cured after a visit. The overall effect of the weight of human suffering is oppressive. Alexandra began to sob: “I can feel the pain mummy. Oh the pain, it’s terrible.” Shaken, I took her hand and we ran out into the afternoon sunshine and back to the joys of our Jeep tour.
A separate excursion took us by boat to the neighbouring islet of Comino. Overlooking the famous Blue Lagoon, where Brad Pitt stood for scenes in the film Troy, this is a beach haven. The sea – an incredible transparency of blue – lapped our ankles. Its clarity allowed us all to see quite clearly how many billions of jellyfish were being driven ashore by the tide.
Craig and I struggled clumsily into the water, laden with scuba-diving gear, while our girls merrily played “fairy explorers” among the rocks. The visibility was incredible. Above me, I could see Craig floating, utterly still, rapt by the experience of weightlessness, his own moment of deep meditation. Shoals of tiny yellow-striped fish shimmered in and out of the submerged rock face. A blanket of jellyfish, from minuscule to the size of shoe boxes, glistened, transformed from potential attackers to marine lamps in the sunlight.
Gozitans boast that they are the most contented humans on the planet. Why not? Free from the savagery of foreign invasion for the foreseeable future (unless tourists count), they’re relishing a lifestyle that is at once simple and very comfortable. The islanders’ Latin motto is “Fertilis ab undis caput iffero”, or “a fruitful land raising its head from the sea”.
The icing on the cake for this mum-biased break was finding a day spa in the capital Victoria, known locally as Rabat. I was drawn a bath of Epsom salts and minerals before my massage. However, distracted by my chatter, the masseur added two lots of salts. The result was my own personal foam club. The room was floor to ceiling suds. I pushed my way through to have the best massage I have had anywhere in the world.
Holly quickly lost the urge to learn yoga. Five is too young for three hours a day. And her need to be active elsewhere gave Craig the excuse he’d been looking for to sleep beyond 7am on his holiday. But Alex and I got to grips with the twice-daily regime. Throughout the week the classes became harder. Balances, on one arm, a single leg. What would have seemed impossible six days earlier felt (almost) pleasurable. My legs felt stronger: in the mornings I rolled out of bed rather than adjusting my spine for half an hour as I usually need to.
On our final evening, the entire group drove to the Dwejra, better known as the Azure Window, for sunset yoga. I lay my mat on the flat sea-facing rocks and breathed. And breathed. The Azure Window is a 165ft-high rock arch in the Dwejra Point cliffs. The sea has worn a hole through a narrow headland forming “the window”. It is now in a dangerous condition because large pieces of rock keep falling from the arch itself.
My children and husband scampered over the rocks for a better view as I performed my last sun salutation of the trip. I felt a little bit stronger about the midriff, a lot less tense around the aorta. I may even have a little yoga pal in Alex, who is as convinced as I that yoga holidays are certainly for mums, but not really for beer-drinking dads.
HOW TO GET THERE
Lauren Booth and family travelled to Gozo with Yogatraveller (00 353 868 289 178; yogatraveller .com), which offers yoga retreats and holidays in locations worldwide, including Thailand, Malta, Switzerland, Bali and Ireland. A week costs from €650 (£511) per person, based on two sharing; inquire about children’s costs. The price includes transfers, B&B, some meals, yoga twice a day, daily meditation, group activities, hosting services. Air Malta (0845 070 1909; airmalta.com) offers return flights from £79.
For Jeep safaris contact Barbarossa (barbarossa-excursions.com). Gozo Adventures (gozoadven tures.com). Free Spirit Day Spa (freespirit .com.mt). Malta Tourism Authority (visitmalta.com).
Published Sunday, 3 August 2008
Outdoor Sports and Adventure Travel
Rock climbing, hiking and yoga in a mountain retreat by Sarah Sterling
WHERE: Samoens, France
ACTIVITY: Rock climbing, hiking and yoga
TOTAL TIME: 3 days or more
DIFFICULTY: Yogatraveller cater for all levels
LOOK OUT FOR: Tree pose, a top mountain guide and lemon tart
If you generally return from a holiday or weekend break in need of another one then, like me, you’re probably guilty of adventure binging. Help is at hand: Ireland-based Michelle Riordan’s ‘Yogatraveller’ holidays are being hailed as the perfect therapy for outdoor over-enthusiasts. Designed to offer a balanced diet of relaxing yoga and outdoor pursuits, the concept is this: yoga teacher ‘hosts’ live on-site in beautiful guest lodges from Ireland to the Alps, Morocco to Thailand. Yoga kick-starts each day with muscle stretching and mind focus, restorative yoga and meditation wind things down at each day’s end and, in between, you sample the local adventure options at your own whim – perhaps rock-climbing and hiking, surfing or skiing.
I booked a few days at La Source, the new Yogatraveller base in the Haute Savoie region of France. Far from a typical bustling Alpine ‘resort’ like nearby Chamonix, Samoens is a peaceful, characterful traditional village that just happens to lie in an outdoor lover’s paradise: 700m up the sunny side of a mountain (the Aiguille de Criou), surrounded by beautiful hiking trails, climbing areas and lakes. La Source itself is a 19th Century Savoyard Farmhouse, sensitively renovated into a five-star, low impact, low energy, 20-bed lodge using mainly natural building materials. The open plan living area has a balcony of mountain views. In this environment, clearly perfect for combining holiday relaxation with outdoor pursuits, you’ll be introduced to fellow visitors eager to do just that, plus Yogatraveller host Saskia and her husband, Duncan.
On my first morning the tall, distant peak of le Buet pointed to a bright blue sky. It’s a short pleasant walk to the banks of nearby Lac Bleu, where the other La Source guests and I laid out yoga mats. Saskia starts gently; the purpose of her first yoga session is always to ‘check in’ with your body. A series of gentle poses stretched and awakened every limb and muscle – then the group separated for the day to enjoy outdoor activities. Saskia and Duncan were on hand to book local activities such as parapenting, white water rafting, and to lend maps and offer advice on the best local hikes. Several visitors, including myself, were booked on a two-day sport climbing course with legendary mountain guide John Falkiner, and set off for nearby climbing area Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval.
Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval is a massive horseshoe of limestone with a vast range of possibilities for beginner to experts, and we warmed up on some of the plentiful easy Font 4 and 5 grade routes in Secteur des Tines. John encouraged us to continue the yoga techniques into our climbing – breathing regularly to keep ourselves calm and focussed and using our heightened self-awareness to help us balance and use our bodies effectively. There was a range of experience in the group, but it was unanimously agreed that yoga techniques improved everyone’s climbing.
After enjoying our respective adventure activities, the La Source guests reconvened for an evening yoga session. Saskia explained that yoga is not just about stretching and breathing. Generally, people’s minds are too cluttered to think effectively, she said, and yoga techniques can clear, strengthen and calm your head, to help you reach your potential. The group tried ‘candle meditation’; silently watching a candle flicker, ‘observing our thoughts then letting them go.’ Because we were mentally and physically tired by all the climbing, it was easy to slip into a meditative state.
Our strengthened, calmed minds came in handy on day two. Headstands and tricky balances tested us during morning yoga; despite all efforts, graceful tree pose was unfortunately more like stamping elephant pose for me. Saskia can adapt trickier poses to suit individual abilities and, by the end, we were all feeling the benefits. Thoroughly stretched and focussed, we set off for the climbing area ‘Anthon’ with John. The climbing had stepped up a notch, too. At secteur Rino, John showed us some lead sport ropework techniques that had me saying: “That’s so simple – why didn’t I think of that before!” Then, with patient encouragement from John, and at our own pace, we all led some routes. This is where I really noticed the benefits of the yoga. Rather than rushing to clip bolts, I climbed slower, better and more thoughtfully.
The next morning, after yoga, all the Yogatraveller guests agreed to spend the last day together, on a four hour circular hike with a high point of a difference: fresh lemon tart. We would be hiking to a mountain refuge, and Saskia called ahead to request that manager Jean baked one of his famous desserts for us. From the Pied du Crêt car park (889 m up) we climbed the steep side of the Criou. The route began in woodland with waterfalls cascading at every track turn. Higher up, the tree cover fell away giving spectacular views of the Giffre Valley, le Tuet and the peaks of the Dents d’Oddaz all the way to the refuge, where we were amply rewarded for our efforts with bowls of hot chocolate and delicious tart, as promised. Mountain goat bells echoed around the valley below on the return leg: a chained ‘balcony’ walk, carved into the side of the mountain. What a lovely last afternoon!
It was sad to say goodbye to everyone. And how did I feel at the end of my Yogatraveller trip? Relaxed, in tune with my body, exhilarated, I’d improved my climbing and met a whole host of brilliant, likeminded friends as well. I can certainly see the advantage of beginning and ending an adventurous day with yoga, and I found the mix of yoga and climbing particularly successful, as climbing challenges both mind and body, and yoga relaxes and stretches both mind and body so it’s a great warm up and warm down. If I show signs of regressing to adventure bingeing, I’ll just have to book another Yogatraveller trip for some rehab!
NEED MORE INFO?
By car take the Eurotunnel (www.eurotunnel.com) or cross by ferry from Dover (www.poferries.com). The closest airport to Samoens is Geneva, and great flight prices can be found if you shop around. Try Easyjet (www.easyjet.com), British Airways (www.ba.com) or Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk). Samoens is 1 hour from Geneva. Yogatraveller can arrange airport transfers. If you hire a car, make sure it is from the Swiss side of Geneva Airport. Follow signs for France and take the A40 for Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Tolls will cost about €3.50. Take exit 18 (Cluse) and follow signs for Samoens.
The Longer Greener Option
As train is the most ecological way to get to La Source, Yogatraveller offer a free train station pick up for the effort! Eurostar (St Pancreas to Paris or Lille), then SNCF TGV to Cluses (4h 30 min).
Yogatraveller base, La Source, caters for individual travellers or a group of up to 20. It’s five minutes from the historic heritage village and ski resort, Samoens.
Courses and Trips
Yogatraveller holidays range from a weekend in Ireland to 10 days in Bali. Trips to La Source includes accommodation, airport transfers, local advice, wood fired hot tubs, lake trip, two yoga sessions per day, five wholesome largely organic dinners and seven breakfasts. Adventure options besides rock climbing and hiking include parapeting, rafting, mountain and road biking, via ferrata, horse riding, canyoning and skiing.
Samoens is a little more than your average French town but a little less than the more famous Alpine resorts.
What to Take
Take good walking shoes, sun block, sun glasses, rock shoes, swim suit, sun hat, sandals, day back pack and a water bottle. You can borrow a yoga mat and climbing gear if you don’t have or don’t want to bring your own.
Working with Climate Care (www.climatecare.org), Yogatraveller off-set the Co2 emmissions on their flights. They also plant a tree for every customer who attends their holidays (www.tree-nation.com).
Sun, sea and stretch: yoga for hedonistic hens by Caroline Virr
Keira teaches a mix of Ashtanga and Hatha yoga, which includes poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama) and meditation. The aim is to bring the body to a perfect state of health and stillness, thus achieving heightened awareness. It is believed that the regular practice of asanas will make the body strong, supple and healthy.
I was very sceptical I would actually be bendier by the end of the week but, as Keira promised, I did actually feel a distinct improvement in my flexibility by day six. In other words, for the first time in my life I could comfortably touch my toes.
When we signed up, our break was touted as more of a ‘yoga holiday’ than a retreat, which meant we weren’t confined to hours of endless exercise and a diet of nothing but cayenne pepper and maple syrup.
We were left to our own devices during the day, and we took the odd break from sunbathing to take a boat trip to Maya Bay, where Leonardo DiCaprio cavorted in The Beach, and a three-hour crash course in Thai cuisine. I found this, and I’m sure my husband-to-be will agree, hugely useful.
Set up by Pum Restaurant & Cooking School, a chain which boasts another eaterie in Phuket and two in France, the course aims to teach the principles of Thai cooking. Once we’d worked up a ferocious appetite, we each chose three dishes to prepare – mine were rice soup, green curry and Penang curry – before spending a hot, sweaty few hours in the kitchen tossing ingredients into a wok and (the best bit) sampling our creations.
The results, it must be said, were delicious and we each took away a booklet with 13 ‘lazy’ recipes for quick and easy dishes.
The restaurant is enjoying a new revival in the wake of the tsunami, which pounded Thailand’s￼ coastline on Boxing Day 2004, and destroyed a large percentage of Phi Phi. Almost three years on, the island has been brought back to life but rebuilding work continues and at Pum’s restaurant, a book compiling children’s memories of the tragic day is available to tourists, with proceeds going to The Children of Phi Phi Island.
Dive, dive, dive
Another popular way to pass the time on the island is to dive, something of a must on Phi Phi, a four-star diving area. I elected to do the Discover Scuba Diving two-dive course with Blue View Diving. The course consisted of two dives, both about an hour long, depending on the amount of air used.
Doing yoga really helped me relax and breathe slowly so I ended up using less air than the instructor, who swam behind me at all times and monitored my equipment.
I’ve always felt much safer on land than at sea, but I found both dives really quite special. I saw some amazing and weird sea-life. There are huge coral reefs off the shores of Phi Phi and I clapped eyes on sea snakes, eels, clown fish, parrot fish, reef sharks, barracudas and sea horses. I found the whole experience quite humbling and I know the girls all felt the same.
For me, a yoga week was a perfect way to spend quality time with the ladies as well as remind myself how to relax again. Unlike most of our beach holidays, we all came back refreshed and full of energy, and the classes breathed new life into us, doing much to calm my nerves, mangled from wedding jitters.
The highlights were definitely the more relaxed evening sessions on the beach. There is something very liberating about lying on a mat with your legs akimbo, as the sun sets the sky ablaze with every imaginable shade of red, pink and vivid orange. Lying on a mat with my legs thrust up to the sky and head tucked under, my sun-kissed skin soothed by the balmy evening air, I felt very Zen indeed…but I’ll never let my future husband get his hands on the photos.
For more info on books to raise relief post-tsunami:
Souking up the sunshine in Morocco
In a break from his usual all-action, energetic getaways, Darragh McCullough stretched and chilled out on a yoga week which was run by an Irish couple in stunning Morocco.
Yoga in Morocco
I am standing precariously on my right leg, desperately trying to ignore the excruciating pain that’s shooting briskly down my left leg as I extend it while holding onto my other foot.
I know that I’m about to topple over any minute. But still the woman in front of me calmly invites me to breathe deeply and “relax the face”. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
My notion of holiday bliss is in many ways poles apart from my other half. Usually, I like the idea of scaling snow-clad peaks, cycling for days on end and back- packing in hostels that are completely off the radar, never mind the beaten track. She, meanwhile, likes the idea of a pool, cool cocktails and “nice” walks.
A warped halfway house between these two extremes brought us to a week-long yoga retreat in the coastal Moroccan town of Essaouira.
Despite the dire warnings from family and friends of dirty, unhygenic streets and urchins hanging out on every corner hassling us for cash, Essaouira turned out to be nothing like we expected and everything we hoped for in this part of northwest Africa.
Despite this part of the country heating up to a sizzling 50C during the summer months, a constant Atlantic breeze makes Essaouira the destination of choice for both Moroccans and Westerners looking for comfort in the sun.
While the country is mainly Muslim, at no point during our stay did we feel at odds with the locals as we strolled around in shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts.
Indeed, for every woman we passed in full burkha, there was usually another walking along in a stringy vest.
Neither heckled nor hassled, we felt more comfortable strolling through the town every night after our evening meal than we might have in many other European cities.
This may be linked to the custom of Moroccan families appearing en masse on the streets of every town after sunset when the temperatures drop. It adds a real community feel to the locale.
The warren-like market stalls (or souks, as the locals call them) stay open until after 11 every single night, with sellers eagerly looking to engage any half-willing customer in a hugely theatrical and elaborate display of the age-old art of haggling. It’s quite the sight.
These markets are located in the oldest, walled-in sections of towns called the Medina.
Everything and anything is for sale here, including a mind-boggling array of the classic rugs, bags and spices (albeit with a modern twist – one spice trader’s call was “Argan oil, spices, Viagra!”).
Essaouira combines an old port town’s charm with an endless beach that plays host to picnicking families, interspersed with old Berber herdsmen offering rides on one of their incredibly laidback camels, and endless impromptu games of football.
With this huge 5km horseshoe bay set against the backdrop of the ancient walled town with its minarets punctuating a skyline of cafe terraces, it’s no wonder Essaouira has consistently drawn artists and tourists in since the days that Jimi Hendrix first put down roots in the town.
But back to the yoga.
The brainchild of Irish couple Michelle and Michael Moroney, Yoga Traveller organises week-long retreats with experienced teachers and small groups in beautiful locations around the world.
Crucially, the classes cater to all levels of skill and stretchiness, so there’s no good reason to be afraid!
We stayed in the Dar L’Oussia hotel in a quiet part of the old Medina. It is an old riad (which translates as mansion) and it has all the classic elements that make this an iconic design in northern Africa.
A big central open atrium surrounded by cut-stone horse-shoe arches, shady palm trees and itinerant birds provides the perfect sanctuary from the hot Moroccan sun.
Meanwhile, breakfast and lunches were served on top of the roof where an uncrowded terrace offered stunning views across the bay. It was tempting to just sit there most mornings.
Every day began with a two-hour yoga and meditation session with our patient instructor for the week, Laila.
While initially daunted by the length of the sessions (there was another 90 minutes every evening), I was pleasantly surprised that I never found myself checking my watch to see how much more time was left.
I never really considered how female-dominated the group might have been until I sat down to our evening meal on the first night in the hotel. Suddenly, as I looked around the table, I realised that there was just one other bloke in the group, there with his girlfriend. Otherwise, the posse comprised mums and professionals from throughout Europe, but mainly Brits. >>>
However, I quickly realised that the gender imbalance didn’t matter a whit, because, most evenings, some or all of the group met up to go out to eat and sample the local entertainment.
The huge, sweeping beach at Essaouira provides a great base for a number of activities that are all well catered for in the local area.
Surfing, and increasingly kite-surfing, are very popular around the town, with outfitters providing all the necessary gear. Camel and horse riding are also available along the beach.
For those with more relaxing activities in mind, a trip to the Argan oil co-op a few miles out of the town is an interesting way to while away an hour or two.
The Argan tree is particular to southern Morocco and locals use the oil for everything from cooking to moisturising. The co-op we visited was one of a number of women-only cooperatives that made for good photo-ops when they broke into a dance and sing-song. A trip to the local hammam baths is another great cultural experience.
Because many locals traditionally had no baths or showers in their homes, they paid a visit to the local baths with their friends and family, who in turn gave them a scrub down and exchanged all the news.
They are basically dimly lit, over-ground cellars, with polished, heated marble slabs set into the floor. Fires burn silently under the marble and, between countless showers, you are scrubbed, soaped and massaged to within an inch of your life by a local in a similar state of undress as yourself. While I found it slightly unnerving how familiar the chap was with 95pc of my body, it was a sure-fire way of cleansing the pores and muscles of any nasty stuff. It cost about €25 but much fancier establishments are available throughout the town.
The detox vibe continues apace at night. Initially, I was taken aback at the absence of alcohol. Booze isn’t cheap in Morocco, most likely because of the Islamic culture. It’s still available in every restaurant, but there isn’t really a bar or pub culture to speak of. Still, at night, the streets and plazas were full of all sorts of people. And because of the absence of booze, we always felt safe.
Despite the legacy left behind by the French colonisers, the call to prayer that rings out from the minarets dotted around every town is a constant reminder we were experiencing a different culture. And what a culture it was too.
Yoga Traveller has weeks running in Morocco each month. Prices range from €820-€1,120. They also offer week-long holidays during the summer to Gozo, Malta, Turkey and a new purpose-built yoga facility in Liscannor: the Cliffs of Moher Retreat; yogatraveller.com
Aer Lingus has flights from Dublin to Agadir, except during the summer months; aerlingus.com / Ryanair has flights from Dublin to Marrakech on Wednesday and Sunday; ryanair.com
Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30
Body and Soul Escapes
Yogatraveller, Ko Phi Phi Thailand by Hana Borrowman
Yogatraveller provides healthy, truly holistic holidays in a postcard-perfect setting for those who like to do a little more than lounge in paradise. Breaks from the more typically serene beach routine include the fantastically fun twice daily yoga sessions in two gorgeous on-site locations as well as diving, rock climbing and a number of other adventurous pursuits.
The day starts early with a fairly lively session of wake-up yoga in a fan-cooled glass gazebo overlooking the Andaman Sea (used for Thai massage throughout the day). This is followed by an optional daily meditation on the beach (or floating in the sea). Guests are then free until the sunset yoga session, although the day’s activities usually shape-up over communal breakfasts. The gorgeous evening yoga sessions on the beach that wrap up the day are gentle, sociable and relaxed, taking place in a truly idyllic setting on pretty woven mats on the sand under dramatic sunset skies.
Company founder and yoga teacher Michelle Riordan’s passion for Phi Phi as well as her endless enthusiasm for yoga, travel and adventure, allows her to oil the bespoke wheels of her guests holidays in an apparently effortless manner. Group sessions and gatherings are cleverly tailored towards the preferences of individuals and each group, making for balanced breaks that are as likely to include sunrise meditations on the beach as evening cocktails at the beach bar. The small groups of less than a dozen tend to bond over a week of serious stretching and a variety of fun, muscle-reviving activities including the weekly en masse sunset snorkelling trip to the cove where Leonardo Di Caprio cavorted in The Beach.
Accommodation in the bustling but beautiful tourist-heavy island of Phi Phi can be cramped and blighted by construction sites since the tsunami, but Yogatraveller have found one of the quieter corners still within reach of all the action. The large air-conditioned rooms on a hillside have balconies with picturesque coastal views and are spacious and clean with big comfortable beds.
The holidays tend to attract singles, friends travelling together and couples (in that order). The warm ambiance and excellent array of activities above and below the water also encourage the inner adventurer to blossom forth, making it ideal for the less gregarious solo traveller. Although totally accessible for newcomers to both yoga and diving, guests often come to take advantage of the complementary combination, with yoga’s emphasis on breath-work and concentration enhancing both the meditative and physical challenge of diving.
The attached eco-friendly dive school Blue View Divers also offer a high standard of friendly individual service. With fun challenging daily yoga sessions fuelled by the beautiful beach sunrise and sunsets, weightless days exploring the big blue, and an informal approach to sampling new experiences and sociable activities – these are holidays for a brand of beach-lover looking for a happy, healthy glow that stays well after the tan has faded.
Body and Soul Escapes printed by Footprint