Journalist, author and yoga teacher, Sarah Dawson, reviews the ‘Cultivate Contentment' yoga retreat at Vale de Moses, in Central Portugal.
If you're seeking a European yoga retreat with a conscience, head to Vale de Moses in Portugal, where you'll be most warmly welcomed by the Winter family: Andrew and Vonetta, son, Josh, daughter Ellie, and dogs Moses and Sapphire. Plus Angel the cat!
The low down...
Since 2008 the Winter family have been living a life less ordinary in this converted farm house at the foothills of the Estrella Mountains. The move came after discovering this tranquil piece of Portuguese wilderness (serendipitously named the same as their lovely golden dog who lovingly befriends every guest that visits), on a trip round southern Europe in a motor home.
The family intuitively knew it was meant to be their new home, and purchased, then restored, the four xisto stone houses using natural materials (clay, stone, wood and lime), opening their eco-friendly doors as a yoga retreat in 2011.
The result is a perfectly natural and rustic retreat, with a strong eco-friendly philosophy.
Expect compost loos in the bathrooms (great for fertilising the land), natural drinking water direct from an ancient bore hole, veggie/vegan cuisine from the organic vegetable patch (lovingly prepared by Andrew with mindful attention, and inspired by Ayurveda), and accommodation in ancient and ambient stone buildings.
I sampled the ‘Cultivate Contentment' retreat in August 2012, (visit www.yogaatmoses.com for 2013 retreat info), and after enjoying the culture and charm of Lisbon, I boarded a bus from Lisbon's Sete Rios coach station to Oleiros where I met Kate and Mikaela, two other Moses-bound yoginis.
We arrived at their secluded haven in the still of night and the morning's sunrise revealed a wild and vast wilderness confirming that we were, without question, off-the-beaten-track!
The only sounds were the occasional barking from Moses and Sapphire, the cacophony of cicadas, and a spontaneous gust of wind.
I stayed in the guesthouse, nestled in the bosom of the valley with Kate and Mikaela. The retreat is nature personified: geckos climbed our bathroom wall, and I awoke to the vision of an abundance of willow, eucalyptus, olive and pine trees (the couple planted some 700 oaks, willow, pine, olive trees on arrival).
The week-long Cultivate Contentment retreat included eight sessions of Dynamic Yoga and two therapies with Vonetta who is both yoga teacher and therapist at Moses, offering treatments from TCM to Thai Massage.
Vonetta explained that when a person's earth energy is imbalanced it causes a muddled mind and sluggish digestive system, but the goal was to transform this while on retreat via the yoga, therapies, food and nature.
Apparently my spleen yin was down (common in UK patients who are busy intellectually planning, thinking, doing, rather than being in their bodies) so Vonetta recommended a course of acupuncture, and Tui Na massage to get right in where my body needed reinvigorating.
Tui-na is the traditional massage offered by Chinese osteopaths/doctors and a non-invasive fully clothed massage, with strong kneading movements to remove knots and tension.
Initially uncomfortable, after twenty minutes with the acupuncture needles in my legs I blissfully drifted off, and when Vonetta completed the session with a long sweeping Indonesian massage I felt so grounded and relaxed I could barely lift myself off the therapy table.
Vonetta has an amazing intuitive healing quality, and because she runs both the yoga and therapies, she gets to know her guests (and their bodies) extremely well, resulting in a very tailored, personal and quite unique retreat offering.
With a background in community/youth work Vonetta turned to yoga to help her own chronic back pain and stress after having her second child, Ellie. She then studied extensively in TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) and ran a successful yoga/therapy business from her London home.
Vonetta teaches yoga in the Dynamic Yoga Method developed by Godfrey Devreux, a form of yoga that I've practised before, and which is accessible by all.
It is a great system for exploring integrity in the body, and being safe in your yoga practice. I felt deeply regenerated, stretched, sometimes challenged, but mostly soothed and restored by her classes.
In keeping with the imbalance of earth and space elements, the sessions involved many grounding yoga postures to strengthen the body; we repeated warrior poses, and triangle/variations, downward facing dog, cobras and chair of the heart asanas in slow, meditative and organic movements.
We were four on the course; myself, Kate, Mikaela and Carla and in our final session, Vonetta encouraged us to partner up and support each other into a headstand, so we completed the course feeling elated and with a great sense of achivement!
A trip to nearby Rio Zêzere- a tranquil river close to the village of Abitureira for a swim and mud bath- and quiet time down by the retreat's river, with bountiful dragonflies and beautiful butterflies.
Attuning with nature's rhythm
The retreat had a profoundly calming and regenerating effect, and as promised, I felt a restored sense of earth connection and deep contentment. If you like to fill your days with endless activities and a busy timetable, this probably isn't for you.
But if you love being in nature, believe in permaculture, and want to drink in the spectacular natural surroundings and would like space and time to reflect, meditate, read, paint, practice yoga, indulge your spirit, a Moses retreat is highly recommended. You're very likely to gain great clarity, and incomparable contentment.
Retreats run from March till November, 2013, Saturday-Sunday. €550 pp per week (based on 3 person shared accommodation), €750 single occupancy, and €850 double occupancy.
Moses is located half a mile beneath the village of Amierira, near Oleiros, Central Portugal. Fly to Lisbon with Easyjet or TAP Portugal, and stay one or two nights in this former European Capital of Culture at the beginning/ end of your holiday. Take a coach (four hours, approximate cost; €22 return journey) from Sete Rios coach station to Oleiros where Andrew will collect you.
For more of Sarah's retreat reviews: http://sarahdawsonjournalist.wordpress.com/
Ends. © Sarah Dawson