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April 2019 / Style & Wellbeing / by Liz Skone James

The Ultimate Portuguese Yoga Retreat

Escape to come back to yourself.

The early morning mist evaporates off the surface of the infinity pool in front of the shala as the sun rises above the hill in the distance. The only sound is the ringing of cattle bells in adjacent fields. I have agonised over whether I deserve this particular indulgence – wondering if my family will cope without me for four days, and if the money would have been better spent on a trip for all of us. Right here, right now, I can say that I categorically do deserve it, and I have never felt such overwhelming gratitude.

I’m in Alentejo, rural Portugal, for a four-night yoga and fitness retreat organised and hosted by the wonderful Shani van den Borst, of Fitbirds Fitness and Cami Vidal, of La Masion Wellness. Our base for the long weekend is Gavião, a tiny white-washed Portuguese village surrounded by wheat fields, cork oak forests and wildflower meadows. It is so peaceful that it feels almost untouched by the 21st century. Our group has taken over the whole of Herdade da Maxuqueira, a 500-year old working farm, now offering very chic argitourism breaks.

The days begin with guided meditation, looking out over that vista, after which we are led through an hour’s fast and dynamic Vinyasa yoga flow. We cool off afterwards with freshly prepared smoothies and juices before tackling a HIIT session in the shade under the nearby orange trees. And we are rewarded with an exquisite breakfast spread – all deliciously healthy, save for the pastéis de nata, which come fresh from the kitchen every morning, and are impossible to resist (still, what are those burpees for, if not to sanction a little indulgence from time to time?).

The day is ours to spend as we wish: running through the fields, taking a leisurely cycle through the neighbouring villages, exploring local vineyards, or simply relaxing by the pool, journaling on the terrace outside the room or chatting to new friends.

We come together in the evening for a yin yoga session – a glorious hour of assisted deep stretching as the sun sets. Later, we toast our good fortune with low alcohol cocktails, mixed by Cami, using the very best natural ingredients, before tucking into a beautiful feast sat under the extraordinary starlit sky. It is an experience that everybody should enjoy, and I urge you to book a place on the next retreat now. You deserve it.

The next retreat runs from 9-13 May and costs £650 pp in a twin shared room with en suite, or £850 pp in a private double room with en suite (fitbirdsinlondon.com/retreat)

Photography credit: Joana Senkute