First rights feature published in Yoga Magazine, June 2014.
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Sarah Dawson indulges in Moroccan magic on a yoga and foodie retreat.
I feel the warmth of the sun on my back as I rest my forehead on a soft and comfy cushion in a restorative Child’s Pose on the roof terrace of Rebali Riads, a boutique hotel near Essaouria, Morocco.
I’m here on a five-night seaside yoga and foodie holiday with Satvada Retreats, a UK based company founded by Yoga Abode editor and yoga teacher, Lucia Cockroft and partner, Darren. Our most luxurious accommodation is situated in the remote village of Sidi Kaouki on the ancient caravan trails through the Moroccan desert, a stone’s throw from a wild expanse of beach which is also a surfer’s paradise.
On the roof terrace which boasts panoramic ocean views, Lucia instructs us to breathe mindfully and tune into the nearby sounds. I’m aware of a cockerel crowing, exotic birdsong, sheep and goats, and barking from a group of stray dogs. Slowly we begin to move our bodies from child’s pose into Crocodile, Sphinx, Cobra, followed by Downward Facing Dog then dynamic postures, like the Sun Salutation and warrior variations.
Each day we practise yoga for three hours, 90 minutes in the morning and again in the evening, with the morning session more dynamic and movement-oriented, and the evening class focusing on restorative asanas and meditation. Lucia first discovered yoga 15 years ago, training in traditional Hatha Yoga with the Sivananda lineage and afterwards with inspirational and world-renowned teachers such as Judith Lasater (Lucia is a registered Relax and Renew® trainer) and Sarah Powers.
We are six ladies on the retreat, with at least two things in common – a passion for yoga, and for good food. I quickly discover that none of us has false illusions about ‘fasting’ or detoxing – we’re here to indulge in the flavour of Morocco, and we relish each gastronomic delight! Brunch is served at 11am after yoga; freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, bread, eggs, fruit, pancakes, honey, yoghurt and muesli and to prevent pre-dinner hunger pangs, afternoon tea at 4.30pm with delicious home-made cake. A three-course banquet awaits us each evening, the likes of goats cheese tart and tomato salads, couscous with vegetable Tajin or Moroccan styled fish and chips, then amazing chocolate mousse or fruit panacotta desserts.
Pilgrims and film crews
With plenty of free time between yoga sessions I am eager to explore and on my first day I stroll past the four adjoining riads to a black wooden door. Stepping onto a dusty track I arrive head-on with a herd of goats and a young boy who greets me with a cheeky smile. I take in the remote farming village of Sidi Kaouki, its low stone walls, scrubby bushes, a handful of boutique hotels and surfer’s hostels overlooking a wild coastline.
Skirting the beach, a row of shack cafes serve local and Western fare and make the perfect vantage point to view the magnificent ocean swell. With soft sand between my toes I sink onto a beach recliner and let the blustery winds flirt with my clothing and tickle my face. Beginner surfers are boarding waves of up to three metres and I’m tempted to have a go, but it takes a few days before I dip more than my toes into the wild waves.
Teenage boys canter on horses along the shoreline or lead camels on tours to the next village, and against the backdrop of ancient ruined Kasbah buildings it makes a very atmospheric and timeless sight. Over mint tea at a beach cafe I discover that this laid-back Berber village is named after a 19th century marabout (a Sufi Saint) and a shrine on the rocks attracts pilgrims from far and wide, who believe the seawater has the power to cure infertility.
A few years ago Sidi Kaouiki welcomed a very different set of pilgrims. Sarah Jessica Parker and the sassy SATC crew set up camp to film Sex and The City 2, with the 5km sandy bay backdrop simulating the dunes of Abu Dhabi.
Souks and city walls
Included in our foodie retreat is a visit to Essaouria markets (30 minutes by taxi), with the Rebali chef to choose the ingredients for dinner. With its small whitewashed medina and city walls Essaouira is a much prettier and friendlier alternative to Morocco’s capital, Marrakesh.
Before hitting the souks, our chef leads us to the fishing port for a good deal on the day’s catch, as fish is on the menu for the non-vegetarians. Water-side, the hard-working fishermen transport heavy crates from boat to stall. We slip and slide on the watery cobbles following our creative chef who settles upon some mackerel which we later help him mince into small parcels. At dinner, he serves the mackerel in a tomato herb sauce with rice and salad, it is completely delicious.
My spacious and luxurious guest room with its huge bathroom, perfumed pillows, traditional decor and artwork offers great sanctuary over the week. I sleep deeply the sound of waves pounding the shore and by the end of the holiday I am rejuvenated, relaxed and – not surprisingly – a few pounds heaver!
Under Lucia’s tuition I gained a greater appreciation of mindfulness, and the benefits of resting in a restorative child’s or crocodile pose. I’m now planning my next trip to this exotic surfing community – and next time I’ll definitely be getting on a surfboard!
For nurturing yoga/meditation holidays in France & Morocco, suitable for beginners and more experienced yogi(ni)’s, visit: satvada-retreats.co.uk. For UK retreats, check out the successful Art of Relaxation (Mindful Meditation) retreats in rural Suffolk. Email Lucia Cockcroft on firstname.lastname@example.org for pricing/information.
Rebali Riads is a gorgeous boutique hotel situated south of Essaouira, comprising five luxury, traditional villas, each with swimming pool, hammocks and sun loungers amid tranquil gardens filled with bougainvillea flowers, cactus plants and palms. There is also a hammam, tennis courts, table tennis, restaurant/in-house chef. Convivial and ever-smiling manager, Mohammed, will deal with any query from arranging surfing lessons or a steam scrub/massage in the hammam. Visit: http://www.rebaliriads.com/.
Flying time is around three hours from London. A three hour road transfer from Marrakesh Menara airport to Rebali Riads costs £50 return with Satvada Retreats.
First rights feature published in Yoga Magazine, June 2014.
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