I was half way through a three-month trip across Europe and my intention to stay longer in fewer places had not quite gone to plan. Instead, curiosity kept getting the better of me and I was moving around a lot more than I originally intended. Whilst I love the freedom of being able to do this, it was exhausting. I decided that a full week of relaxation at a yoga retreat would force me to stay in one place for a week and give me time to properly rest and recharge.
I also decided that the south of France would be the perfect setting for it. After a quick search online for yoga retreats, I found a retreat at Domaine de La Grausse in Clermont, a small village located in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.
I was a little hesitant because I know how varied yoga teachers can be, in both their practice and overall approach, but after reading a few of the reviews and a quick phone chat with Dagmar and Mike who run a yoga retreat in France, I decided it was a risk worth taking.
Arriving at Domaine de la Grausse
Two original stone barns converted into accommodation
Soon after, I made the journey to Foix, via Toulousse, and was greeted at the train station by Mike, who along with Dagmar, were my hosts for the week. Another guest, Joanna, arrived at the same time, and Mike drove us both to the property, providing an entertaining historical commentary on the village and the Ariege region along the way.
About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Domaine de la Grausse, a renovated 17th century château in a beautiful rural setting. Also on the property are two original stone barns which have been converted into accommodation quarters for yoga guests, and a lake. We were taken to our accommodation which Joanna and I would be sharing with just one other guest. The renovated 'barns' are now gorgeous and comfortable châteaus.
We each had our own bedroom with private bathroom and a lovely open shared living area with a terrace overlooking the lake, gardens and mountains (and a tiny family cemetery dating back to the 17th century!).
The local market at Mas D'Azil
We immediately dropped off our suitcases and reunited on the terrace with our much appreciated welcome pack which consisted of wine, bread, cheese, and spreads. Immediately enveloped in the silence and peacefulness of our surrounds, we lay back and relaxed, soaking in the serenity. A few minutes later we heard cowbells ringing and looked up to see that we had been joined by a herd of cows who were grazing on the property.
They joined us most evenings, their visit heralded by the cowbells. Later that evening we met the third guest, Britta, who had already spent a week at the retreat but decided to extend. She'd spent the day hiking in the surrounding Pyrenees mountains and was completely enchanted with their beauty.
The local market
Joanna, Britta, and I were preparing our meals
On the morning after our arrival, Mike drove us into the closest town, Maz D'Azil, to buy some groceries and to have a quick look around. Maz D'Azil is a very quaint village with only a small grocery store, a bakery, a butcher and two small restaurants. We returned again on Wednesday when there is a local market and we stocked up on fresh local produce. We had our own kitchen and after the evening yoga session Joanna, Britta, and I cooked meals together.
And of course the yoga. Dagmar provides two one-hour yoga classes a day, in the morning and evening, and I was overjoyed. I learned a great deal and was excited to discover so many new stretches and poses. I was also excited to do only one downward dog all week! This was a revelation to me as in Sydney, Australia, downward dog is synonymous with yoga - we do at least 10 per class!
Dagmar also held two meditation sessions which were incredibly peaceful and relaxing experiences. Curiously, Dagmar's cat is a regular attendee at these sessions which occur only twice a week at 9.30 p.m. Dagmar said that she just appears, without fail, at all of the meditation sessions and wanders around, occasionally stretching out alongside a guest.
The cycling trip
My cycling trip with Joanna
Outside of yoga and meditation, I spent the days cycling to nearby towns, swimming in the lake, cooking, eating, drinking, and talking with the other guests. One highlight was the cycle trip to Castelnau Durban that Joanna and I embarked on to experience a traditional French meal at Chez Victor. It was quite the journey (we had to walk our bikes up a few of the hills) but worth the effort. Together we tried their country soup (a standard entree with all their meals), foie gras (made here with duck rather than goose liver), steak, duck, chips cooked in duck fat, chocolate mousse, and apple tart. Yum!
Suffice to say my experience at this retreat far outweighed my expectations. Dagmar and Mike are lovely, kind and caring hosts. I loved Dagmar's yoga style and felt that I made more progress in my practice in one week than I had made in the entire previous year. Overall this was a really lovely way to spend a week in an incredibly beautiful setting and I would highly recommend it.
This wonderful experience is Elizabeth's experience while attending a retreat in August 2013. Want to have a similar holiday? Go on a weekend retreat nearby your hometown!