Eco Yoga Centre review | Yoga retreat Scotland
Riverside wild bathing and yoga in the Scottish Highlands
The Quick Read: Perched on a hill amidst forests, streams and waterfalls and overlooking Loch Awe on the West Coast of Scotland, the Eco Yoga Centre at Inverliever Lodge runs catered and self-catered yoga retreats lasting from 4 to 7 nights from March to October. Powered by a hydro turbine and heated by solar thermals, this is a true eco experience and genuinely natural escape. Whether running a woodland bath beside a waterfall, taking a hot tub under the stars or walking in the hills, you’ll feel fully immersed in and at one with nature. If combining the great outdoors with a deeply rewarding yoga practice appeals, then eco yoga will charm, enthral and free the spirit.
Who it’s best for: Eco yoga is suited to everyone – those who have a competent Ashtanga practice, but also complete beginners and to people of all ages: on our stay a mother brought her teenage daughter and 20 year old son. If you enjoy life’s rustic and wholesome pleasures – warm (or icy cold) spring water on your skin, fresh air, hearty vegetarian food and a strong community spirit – then you will feel rejuvenated, liberated and alive here. If you’re after a more modern spa vibe and want to lounge in a towelling robe being pampered with treatments, this won’t be for you.
What can you do: Retreats are hosted by a variety of teachers, each with their own unique style, and Eco Yoga attracts some of the UK’s most renowned instructors. The one we tried was an Ashtanga and mindfulness retreat led by Scott Johnson, founder of Still Point at London Bridge in London. Scott was fun, playful, always approachable and had a clear passion for teaching. He was hugely attentive during practice, offering gentle hands on assistance, molding you into shapes you never thought possible.
Each day began with half an hour of meditation in the Yoga Shala, which is kept beautifully warm with underfloor heating and looks out over the waterfall. Those familiar with Ashtanga then practised from 7-9 and the others from 9-10.30, with the whole group coming together on the last morning. The aim was to help us adopt or build on our own sequential practice. The afternoon session (4.30-6pm) was a more theoretical discussion exploring how to take yoga off the mat and into daily life. Each day ended with another half hour of meditation at 9pm.
Downtime could be whiled away curling up with a book or bathing in some capacity: a river bath, hot tub or sauna, alternated perhaps with invigorating dips in the icy spring water of the adjacent plunge pools. There is also the option, well worth taking, of a trip to the local castle at Kilmartin and spending a few hours strolling in the beautiful countryside, where the only life you are likely to come across are the local Highland cows.
All the yoga and fresh air certainly works up an appetite, which is more than heartily satiated. Brunch post yoga and dinner at 6.30 are the main events and many happy chattery hours are spent around the large table plates piled high from the mouthwatering buffet.
Where you stay: Owners Nick and Rachel have transformed this one time activity centre into a space that entirely reflects their passion for sustainable living. It’s completely off grid, heated by solar, food waste is composted and all products are eco friendly.
The vibe is rustic and homey, with bunches of wild flowers and furniture hand carved by a local carpenter. Beyond the front lawn and vegetable garden is a magnificent view over the Loch and miles of hills; behind stretch pine forests, and to the side is the rushing woodland waterfall.
There are ten bedrooms in a block, and a separate bothy and yurt with three cabin beds. Rooms are charmingly unfussy: a French window looks over either the gorge or lawn, the super king sized beds have dreamily soft thick mattresses and air heaters keep it cosy. The toilet and sink area is separated by a curtain – it’s simple but fine.
Spa facilities, open to the elements, are inspired by the Japanese tradition of public bathing houses. The large wooden hot tub is beneath a geodesic dome and the sauna is carved into the ground. Wild baths with hot running water are perched on the upper and lower gorge, next to the cascading waterfall. There’s a large workshop with a wood fire too, where guests can make tea and coffee or sink into a cosy sofa.
How was it for us: Eco Yoga was everything I hope for from a retreat – miles from modern life and both literally and metaphorically refreshing for body and soul.
Leaping from the freezing waterfall into a deep hot bubble bath was truly one of the most invigorating and heavenly of experiences. Looking up through the canopy of trees, hot water enveloping my tingling skin and rain drops plopping into the tub, I felt entirely at peace – the waterfall rushed loudly in my ears but my mind was quiet (not something I can usually ever say).
I felt the same mix of surreal serenity and exhilaration after a late night sauna and hot tub, plunging into the ice cold pools under a sparkling blanket of stars. It was all I could do not to whoop loudly with childish delight but I had to restrain myself so as not to wake the other already dreaming yogis.
What we took home: I left reinvigorated, refreshed, decidedly calmer, glowing from the freshness of the air, lighter after much laughter but happily heavier after all the fabulous food. I loved the slow intensity of the yoga and resolved to reinstate a more regular practice and incorporate meditation into each day (even though the calming rush of the waterfall is sadly lacking in my front room).
Would we go back: In an instant. I’m already plotting my next trip and find myself dreaming of the hills and fresh Highland air.
People watch: The volunteers and staff are young, cheerful and charming. Laura the super efficient Manager, often leads the yoga, but this time she assisted Scott, giving thorough hands-on instruction in the gentlest and most reassuring manner. Delightful Swiss masseuse Bettina comes each day and gives firm hot stone deep tissue massages.
Food watch: It’s all about brunch and dinner, eaten round a large table in the main house. An array of platters spilling over with colourful and imaginative vegetarian fare and homemade breads, including a scrumptious gluten free loaf, warm from the oven, are laid out as guests troop back and forth for numerous helpings. Brunch is a middle eastern vibe with shakshuka or frittata and a selection of hummus and salads, and dinner was a delicious banquet of dishes such as roasted cauliflower in an almond and cauliflower puree, crispy baked kale, herby quinoa, curries, pulses and salads followed by moreish vegan puddings such as chocolate tart or tahini fudge. All was conjured up by humble 20-year-old chef, Sam Lomas, a protégé of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage. Lunch is more ad hoc with a large vat of soup and rolls laid out in the workshop. There’s also a selection of organic teas and a very pro coffee machine.
What’s queenly: The peace of mind that comes with being surrounded on all sides by wild unspoiled beauty for as far as the eye can see – feeling entirely liberated from the intensity of modern living. No bleeping phones, no television, no chemicals, no shops, no decisions. One almost got the sense that if it wasn’t for the bracing Scottish weather we should complete the process by stripping off entirely!
What’s lowly: The walls between the rooms are thin, so if you are a light sleeper or inclined not to get up when everyone else does at 6am, take good earplugs.
Insider Tip: Most networks don’t have reception here and wifi is only accessible in the workshop, so rather than rushing back and forth to get online perhaps tell your nearest and dearest you’ll be out of touch for a bit and embrace the digital detox. Also if you want a massage make sure you sign up early – the slots fill up fast. And do the ice cold plunging – it is fabulous.
Price with a Companion: £506 per person based on an all-inclusive 4 night stay (£110 of which is paid directly to the yoga teacher on arrival).
Price going Solo: £550 per person based on an all-inclusive 4 night stay or one of the 3 beds in a yurt at £460 per person (£110 of which is paid to the yoga teacher on arrival). Dogs welcome for an extra £20.00 per night.
Value for Money: Apart from the optional extra of £50 for a massage, absolutely everything here is included in the very reasonable price; all the yoga, which involves a lot of one on one attention, the use of the sauna, hot tub and gorge baths, tea, coffee and food. Apart from a sensational gooey vegan chocolate cake on arrival, there are no extra snacks but even the lunch seems surplus to requirements given the vastness of the other meals. Be aware – if you require the minibus transfer from Glasgow, this is £30.00 each way. If you are coming with more than one other person it might work out marginally cheaper to hire a car in Glasgow. This would also means there is the option to take your time driving along the beautiful banks of the Lochs on the journey to and/or from.
Reviewed by Hannah MacInnes
© Queen of Retreats