A family surf & yoga holiday at Monte Velho, Portugal
‘I was getting my yoga and the King was getting his surfs; we felt stress-free and able to fully engage with our daughter’
‘Since I gave birth to my daughter just over two years ago, one of the things I’ve craved is a full-on yoga holiday to iron out my body and mind. Annoushka might have started to do downward dogs rather well (babies are naturals at asanas!), but I knew toddlers and a yogic environment wouldn’t easily mix. It was a joy, then, to discover that it would be ok to bring her on a Destination Yoga holiday in Portugal earlier this year – together with Tom, my non-yogic, surfer husband.
The company run holidays at hand-picked venues in truly beautiful locations all year round – the venue that appealed to us as a family was Monte Velho in Portugal. A thoroughly private, hilltop eco retreat painted a soothing pale blue and set down a two kilometre track in 50 hectares of forest, it’s in the Costa Vincentina National Park in the south west of the country and as far away from touristy resorts as you could wish for. We could fly to Faro from Exeter, our nearest airport, and it was just a 10 minute drive from a brilliant surf beach for Tom.
We arrived at night in our hire car after a spot of rain to a chorus of croaking frogs and the sweet smell of lavendar and rosemary. In the darkness we could see a distant row of wind turbines, which in Portugal are lit up red at night – during the course of the week these took on a meditative quality, the blades turning with reassuring regularity and lighting up the night-time landscape. Everyone had eaten and gone to bed – the blissful peace set the mood for the week.
I’d been worried that we might disturb other guests on the holiday, but as it turned out everyone was laid back about having a little girl toddling around between their yoga sessions. Henrique had put us at the end of the row of rooms and near the kitchen, and meal times were relaxed affairs where there was no pressure to be anyone but yourself.
Our group was made up of professionals in their 30s, 40s and 50s, including a doctor, a couple of writers, and some IT peeps, mostly women, with a couple of men thrown in for good measure – there were three couples, two pairs of friends and others travelling alone. Everyone was good company, but also unintrusive – we all seemed to recognise the importance of leaving each other to do our own thing.
Monte Velho’s owner, a lovely mellow guy called Henrique, lent Tom a surf board for the week, and by day two we’d got into a rhythm – I would do the morning and evening yoga classes, which were usually about two hours each, and in between times Tom would take our hire car and have one or two daily surfs. Most afternoons, we’d head to Praia do Amado, the local beach, which is a 45 minute walk or 10 minute car ride). It’s huge, long, flat, sandy and very toddler safe. You can have surf lessons here, though Tom usually surfed further north at Praia da Bordeira. We watched the surfers, built sandcastles and braved the sea (it’s the Atlantic, so it’s almost as cold as the waters back near our Devon home).
It was a joy to be able to walk alone each morning to the separate yoga pavilion, a lot of which was graced with huge windows so you could see right out across the soothing rural landscape. The group’s level of ability was massively varied, but it didn’t matter a jot thanks to the skill of our teacher, the London-based Jean Hall. Unpretentious, down to earth and easy to get along with, she had the knack of making us feel totally safe and physically challenged at the same time, whatever our level.
Jean teaches a flowing, dynamic yoga style with precise instruction about alignment – the morning classes were strong, and I felt my bones and muscles thanking me as I moved, but they were sensibly paced so that there was always time to unwind and recover. In the late afternoons, things slowed down and Jean incorporated pranayama and restorative postures into the sessions to counterbalance the physicality.
Fresh fruit was available before the morning class, we ate brunch each day around 1130/12, and dinner around 630/7. We sat on a shady terrace, or on cooler days in a spacious dining room, and enjoyed healthy dishes cooked by chefs specially flown in by Destination Yoga. Meals steered clear of all refined ingredients, sugar, salt, meat and dairy, and were varied and tasty – fish was served every day, though you also can opt for a veggie-only week.
I liked the fact that Monte Velho wasn’t too upmarket. Staff were friendly and laid back, and our rustic-chic suite was calm and simple – conveniently, the sitting room also had a day bed for those times that Annoushka decided she’d rather sleep in the double and turf one of us out. Decked out in an uplifting indigo blue, the sitting room had a giant colourful piece of contemporary art on the wall, a day bed and table. There was a small, tiled shower room (none of the rooms have baths), and a white washed bedroom with a comfy bed draped with muslin mosquito netting and a travel cot. On the terrace infront of each room was a white lounge bed and a multi-coloured hammock, which became a favourite hang out for Annoushka and Jean’s six year old son Felix, who’d also come for the week and who good-naturedly tolerated his little companion’s adoration.
In between classes people went walking, biking or to the beach, played the guitar or piano in the sitting room, ventured to the nearby village of Carrapateira for a piece of cake or to the local town of Sagres for an amble. Some took sessions in holistic horse riding with equestrian Andrea Endries, whose ‘holistic’ approach is designed to help improves posture, natural breath, relaxation and energy. We all booked treatments – my thai yoga massage with a local therapist was suitably strong and good – and we had the option of using a sauna on a couple of evenings.
As we had a toddler it suited us brilliantly that the week was a yoga ‘holiday’ rather than a more austere ‘retreat’. The chef offered to buy those who wanted wine to enjoy with the meals, and the wednesday evening and thursday morning was left free of yoga so we could venture out to dinner if we so chose – we drove further up the coast to the Praia da Arrifana, which has a pretty beach and a good café serving prosecco and a decent mix of dishes. Others ventured into the nearby town, and a few even ended up clubbing!
The whole week was easy, and fun, and as I was getting my yoga and Tom was getting his surfs we felt stress-free and able to fully engage with our daughter. As if to reassure us that real life wasn’t always like this, two days before the end of the week, Annoushka developed a rash which turned into full-blown chicken pox. But that, my friends, is a story for another time.
© Queen of Retreats. This article first appeared in The Times.
Please note: Destination Yoga no longer runs yoga holidays at Monte Velho, but but Algarve Yoga does. The venue is a great place to stay if you want to combine relaxation with surfing and is open to families and friends during the high summer months. Check them out at montevelhoecoresort.com.
Need to know: The nearest airport is Faro, and it’s a good idea to hire a car so you can get to the beaches quickly and easily and be flexible. Rhinocarhire.com do excellent car hire rates from Faro, starting from £9 per day or £62 per week. For affordable flights to Portugal, check out jet2 for cheap flights.