Les Passeroses review | Yoga retreat centre, France
Blissful rural yoga retreat near Angoulême
The Quick Read: Les Passeroses is a marvellous yoga retreat centre near Angoulême in the South West of France, where yoga holidays take place each week from May to October. A beautifully preserved stone farmhouse nestled in gently undulating hills, it’s been sensitively restored by the owners Alex and Adrian, who live here and welcome retreats led by a rosta of experienced teachers covering a variety of styles from Asthanga to Svastha. We attended an excellent vinyasa yoga holiday with Kirsty Gallagher, who runs four retreats here a year – do also look out for retreats with Jane Craggs, the yoga teacher who inspired Alex and Adrian to start up Les Passeroses in the first place. The resident massage therapist is damned good, and the place is easy to reach by Eurostar – just three hours from Paris and you’re in bucolic bliss.
Who it’s best for: This is a great place for people by themselves, travelling with a friend or with a partner – the secluded garden lodges make a great couple’s hideaway. Your yoga experience will depend on the teacher you select, but all the holidays have a social element, where group meals are seen as an important part of the bonding process.
If you want a week where you challenge yourself with some dynamic vinyasa, a retreat with Kirsty Gallagher could be just the thing. There was one almost-beginner in the class, but most had a good grounding in yoga – you could go as an absolute beginner, but be prepared to be pushed! Kirsty skillfully challenges you, whatever your level, but we felt very safe and well-guided trying to finally get into crow, or attempting that elusive handstand.
What you can do: Yoga retreats with Kirsty at Les Passeroses consist of two classes each day of an hour and a half each, with Vinyasa Flow in the morning followed by slower paced Yin Yoga in the evening. The morning session kicks off with a guided meditation, to take advantage of the relative stillness of the mind first thing. We worked up to a 12 minute meditation by week end, and received lots of advice and guidance on continuing with a practice once back home. Kirsty’s teaching style is enthusiastic, positive and inclusive. She gently takes you to the next level and carefully pushes you out of your comfort zone.
The weather in this corner of France in summer is mostly glorious, so a countryside walk through the idyllic surroundings of the farmhouse, or for the less energetic, a snooze by the pool was on most people’s agenda during the afternoon.
In between eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch, it’s time for a treatment or perhaps a little more pool activity and then onto 5pm yoga practise which is of the Yin variety. This is where you really stretch out and relax your muscles as you get into the poses and hold each for up to three minutes. The combination of Vinyasa and Yin that Kirsty teaches is a fantastic tonic for the body.
Where you stay: Les Passeroses is the full-time home of owners Alex and Adrian, so staying here is very much like having a holiday at a pal’s French holiday home – only a pal with great taste and a very exacting nature when it comes to food, décor and garden design.
The vibe throughout is French rustic and there are extensive gardens to explore. From wine-coloured roses to frothy nigella, there’s so much to look at, and plenty of spots to just sit, breathe, enjoy the view and let nature soothe the soul.
Spacious communal areas including an outside covered terrace where you eat when the weather hots up, and a large country-house-style kitchen where everyone comes together for breakfast. There’s also the salon, which has a slightly Moroccan feel to the decor, where people sip tea after dinner. Though we had glorious weather during our stay, this would make a cosy hangout if things took a turn for the rainy.
The yoga shala is a cool, wooden-floored room looking out onto the pool. It has an enormous silk parachute draped over the ceiling which lends a soft feel to the space.
Our room was one of two wooden lodges, tucked away in the garden, slightly separate from the main house. Each is fully equipped with an en suite, one shaded by a cherry tree, the other behind some tall pines. With the blinds drawn at night and a low light on, the lodge feels a million miles from anywhere, a true retreat from everyday life. The only downside was that it gets quite warm in the day and cool at night – it didn’t bother us one bit but if you think it might, pack bed socks and something with sleeves to wear at night.
Rooms in the main farmhouse are in keeping with the French styling – wrought iron beds, exposed beams and cool, stone walls. If having your own bathroom is important to you, check which rooms are available before you book as in some, you have to share.
How was it for us? This was by far the most diverse group of people I’ve ever encountered on a yoga retreat – probably because it was a half term break. There was a good mix of men and women, and a wide range of professions from drama teachers to an IT specialist which made it all the more interesting.
The yoga was tough for me as it was the most dynamic I’d done for more than two years. There were times where I was very nearly broken by my frustration at my lack of strength; but somehow I got into my stride about halfway through. I was walking taller even by day two – in the past, I’ve felt like this by the end of the holiday, but so early on was a first. My repertoire of asana expanded as I managed to come back up vertical from a backbend for the first time, and finally managed to balance for a few seconds in crow – both significant firsts for me.
Food is a big focus during the week, and both lunch and dinner were proper sit-down affairs. Alex is keen on everyone eating together as it helps the group to bond, and it encourages the sociable vibe of the holiday. This is a fact worth bearing in mind if you think you may want to spend more time by yourself while on retreat.
The payoff by the end of the week was enormous though. I felt incredible, with every last bit of me stretched and de-stressed. My shoulders were down, my back straighter, and I felt fabulous.
I was glad I took the train home. Les Passeroses is easy to access via Eurostar – change stations in Paris then it’s a direct train ride down to Angoulême. If the Eurostar is an easy option where you live, go for it – in my experience there’s nothing guaranteed to kill your hard-won yogic zen more efficiently than airport check ins and wrestling for a seat on Ryanair.
What we took home: My usually achy shoulders – turned rock-solid from a killer combo of iPhone use and urban stress – were transformed. The difference was remarkable – halfway through the week the band of pain I considered to be a permanent fixture beneath my shoulder blades had been completely melted away by the yoga.
Would we go back: Absolutely. Aside from the amazing venue and surroundings, Kirsty is an inspirational teacher who is genuinely interested in helping her students progress. I’ll be booking next time I want to pep up my practise. I’d choose to stay in one of the garden lodges again. I loved my little cabin!
People watch: Jan, the Passeroses’ massage therapist, gives probably the best massages I have ever had, and I’ve had a few. I was so blissed out while lying face down on her table that I’d pretty much lost the ability to speak by the time she asked me to turn over. Astonishingly this is not her first career – she was previously a maths teacher in Cornwall, before following her passion to become a full-time holistic therapist. I can happily say that the children of Cornwall’s loss is very much Les Passeroses’ gain.
Food watch: Alex, one of the owners of the venue, is a trained chef, and takes great pride in the menu, and meal times here are a sociable affair. The food each day has a theme by country or cuisine – down to the background music played at dinner. Our week was a world-tour of taste sensations. Standout dishes included a beetroot and goat’s cheese tart (French); a super-creamy vegan Roast Cauliflower korma served with Bombay potatoes and Ayurvedic Leeks with lentils (Indian). All mouth-wateringly delicious. Our least favourite was Spanish – cold white soup for starters followed by a vegetarian paella for main (somehow it didn’t feel complete without the prawns!). There was wine if you fancied – the majority abstained but we have it on good authority that the rosé is delicious. For those not partaking in alcohol there are jugs of yoga wine, aka grape juice.
What’s queenly: If we could dream up my perfect French countryside house, this would be it. Draped in vines and honeysuckle with its pretty garden and idyllic surrounding countryside, Alex and Adrian have taken real care to keep it authentic and make retreats at Les Passeroses feel like a very lovely holiday.
What’s lowly: There is only one Jan (the holistic therapist), and she gets booked up, very quickly! We think most people on our retreat would have had more treatments but there just wasn’t the availability.
Insider tip: Do take a pair of trainers with you as the countryside walks are not to be missed. There’s a ramshackle chateau on one of the trails – gather your group and go for an after dinner stroll as the sun sets – the scenery is stunning in the dusky light.
Price with a companion: £690 for two sharing with a shared bathroom (shared with the three people maximum). This includes three meals per day except the Wednesday which is a trip to the local town, Angoulême and each person pays for their own dinner that evening. Transfers are 30 euros to and from Angoulême. All yoga classes, meditation and yoga philosophy classes or workshops put on by the teacher. Retreats are 7 nights long with 6 days of yoga.
Price per person going solo: For a single person staying staying in the farmhouse sharing a bathroom with 2 others (maximum) the cost is £720 for 7 nights. The price for a single with ensuite in the farmhouse is £850, or for a more private experience try one of the two garden lodges for £870 (for one person) which has its own bathroom. Garden Lodge 2 has its own terrace outside so you can chill out with a book in a little more privacy.
Value for money: The weekly price includes two yoga classes and three hearty vegetarian meals a day. For everything that’s included, this is a really good value yoga holiday – the building, its style and the environment at Les Passeroses felt like a more expensive retreat to us.
Sister retreats: Following the success of this first yogic venture, Alex and Adrian have created a company, Viva Retreats, to take their brand of vegetarian food and yoga to a wider audience. They are currently looking to expansion into a second venue, possibly in France, maybe further afield. Watch this space!
Reviewed by Pat McNulty
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