Satvada Retreats review | Yoga weekend in exotic Marrakech
The Quick Read: Satvada Retreats runs a variety of group yoga holidays around the world. We went on one of their yoga and wellbeing weekends in the heart of Marrakech, where teacher and staff work together to create a friendly, uncompetitive atmosphere that’s perfect for beginners, those wanting to brush up their yoga, and those who want to explore this exotic city whilst taking care of their wellbeing. Your base is a riad (or traditional house) with a serenely peaceful central courtyard in the exciting medina (walled city). The traditional food is excellent, and Satvada Retreats is happy to accommodate particular dietary requirements.
Who it’s best for: This is a yoga holiday rather than a retreat and the world outside the riad is stimulating and fun. It’s ideal for absolute beginners, for those who have only recently started yoga and also for yogis with more experience who don’t want to take their yoga too seriously. It wouldn’t suite hardcore yoga bunnies – it’s just too laid back. Groups are small (a maximum of 12) so it’s as good for the single traveller as it is for a group of friends although we’d not recommend it for romance as the internal walls don’t insulate sound!
What you can do: Satvada uses several different yoga teachers who all teach according to the Satvada principles and practices. On our trip it was Sarah Nunn who teaches mindful vinyasa flow. The twice-daily sessions start slowly, with breath awareness and meditation before heading into the main part of the class and ending with a long relaxation and meditation. A relaxing massage (either shoulders or half-body) plus a well thought out anti-stress workshop are included in the price. You can book further treatments (at additional cost) and, if you fancy a traditional hammam, the riad can recommend where to go. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the friendly local cooks are happy to talk you through their traditional techniques. Or, of course, you can just curl up in a corner with a book or stretch out on the rooftop and drink in prana from the sun.
In between there is plenty of spare time to explore Marrakech and its surroundings. Step out of the riad and every sense is assaulted. Marrakech is jam-packed with people, gorgeous bright colours, tantalising and not-so-pleasant smells, plus a totally different culture. If it becomes overwhelming, you can perch up in a rooftop café or restaurant and watch the bustle below. The beauty of staying at the riad is that you can retreat back to its sanctuary at any time.
Where you stay: The six bedrooms (on two floors) are spacious and comfortable. They all open out onto the central patio and have en-suite bathrooms with separate sections for shower, sink and toilet. Expect clean and totally workable but don’t expect the height of luxury – the towels are serviceable rather than fluffy, heavenly products aren’t on the menu, and they don’t have baths.
Every room is different, with Moroccan-style décor, open shelves and storage that is large enough to hide away modern travel bags – they’re all nice but we liked the Green Room best. Both bedroom and bathroom have their own heating-cum-air conditioner which is good for normal weather changes but not the very rare cold snaps. The roof is wonderful for taking the sun and has a small Jacuzzi. There are nooks for socialising, including an indoor hammock but the largest area – the patio with fountain and water feature– is cleared of seating to make space for the yoga. The free wifi works when you are close to the transmitter, the reception is manned 24 hours a day and the staff, who speak English, French and Arabic, are extremely helpful.
How was it for us: Although I hadn’t done much yoga before, I dance a lot and am very flexible so I found the yoga easy and relaxing. I particularly liked the meditation but in general found I only just managed to make it work for me before it finished – I’d like to explore it further another time. My half body massage was very relaxing.
The food was delicious. I don’t eat refined sugar and they went out of their way to accommodate my diet, even for our afternoon snacks when they created some of the most mouth-wateringly good no-sugar cakes that I’ve tasted.
For me this long weekend offered a perfect balance. I went for the yoga but was amazed and delighted by the warm helpfulness of the people I met and the rich culture just outside our front door. I loved everything about the medina; even the way everyone tried to sell you their products. When I told one pushy salesman that I was a poor journalist, he ended up giving me two small pieces of frankincense.
Sometimes the other people on retreat would stay back and relax, and other times they would join me in my explorations. It worked really well because nobody felt they were holding the others back. Two women who had arrived earlier introduced us to a lovely café in a different part of town, and the three of us took a horse-and-trap tour around Marrakech.
I stayed on an extra day to visit the coastal town, fort and fishing harbour of Essaouira (about a three hour drive), with a couple of people I met in the medina. The riad organised the taxi for us which was a godsend as it’s difficult to know what a reasonable price would be. I just wished I had stayed a second day to visit the Atlas Mountains. Next time.
What we took home: On one particular occasion our teacher incorporated the call to prayer into our yogic meditation. Both relaxing and surreal, I will always remember how it felt as we relaxed into a new position whilst hearing the calls echo from mosque to mosque into the distance.
Would we go back: I wouldn’t go back to this particular experience – I would either choose to immerse myself in Morocco, or in the yoga. However I would heartily recommend it for the single traveller, for people wanting to combine yoga with a new experience and for those who want to sample a new cultural experience in the context and security of a familiar discipline.
People watch: I was blown away by the quality of the food, with the consideration given to my dietary requirements by Lucia (the organiser) and to the ladies who produced such wonderful sugar-free cakes and snacks.
Food watch: The food is excellent; vegetarian by default, locally sourced and all traditional Moroccan cuisine. Each meal is freshly prepared and so delicious it’s easy to eat way more than one should. There’s a huge variety of fruit on offer should you feel peckish before morning yoga. Brunch (after yoga) always included bread, olive oil and yoghurt as a baseline with other dishes to follow. Our favourite was the traditional breakfast, shakshuka, made with whole eggs, tomatoes and rich spices. Evening meals included stews and tagine, always with salad, bread and traditional deserts with honey. Water and fruit juices were always freely available and there’s the option of tea or coffee after meals. Delicious cakes are served up in the afternoon.
What’s lowly: Outside the high season it can get cold at night. When we visited there was unanticipated rain and colder-than-expected weather. It’s the only time in my life that we wished we had a warm fluffy onesie.
Insider tip: Don’t fly via Casablanca even if it’s really cheap. Everyone who did had to go back to the airport and collect their luggage the day after arriving.
Price with a companion: £499 per person, based on two people sharing a twin or double en-suite on a three-night weekend retreat. Price includes accommodation, brunch, afternoon tea and evening meal plus drinks and fruit. Transfers to and from Marrakech airport are not included and cost 14 euros return.
Price going solo: As above but £599 per person for a single en-suite room.
Value for money: It’s very reasonable value with no hidden costs. The people are all extremely helpful and bend over backwards to help.
Reviewed by Carole Edrich
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Transformational yoga & bodywork in Kerala