Vale de Moses review | budget yoga retreat, Portugal
Homely rustic yoga retreat in the Portuguese mountains
The quick read: If you like rustic and appreciate an easy going retreat schedule then this family home-cum-yoga retreat is one for you. It’s a picturesque 3.5 hour bus ride from Lisbon to Vale de Moses, where you can hunker down for a Sunday to Saturday retreat between March and October. Stay in the one of the creatively restored stone buildings or under canvas in belle tent or tipi and do as much of the programme as you please. Be nourished on mountain air, delicious vegan food, yoga classes and holistic treatments, and then rest in glorious peace. Note, Vale de Moses has facilities for wheelchair users and can also host yoga teachers bringing up to 20 students.
Who it’s best for: Owners Andrew and Vonetta created an affordable retreat for normal folk like them -in their words ‘teachers, nurses and people who work hard but don’t have pots of spare cash’. Teachers vary throughout the season so there’s something for everyone whatever your level of practice or intention for taking a break. This can be a sociable experience, or, because of the physical space and their philosophy, it would also work for someone just needing downtime with optional participation.
Who it’s not for: Anyone who likes to be in sniffing distance of modern life and doesn’t enjoy a certain amount of self entertainment. You’ll feel cared for but we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for the service and pampering you might get in a lavish hotel or spa.
What you can do: You are ‘invited’ to do as much or as little as you wish. Each day there’s a 30 minute morning meditation walk with Andrew, two yoga classes and three plentiful meals. You’ll have the consultation and treatment that’s included and be able to book more treatments. Around this there might be a cooking class or other workshop going on, or you could let the dogs take you on a hike up into the eucalyptus trees and be wowed by the views across the Serra de Estrela, sunbathe down by the pretty stream, snooze in a hammock or get to know someone over a rosemary tea in the courtyard. The farmhouse living area has a grand piano and two walls full of books where you can hang out on the well worn sofa reading. There are also retreats on offer that combine yoga with Thai Yoga Massage, Pilates, sleep workshops and Ayurveda.
Where you stay: We really like the range of options here. Starting at the hub of the retreat you can book into the main house where Andrew and Vonetta live along with their grown up children when they visit. Or, a short walk away there’s a four bed open plan stone cottage, an old Adega (where the Portuguese make their wine), a couple of belle tents and a tipi. Each has access to indoor bathrooms, composting and regular loos and outdoor showers for sunny mornings.
Tents are made comfy with mahogany beds, carpets and electricity, and the cottages have wood burners – which made it all lovely and cosy during our October visit. Wherever you nest, you’ll notice decorative details and creative inventions such as the stream fed plunge pool and solar heated shower in the old grape press, which takes water from an ancient Moorish water mine further up the valley. Olive, fig and other fruit trees add to the lush greenness and there are plenty of benches and spots where you can really be alone, watching the clouds drift over the tree lined curves of the hills.
How was it for us: I arrived at the end of a season working at a retreat, and it was a relief to be in some else’s hands. Happily, they were capable ones. Even after a long, eventful journey I quickly felt safe enough to take a long exhale and allow myself to relax. ‘We do real’ is somewhat of a mantra here, and it was nice to take off one of my professional hats, sit back until I was ready to join in the chatter and allow myself some real free time.
After morning yoga class with warm and knowledgable Katherine Smith, I sat out one rainy day in the cottage with cups of tea and a book from the library, and in the following days I went exploring with the dogs, sun-bathed by the stream and took advantage of my oh-so-inviting bed to catch up on sleep.
Mealtimes were buzzy, thanks to the enthusiastic chef and the energy of his lovingly prepared food, and the meditation walk where Andrew shared some of his philosophy on mindfulness with us also gave a personal level of interaction with the team which I think is important on this kind of retreat.
One sunny afternoon I recall with real fondness. We went by car to the river Zêzere for a swim and mud bath. On our return we stopped at a tiny village to have a drink in the square, which we shared with the local senior citizens, who were all dressed for the cold in typical black. One of our group was an opera singer, and sang Ave Maria for them as we soaked up the Autumm sun in our short sleeves.
What we took home: I felt like I’d refilled my cup with feel-good, family vibes at Vale de Moses. If you live abroad or travel a lot you might relate to the feeling that you’d like to feel at home somewhere, even if it’s just for a week.
Would we go back: Yes – I’d like to return with a companion, share one of the smaller accommodations and sample some of the other retreats which combine yoga with Thai Yoga Massage, Pilates, sleep workshops and Ayurveda.
Food view: Vegan-veggie food on a retreat can be a real eye-opener for carnivores or those who worry they won’t feel sustained on a yogic diet. Here we feasted from the kitchen table on healthy, creative dishes, our Spanish chef blending influences from his travels and working in India, South East Asia and Europe. Following Ayurvedic principles, more food is served at breakfast and lunch, and then there’s a soup, salad, bread and dips for a lighter dinner.
After morning yoga we had a super porridge made with quinoa, with pots of chopped or cooked fruits, yoghurt, ground seeds and so on, and a smoothie. We had yummy chai tea one morning too. Every day there was a tangible air of excitement about lunch, which consisted of around 8 dishes. Think colourful salads, roasted veggies and different grains prepared with lots of flavour. There was a notable dose of good fats and plant protein included. The friendly bustle of the chef and his helpers cooking to music and laughter made us all feel welcome in the space and those who asked questions about the ingredients and recipes were well received.
What’s queenly: The stilted yoga shala, which really gives you a sense of being right in the valley and makes for a nice sunset spot. It’s also heated, so you don’t need to wear too many clothes for class on cooler days.
What’s lowly: Having access to wi-fi can be a mixed blessing. I was glad it was available but would have preferred that the yoga studio and eating area were connection free. There didn’t seem to be any places for cigarette ends and I noticed a few on the stone path.
Insider tip: In the mountains temperatures can differ greatly to the coast of Portugal so make sure you pack something warm even in the summer months.
Price with a companion: 800 euros (around £710) per person for 6 nights in a shared cottage or sharing a private room as a couple including all classes, meals, a health consultation and 1 hour holistic treatment, transfers between Olieros and an afternoon trip to the river.
Price going solo: 900 euros (around £800) for 6 nights in a private room, belle tent or tipi including all classes, meals, a health consultation and 1 hour holistic treatment, transfers between Olieros and an afternoon trip to the river.
Value for Money: Excellent.
Nearest airport: Both Lisbon and Porto are about 3.5 hours away by bus, or a little quicker by car.
Sister retreat: In December Vales de Moses offer four weeks of yoga holiday on Barbados. You stay near surf waves at a small eco resort in virgin Barbadian forest. Two weeks are led by owner Vonette and the other two by Katherine Smith at the Naniki eco resort.
Reviewed by Sarah Garbett
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