Sarah Garbett reviews this AdventureYogi holiday in the French Alps and finds magical moments both alone and with new-found friends
Long ago I had family caravan holidays in the south of France, drooling over ice-cream counters or French boys. Later there was a lakeside camping trip with bikes, fondu and an actual (English) boyfriend. And then much later still there was this summer, when I returned to a country close to my heart with AdventureYogi, this time alone, for an activities and yoga holiday in the Alps.
Getting there from Geneva airport took us past Lake Annecy, and then we headed for the mountains. The six-night holiday was led by Chetana Thornton, a regular teacher on Adventure Yogi holidays, supported by Jess and a friendly team of Brits at the auberge (a small hotel-cum-guesthouse) were we stayed, tucked away between Bourg St Maurice and Val d’Isère.
Bright as a button, auberge hostess Jess greeted us with a level of enthusiasm I found it hard to match after a 5am start, but the change in air quality and the softness of the view soon soothed away my residue of travel wariness. Sitting very close to the Isère river, the venue had a fantastic view from the garden, though I was a little surprised how close we were to civilisation – I could hear cars from the road below alongside the sound of the water flowing just beyond, which remained noticeable but became the norm over the course of the week.
On day one Jess guided us on a well-planned and satisfying hike that started with a short incline, and then wove through picture postcard villages and a mossy floored forest, past an overhanging rock where goats where gathered, and through some pastoral land to a small glacial lake. We took off our shoes and walked barefoot, gathering small Alpine flowers between our toes. It wasn’t the hottest of days but I was determined to embrace all the experience had to offer by having a dip in the water, and came out feeling alive and strong. The fromage fans amongst us got quite excited by the visit the cheese maker’s house on the way down, where we got to sample some real stinkers and buy some to take home.
Yoga that evening and in the classes that followed was steady and mindful of what we had been doing each day. It wasn’t a demanding flow practice but it was well put together by Chetana, who knew how we were feeling, having joined us on most of the activities. She encouraged body awareness by getting us to feel into the poses gradually to find release in areas where we had collected stagnant energy, and clearing out ways of thinking to allow for new paths in the mind. I enjoyed Will, her husband, playing the harmonium, and them chanting at the start and end of the class.
‘There was so much you could do on the days between the set hikes, it was like being in the ice-cream shop of my teens again’
Class took place in the smallish, stone-floored dining room. The wooden terrace outside was a lovely place for some of the afternoon sessions and the deepest, cosiest savasana (final resting pose in yoga) I’d experienced in some time, wrapped in a blanket with the sun and breeze on my face.
Chetana and Will both offered body and energy work too, including Thai yoga massage, reiki and Vortex healing. I had an hour session with Will who divided the session between deep tissue massage and light touch energy clearing work. It was truly relaxing, despite being in the dining room, with people passing and background sounds floating through, and I felt comforted and calm at the end.
There was so much you could do on the days between the set hikes, it was like being in the ice-cream shop of my teens again. Seven of us plumped for Hydrospeeding, a fast and furious pursuit involving a padded wetsuit, a helmet, flippers, gloves and a large triangular float which you hug like crazy and use to steer yourself through 9km of white crests, currents, stones and branches. Awesome fun – and well worth doing. Hot tea has never been so close to my mind when we finished in the rain though!
We were a European group, a good chunk London-based, aged from our late 20s to 50s, mostly solo travellers, with one couple and some friends travelling together. Evenings were spent eating our way through a four course meal and then chatting in the lounge, sometimes around a wood fire. Our gourmet chef Will fed us well with his creative vegetarian menu, of which the starters were usually my favourite, followed closely by the desserts.
Nice as it is to have a group to do fun things with, there are also times when we value some time alone, and this was certainly possible on this break. The day we went to Val-d’Isère, I went off on my own to do what’s known as the gorge walk. The route takes you along a path above the Isère river as it crashes down from the mountains beyond, and then into a open plain filled with grass and flowers. Sitting down on a tuft of grass for a snack it was such a pleasure to be alone with the view, the flowers and the buzz of the insects around me, and I took some sound recordings on my phone so I could easily transport myself back there on return home.
Other soul soothing moments included swinging in the venue’s sole hammock and meditating on the view of the mountain as another participant practiced violin (beautifully) in her room above, and soaking in the hot tub with the sun on my face, tea and cake within reach. This was a refreshing summer break for me – friends were made, my body was worked, and my soul revived. Viva la France!