Smiling from ear to ear on a HolyMama retreat on Ibiza
Caroline Sylger Jones and her nearly nine-year-old daughter Annoushka review a Holy Mama retreat on Ibiza and enjoy good yoga, cosseting childcare, wild nature, gorgeous dresses and lots of hugs.
My nearly nine-year-old daughter Annoushka and I are sitting under a giant lemon tree at Aubergine, a flower-filled farm to fork restaurant and boutique, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the anticipation of ice cold home-made lemonades. ‘I love you mummy,’ Annoushka says, as she puts her arms around me. Aww! I feel full to bursting with happiness as I hug her back. ‘I love you too’.
We’re having a mother and daughter afternoon during our Holy Mama retreat week in the quieter north of Ibiza, and it’s the space and time the week has given us so far that’s enabled us to share such heart-warming moments and feel truly connected. We’re already tanned, wearing some new bohemian Ibiza-style playsuits and grinning happily from ear to ear.
Created by Swiss English author and mother of three Claudia Spahr, HolyMama runs group retreats for mothers on Ibizas (and sometimes dads too) at two neighbouring white washed private villas draped in bright pink bougainvillea with a swimming pool each and lovely extensive grounds. They’re particularly good for mums with babies and toddlers, but also with older children during school holidays, and we’re here during May half term when the flowers are in bloom, its sunny and warm, and Ibiza’s seasonal markets are just starting to open.
Annoushka has her pick of 16 other children to play with, and the oldest four of them become a little tribe, putting on plays for us parents and screaming at the top of their lungs in their choice of two pools. There are about 14 mums, a broad mix from a young 18-year-old mum to professional and stay at home mums in their 30s and 40s, from the US, France, Switzerland, Germany and the UK. A few are single mums, and all of us are craving peace and time out from our ongoing and persistent busy-ness.
Each morning all our children are taken care of from 9 am till 1230 pm at the second villa, The Haven, by an empathetic group of multilingual, good humoured Ibiza residents clad is beautiful dresses and beaming with health. Annoushka’s tribe carers, who include Ana, Alex and Candice, take them for walks, do yoga and hooping with them, and engage them in everything from artwork and jewellery making to science experiments. There’s one member of staff for every two children, and the spacious, plant-filled courtyard garden they use is packed with toys and equipment and a joy to bring her to. During the week, on the lawn outside the main villa, other engaging carers also hold an inventive puppet yoga session and a fun African dance and drumming session for the kids.
While the children are entertained, us mothers do yoga together each day for 1.5 hours on an outdoor deck under the fragrant pine trees, overlooking a red-earthed orchard scattered with avocado, carob, lemon and fig trees. Our teacher is Sylvie Bader, a talented Ibiza resident who teaches a hatha practice focused on alignment with special attention to the core and women’s bodies. At first I’m frustrated that I can’t flow through a sequence like I do at home, but after a couple of sessions of ‘smiling with my perineum’ and ‘bringing my coccyx to my pelvis’ I start to feel how very much her techniques have empowered my body and months on I am still using them in my daily home practice.
After yoga, parents can have pre-booked treatments, and I enjoy a fabulously thorough and much needed 1.5 hours deep tissue massage at the start of the week with a British therapist now resident on Ibiza called Elizabeth Walker. Afterwards, we all get to enjoy a vibrant and tasty vegetarian brunch in peace at a long wooden terrace in the sunshine. I adore the varied dishes of our meals, which include such things as gluten free pasta with wild asparagus and broccoli in a pistachio dressing, Thai carrot and endgame salad, rocket salad with cherry tomatoes and aubergine with vegan pesto and a desert of raw avocado and chocolate tart. After I usually slip off for a nourishing mid-morning sleep on my bed upstairs in the pool room before picking up Annoushka.
On two of the evenings around 9pm us mothers also experience sharing circles offered with love to help us feel connected and have the space to open up to ourselves and to each other – all while our children are looked after by babysitters. The first of these is with HolyMama founder Claudia, who mixes oracle card readings with holistic mindfulness techniques and some inventive pair work to open up our hearts and minds and make us think about our lives. The second is with a gong meditation healer, Arktara, which is deeply relaxing and helps us all sleep well on our final night.
My daughter and I spend each afternoon together. Aubergine (a 5 minute drive away) becomes a favourite haunt because it serves organic meat for Annoushka – which she craves because the fare at Holy Mama is solely veggie – and excellent coffee for me. It also has a lovely boutique that stocks wondrous creations for both kids and adults all made by island designers (hence our new playsuits – do bring spare cash).
One day we enjoy a late lunch at The Girl Cafe in San Juan, where there is a market every Sundays, and a couple of times we head to nearby beaches with other mums and kids. Annoushka and her new friend Amelie spend one afternoon beside rock pools on a gorgeous long stretch of sand in the south, picking up ‘retired’ jelly fish in a cup, carrying them to a special rock area, and giving them names and funerals – while their mummies sunbathe and read, naturally.
We also just hang out by the pool or in the garden at the villas, and spend heaps of time in the tranquil nearby town, Santa Gertrudis, ice cream indulging, shopping (be sure to take a peek at Es Cucons), swinging in the little playground, sitting in the square to people watch and eating (Wild Beets is a brilliant vegan cafe I’d recommend here for treats).
Each time we return home, and throughout the week, Ximena, a vibrant and lovely force of nature, and Ana, a graceful therapist and carer – both of whom have a great line in dresses – make us feel wholly comfortable and sort out any domestic issues we might have. Their energy ‘holds’ the week for us, and we are both genuinely sad when we have to say goodbye. On other weeks, founder Claudia is here full time and does the same.
The combination of the yoga, holistic circles, decent treatments, time out and time together, healing sunbathing, going early to bed, having no wine and only eating veggie meals makes me feel absolutely fantastic by the end of the week. Annoushka has barely touched a screen (they are only allowed in the rooms), and has instead spent most of her time outdoors, running barefoot on the grass, catching the sun on her skin, jumping on the trampoline, laughing, creating and swimming. We both feel vibrant and sun-kissed as we hug each other all the way home.