Enchanted by mother nature at Yobaba Lounge wellness retreat in France

Hannah Macinnes reviews this splendid wellness retreat at an eccentric bohemian chateau in Chalabre and discovers healing raw cuisine, a wondrous yogic practice and a delightful owner

I have been twice to Yobaba Lounge and on both occasions have found it deeply therapeutic. As someone who really struggles with digestive issues (or perhaps thanks to this retreat I can finally say struggled, past tense), I was very nervous about the thought of a raw diet, but I genuinely felt better here than I had in years. The magic tonic of wonderfully digestible food, deep healing breath and meditation works wonders.

The eccentric chateau in the gentle village of Chalabre is an oasis of calm – a true escape from the stresses of daily life, and there is a perfect balance on the group retreats between having plenty of peaceful time to yourself whilst also being looked after in the truest sense. But for me the real spirit of Yobaba is the owner and teacher, Gertrud Keazor.

Though deeply serious about yoga, noble silence and meditation, Gertrud is a great character full of fun and humour too. Like Mother Nature herself, she will appear in the garden brandishing a tray of little pots, exclaiming in her delightful German accent: ëHelp yourself to my homemade face mask and magic oil sweeties!î She also provides heartfelt help to guests dealing with grief or other issues with a listening ear and compassionate advice.

I adored her exquisite food too. As well as being constantly amazed and thrilled by the sumptuous flavours, I found most things also look like works of art, so it was a challenge not to take a dozen pictures of every creation before managing my first bite. How raw apple crumble, banoffee pie and carrot cake can taste that good and yet still all be healthy is thanks to the magic of Gertrud’s creativity and culinary skill. It was wonderful to watch her win over the most discerning of guests.

‘the yoga shala is the most enchanting of spaces – wooden beams and floorboards smell of linseed oil and Ethiopian resin incenses, crystals throw beams of colour from the moon or sunlight across the room, and the softest of yoga mats are laid out with fur lined rugs and huge pillows’

Our embodied meditation practice in the beautiful wooden shala was wonderful. It is the most enchanting of spaces. Wooden beams and floorboards smell of linseed oil and Ethiopian resin incenses, crystals hanging in the windows throw beams of colour from the moon or sunlight across the room, and the softest of yoga mats – doubled up for each person – are laid out with fur lined rugs and huge pillows.

It is a place you immediately feel calm and relaxed even before the blissful practice begins. Gertrud moves the class slowly through the basic yoga postures, with the focus firmly on the power of the breath, a deep diaphragmatic ancient yogic breath known as Ujjayi or ocean breath, which you imagine flowing in and out in waves. I found the calming effect of it genuinely medicinal.

The routine of each day is important, and helps you feel safe and looked after, but Gertrud is also open to spontaneity and adventure. As well as trips to the nearby rock pools, a delightful surprise was thrown into our last evening. Arriving in the shala for meditation, we were told there was a change of plan. Feeling a childish sense of excitement, everyone followed Gertrud out to the rickety old Yobaba minibus. Soon we found ourselves winding up into the hills, where we parked and sat in silent meditation wrapped in rugs looking out over miles of rolling fields as the translucent orange sun sunk down into them. The experience was enchanting, and the sheer overwhelming beauty of it all brought up quite a lot of emotion amongst the group. On the silent journey home, the spell was not broken as the bright white light from the full moon (Gertrud purposefully times the retreats to coincide with this) lit up the sky.

I left the retreat feeling rejuvenated, rested and decidedly calmer, much more able to just be, without the flutterings that usually take over my mind. The slow routine of the yoga makes it easy to incorporate into daily life (for a while at least!), and I found myself leading sessions of it in the garden with family and friends – evangelising about the breath.