Sarah Garbett reviews this relaxing Yoga Explorers holiday at Hotel Tigmi near Marrakech and finds it refreshing to spend her birthday with strangers in a foreign land
There was a heatwave the day I arrived in Marrakech and the drive from the airport was a window down, face-to-the-warm-wind one, just looking into the darkness silently wondering where we were going. I felt totally safe with the driver sent to greet me by Yoga Explorers, and as we left the city behind, increasingly excited about where we would end up. The last few moments as we passed through a village on a bumpy track gave a real sense that I was not in a tourist spot.
My room, which was more of an apartment really, felt instantly homely. Spread over two levels and onto a balcony, I pondered, just for a moment, if I would miss having someone to share with. But that soon passed: it was mine all mine and I was going to love every moment of it.
A good night’s rest in my huge comfy bed set me in good stead for the 8am morning class with our teacher for the week, Jonelle Lewis. Philadelphia born, based in London for over ten years, and whose favourite mantra is ‘be brave, be fierce, be free’, this is a lady with presence.
Jonelle teaches teaches a mix of Ashtanga and Hatha vinyasa flow, and yin yoga, usually set to want she calls an urban ‘Ghetto’ sound track. She’s a confident, funny and knowledgeable teacher, who has been to some far off places to study and experienced Shamanic practices, and she shares all of this in her class. Up on the roof terrace, where we practiced most mornings, we heard her chant, inhaled white sage, knew where we were going and that we had the beats to take us there (with a little bit of attitude)…
The 24 strong group were of mixed ability, some never having done yoga before, so there was a lot of teaching and adjusting to do by Jonelle and her assistant. By 10am each day, however, the only thing on anyone’s mind was food, and we feasted on fruits, home-made yoghurt, granola, crepes and omelettes.
Four hours later, we’d also be devouring a buffet lunch of 10 or so different leafy or chopped salads with protein in the form of avocado, egg or tuna, and perhaps pizza or quiche, and fruit to follow. The local black olives, that also form the base of the silky ‘black’ hammam soap, were my favourite treat here for their soft, squidgy texture and rich, salty taste.
‘I became quite obsessed with seeing the fireball sunset from the yoga terrace, and couldn’t resist lifting my head to have a peek at it even when I was supposed to be deep in a yin pose’
Between meals and yoga times, most days saw a lot of pool time, as the weather dropped back to a welcome 30C from the initial high of 45C on arrival day. It felt wonderful to guiltlessly lie down in the sun, do some lengths, and then get back to my absorbing book, ‘Wild Women Who Run with the Wolves’.
Hammam time was also on the list for me, and I loved the experience of getting to it; passing first through an alcove where sat a huge loom (and sometimes the weaver at work) then entering the spa via a small door within a much larger one that opened into the softly lit reception. I really relaxed into the simple ceremony of being washed and scrubbed (thoroughly!) and wrapped up in a towel like my mum used to do. The massage I had was well done, and I had a sweet to chat after with my therapist, Imane, the only one here that speaks English, about her life.
I took myself off along the track at the back of the hotel towards the taupe Atlas mountains a couple of times during my week, passing farmers on donkeys, and also enjoyed the free shuttle into Marrakech one day for a browse around the Medina. Wandering around the markets is entertainment in itself, so many shops with clothes, lamps, herbs, antiques, leather good, food and more to take in. I was relieved to have a new friend with me who enjoyed the banter and a good haggle!
Afternoon class each day began at 5 or 6 pm, depending on the sun and how much longer we all wanted to sit in it, and took us into a restorative, calm place. I became quite obsessed with seeing the fireball sunset and couldn’t resist lifting my head to have a peak at it even when I was supposed to be deep in the pose. Most of these sessions included yin yoga poses (which are typically held for 2-4 minutes or longer), which I found quite challenging, as my mind wasn’t always in the mood to be so still, and during at least one of those sundowns I would have loved to have had an ecstatic dance up on that terrace.
Evening dinner was consistently impressive, as the chef turned out a variety of perfectly cooked and presented fish, meat and veggie dishes. And the desserts! In a whispered voice – chocolate lava pudding. It was also my birthday during the week I visited, and not only did I receive a very smart cake big enough for all of us to sample but also a gorgeous hand woven throw. Go on a yoga holiday, on your own, and pass your birthday there with people you’ve never met? Yes indeed!
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