Alpine activities week with daily yoga in the vast and inspiring French Alps
Best for: Adventurous yogis of all levels looking for a change from the beach
Not for: Those looking for a deep yoga retreat with a strict yogic menu
AdventureYogi run four weeks of fun in the French Alps each summer, combining hiking and yoga with lots of optional activities such as mountain biking, rafting and paragliding for those who fancy something a little more daring. You stay at an auberge, a small hotel in the mountains, which really quite spectacular at this time of year, when it’s warm enough for swimming in glacial lakes or a snooze in a flowery meadow. It’s a re-energising yoga holiday catering well for newbies to yoga, with a yoga class at the start and end of six days filled with fresh air and big vistas.
Feeling like Heidi waking up to a view of the mountains and trekking to the sound of tinkling cowbells. The standard of teachers used by AdventureYogi means you can be sure you are in experienced hands.
The audible if distant noise from the road near the auberge and the lack of a dedicated yoga space.
The packed agenda includes morning and late afternoon yoga and some wonderful hiking. Then there are plenty of additional Alpine activities to choose from as extras, from mountain biking to water rafting, as well as massages and holistic therapies.
Morning yoga classes last for 1.5 hours from the generous time of 8.30am, with an evening practice at around 5.30pm, depending on the schedule of the day. The classes vary depending on the teacher, but are all designed to compliment the activities you are doing and will leave you with the energy to do them rather than exhaust you so that you want to spend the rest of the day chilling out.
The teacher leading our week was Chetana Thornton, who trained in Ashtanga Vinyasa, Sivananda and Acroyoga (a dynamic style combining acrobatics and yoga). Her teaching style inspires reflection, encouraging students to dive inwards. On our retreat she taught some philosophy and gave us some information on Chinese medicine as she held us in the postures and chanted at the start and end of the session. With a group of up to 12 students, Chetana is careful to give individual attention and hands-on adjustments where needed.
The landscape here is perfect for exploring on foot, and super for using Nordic walking poles which the auberge provide for free. There are two full day hikes included in the price of the holiday, as well as a shorter one on the morning of the sunrise yoga trip, and you can arrange to go on solo walks as you like with maps which are provided.
Where you go will depend on the weather, but generally on the first day you’ll take a short van ride up to a nearby mountain and hike up to a glacial pool where you might brave an icy dip. Later in the week there’s usually an option to hike up to a ridge where you can see over to Italy as well as Mont Blanc, but there’s an easier and equally picturesque option too. Think winding paths, that often follow a stream, through forest, pastoral land and villages, where you’ll not only hear the jingle of cow and goat bells but also come up close to the herds and even visit the cheese maker who provides the local milk.
On the other days of the week, you’ll visit different places in the area and there is always a hike to be done. The gorge walk at Val-d’Isère is a must – if you don’t mind walking a narrow path with a steep drop on one side! You can also go for a walk from the auberge, into the surrounding forest or along the river into local villages and towns. They’ll give you a map and you can order a packed lunch if you think you’ll need one.
Days can easily be spent playing outside doing various Alpine sports, all paid for as extras. You’ll get all the information at the start of your week, and are encouraged to book ahead. You can hire mountain bikes with or without a guide. Most spots have a lift system operating in the summer, so you can carry your bike up and have a down-hill adventure.
Then there’s white water rafting or hydrospeeding (riding rapids with a float) on the Isère river, or parapente (the French term for paragliding) from various mountain tops. While in nearby Bourg St Maurice there is an Olympic sized outdoor pool with loungers, a café and a view of the tree covered peaks beyond.
During days out, you’ll also visit local ski towns such as Val-d’Isère and get to wander around market towns smelling ripe cheeses and meats and tasting locally grown fruits.
The treatments and massage menu will depend on who is available, but will include staples such as deep tissue and relaxing massage. There is one bedroom set aside for treatments, or the dining space may be used. Outside in the garden is a sauna in a wooden chalet and an outdoor hot tub, both much appreciated after a day on foot or in the water.
The air here is noticeably clean and fresh, and the auberge is nestled on a mountainside surrounded by alpine pastures, at 1250 metres altitude, halfway between Bourg St Maurice and Val d’Isère. This is one of the most easterly and spectacularly beautiful parts of the French Alps, right up against the Italian border. The view from your hammock is of deep green forest leading up to white sunlit peaks, and you can hear the Isère river gushing down the valley.
Do take the packing list seriously – bring sturdy footwear to enjoy the hikes and layers, as the weather changes quickly. Walking poles and rucksacks can be borrowed from the venue.
Pack your favourite toiletries, as only hand soap is provided. Remember that you are in an expensive tourist spot, so expect relatively high prices if you stop for refreshment at a mountain refuge. Olive oil and coconut oil fans might also miss a dose, and benefit from having a small bottle with them.
When to Go
The holidays happen in July and August when the weather is warm and sunny, families are on holiday and the Alps are buzzing with plant and insect life.
In-house Cordon Bleu trained chef Will Manley prepares all meals during the yoga holiday, except on one evening when he takes a rest and you go out to eat in a local restaurant (paid for by you) with a full menu so you can eat fish and meat if you so wish.
The rest of the time it’s a vegetarian menu, which can be adapted for vegans and those with allergies, and since working with yoga groups Will has learnt to create wheat, dairy, sugar and gluten free alternatives to a Cordon Bleu standard. Food is sourced as locally as possible and some herbs come from the garden.
Brunch is buffet style, with a jar of overnight almond milk-soaked oats and berries, local bread, eggs for boiling, homemade Granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, freshly baked hot croissants and bread with homemade marmalade, jams, and local honey. There’s filter coffee, British brand black tea or French herbal teas, and juices. Packed lunches can be a sandwich or a salad with a small portion of bread, plus a cereal bar and fruit. If you eat lots of nuts at home then take some with you.
Dinner is a four course affair, starting with a tiny but moreish amuse-bouche. Will obviously enjoys his work, experimenting with flavours and decorating plates with colourful and tasty finishing touches, and his menu board for dinner reads like a report! A memorable starter was the beef tomato tartar with pickled carrot, roast asparagus, beetroot, pickled radish, broad beans, croutons, pea puree, quails egg, piccalilli and balsamic reduction. Main courses included a roasted red pepper with bean casserole with carrot puree and green beans, and the chocolate raspberry cake went down very well with everyone.
It’s generally quite a healthy menu, but wouldn’t suit if you prefer to avoid certain foods or alcohol but find it hard to resist both, as there’s bread and French butter on the table at both meals, and bottles of wine at dinner.
La Thuile, Sainte Foy Tarentaise
Bourg St Maurice
Transfer Time: 20 minutes