Vale de Moses, Portugal
Warm inclusive yoga & wellbeing retreat set in a stunning Portuguese mountain valley
Best for: Mid-budget retreaters in need of wide open space
Not for: Anyone who needs to be within sniffing distance of modern life or who craves upmarket luxe. The steep uneven terrain won’t suit everyone.
Takes up to 20 guests
Run by husband and wife Andrew and Vonetta Winter, Vale de Moses is set in a heartbreakingly beautiful valley surrounded by pine and eucalyptus forest. It has a warm, easy-going feel, rather like a large friendly house party. The six night retreats are all yoga-based, and offer good quality teaching, holistic treatments, occasional cooking classes and lovely (though sometimes challenging) walks. Some weeks feature afternoon workshops on Pilates, Ayurveda, Thai massage or sleep. There’s no pressure; you are invited to do as much or as little of the programme as you please. Be nourished on mountain air and delicious food and rest in glorious peace.
The sheer beauty of the site – this is a true ‘back to nature’ retreat. The position of the yoga shala gives you the feeling of hovering right over the valley. It’s also air conditioned/heated when necessary so you don’t need to wear too many clothes for class on cooler days or bake on hot Portuguese summer afternoons. Amazingly for stressed out parents, childcare is available to cover classes and massage treatments if required (€10 per hour). Although the steep terrain isn’t suitable for young children, parents with a baby can be housed in one of the Soulpads in the forest so that any inevitable crying at night doesn’t disturb the other guests’ sleep. If you’re an animal lover you’ll be in heaven as you’re invited to hang out with the retreat’s four dogs, reclusive cat and adorable piglet.
The transfers from Lisbon or Porta are long (and can involve several coach changes). The site is very steep (part of its valley charm) and, if you’re less than nimble, some of the narrow unmade-up paths could be challenging.
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Come for a regular six night yoga retreat led by different teachers and enjoy treatments and down time, or choose a specialist retreat that mixes yoga with Pilates, ayurveda, Thai massage or help with sleep.
Teachers for the six night yoga-based retreats vary throughout the season so there’s something for everyone, whatever your level of practice or intention for taking a break. Typically, there are two yoga classes a day; dynamic in the morning inspired by ashtanga, vinyasa flow and dynamic hatha yoga, and a slower afternoon class which might include yin yoga, restorative yoga, a focused asana session, playful partner yoga or acro yoga, followed by meditation or some quiet time. Co-owner Vonetta Winter, who trained in the dynamic yoga method with Godfrey Devereux, teaches around eight retreats during the season which couple yoga with Thai Yoga massage and mindfulness practices.
A handful of specialist retreats run on set dates throughout the year that mix yoga with Pilates, Ayurveda, Thai massage or help with sleep.
Yoga and Pilates with Ali Burrell looks at the similarities and differences between yoga and Pilates. Morning yoga flow is coupled with Pilates workshops exploring what ‘core’ really means and learning how to move from your centre to understand how this enhances your yoga practice. All levels are welcome and no previous experience of yoga or Pilates is required.
Fleur van Hille teaches Vinyasa Flow Yoga. She plays the harmonium and composes her own melodies for mantras. Her classes focus on flow, breathing on the rhythm of the accompanying music.
Tashi Dawa is a warm, joyous teacher who fuses astanga, Iyengar and dynamic yoga into classes for all abilities.
During the Yoga and Thai Massage week you’ll have morning yoga classes and afternoon Thai massage sessions. In the mornings Vonetta Winter teaches and shares insights on how yoga complements Thai massage. Then in the afternoon you’ll be with Peter Packard learning new ways to both be moved and move other bodies to improve joint mobility, lengthen muscles, reduce tension and calm the mind.
The ‘Slumber and Restore’ yoga retreat is led by Dr Nerina, a physiologist, sleep and stress management expert who helps everyone from stressed-out mums to Premiership footballers and MPs improve the quality of their sleep and energy levels. Practice yoga and pranayama with Vonetta Winter in the mornings and learn the secrets of great sleep over three afternoon workshops.
Whenever you come, all retreats include a half hour health consultation followed by a one hour body harmonising bodywork or acupuncture session with experienced Traditional Chinese Medicine and Bodywork therapists.
You can also book extra massages or treatments depending on the therapists available, including Thai Yoga Massage (a clothed massage technique performed on the floor which removes energetic blockages from the body), Chinese Tui Na Massage (a deep tissue treatment on a clothed or covered body excellent for chronic complaints such as whiplash injury, tension, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis) and Indonesian massage (an oil massage that works deep along the lines of muscle tissues to lengthen shortened and tightened muscle fibres). Medical Herbalism is also available. Treatments cost €80 per 90 minutes.
Vonetta and Peter both studied at Bodyharmonics in Cheltenham. Peter also studied in Northern Thailand and China. Didier Fernandes is an intuitive bodyworker who combines Thai massage, shiatsu, and myofascial release with energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual healing through Shamanic processing.
During most weeks there is a 90 minute afternoon cooking workshop in which to learn the kitchen secrets of Spanish chef Raul or Portuguese chef Miguel. The chef cooks a few dishes in front of you, and explains why they use their particular combination of herbs, spices and tastes to help improve digestion and maximise nutrition. Cooking workshops cost €20 per person, and usually run with small groups of 6 to 10 people.
Days start with a 30 minute morning meditation walk with host Ollie or co-owner Andrew and the retreat dogs. In between classes and meals you could let the dogs take you back out on a hike up into the eucalyptus forests and be wowed by the views across the Serra de Estrela, or take yourself down for a splash and a sunbathe by the two pretty streams that run through the base of the valley.
On the last day there’s an excursion to the river Zêzere for a swim and roll in the mud (the healing mud is dependent on the season), with a stop at a tiny village on the way home to have a drink in the square and perhaps meet a few of the local elderly residents in traditional dress. For those more adventurous, Christian is a Swiss mountain guide who lives in the village. He can take you on climbing (€60) or hiking (€15) expeditions.
In the mountains temperatures can differ greatly to the coast of Portugal so make sure you pack some warm layers even in the summer months. Do bring a torch (preferably head) and some warm socks and a fleece. There is accommodation and a bathroom for wheelchair users, and the yoga shala is wheelchair accessible (however the dining room and other spaces are not accessible). Vale de Moses also hires its space out to teachers who want to run their own retreats here, and has space for a yoga teacher bringing up to 20 students.
When to Go
Vale de Moses runs retreats over Portugal’s warm spring and hot summer, although you’ll find it a little colder at either end of the season as they are 1500ft above sea level.
The picturesque village of Amieira just a little higher up the valley is usually very quiet with an elderly population. Their families return in August for the traditional village parties, and in October for harvesting the grapes for wine.
The vegan-veggie food on this retreat will be a real eye-opener for carnivores or those who worry they won’t feel sustained on a yogic diet. You’ll feast on healthy, creative dishes. Raul, the Spanish chef, blends influences from his travels and working in India, South East Asia and Europe. Following Ayurvedic principles, more food is served at breakfast and lunch, with a lighter dinner to help you sleep more deeply.
Think super porridge made with quinoa and Goji berries for breakfast, with pots of chopped or cooked fruits, yoghurt, ground seeds and so on. Most days there is a delicious fresh juice or smoothie. Filter coffee is also served. Lunch consists of around eight dishes; colourful salads, roasted veggies and different grains prepared with lots of flavour and a notable dose of good fats and plant protein. Perhaps an Indian feast or a Japanese inspired spread. Dinner is usually a filling soup, salad, bread and dips.
The tea station is always open stocked with a wide variety of Pukka herbal teas, herbs from the garden, fresh ginger and local honey, and black tea if you are missing it. As a treat on the last night local wine, beer and port is served with dinner (with no pressure to drink it of course!).
Vale de Moses has several kitchen gardens to grow its own vegetables and buys some produce, oil, honey and wine from neighbours in season.
36 solar panels help produce much of their electricity consumption. There are four solar heated showers by the Adega, Soulpads and main farmhouse which take water from an ancient Moorish water mine further up the valley.
They recycle 100 percent of the retreat’s kitchen and biodegradable waste to make compost to improve the quality of the stony soil, and take all tin and plastics to the local recycling depot.
All the hot water is heated by thermodynamic panels and solar and wood burning stoves in the colder months, which also heat the main farmhouse radiators in every room.
Lisbon or Porto
Transfer Time: both 2 hours by car. Coach transfers are direct to Oleiros from Lisbon and involve two changes from Porto.