Little French Retreat, France
Soothing rural wellness retreat with Sivananda yoga and ayurvedic meals
the weary and overworked
those who do not want to interact much with others
The Little French Retreat is based in a lovely old stone house in the tiny medieval village of Montesquieu, near Agen, surrounded by a maze of footpaths through oak woodland and rolling vineyards. It offers the opportunity to take time out from life’s merry-go-round, preparing you to return feeling renewed, physically and spiritually. Enjoy retreats for yoga and walking, beginners’ yoga, yoga detox and cleansing, life coaching in the form of Circle work, an ‘equinox slow rest’ retreat for women on set dates throughout the year, and B&B in the summer in July and August. Informal chats over delicious meals complements opportunities for meaningful reflection on your wellbeing. Relax and find the space to reconnect with your best self.
The kindness and sensitivity of its hostess, Tamsin. Keeping the group sizes small, and dedicating herself calmly to being with others, she conveys a sense that the wellbeing of each individual on the retreat matters to her, but in a very relaxed manner. Her openness about her own learning and yoga practice, alongside the quiet authority and wisdom that she derives from that, inspires the trust and confidence to relax fully, and to entertain new possibilities.
An outdoor hot tub or similar might be nice!
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Stay here for B&B or attend a group yoga retreat when a wide range of activities are available. A typical day might begin with a two hour yoga and breathing class, followed by a massage or circle work, with a walk in the afternoon, and meditation and more yoga to end the day.
Each yoga practice includes some meditation time, but there is also a dedicated evening candlelit meditation practice, to prepare you for a restful night’s sleep. Tamsin also leads meditative walking on the Yoga and Walking and Beginners Yoga retreats, which involves a walk of up to 10km in silence, focusing on the breath, with occasional pauses for longer meditations in suitable clearings and rest points. The surrounding countryside is peaceful, with scents such as lavender and wood smoke brought into sharper focus by the practice of silent walking together.
Available on the Yoga and Walking retreats (and on Tamsin’s retreats in India), Circle work and coaching comes in the form of the Flow Game, a Danish-designed group activity to help clarify one’s thoughts, strengthen ideas, and provide insight for life purpose. It opens up a safe space in which to connect with others on one’s own terms. With a diploma in counselling skills, and one of only 150 people worldwide trained to lead the Flow Game, Tamsin conducts the game wisely and with great sensitivity. It is available on the Yoga and walking, and Indian retreats.
Ayurveda is the ancient Hindu art of medicine originating from South India that prolongs life naturally. Towards the end of each retreat Tamsin provides an ayurvedic consultation, which offers a deeper understanding of how you can adapt your diet and lifestyle to your particular physical and spiritual makeup. Ayurvedic principles inform the cooking throughout your stay. For a particular focus on ayurvedic cleansing, there is a dedicated ‘cleanse’ weekend. Tamsin acquired her knowledge of ayurveda within the Sivananda ashrams but is currently studying under David Frawley on his online course to become a Ayurveda Lifestyle consultant.
On the dedicated seasonal cleanse retreat, Tamsin offers a fully immersive and dynamic practice that guides you through the philosophies of yoga and Ayurveda. With a focus on using yoga to aid digestion and rest, along with breath work and positive thinking. Supported by Annapurna an ayurvedic practitioner, who will be providing an individual Ayurvedic consultation to establish your body type, best diet and lifestyle choices, with a full body ayurvedic massage. The Food and nutrition workshop gives you the knowledge of how to support yourself ongoing, with 7-day food plan to take home with you.
Isabelle is a local specialist who comes to the house to provide a full body, deep tissue massage. Her holistic approach is breath-focused, so all of a piece with the emphasis of the weekend on slowing down and being in the moment. Her practice is thorough and transformative. Tamsin will contact you to prearrange this treatment (70 euros) for your retreat.
Whatever retreat you are on, if the weather permits you can enjoy wild swimming at the nearby Lake Moulineau. There are also are daily opportunities to walk or cycle (bikes are available to borrow) through the surrounding countryside, which has quiet roads, oak woodland, vineyards punctuated by the odd picturesque medieval village or church and plenty of wildlife to enjoy, from falcons to red squirrels.
On every retreat the option to visit the local medieval market town of Nerac offers the opportunity to enjoy its weekend market, and savour the delights of a vast range of local products, from the famous local prunes of Agen glistening amongst all manner of fruit and veg, the scent of olives and basil, to the delicious co-operative produced sheep and goats milk cheese, Brebis chevre.
There’s a great sense of community on this retreat. Sharing a room, sharing thoughts, and being around animals (there was a cat, and there might be dogs) is part of the experience. It is very helpful to meet and hear about others in a non-judgemental space. It might not suit those who do not want to interact much with others.
Bedrooms: Bedrooms are simple but charming with original old features of the house, such as wooden beams and stone walls, with antique furniture. Decorated in neutral creams and beige and French country designs, their comfort and good taste bear the marks of Tamsin’s former work as an interior designer. Some have beautiful views over the woodland. You will share a bathroom with one other person. Bathrooms are clean, airy and well-equipped.
Other spaces to be: Outside the kitchen and dining room there is a large terrace overlooking the garden, with its heavily laden fruit trees, and beyond. The views from this high point over the surrounding woodland, and the quiet across which one can hear frogs and even nightingales, make this an ideal spot to read or simply be.
Take long sleeved tops, trousers and walking shoes. Stop in Bordeaux on the way – a fabulous city just an hour’s train ride away from Agen where Tamsin will meet you (and only two from Paris!)
Try travelling to Agen by train to protect the environment and transition to a slower pace.
When to Go
The climate is quite similar to that of the UK, with unpredictable weather – cool one week, a heatwave the next. The retreats are set at times when the climate is kindest, however, which is generally late spring and autumn.
Enjoy your meals in the stunning old stone dining room, with its flagged floors, around a long wooden, candlelit table, with a view out onto the terrace. In warmer weather, dine under a shady vine covered shelter on that terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside.
The day begins with one of Hannah’s special lattes, the golden turmeric latte just one of many delights, and a homemade biscuit. After a yoga practice or a walk, substantial breakfasts are always varied, such as buckwheat pancakes with bananas, quinoa porridge with spiced apple or a colourful melange of sweet potato, scrambled eggs and melon.
In accordance with ayurvedic guidance on digestion, the main meal tends to be at lunchtime, which might be something like a cauliflower rice and vegetable wrap, or the delicious tofu coconut masala, sometimes followed by an exceptional dessert, such as blueberry cheese-free cheesecake, or lemon, coconut and almond truffles. A lighter delicious meal such as beet soup and a feta salad with blueberry dressing might follow in the evening. There is no alcohol available, but there is coffee, which makes for a good mid-way point between detox and detox shock. All food on retreats are rooted in ayurvedic beliefs which can be explored more fully on the ‘Cleanse for Life’ retreat.
Tamsin treats her staff like cherished family members. When guests have a massage, the staff can also have a massage, and may join you for walking and yoga. All produce is organic and bought locally to support small producers close by, and sometimes fruit grown in the garden is often used in recipes too.
Tamsin also collaborates with Mossy Earth so that each guests will include a gift back of a tree to rewild areas within Europe that have suffered deforestation. In India Tamsin gives back 10% of profits to support a traditional Gurukulum school for orphaned boys and girls, and in the Himalayas she has begun a grass roots charity that provides one local school teacher with an opportunity to take a yoga teacher training each year to then be able to teach the children at their school.
Near Porte Sainte-Marie
Transfer time: 1 hr from the airport and 30 min from the station