Wholehearted Retreats, France
Intimate, immersive yoga, food and nature retreats in a rural haven
Best for: Someone looking to experience ‘the good life’ who doesn’t mind a bit of mucking in.
Not for: Those after a luxury experience. It’s the retreat equivalent to a homestay – and that’s part of the charm.
Tucked away in the rolling farmland of Aveyron in the South of France, Wholehearted Retreats is a rural homestay that offers a range of intimate and immersive yoga retreats suited to both beginners and those with an existing practice. Owners Ollie and Lucy got married in India and share their love of the country with their guests, and there’s a welcome focus on yogic philosophy. Come to relax or explore as much as you wish.
The luxury is in the experience at Wholehearted Retreats. Ollie and Lucy have succeeded in creating that simple life which most only dream of. Convivial conversations over delicious lunches can swiftly turn into deep philosophical debates on Hindu mythology, and how exactly do we achieve moksha? The setting is picturesque, the yoga deeply relaxing and mercifully gentle. This is a truly wholesome experience, administered with authenticity and grace.
Because of the size of this retreat, single accommodation is only offered on request and subject to availability, though bear in mind that private and bespoke retreats with friends and family are available on request. There’s no being waited on, you have to muck in a bit, which is part of the fun for most people, but which won’t be for everyone.
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Whether you choose a private retreat or a weekend, 4, 5 or 7 day group retreat, the common denominator here is a gentle style of practice, paired with an appreciation of nature and mindful living. Unwind on an evening in a traditional log-fired hot tub, or set out on a sunrise ramble through the pristine French countryside. Singing bowl therapy is on offer as well as daily guided meditation. Between times, go kayaking, lake swimming, take a trip to the local village, or practice some karma yoga by tending to an extensive organic vegetable plot.
Lucy and Ollie swapped their houseboat for a farmhouse in need of some TLC. Both professionally trained dancers, their real journey began after completing their yoga teacher training in Madhya Pradesh, India. It turned out to be transformative in more ways than one, for they were married in a traditional style Indian ceremony, and brought back a slice of India with them. With their approach to yoga, philosophy, and some unmistakably Asian cooking and flavours (chai, anyone?), the pair offer a little bit of India, by way of the south of France.
All yoga retreats include a morning and evening two-hour yoga class. Lucy and Ollie’s signature style of soft and nourishing yoga ensures that no-one feels overworked. It’s traditional hatha yoga, so ideal for beginners. It’s worth noting that if you have an advanced (physical) practice, and are looking to push yourself (in this way), you might feel under challenged, but if you want to connect more deeply to your inner self and develop your meditation practice its the perfect way to do so. Lucy and Ollie take classes as a pair, which, given the small group sizes, allows for exceptional teacher to student focus (adjustments are given on each posture).
If you’ve only got a few days to spare the weekend programmes are a good choice – they include a two-hour morning and evening yoga class, with guided meditation, and the aim is help you surrender to the pace of rural living and immerse yourself in nature. Rather than packing your day full of activities, guests are encouraged to relax, read a book, and simply ‘be’ in their downtime.
The week long retreats begin gently, with an opening circle, when each guest is given a small notebook, and encourage to write down any thoughts or feelings over the course of the week, whilst simultaneously releasing any attachment to achieving that goal. Most days, the schedule includes a two-hour morning and evening hatha yoga class. Week-long stays also include two Tibetan singing bowl therapy sessions, which can be scheduled as per guest preferences, and if guests would like to, one ‘bhakti yoga’ (mantra singing) class.
On Wholehearted Retreat’s Forage & Feast weekend retreats, guest can complement their yoga practice with healthy and mindful cooking and eating. Embark on a trip to the local vegetable market, a foraging walk, and learn how to cook new recipes that you can take home with you. As well as the couple’s expansive vegetable plot, Aveyron is one of France’s largest agricultural hub, so you’ll have access to some of the country’s finest produce.
Personalised, bespoke retreats for a group of four can be arranged according to dates and availability. From yoga, meditation, and Tibetan singing bowl therapy to walking, cooking, foraging and market day visits, a tailor-made programme can be designed for you and your group of family, friends or colleagues.
Whichever retreat you choose, there is a traditional, wood-fired hot tub, which on a starry evening is the ultimate experience in relaxation. Trips to the nearby lake for swimming or kayaking can be arranged, as well as market visits. If not included, Tibetan singing bowl therapies can be booked too. There are also lots of other activities on offer depending on your retreat, from mandala making to baking, a trip to the local village for almond croissants to practising some karma yoga by tending to the expansive vegetable plot. Dive into the library of yogic texts or if you fancy, the nearby lake. Pay a visit to your horse neighbours or take the Wholehearted Retreat dogs, Douglas and Otis, out for a stroll in the French countryside.
Bedrooms: There are just two twin rooms, both ensuite, simple yet very comfortable, with views out across the valleys and garden. The ground floor room has a shower room, and the upstairs, a rather grand in-room roll top bath. They are decorated in a white-on-white colour scheme, with plenty of natural materials. Outside, there are a couple of hammocks in which to take an afternoon nap.
Ensure to pack some mosquito spray (they can be quite active in the evenings) and your walking shoes, as there are some great walking trails in the area. If you’ve got time, try and pay a visit to the nearby village Entraygues-sur-Truyère, and pop into its local curio shops and delicatessens.
When to Go
Retreats run between May and October to make the most of the best weather. Expect cool mornings and long warm evenings. June, July and August can sometimes be very hot in the middle of the day, but this is the period for downtime. The occasional summer shower is a welcome cooler.
Meals are usually eaten al fresco around a large, canopied dining table, and you can expect locally sourced, seasonal cuisine, a lot of it sourced from the organic vegetable garden, and freshly cooked, with love, by Lucy.
Breakfast includes fresh fruits and homemade granola accompanied by spicy chai and freshly ground coffee. Lunches and suppers might be Sweet potato and goats cheese tartlets, a Yotam Ottolenghi Iranian style legume noodle soup dish, enormous salads with lots of nutty sprinkles, and on the odd occasion, a peach compote with coconut yoghurt or a freshly baked dairy-free cake. Inspiration comes from all over the world, with some unmistakably Indian accents. It’s entirely vegetarian, with plenty of vegan options too.
Delicious freshly ground coffee is served each morning – but there are also caffeine free teas available. There are vats of homemade elderflower (in season). No alcohol is served.
This is an almost no plastic household, and Ollie and Ellie are fastidious about recycling and composting all of their waste. They use only eco-friendly cleaning products, organic gardening principles, and water sourced from a nearby spring. Rest assured, they’re doing their bit.
La Tomasserie, Le Puech, Banhars 12140 France
Train station: La Tomasserie
Transfer time: 1 hour