Yobaba Lounge, France
Splendid wellness retreats in an eccentric bohemian chateau
Anyone seeking calm, simplicity and true peace
Those after opulence or who can’t bear the idea of (gently) enforced silence
Yobaba Lounge is a bohemian chateau in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the sleepy village of Chalabre. Come for 5-night wellness retreats and bespoke stays between May and October that pivot on embodied meditation and sensational, mostly raw, food. Owner and hostess Gertrud Keazor teaches you to focus on the power of mindful breath and use yogic movement to rejuvenate body and mind and explore and heal your inner space. Sleep in airy spacious rooms with hippy chic decor, eat beautifully prepared raw meals and allow yourself to feel truly at peace during daily periods of noble silence.
This retreat truly holds you. You switch off entirely (phones too if you can) and trust your schedule, sumptuous meals, excursions and daily routine to a team who you feel assured have a genuine care for your wellbeing. Every day from 8.30 pm until noon the following day is a period of noble silence when, unless completely essential, speaking is not permitted. This is very rare for a secular retreat, and we absolutely love Yobaba Lounge for offering it.
Only two of the five rooms are upstairs with their own ensuite bathroom and view (though one downstairs backs onto the garden), so if a view is important to you, be sure to book in early and specify your choice. Also, it can get very hot and there is no pool, but the lake is not far and there are cool streams nearby to dip in.
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The day is structured around three simple practices in the top floor, expansive shala. You’ll have a 1 hour 15 minute session in the morning at the civilised hour of 8:30am and also at around 5pm of embodied meditation, and in the evening at 8:45pm there’s a 30 minute session of guided meditation. Between times relax, spend time in nature, have a massage or swim in the nearby lake (a short drive away).
All sessions are led by Yobaba Lounge’s inspiring, warm and talented owner Gertrud Keazor, a retired athlete, qualified masseuse and reiki practitioner who has studied different approaches to meditation and mindfulness and has an ongoing yogic self-practice and a deep interest in the non-dual philosophies of the Shaivinist Trantras.
Gertrud’s embodied meditation entails you moving slowly through some basic yoga postures while you are encouraged to mentally and physically explore your inner self by focusing first and foremost on the power of the breath. The practice incorporates the use of Ujjayi breath, mindful movement and sound and visualisations to facilitate a deep state of meditation and awareness of inner space.
The evening guided meditation can be taken laying down or sitting up. It is usually 20-30 minutes and will end with some form of music (a mantra or ‘om-ing’).
Every day from 8.30 pm until noon the following day is a period of noble silence when, unless completely essential, speaking is not permitted. A Buddhist tradition, noble silence assists with self-reflections and integrating anything that arises during practice. Remaining silent takes away any need to project outward any identity or to facilitate anyone else’s identity by listening and reflecting back to them. In a culture drowning in digital and phonic noise, remaining silent is a true luxury and a powerful tool for self-care.
When you’re not in sessions, you can hang out in the large walled garden, explore the local walking paths or head to the lake for wild swimming. In the afternoons there is usually the option of a swim in the beautiful Lake Montbel, a five minute drive or 25 minute walk away.
When Yobaba Lounge isn’t hosting or preparing for its group retreats, you can stay in one of the rooms for three nights or more on a simple bed and breakfast basis or full board. To help you relax, you can book body treatments or private sessions as you need. The mornings are spent silent until 10 am, and you have the option of joining the daily morning self-practice in the yoga shala. Spend the rest of the day exploring the stunning region or simply enjoy being looked after without the formal structure of a retreat.
Bedrooms: While rooms are very different, all are airy, large and readied with wild flowers, colourful glass water bottles, little bowls of raw food energy bites and a splash of essential oil on the pillow. There’s an earthy, shabby chic feel with homemade paint, drawings by local children on the walls and branches on which to hang clothes. Furniture is an eclectic bohemian mix: animal print bed covers, marble mantelpieces, terracotta tiles and crafted African bedside tables.
The choices: Gertrud’s Suite is an enormous room with a fabulous eccentric ensuite open shower room, sunlight streaming in from three French windows and a balcony looking out over the hills and onto the garden.
Clare’s suite has a glorious bathroom with stand-alone Victorian bath, huge French windows and two large candle holders. The Temple Suite is on the ground floor, with marble fireplace, French doors opening directly onto the garden and its own shower room and toilet.
The Chillout Room is a beautiful large room facing the street, sharing an individually styled bathroom with large shower with one other room. The Master Room is a wood panelled, very large room on the ground floor, street side, sharing the bathroom with one other room.
Other spaces to be: There is a beautiful old disused orangery in one corner of the garden, and in the middle, a grass labyrinth. You write a word on a stone, a hope, a dream or something they wish to let go of – and then walk slowly around the paths until you reach a small shrine in the centre where you can lay the stone.
Keep your windows closed at night if you want to avoid the possibility of bats flying in, though apparently it is lucky if they do! The rooms stay quite cool so you won’t get too hot and there are fans about if you would like to borrow one.
When to Go
July and August are usually hot, with the occasional welcome bit of rain. May and June are balmy, with remnants of spring thunderstorms and cold spells until mid May. September and early October are absolutely magical times – warm, with a stunning light. Mid October starts to cool down, but there can be hot days until mid November.
Food here is exquisite. Meticulously prepared to the last tiny detail, most meals are also visual masterpieces – according to Gertrud, she’s a failed artist who likes to paint with food. Lunch is prepared by Gertrud, while retreat staff help with other meals as she is teaching. Everything is vegan, sugar, dairy and grain free and mostly raw (vegetables in the evening are cooked), but the creations are destined to delight even the most discerning of palates.
When it is not too hot you can eat outside at a large old wooden table in the garden, but meals are mostly around a table in the downstairs dining room which looks out onto the garden. At breakfast, bowls are laid out in the kitchen, and guests can take them where they choose to sit and munch in silence.
For breakfast freshly made juices accompany large bowls of the signature Yobaba dish – chia seeds blended with fresh fruits, a sprinkling of homemade granola and a creamy sauce made from soaked nuts and dates.
At lunch each plate looks like it has taken hours to create and is often an explosion of exotic flavours, tasting and looking every bit as decadent as youíd expect from a Michelin starred restaurant. Dishes might include raw lasagne made with sundried tomatoes and avocado, spicy raw pad thai, and an array of dreamy puddings including apple crumble with cashew cream, mango cheesecake and chocolate ganache. Supper is more relaxed – usually warm roasted vegetables, salad and humous with chickpea pancakes.
Chai tea and coffee with homemade nut milks are laid out in the kitchen as well as large glass urns of water and yogi wine (water flavoured with hibiscus or rose and cinnamon). Bowls of energy bites are continually replenished. Coffee is available for breakfast and thereafter only if you are in serious withdrawal. Deliberately, no alcohol is on offer.
Almost everything at Yobaba is as natural as it could be, including the furnishings, the paint used on the walls and all of the cleaning products. There is organic soap in the bathrooms, but you are encouraged not to use other toiletries. The simplicity of it all – including abandoning ones daily hair washing ritual – feels liberating. Food is sourced locally and organic where possible and kitchen waste is composted. Small vegetable patches are located around the garden providing a supply of tomatoes, courgettes, fruits and herbs.
Airport: Carcassonne or Toulouse
Transfer time: 50 mins (Carcassonne airport) 90 mins (Toulouse airport) 20 minutes (train station)