Counter burnout and stress with a mid-week hiking and yoga retreat in the beautiful wilderness of Southern Ireland

By Fiona Cumberpatch

Padding barefoot into the yoga studio at The Cliffs of Moher Retreat in Co.Clare, Ireland at 7.30am is like entering a cocoon of calm. Warm, and faintly scented with Palo Santo, a woody incense, the light-flooded studio with its dramatic glass wall overlooking Liscannor Bay, feels so safe that I can sense my shoulders relaxing downwards before I have even sat on my mat.

For the next four days, I will start the morning here with a 20-minute guided meditation, followed by an hour of invigorating yoga, aimed at lengthening, stretching, and strengthening muscles, which will prepare my body for a day of brisk hiking, mindfulness and relaxation.

The light and spacious yoga studio faces the cliffs

I had arrived at the midweek Yoga and Hiking Retreat on a Monday afternoon, stepping off a country bus into a small lane in the middle of rolling green pastures and crooked stone walls. White farmhouses nestle into the landscape and contented-looking cows and ponies munch the lush grass. It was an easy ten-minute stroll from the bus stop along the wildflower-fringed route to the Retreat, a collection of five historic converted farmhouses which accommodate up to 26 guests.

I was hoping for a room with a sea view and I got a corker. I could watch the wild Atlantic ocean from my bed. The en-suite room was simply but luxuriously furnished with a mix of vintage and modern style, light colours and funky paintings and prints. After settling in, we were welcomed by our host and teacher Dearbhla Glynn, and Spanish chef Jaime Gonzalez, who had prepared a flower-strewn platter of lemon polenta cake, power balls and fragrant fruit tea made with fresh berries.

The kitchen at Cliffs of Moher Retreat in Ireland

A relaxing schedule of yoga and good food

Softly-spoken Dearbhla explained the rules – in summary: there weren’t any, apart from the fact that we shouldn’t wear shoes on the carpets. The timetable is voluntary. But who wouldn’t want to take part? As well as the beautifully invigorating morning yoga sessions, there is a guided hike every day at 10am, followed by lunch. Afternoons are free to explore, take a dip in the wood fired hot tub or a session in the sauna, or the ocean if you are feeling particularly brave. There’s a 90 minute yoga session at around 5pm, which concentrates on Yin and Restorative Yoga, aimed at relaxing and calming the nervous system. Supper is at 6.30, and might be black eyed pea, tomato and coconut curry with black rice, roast carrots, cashews and coriander, followed by sweet potato, chocolate and almond cake.

As a yoga newbie, I was concerned that I might struggle to keep up, but my regular Pilates sessions stood me in good stead, and Dearbhla tailors the programme for every level of experience. When the routine became too challenging (which was rare), we could adopt the child pose and “take rest.” The morning session is followed immediately by a vegetarian breakfast in an open plan kitchen-diner. Two long wooden communal tables, simply adorned with jars of wildflowers, make a sociable place to sit with other guests and enjoy delicious help-yourself food overseen by head chef Martha O’Brien. This includes porridge with berry compote, seeds and honey, boiled eggs, homemade bread, and thick slices of local goats’ cheese and fruit salad. There is endless fresh coffee, tea in compostable, reusable bags, herbal teas, fresh ginger and lemon, and Kombucha.

Hiking along the Wild Atlantic Way

On the first day, a mini bus took us to the start of a walk leading to the 120m high Cliffs of Moher, a noted tourist attraction. This stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way is the perfect place to connect with nature, spotting tiny wild flowers nestled in the grass, listening to birdsong, and looking for orange-beaked puffins on the cliff face. Another hike took us over the eerie limestone landscape of The Burren, a world-renowned nature reserve, known for its rare wild orchids.

Back at the Retreat, lunch is another veggie feast of gluten-free basil and tomato tart, and garden salad grown in the organic garden, and served with sunshine dressing (a blend of lemon juice, honey, turmeric and avocado). Afterwards, I slid into the hot tub with a sea view, watching hares play in the fields. Many guests come on their own (there was an international mix), and there’s a gentle camaraderie. You can socialise in one of three comfortable lounges, each with a roaring fire, or find a spot to sit peacefully alone if that’s your preference.

The 5pm yoga class was my favourite time of day. Dearbhla’s blend of Restorative yoga mixed with Celtic spirituality and a dash of poetry had me melting into my mat. The Savasana, a relaxing pose at the end of the session, felt positively healing. As we lay on our backs, Dearbhla tucked blankets around our feet and applied a light pressure on heads and shoulders with her fingertips. If it hadn’t been for the musical sound of the Tibetan Singing Bowl calling us back to the present, I might well have slept the whole night there.

By the final morning, with early yoga and a hearty brunch to send us on our way, I felt that tension and stress I had been storing up had been washed away, just as easily as the waves on the beach below this haven of calm.

3 calming yoga poses to try

When life feels overwhelming, try one of these easy stress-relievers…

  1. Seated Forward Fold: Sit on the floor, legs extended in front of you. Fold forward at your hips and hold the arches of your feet, one in each hand. Lower your chest towards your legs. Hold for five slow breaths.
  2. Child’s pose (balasana). Leaning forward, spread your knees wide apart while keeping your big toes touching. Rest your buttocks on your heels and put your torso between your thighs, resting your forehead on the floor. Keep arms long and extended at your sides, palms facing upwards. Hold for one minute, breathing slowly.
  3. Cat/Cow: Start on all fours with shoulders placed over wrists, and hips over knees. Take a slow inhale, and on the exhale, round your spine and drop your head to the floor (this is the ‘cat’). Inhale, lift your head, chest and tailbone to the ceiling as you arch your back (the ‘cow’). Repeat until you feel your spine moving comfortably.
The cost of a four night all-inclusive Midweek Connect to Nature Yoga and Hiking Retreat at Cliffs of Moher starts at £680 for a bed in a shared ‘quad’ room and goes up to £945 for a single en-suite room. Weekend Retreats are from £335-£467, including all meals, classes and hikes.  Flights and transfers are not included. Aer Lingus flies to Shannon Airport from Heathrow Terminal 3.  Transfer from Shannon airport to the Retreat by local taxi is 90 euros, or by bus, 18 euros (change at Ennis).