Relax and refresh with a hiking and yoga retreat in
beautiful Southern Ireland, says 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. I sense my shoulders relaxing downwards before I even sit on my mat.
For the next four days, I 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 prepare my body for a day of brisk hiking, mindfulness and relaxation.
I arrive at the midweek Connect to Nature 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’s an easy 10-minute stroll from the bus stop along the wildflower-fringed route to the Retreat – a collection of five historic converted farmhouses that accommodate up to 26 guests.
A room with a view
I’d been hoping for a room with a sea view – and I get a corker. I can watch the wild Atlantic from my bed.
The en-suite room is simply but luxuriously furnished with a mix of vintage and modern style, light colours and funky paintings and prints.
After settling in, we’re 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.
Softly spoken Dearbhla explains the rules – in summary: there aren’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. This is followed by lunch. Afternoons are free to explore, take a dip in the wood-fired hot tub – or ocean if you’re feeling brave – or a session in the sauna.
There’s a 90-minute yoga class at around 5pm, which concentrates on Yin and Restorative Yoga, aimed at relaxing and calming the nervous system.
Supper is at 6.30pm, 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’m concerned I might struggle to keep up, but Dearbhla tailors the programme for every level. When the routine becomes too challenging (which is rare), we adopt child’s pose.
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.
Walking the wild way
On the first day, a minibus takes 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. You can spot tiny wild flowers nestled in the grass, listen to birdsong, and see orange-beaked puffins on the cliff face.
For two out of our three hikes, a minibus takes us to the start of a walk, each one different.
After the first spectacular clifftop experience, the second day finds us exploring the eerie limestone landscape of The Burren. This is a world-renowned nature reserve, famous for its rare wild orchids. A gentle ascent leads to flat planes of rock, criss-crossed with stone walls, and clusters of tiny yellow flowers growing in the crevices.
Then we drop down into the valley, winding along a lush, green lane, spotting flowers, birds and wild goats.
Back at the retreat, lunch is another veggie feast. This time we eat gluten-free basil and tomato tart, and a salad grown in the organic garden. Afterwards, I slide into the hot tub with a sea view, watching hares play in the fields.
Many guests visit by themselves (there is an international mix). You can socialise in one of three comfortable lounges, each with a roaring fire. Alternatively, you can find a spot to simply sit peacefully alone.
The 5pm yoga class is my favourite time of day. Dearbhla’s blend of restorative yoga mixed with Celtic spirituality and a dash of poetry has me melting into my mat.
The Savasana, a relaxing pose at the end of the session, feels positively healing. As we lay on our backs, Dearbhla tucks blankets around our feet and applies 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.
On the final morning, early yoga and a hearty brunch send us on our way. So, that tension and stress I had been storing up was all but washed away. Just as easily as the waves on the beach below.