After a bit of internet research, my boyfriend and I found what sounded like the perfect place for two action-loving people to stay – a tranquil retreat called Karma Surf Retreat, nestled in the hilltops above Lisbon. It organises yoga and surfing sessions and loads of other activities. We signed up to the Surf & Yoga holiday excitedly.We know we’ve chosen our holiday well when, after a speedy flight from Gatwick to Lisbon, then a smooth 30-minute transfer, we are greeted with open arms by Laura, our host for the week. She shows us round the large yet still very homely villa that has a lovely, relaxed vibe – soft fabrics and meditation books scatter the lounge and terrace. We then head outside, past the outdoor decking area that’s used for morning yoga in the summer.
Surf & Yoga Hevaven Photo Gallery
The views are amazing – a mixture of lush greens, blues from the ocean and sparkles from the sun. We’re Ushered on, past the outdoor pool to the amazing yoga tree house, where our sessions will take place as it’s autumn – hidden away through flowering bushes and green trees in a wonderfully calm located Laura offers us a cold beer or a ginger-infused water as she leads us to our lovely room back in the villa. There are six rooms and ours has a lovely feel, thanks to a four-poster bed with rose petals sprinkled on it and dream catchers floating in the windows. Looking out of the window, I spot our little private terrace and hammock, perfect for a morning’s read.That night we meet the adorable house cook Leonor, and the four other guests -two female friends who’ve come together and two other women travelling separately.They’re all aged 20-35. We heart that the meals are mainly vegetarian, and breakfast and a light lunch are included in the package – you can opt to pay extra for evening meals, with the exception of Wednesday, when everyone including staff sit down for a special ‘surprise’ meal (such as a delicious traditional fish dish). Tonight, though, we tuck into a delicious welcome meal including butternut squash soup, couscous-stuffed peppers and chocolate torte – a great start to the holiday!
Laura explains that every day starts with an 8am yoga session in the tree house, which overlooks the hills towards Cascais, a charming Portuguese fishing town on the western edge of Lisbon’s beautiful coastline, as well as Lisbon itself in the distance. Then it’s time for breakfast, before you choose an activity for the rest of the morning, from surfing, climbing, SUP (stand-up paddle boarding), hiking and mountain biking, or you can simply chill out on the sun terrace or have a dip in the pool. You’ll be given some lunch, before having the rest of the day to yourselves, or another activity can be arranged for you if you wish. Fancy going out in the evening? Staff will help you book a taxi and advise on where to go.
Full of anticipation about the holiday ahead, we retire to our room.The next morning, we discover a breakfast table full of delicious delights, from homemade granola to porridge, juices, eggs and all the fresh fruit you could imagine. Today is normally leisure day, but we feel like doing something active, so we book a climbing session.We meet our climbing leader Isa, a 26-year-old who’s full of beans. Having climbed before, we know what to expect, but the location (right next to the ocean at Casa da Guia, about 15 minutes from the house) and Isa’s knowledge about climbing in the area really make it an experience. There’s a great mix of climbing routes for beginners up to a challenging overhangs for more experienced climbers. We try a level 6 crack climb that has very limited foot holds and the only place to put your hands is the crack in the rock. It’s very tricky, but, wow, we get a feeling of achievement when we reach the top! We drive back to the house mid afternoon feeling exhausted but elated and enjoy a late lunch of walnut, butter bean and pomegranate salad, washed down with a fresh smoothie. That evening, we chat to the other guests in the living room over a bottle of wine accompanied by dips, salad, homemade bread and beetroot mousse.
A RELAXING PADDLE
The next day, I opt for SUP with two other guests. We get dropped off at Cascais and meet our guide, an English man named Nick. Nick takes us through flat water in and around the harbour. The water’s very clear and you can see the fish swimming below. After an hour, we all decide to finish off the session with a refreshing dip.We head to Lisbon that evening for dinner (taking a taxi to Cascais then a train for 30 minutes) and to take in the sites. Orange trees and the smell of sea salt perfume the air. Be warned though, it’s extremely hilly. There are trams, but if you want to get a true insight, take your time and wander up the beautifully paved streets, popping into local pottery places, artist’s studios and, of course, pastry shops (the delicious little custard-filled pastel de nata tarts originate here)!
As another day unfolds, four of us head out to Carcavelos, a stunning beach nearby, for a morning surf with super-fun instructors Vasco and Mario. Having grown up in the area, they know the water like a best friend, which fills us all with confidence.We do a warm-up on the beach with a few stretches, then get some technique tips before the instructors put on their flippers and take us out past the break. Our group ranges from experienced surfers to novices and Vas and Mario make everyone feel at ease, praising you when you catch that magical wave – and even when you wipe out!We then head back to the villa for another delicious healthy lunch, followed by a meditation class. That evening, we venture out to a local tapas bar, where the ultra-fresh food is all locally sourced and the portion sizes are very pleasing!The next morning, after another excellent surfing session, we all have a special lunch together back at the villa. With a glass of wine, we toast to the delight that is an Arroz de Tamboril – a famous Portuguese fish stew.We retire to the terrace with a book, but I’m distracted by the amazing view. I could sit here for hours, but I’m soon called into the tree house where Micky the masseuse gives me a fantastic deep-tissue massage.
A BİT OF CULTURE
During the rest of the week, we squeeze in going on a fun group hike, an exhilarating mountain bike ride on the Serra de Sintra, flow yoga and more climbing, plus, on our last day, a trip into Sintra with a few of the other guests.Sintra sits up in the nearby Serra Mountains and Portugal’s royalty used to head there from Lisbon to escape the summer heat. The moment you step onto the pavement, you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Colourful buildings line the streets, while palaces – in a mixture of Moorish and Manueline styles – seem to be on every corner. It all seems worlds apart from buzzing, modern Lisbon. We head back to the villa, stopping off at a local bar on the way to toast our new friends and a wonderfully relaxing yet action-packed holiday. We’ve ticked the Portuguese coast off our holiday bucket list, but could definitely be tempted back very soon!
• A week’s holiday at Karma Surf Retreat costs from 849 euros, excluding flights, with 10, one-hour yoga classes; five, two-hour surf classes, surf equipment and shuttles to lessons; organic breakfasts;packed lunches; welcome meal and one extra surprise meal. Additional activities on request; karma surf retreat.com.
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