If you prefer the sun on your back while you are doing the downward dog rather than downing jugs of sangria, head to Azulfit, on the Canary island of Fuerteventura.
I started doing yoga years ago, but my practice had fallen by the wayside, and I hoped that a week at the Azulfit retreat would revive it.
There are two options, both dedicated retreat centres for yoga and pilates: one is at the beach and one is nestled inland, overlooking a volcano.
I plumped for the latter, the Surya Retreat, an eco-friendly villa with stunning views of the ocean and surrounding countryside, and it is perfect for beginners and seasoned yogi alike.
The retreat is open 365 days a year and there are direct flights from Ireland. After a pleasant half-an-hour drive from the airport, the beautiful, Canarian-style villa is tucked away on a quiet road.
The main building is all white-washed walls and natural, wood beams. Bedrooms frame a pretty courtyard filled with flowers and palm trees.
Other cabins, like the cabin I chose, are dotted around the gardens, facing the large swimming pool.
My wooden, en-suite cabin was spotless, cosy, and functional. It costs slightly more for single-occupancy, but it’s worth it if you are travelling alone.
On my first night, I met the 15 other guests over a delicious vegetarian dinner.
They ranged in ages from mid-20s to 60s, and included teachers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. The majority were British and Irish, including a couple of repeat customers. We bonded and the mood was laid-back and friendly.
Azulfit is a place to discover yoga and pilates, or to deepen your practice. I opted for a mixture of pilates and yoga classes, with the emphasis on yoga, and two classes per day. Classes began the following morning, at 8.30am, with my second class at 6pm daily.
Most of the other guests had booked a special pilates retreat with renowned teacher, Joakim Valsinger. I joined the introductory class, along with a mixed bunch, ranging from pilates beginners, like me, to trainee teachers.
Pilates is a system of exercises designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, and posture, and to enhance mental awareness. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoy yoga, and I was glad I’d chosen the mainly yoga option.
There were only two other people in my class, so we got individual attention from two top teachers, Rachel Blunt and Adan de Miguel.
There are many different types of yoga, but they all have the same aim: for you to achieve harmony between mind and body by the practice of a system of poses — ‘asanas’ — and breathing exercises, which cleanse the body, restore your energy, and make you stronger and more flexible.
At Azulfit, you can explore different types of yoga: during my week, we tried Yin, Vinyasa Flow, and Sivananda. Classes were either in the pristine, purpose-built studio or out in the sunshine on the new deck overlooking the pool.
Rachel, a smiley, ‘born’ teacher, took time with me, coaxing me to try poses that I hadn’t attempted in years. Any other lapsed yogis reading this will appreciate how good it felt to conquer ‘crow pose’ again, and to do my first headstand in a long time.
Adan’s classes ended with him serenading us with mantras on his ukulele, as we lay in corpse pose. That was a first.
It was my third visit to the barren, lunar landscape of Fuerteventura, the second-largest Canary Island, after Tenerife. The island has become more popular since my first visit, 15 years ago, but it still remains unspoilt. The place draws people back.
‘Fuerteventura’ means ‘strong fortune’, but is translated by some as ‘strong winds’ and it lives up to this reputation, and so is a surfer’s mecca.
It was this world-famous surf that initially drew the owners, husband and wife, Jamie and Karissa Isaac, to the island. They were working in a surf lodge when they decided to open a holistic retreat that combined their passions for surfing, pilates, and yoga. It was a labour of love.
Ten years later, Azulfit is still run with integrity, and, dare I say, love.
It’s evident in the way we were treated by staff and in the attention to detail — from our individual names chalked up on blackboards outside our rooms, to the bowls of fresh flowers everywhere. They supply yoga mats and allow you to rent beach towels for €2 a week, so you can travel light.
Great emphasis is placed on diet at Azulfit, and is as good as a detox. The food is astonishing, all vegetarian, and they cater for vegans, too.
Meals are served buffet-style, with brunch at 10.30am, after the morning classes, and dinner at 7.30pm, after the evening classes. In between, you can help yourself to tea and coffee and their wonderful herbal concoctions, which change daily.
After brunch, the rest of the time was for kicking back or exploring the island, until my second yoga class, at 6pm. At first, I made good use of the hammock, and copious terraces, to curl up with a book.
But I soon began to spend more time with my new friends. We lounged by the pool, lolled in the hot tub, or ventured further afield.
The town of Corralejo (for shopping and dramatic dunes), and the more sedate pace of Cotillo fishing village (with its crystal blue lagoons), are both a bus ride away.
The helpful Azulfit team will organise extra classes, if you desire, and other activities, like hiking in the sand dunes, stand-up paddle boarding on the clear waters of Lobos Island, horse-riding at the local stables, or a trip to a local surf school — which is what a couple of us went for.
Although we were complete novices, we were encouraged to give it a go. I think the exact words were ‘some people get up on their first day, some don’t.’
I fell squarely into the second group, but we laughed so much, as we messed around in the surf, that it was worth the effort. A one-hour, full-body massage is included in the Azulfit package price, and I was glad I’d got mine to look forward to, after battling the waves.
There’s a whole range of therapies and beauty treatments on offer at reasonable prices.
After dinner, most people congregated around the shared living area, chatting. No dinner is provided one evening, to give you the chance to sample the local restaurants.
I’ll never forget the night I spent enjoying the company of my new friends, feasting on fresh sardines by the light of the moon, as the waves lapped the shore in Cotillo.
If you want to travel solo, or desire some alone time, but would also like to be safe in the knowledge that you’ll meet like-minded people, this is the perfect holiday for you.
I returned home relaxed, fitter, and more toned. Between the yoga and the pilates and the surfing and the walking along the beach, we reckoned we did five hours of exercise a day.
And my yoga practice? Well, let’s just say I plan to keep it up…. although I will be looking for an excuse to make a return visit to Azulfit. Well, I’ve promised to bring my sister.
One week of yoga and pilates costs €700, including accommodation, classes, meals, and one full body-therapeutic massage.
Flights, direct from Ireland: Ryanair and Aer Lingus shared airport transfers cost €20pp, each way.
The Azulfit staff will do their best to schedule a shared taxi for you; otherwise, it’s €40 each way.
Azulfit also offer additional venue-hire options on the island, and location-based retreats in Santorini and California; www.azulfit.com.