My first yoga retreat in Portugal was the perfect antidote to city living. A much simpler way of life, we woke up for yoga every morning accompanied by birdsong, cycled to quaint villages to peruse local markets, and explored idyllic countryside and coastlines. We even found a good balance between being active and horizontal.
After touching down in Lisbon, our taxi driver whisked us through the hilly Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. He whet our appetites for what was to come by showing us the points of interest along the way, such as Pena Palace standing atop the second highest peak, and the charming Sintra tram, which winds its way from Sintra’s hills to the beach and back.
On arrival at The Lodge, we were welcomed by the friendly staff and given a tour of its rustic interiors and beautifully maintained gardens. The main building housed a cosy communal area and a dining room where we would have our nutritious complimentary breakfasts. In a separate building was a kitted-out kitchen, complete with fresh herbs, so you could made your own grub.
Speak for themselves…
We managed to snag the mini suite. Like something out of an Urban Outfitters home photoshoot, it boasted wooden floors and furniture, double sinks in a millennial pink marble top, and a giant bath – not for bathing in, just for admiring. For some reason it had been filled in; the top layer was covered in clay pebbles so that it looked like a tub full of Nesquik. Luckily there was also a fully functioning shower.
We rolled out of bed at 8.30am each morning to get to our yoga class – an hour and a half of yummy asanas in the yoga shala. We had one session with the weekend teacher, Masha Kovacs, who made sure we got the most out of each pose, while reminding us to pay attention to our surroundings: “Listen to the birds. They’re living completely in the moment. But, as humans, we have to work so hard to achieve even a second of mindful living.”
The rest of our time was spent with the weekday teacher – super spiritual yogini Madalena. She would begin and end each session by chanting in Sanskrit to the tune of her shruti box – an Indian instrument that uses bellows to create a long droning sound. When she invited us all to join her by vocalising ‘Om’ along to the shruti box, the resonance was something else.
Her ashtanga vinyasa flows really challenged us, and one day we even prayed to Lord Shiva by repeating the mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ 108 times. All of this made for a very authentic experience, and brought us totally into the moment.
The Lodge isn’t purely a yoga retreat. It also offers surfing, mountain biking and rock climbing. Although we went for the more relaxing option, that’s not to say we didn’t get our fair share of exertion from our daily excursions.
After a long day out, there were plenty of places to chill – from the freshwater swimming pool, to the spa with a jacuzzi and sauna. Not forgetting the hammocks. We spent a couple of evenings just sat outside in the BBQ area mindfully drinking wine while listening to the birds singing, the bees buzzing and the frogs ribbiting.
Our local beach was just a 10-minute stroll away, so we spent the rest of our evenings sampling seafood along the sea front, with spectacular views of the sun set.
Sightseeing: Day 1
On our first full day, we hopped on the bikes we rented from the retreat and almost instantly regretted it when we were faced with a never-ending hill. Eventually we trundled our way up to the nearby village of Almoçageme and were greeted by a friendly feline. As we wandered the cobblestone streets, we spotted even more cats, a few dogs, pretty Portuguese houses and a pink fire station.
We had a bit of trouble on our way to Coolares Market. Cars kept beeping their horns at us and initially we thought it was because we were two blondes on bicycles, but then one driver shook his finger at us as if we were doing something very wrong. Tired from cycling uphill, and utterly baffled by our ‘error’, we decided to walk our bikes up the final stretch. It was worth the effort; the market was buzzing with locals eating and drinking and enjoying the ambience.
After perusing the bohemian fashion and jewellery stalls, we tucked into our first delicious pastéis de natas (custard tarts) and washed them down with white wine. This was so satisfying after the treacherous 5K bike trek. As you can imagine, it was an absolute treat on the journey back. We practically freewheeled the whole way. Simply exhilarating.
Sightseeing: Day 2
We discovered the most amazing garden centre on our way to Sintra, so we stole a few minutes there before our bus arrived. Outside was a sea of bamboo (who knew bamboo grew in Portugal?!), and inside was a floral paradise with exotic blooms aplenty.
Two buses later, we were quite relieved to step out on to solid ground. The second bus journey was particularly precarious. I had to close my eyes on several occasions as we hurtled around hairpin after steep, narrow hairpin, and remind myself that the driver had done this a thousand times.
As the palace is on top of a hill and shielded by trees, it was a slow, impressive reveal as we walked up. We couldn’t help but snap every angle of the striking exterior as it presented itself to us.
As we got closer, we were even more in awe of the opulent Romanticist palace – once a summer home for the Portuguese royal family.
If you built a Disney castle in the style of Antoni Gaudí with the colour palette of Wes Anderson, this is what you would get. That’s because it purposefully juxtaposes several styles such as Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance – all the Neos.
The interior was just as magical as the exterior, with its fabulous tessellating wall patterns and flamboyant décor.
There was even more to behold in the maze-like grounds. We spotted an out-of-place greenhouse, an Arabian-style gazebo and a few lakes with ‘duck houses’ – even the mallards get their own castles!
Sightseeing: Day 3
Praia das Maçãs
Back on our bikes, we cycled north up the coast to this pretty little seaside town, which is also the end of the tram line. After a ‘pit stop’ to sunbathe on the beach and go for a little swim in the sea, we peddled onward along a beautiful coastal road to our final stop.
Azenhas do Mar
We marvelled at the picture postcard town built on the cliffs, and its peculiar manmade pool. As unique as it was, we didn’t fancy taking a dip in its murky green waters, so we opted for a cocktail in the quirky beach bar overlooking it. Utter bliss.
Sightseeing: Day 4
We didn’t plan to visit Adega Regional de Colares. But we ended up getting a free tour with wine included. Here’s how…
After arriving in Colares, we found there wasn’t much going on at all. We were just about to get the bus back when a local chap asked us if we needed help. He informed us we were standing right in front of a world-renowned winery and that he could show us around.
We followed him through a tiny door into the cool, airy building and were met with a truly impressive sight. Humongous wine barrels lined the entire length of the hall, while tables, chairs and candelabras, punctuated the room. We found out that the tram used to run right through the winery. But now they host grand parties with orchestras and lashings of exquisite vino.
We decided to peruse their wares, but our new ‘friend’ had already beaten us to it. He handed us a carry case of 3 rosés, and said we could only have them if we had lunch with him in his house around the corner. We graciously declined, but he gave us the wine anyway. Win.
It may not have been your typical quiet-contemplating, gong-bathing, vegan-eating yoga retreat, but I much preferred the freedom we had. Not dissimilar to the Spanish yoga retreat I went to before. After all, what are holidays about, if not cultural immersion, exploration and indulgence?
Yoga Panther x