Wednesday, 22 February 2012

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Morocco yoga courses: Stretching out on a yogic break in soothing Berber country


Dust clouds sway like ghosts dancing to an inaudible tune across miles of Moroccan dessert. I’m only 15 minutes south of Marrakech, but the soil’s already darkened to a deep, blood-clot red that clashes violently with the cobalt sky above. Spindly Argan trees feature goats that have clambered into the branches and nibble on the fruit (yes, really), a snapshot of surreal comedy against nature’s stark, beautiful reality. It’s my first up-close and personal foray into Morocco’s rural centre, despite having fallen head over heels for mad old Marrakech eight years beforehand. Rustic retreat: Lalla Abouch offers yoga courses set in the beautiful Moroccan countryside There’s something intoxicating about the swirling, jasmine-soaked souks, the thrill of losing yourself in the medina only to wind up on a rooftop drinking pomegranate martinis hours later. I’ve returned several times since to enjoy the city’s myriad hidden bars, supper clubs and late night lounges. But this time I want a different kind of escapism, one that’s less hedonism, more health. 'We’ve the perfect place', Rosena, the Irish founder of Moroccan concierge experts Boutique Souk, assures me before arranging a car to drive me the three-hour journey south into Morocco’s Berber country. Thirty miles south of the colonial port city of Essaouira, our jeep turns inland, swerves sharply at a junction and turns up an invisible, potholed dirt road through fields of carefully irrigated vegetable patches and chicken coops. A donkey brays ‘hello’ as I clamber out, the only contender to shatter the silent calm of our weekend lodgings. Named Lalla Abouch after ‘Lady Argan‘ and Morocco’s famous Argan tree, the guesthouse embodies what many ‘boutique’ lodgings strive for yet often fail to achieve. Chic and rustic, it proffers the perfect balance between comfort and style – the home from home I’ll never replicate no matter how many Elle Decoration subscriptions I sign up for. Taking the plunge: The refreshing pool is lined with plants and a traditional stone wall Beaming Lucreiza, the Italian who runs this hideaway, gives me a tour of the farm’s intimate selection of cosy rooms, all located around a bougainvillea-splashed courtyard, before ushering me onto the farm’s charming alfresco terrace for fresh mint and ginger tea. Terracotta pots trickle fresh water into a plunge pool overlooking acres of lovingly tended vegetable patches, whilst wild tortoises sunbathe lazily in the afternoon rays as kitchen hands gingerly navigate them whilst plucking robust courgettes for the evening meal. Food is a big draw at Lalla Abouch - so don’t go thinking this is yoga with all the normal detox-wheatgrass-deprivation tags. Lunch, though simple, is lip-smackingly good: home-plucked bitter leaves; creamy local goats cheese; cumin-crusted courgettes, caramelised carrots; a fuchsia pink beetroot dip; wholegrain couscous studded with ruby pomegranate seeds. Each bite radiates with energy and (forgive the hippy hyperbole) is offered up with love. Lucreiza beams as I eat. 'We like to give an alkaline, vegetarian diet during the retreats', she explains. 'It’s a good for body cleaning and rejuvenation.' I come away from the meal feeling more satiated than many of my finest dining experiences back in the UK. Unusual sights: Goats love to climb the Argan trees, while Lalla Abouch has plenty of quiet corners for relaxing Besides intensive, twice daily yoga and meditation sessions lasting two hours a go, Lalla Abouch offers a real (and rare) opportunity to totally unplug from daily life. As Lucreiza concedes, 'the natural elements are deep and strong', so the entire operation of the farm and its retreats has been designed to really embrace the local surrounds – and the produce found within it. Better still, my experience isn’t marred by the constant checking of Blackberry’s or broadband; connectivity here is slim to none. Sure, it’s a little disconcerting at first, but after several hours our entire party agrees we’re happy for the forced technology amnesty. With no one to tweet or CC, I instead sink into an indulgent afternoon of reading in the farm’s huge hammock, slung beneath the boughs of the Argan tree. I doze, stirring only when the attention seeking donkey’s comical eey-awww or Lucreiza’s quiet, smiling kitchen hands water the fragrant herb garden. I’ve done no yoga yet, but I can already see why Moroccan specialists Boutique Souk thought they’d 'struck gold' when stumbling upon the farm.

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