If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a yoga class with Will Wheeler, then you’ll know that the cheerfully engaging lululemon ambassador is a masterful Yogi and most definitely someone to write home about. So when I was invited to attend his Fall Yoga retreat at Maison de la Vaure, just outside of Bordeaux, I was unable to control my excitement.
I travelled to Bordeaux for a few days to immerse myself in the ambiance of the historic region before heading out to the countryside – something I highly recommend should you ever get the opportunity.
I make my way to the airport to meet the rest of the retreaters. Together we venture to the estate in pack-formation. The Bordeaux rush hour traffic is a blessing in disguise, giving us ample time to get to know each other. We are already beginning to feel a unique sense of Zen.
A few of us have taken various classes with Will before and others had heard about Will’s retreats via social media. There are 8 of us in total, mostly from the UK, with our experience in yoga ranging from one previous (unsuccessful) class, to daily practicing yoga enthusiasts. This is already starting to look like an interesting group!
An hour or so outside of Bordeaux, deep into the Cognac region, we pull up to the Maison de la Vaure, just as the sun is setting. Will tells us that the picturesque former Cognac Estate dates back to the 16th century and is owned and operated by two best mates, Ian and Phil.
Ian, a Chartered Surveyor and Property Developer and Phil, Client Servicing in the Events Industry for 20 years. They bought the property in February 2017, with the idea to create a welcoming venue that could be used for holidays, retreats and events. The restoration was certainly a success as the Maison looks stunning.
Will introduces us to Ceri, of Natural Kitchen Adventures, as our chef for the weekend. Together they usher us into the main living area where we are greeted with some much needed refreshments. As we unwind on the plush couches and begin to take in the atmosphere, one by one, we are invited by Will who shows us to our quarters.
When I am called, Will leads me back outside the main building towards my room, or as Will calls it, my ‘cottage’. At this point, I am expecting to find a quaint little cobbled cottage nestled somewhere next to one of the out houses. To my surprise however, when we arrive at the ‘Le Petit Maison’, which is likely the grandest cottage I have ever seen, I was stunned at its beauty and grandeur. Will invites me inside and guides me up the stairs to my bedroom, which, only once inside, I notice has a beautiful en-suite bathroom.
I stand in awe for a few moments, then drop my bags so that I can head back to the main estate with Will. We are then taken on a mini tour of the estate that finishes at the yoga barn.
Will takes a few moments to go over the schedule for weekend and we talk amongst ourselves before settling into our first group activity. A short but relaxing meditation with a touch of light movement to loosen our bodies after a long day of traveling.
Feeling incredibly tranquil post-meditation, we stroll back to the main house for our first group meal. The table is beautifully set and the food smells incredible. Ceri has prepared a mushroom and pea Risotto with red kuri squash and sage leaves. The main dish is cooked to perfection, with presentation to match. And is delightfully served with a green salad finished with Ceri’s Almond Olive Oil Chocolate (my favourite part of the meal!). We warn Ceri that she may need to make two cakes next time, it was that good!
After dinner, we head back to the drawing room for some down time and more refreshments. As we continue getting to know each other a little more, we learn how quickly wood logs can burn on a fire, when the conversation is engaging, which thankfully, it is. For spending such a short amount of time together, friendships are already forming and I get the sense that this is going to be wonderful weekend.
I wake at 8.30 am. Not much of a morning person, I figure 30 minutes is plenty of time to stumble out of bed and make it to the yoga barn in time for the 8:30 start. Surprisingly, it’s a still a little dark outside and it feels much earlier than it actually is. As I start to get ready and head out, I look out across the grounds of the estate and I can just see the sun beginning make its way up over the horizon. The sight of the sunrise is almost enough to make me forget how much I dislike early starts. But if only I could convince the rest of my body to agree…
As I stagger sleepily over to the barn, I praise the owners Ian and Phil for having the foresight to install under floor heating at the barn as soon as I step inside. I lie down on my mat and get into the zone. 60 minutes is my preferred length for a yoga class. Mostly because I get bored easily, so I was really quite anxious when Will told us that our morning classes would run for an hour and a half. To my complete surprise however, Will somehow managed to keep me fully engaged and the time flies by, in the best way possible.
Will takes us through a long, juicy opening flow, filled with deep stretches, energising breath work and soft movements. Midway through, we find ourselves breathing heavily and some of us even struggling to maintain our planks. Will’s class is deceptively challenging, but by Savasana, I feel energised, open and incredibly relaxed. Lying back down on my matt, I am reunited with the comfort of the heated floors. I’m so relaxed at this point that I almost don’t get up. But remembering that breakfast is waiting for us in the Dining room is motivation enough. Breakfast isn’t a meal I am willing to miss…
Ceri has prepared a traditional selection of breakfast options. We waste no time in diving right in. Her homemade Low Sugar Granola is perfect with a dollop of yogurt (okay… more like a heap) and fresh berry preserves. Of course, I go back for seconds (I always go back for seconds). Lunch isn’t for another two hours, so I figure I have plenty of time to digest – probably poolside.
With that in mind, the group decide on an alfresco lunch in front of the main building, and together we enjoy the incredible views in the warm sun. Ceri prepares a selection of gorgeous salads; Labne with roasted squash, crispy chickpeas, zhoug and baba ganoush, of which, I couldn’t get enough!
We are given the afternoon to ourselves, with a variety of activities available to us at the house. From massages to relaxing by the pool or bike rides through the countryside on one of the many paths around the estate, each of us take time to explore our surroundings.
Now I am a water baby at heart, so naturally, I head straight for the pool. It turns out I am not alone in this choice. And I am excited to find that one by one, nearly everyone congregates and we all end up hanging poolside for the remainder of the afternoon. (I think it was an easy choice with the weather!)
In the evening, Will delivers a talk about nutrition with Ana Cruz, a fellow retreater and expert nutritionist. Our chat focuses on inflammation, which is something that I DESPERATELY need to hear more about. I am a huge believer in viewing food as medicine. Ana’s words reminds me how much more I could be doing to nourish my body in this regard.
After Ana’s talk, we head back to the barn and Will leads us into our evening yoga session. My body is already starting to feel the effects the morning session, so the restorative poses and stretches feel amazing. Not so amazing are the obligatory planks and press-ups that Will manages to squeeze in… C’est la vie!
Dinner awaits us back in the main house and Ceri has prepared another seasonal dish; Pesto and breadcrumb stuffed courgettes, balsamic slow roasted tomato, served with peppers and wild rice. Sublime!
For dessert, Ceri brings out the Plum and Honey Almond Torte that we’ve all been staring at all day. It doesn’t last long. We spend the evening back in the drawing room, sipping tea and other refreshments, chatting about our day.
My alarm goes off again at 8:00. Its a bit chilly and a serious challenge to get out from under my luxurious duvet. My body is feeling tired and a little tight from the day before. But I throw my hoodie on and my sunglasses that say, “I’m not quite ready for eye contact yet”, and stumble over to the yoga barn.
Words cannot describe how amazing these heated floors are on a chilly morning. I feel more like taking a nap than a downward facing dog, but Will quickly changes my mind as he begins a soothing and indulgent opening flow. This is almost better than coffee. Almost…
Back to the main house we go for Ceri’s Braised Eggs Shashuka. It’s taking all my strength not to over-do it and I keep having to remind myself that lunch isn’t too far away.
The day soon turns out to be a food fest however; we have a workshop scheduled in the kitchen after breakfast where Ceri shows us how to make her favourite energy balls. Usually during every meal, I turn to Ceri and ask her how she made each incredible dish, her response is always the same: “It’s so simple…!” Each time I explain to Ceri, nothing is simple for me when it comes to cooking or baking… However, this is the first time she proves me wrong. Now all I need to do is buy that food processor! The first recipe I’ll be attempting will be the Chocolate Tahini Balls. Literally, those balls blew my mind! We set all of our energy balls into the fridge in preparation for later and enjoy some well earned chill time before lunch.
We opt for another al fresco lunch, and the weather is unbelievable. However, having learned our lesson on Friday when we were sweating under the unseasonal hot weather, we set the table out in the back garden, where there is some shade. Ceri’s prepared another selection of gorgeous salads; roasted celeriac and fennel with puy lentils, parsley dressing, homemade houmous and hazelnut cumin crumble with pomegranate.
With a few more hours until our evening yoga session, I head back to the pool, because why not? Most of the gang are already down there and we spend the afternoon taking countless photos next to the pool, each trying not to look too awkward getting ourselves into poses that Will somehow manages to get into effortlessly. Thankfully we manage to pull a few pics worthy of our social media, so the crew is happy.
Before we know it, we’re heading to the barn for our last evening yoga sesh. How did the time fly by so quickly? With promises of a more restorative session, we begin. However, it isn’t long before Will subtlety ramps up the intensity (… his specialty) and we quickly find ourselves feet up in the air for a headstand workshop. Now I hadn’t tried to do a headstand since my childhood, so suffice to say I was nervous about attempting it. But one of the things I love about Will is that he somehow manages to push you outside of your comfort zone. Before I know it, I am nailing a headstand and have to ask a friend to capture the evidence on camera.
After yoga, we head back to the main house for dinner. The aroma of Ceri’s cooking intensifies as we get nearer to the house and walk towards the kitchen. She has prepared Quinoa Crusted Cauliflower Steak with Caponata and a Fig, Goats Cheese and Braised Chicory Salad with Balsamic reduction. Again, amazing. For dessert, Ceri serves Chocolate Mousse with Clementine & Madeleines. If you’re asking, yes, this is my favourite meal so far. The Caponata easily stole my heart, if not my insatiable appetite for great food.
Hardly believing it was the last day, Will makes the most of our limited time. We manage to fit in two yoga classes, with breakfast and lunch, in between, all before our scheduled 2pm departure. My body is really sore this morning, and I’m feeling the effects of numerous sessions. Somehow I manage to climb out from under that glorious duvet to get ready and head over to the barn. Maybe it’s because I know how amazing my body is going to feel once we have started, or maybe it’s just because I’m secretly looking forward to being reunited with those floors…
This morning’s sunrise is like the finale of all finales. Overall it’s certainly one of the most magical experiences to be had at Maison de la Vaure (the sunsets aren’t bad either…). It definitely takes me longer to warm up, but I feel incredibly energised by the end of the session.
During breakfast, we can’t help sneaking into the fridge for the energy balls we made the previous day. We find it exceptionally challenging not to eat them all before lunch! Delicious as they are, I don’t think you’re meant to eat them in this quantity or at this speed… Self-control has never been my strong suit.
As we near the finish line, we head into our final session of magic yoga. A combination of Acro yoga, partner stretches, and you guessed it, magic. I am spending more time taking Boomerangs of the hilarious attempts of some of the guests, rather than trying the actual moves myself. But the amount of laughter heard around the room speaks volumes. We manage a few double planks with a series of photos for proof… Just in case anyone questioned our technique back at home.
Our last meal together is filled with bittersweet moments, future plans and fighting over last remaining energy balls. We meet at the entrance to say our goodbye’s. But not before we capture one last photo embodying a weekend that all of us will remember forever, with people we will never forget.
Will Wheeler Yoga
Ceri Jones, Natural Kitchen Adventures
Maison de la Vaure
Sal Nidai S.A.L. (Sharing and Absolute Lifestyle)
2nd – 9th June 2018: A 5 night fitness retreat that will leave you feeling grounded, strong, happy and rejuvenated.