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Restorative Breaks in Europe

by | Eco Travel, Print Articles, Spring 2022

Solo Retreat in a Mongolian Yurt | Gruyère, Switzerland

“With this new project of spiritual retreats in the yurt, I would like to be a one-time guide for people,”  says Cita Rettenmund, Owner of Chez Cita, a space she created for solo spiritual retreats in the heart of Gruyère, near Bulle. “A guide who brings them into the state of being the most noble version of themselves. Offer them a time; outside the time of our society. Offer a space that will allow them to reconnect to their spiritual being, to their being of light and love.”

Here in the Mongolian yurt; in view of mountainous hills across the road, a sparse sprinkle of Swiss chalets and cows grazing in the vast green expanse, lies the ultimate setting for the weary to reset and rejuvenate. Cita has found the energy of the circular habitat of the yurt to be fluid and perfect for the vast array of therapeutic work she offers, including retreats. The yurt can sleep one to two people and each retreat is personalised to best suit what you’re desiring from the breakaway. With over 25 years in wellbeing, she offers massage, Yoga classes, silent and detox retreats and personalised meals from her own kitchen for the duration of your stay. With stillness and simplicity being the main ingredients, you have the chance to get back to basics with a wood stove to heat your water, a jug of water for old-fashioned bathing and an outside eco-toilet on the edge of the forest.

Sit beside the stream beneath the trees and inhale the full freshness of that space and its sounds. Savour the simplicity of lighting a fire inside the stove, boiling a kettle for your bathing water and then bathing with a warm cloth within the comfort of the yurt.

Cita says “Humanity must rediscover its spiritual consciousness. Humanity has strayed too far from the essential to lose itself in materialism and in the superfluous. It’s time to reconnect to the source and get back to basics, to be rather than seem, to be rather than do.


Mediterranean Couples Break | Cadaqués, Spain

The true beauty of Arrels Hotel Cadaqués is that you’ll find everything you need here on the hillside of this isolated seaside town on the Costa Brava. Owned and run by the Martin family, the hotel is built on this prominent hillside to resemble a Mediterranean village. Amidst the olive trees and mini vines, couples can retreat to this space in private rooms and, quite honestly, never leave.

Views over the entire town, Cap De Creus, Santa Maria Church and the sea can be seen from the room; all you need do is pull back the curtains at sunrise to witness the pure stillness of first light over a place that’s been pillaged by smugglers and pirates, parts of it rebuilt by fisherman and housed artists like Picasso and Dali.

Create space in your days, lazing in the hammocks, swimming in the pool during the summer months or wandering through the garden where Tito grows tomatoes for morning omelettes for guests and olives are picked for their own small batches of olive oil. Grab your book and enjoy the sunshine on numerous roofs, terraces and seated areas throughout the space. You’ll be hard-pressed to find breakfast views like these; the omelettes are definitely worth getting out of bed for and may even coerce you to leave through the side gate and venture down into town to dip your toes or more into the sea.


Urban Yoga Retreat, Barcelona

While quiet, natural spaces lend themselves to switching off and finding stillness within; a real challenge for the mind is to find that serenity in the city and amidst life’s bustle. The retreat centre was built in 1890, during the Gaudi era, maintaining so much of its modernistic charm with Nolla colourful flooring, high and decorated ceilings and balconies. Yoga weeks in the heart of feisty Barcelona, offers you the chance to find that stillness within, including hearty daily vegetarian brunches, onsite massages with encouragement to explore the outdoor spots of Barcelona with cycling and hiking.

Barcelona is one of those cities where your heart and soul can be fed on art, architecture and beauty alone. After your daily morning Yoga class, head into the city on foot to soak in Gothic cathedrals, Catalan modernism and all of Gaudi’s renowned architectural wonders. One of the best ways to slow down and move into a space of mindful movement would be on the waters lapping the shores of Barcelona on a stand-up paddle board. Rent a board from Club Pati Vela at Barceloneta beach and paddle past sailboats, fishermen, meditating citizens on the pier. Take in the entire city and allow your eyes to take in the entire city from the sea. From the green hill of Montjuic, to Sagarda La Familia and – if the eye allows – all the way to the hills of Carmel.

One of the magical spaces to breathe in the city is at sunset on a rooftop. Exhale the busy nature of your walks around the city at a sunset Yoga session on the rooftop and bathe in the last light of the day. And if you can find contentment and calm on a rooftop in Barcelona, you know you can find calm anywhere.


Cyclades Family Escape | Sifnos, Greece

Just south-east of the Greek mainland in the Aegean Sea – where islands peak from the ocean as submerged mountainous terrain – brings us to a lesser-known island to retreat to. It is here on Sifnos, one of 220 Cyclades Islands forming a circle around the sacred Greek Island of Delos, that you will find the haven of Kamaroti, the creation of three Spanish brothers. In respect of the land and the age-old olive groves that came before them, everything you see was constructed around the olive trees.

A short walk from the swimming beach of Poulati, the village of Artemonas and the main town of Apollonia (dedicated to the worship of the God Apollo); this is the perfect space when it comes to immersing yourself in the surroundings of the island, as nothing is more than 15 minutes away from Kamaroti. Feast on ‘fruits’ of the seasonal orchard including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, which are used in the Spanish Mediterranean dishes on offer, including a wealth of tapas with rice as a main base and the fresh available catch of the day.

The beauty of Kamaroti is that you can embark on as much or as little as you wish.  A private Yoga class, an outdoor massage, lazing in the circular pool with your children or mindful movement swimming laps in the long pool. Or even hikes on the stone paths weaving across the island past numerous churches, villages and monuments. And here, in a place of such abundant raw beauty, where homage and respect are paid to the Greek gods at every corner, you have the chance to give thanks for the gifts, experiences and people who enrich your life.


Tips to make a trip restorative:

  1. Digital detox:

Make this trip a digital detox. Whether alone or with a partner, you can set intentional times that are devoid of screen times and phones, when you choose to be fully present. You may find these digital detox times really enriching for your relationships and perhaps even take these boundaries back home with you, i.e no phones in the bedroom, during dinner time etc.

  1. Silence and space:

Without guidance, carve out time in your day for stillness. Anything from 10-20 minutes at the start of your day, just before bed to prepare for sleep or sometime during your day. Turn a hike or a walk into a silent, mindful one, where you focus on the sounds around you, the scents you smell and the feeling of your feet crunching on leaves, the stones beneath your feet.  It’s amazing what your mind brings forth after intentional times of space and silence. Especially when travelling with kids, this can be important to really find quiet in between the constant sounds and activity.

  1. Listen to your body:

When on holiday we tend to pack our days with sightseeing and relaxing activities. But even the schedule of self-care can get exhausting. So ensure you have itinerary-free days when you listen to your body and flow with what that requires. Some days it may just mean more ‘being’ and less ‘doing’.

How to get there:

Qatar Airways

Qatar has flights from CPT and JHB to Barcelona (flights begin at R11 890) and Zurich via Doha. Fly from Johannesburg to the Greek Islands of Santorini and Mykonos – onward ferries can be taken to Sifnos.

At Hamad International Airport, eligible Privilege Club members get lounge access. Lounge access can be purchased at an additional fee. Splurge and upgrade to Qatar’s business class, Qsuite – a hotel in the sky experience. Qatarairways.com

Photography by Lauren Manuel (Chez Cita, Arrels Hotel Cadaqués)