Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreat

»Where time is measured in seasons, not seconds «

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Throw away your watch, you won't be needing it this week. Leave the cell phone and tablet at home - there's no reception, no Internet access and nowhere to charge any batteries except your own. There's music here, but the sweetest sounds are the hiss of breaking waves and the summer winds teasing the trees. This sustainable retreat runs on rhythms, not schedules, and gives depth to the overused concepts of 'balance and harmony.'

  • What we love
  • The temporary, eco-conscious nature of the camp, which is broken down every winter at season-end
  • Glamping – Glamorous camping
  • Proof that balancing sustainability with fun is perfectly achievable
  • What to know
  • Deliberately isolated, no handy nightclubs or malls
  • Bring-your-own alcohol is permitted but not encouraged, or served on-site
  • Noisy electronics not permitted – leave the iPod speakers at home
  • Why go
  • Great surf blended with great yoga
  • Excellent food
  • Unique camping experience

The sociable bleating of a Portuguese goat is the only background noise during a phone conversation with Lawrence (Laurie) Quirk, owner and founder of Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreat. To have this conversation at all, Laurie has had to climb the steep hill that cradles the cove of the tipi camp where this seasonal retreat has been successfully running over the last eight years. Cell phone reception is not the only thing that has been deliberately discarded by this eco-driven getaway. Internet access is sparse to the point of non-existence and there are no TVs or other electronic distractions. Only the company of a dozen people (the maximum number of guests accepted by Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreats at any one time) and the sounds of a natural environment that is much the same as it has been for centuries.

This, as Algarve Surf says, is “glamping.” Glamorous camping during the warmer months, with an almost-total breakdown of the campsite over the winter months, leaving only a kitchen and small workshop as well as few wooden tipi frames. This gives the 5.5 hectares of natural environment time to rest and recover from the footprint of modernity. Essentially the same thing offered to guests. The camp is rebuilt every year as the weather warms and the surf season is at its most friendly. The tipis are reconstructed around the frames that have been sitting idle over winter, and the lofty spaces they create are filled once again with sprawling rugs, deeply comfortable beds and even sofas, cupboards, and hammocks. A tent with enough room to accommodate a small studio apartment is really no tent at all. Tipis are a Native-American tradition, with 12-meter high ceilings and enough space to hold the tenants and all their friends.

There are also smaller versions of the tipis on-site. These are specifically designed for solo travelers who aren't interested in sharing, although the majority of the accommodations are for twin-share guests. A more private option is open to couples, who can either take a double-bed tipi or retreat to the even more intimate Safari Tent which is just across the stream from the rest of the camp and (like all the tipis) has a raised wooden-platform floor to provide maximum comfort.

Plans for a slightly more permanent, year-round retreat are afoot. This will be built some distance from the summer camp, on the hill overlooking the sea, and will offer a total wellness retreat package to guests who may feel that their surfing (and camping) days are behind them. Like the summer camp, this retreat focuses on sound ecological principles, with no building taking place until assurance of environmental sustainability is complete. Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreats are affiliated with the Algarve Surf & Ecological Association (ASEA). Created by retreat-owner Laurie, ASEA is a connection of government departments, businesses and individuals devoted to the preservation of the local area. This means that any developments proposed by the retreat must walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

There are three yoga teachers who each spend a month or two at Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreats. All are regulars here, and have a long-standing relationship with the retreat and the increasing number of repeat visitors. The twice-daily yoga sessions hold to the same pattern regardless of which teacher is leading it – an energetic, dynamic session in the morning to shake off the night's sleep and prepare for a day of surfing, hiking or serious hammock-lounging, with a gentle, meditative Hatha session in the evening to calm body and mind before bed.

The surf lessons were once given by Laurie personally – who has been traveling since the tender age of 16, surfing and sailing his way across the oceans of the world – but is now handled by the Odeceixe Surf School. The camp is close to three surf beaches, which means that surf is basically guaranteed. Yoga sessions are held on the beach as part of the lessons, for physical reasons to limber and warm up the body and for the mental focus needed for maximum attention and enjoyment. All skill levels are catered for, although common sense dictates that relatively good physical health is important, as is the ability to swim.

The surf instructors are local, which adheres to another of the philosophies of Algarve Yoga and Surf Retreat that people are part of the natural environment too, and the people, food, and local culture are just as important as a small environmental footprint. This philosophy is reflected most clearly in the food. A local Mediterranean menu is served for the three daily meals, prepared by local staff. Unlike many yoga retreats, animal proteins are used here. The reasons for this are twofold: Firstly, in this part of Portugal, free-range farming is not a new fad, it's the way it's been done since people first began farming here. And the abundance of fresh seafood is simply to good to pass up. Secondly, surfing is hungry work. The retreat experimented with a vegetarian menu but quickly realized that there was simply not enough protein available locally to sate hunger. The result is a wide menu range that is packed with color, vibrancy and flavor.

Although children are welcome at Algarve Surf and Yoga Retreats, the average guest tends to arrive childless and as a solo traveler. This seems to be a haven for those in a watershed moment of their lives, and tales of career shifts or other times of self-assessment are common. Something about the simplicity of life here provides a metaphoric oasis – a time to nurture the spirit and body while reflecting on the things that are really important. This is the yogic spirit in its totality, not just a collection of physical poses, but a spiritual shift towards simpler, more harmonious living.

About the area: Aljezur

Aljezur is just one of the gorgeous little laid-back villages in the sprawling Portugese National Park of Costa Vicentina. The 80 km stretch of protected area encompasses the coastline from Odeceixe to Burgau. Flora and fauna run riot in these temperate climes that sweep from the inland to drop breathtakingly from craggy cliffs into the pounding surf below. Life in this region is pretty traditional, with smallhold farms cycling through the seasons much as they have done for generations and the wave of modern development seems to have avoided this part of Portugal, making it one of the most accessible off-the-beaten-track areas of Western Europe. The fierce governmental defense against large-scale development will probably keep it that way, as will the wild winter waves of the Atlantic. Despite the Atlantic aspect of the extended National Park, the weather in and around Aljezur tends to be more typically Mediterranean. Hot, dry summers peak at around 28 degrees C (83F) in the middle of July with daytime winter temperatures topping out at 15C (60F) in January. Only in exceptional circumstances will the mercury fall any further, with freezing temperatures being recorded only a few times each century.

Image credit: Helen Cawte Photography (www.helencawtephotographyblog.com)

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