When we arrived in Marina Di Ragusa in Sicily last October, I very quickly knew that I would like to run a Yoga retreat there. The setting was idyllic – beautiful golden beach, stunning landscape, rich culture, delicious Italian cuisine and easy access to two main airports – it was perfect!
After discussing my ideas with a couple of my new Yoga students in the marina, they told me about a villa they had been invited to locally and it sounded like the most wonderful place – just back from the sea front with glorious views of the sea.
The seed was sown, but I decided to have a think about things and put the idea to one side. In November whilst back in the UK running my traditional Cornish Yoga retreat, I tentatively broached the idea with my group and was encouraged by the enthusiasm my idea met, it appeared that there was enough genuine interest to pursue my first European Yoga Retreat. The prospect was both exciting and daunting, but the enthusiasm to expand my horizons was inspiring!
Once back in Sicily I obtained more information on the villa, got in touch with the owner and arranged to meet the local manager to take a proper look. Once inside the gates to the property I was filled with excitement, the villa was beautiful, situated high up in stunning grounds and had the most wonderful view out over the coastline of Marina Di Ragusa.
So, armed with lots of pictures and some basic ideas of dates and flight costs, I contacted my ‘interested’ list of Yoga students to put the idea out there and the response I got was overwhelming, ‘Sicily Yoga 2019’ was born!
My group of seven students plus my wonderful friend Jackie (who had agreed to cook for us), would be arriving mid April 2019 for a 6 day Yoga break and a new arena for my Yoga teaching became a distinct possibility.
Christmas came and went and Damian and I left Sicily to go backpacking for a couple of months and whilst away I firmed up the final details for the retreat and my group booked their flights to arrive together.
Life in the marina was incredibly busy in the lead up to the retreat, so I didn’t have much time to become stressed about how everything would pan out. I continued to teach my Yoga classes to my liveaboard crew and this helped to focus my own practice and teaching and inspire me with ideas on how to get my group off their mats and outside to explore their Sicilian environment. Every sunny day in MdR had become an opportunity to get out onto the beach and I loved our beach sessions.
In the days leading up to my group arriving, Jackie and I swapped many WhatsApp messages discussing menu ideas and I shopped for basic essentials. The city of Catania City hosts the most amazing weekend food markets and this was the place to go to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, for the delicious vegetarian fare that Jackie was planning for our guests.
I love the hustle and bustle of the markets in Sicily and the stallholders are often very generous, letting you try before you buy and giving away free produce. Despite the stress of trying to park in the narrow cobbled streets close to the market and jostling with other determined shoppers for a space for my little car, I had the most wonderful morning of shopping in the Catania sunshine. My mission had been successful and my shopping bags were brimming with wonderful fresh produce for the retreat.
Finally the first day of the retreat arrived and Damian and I set off for Catania bright and early to pick up the minivan, which would transport our guests to and from the airport and allow me to show off a little of the beautiful Sicilian local area. The flight bringing our guests was due to arrive at 10.30am and the whole group was travelling together. My excitement as they all passed through the Arrivals Gate had me grinning from ear to ear, it was so good to see the familiar smiling faces and the hugs were in abundance!
We arrived at the villa in beautiful sunshine and I was relieved that the beauty of the property was on proud parade. We wandered around our home for the next 6 days together, bedrooms were allocated and with all immediate practicalities out of the way we sat down to our first lunch together in the villa’s huge family kitchen.
It was wonderful to catch up with the group and to chat about potential plans for the rest of the week. Being a small group meant we could operate a relaxed timetable and we decided that we would employ some flexibility in our plans, to allow time for trips out, on top of our two sessions of Yoga per day.
Our first Yoga session later that day was taken out on the lounge balcony in the late afternoon sunshine, it was wonderful to be out in the fresh air and this was to be the precedent for the rest of the week.
We explored the garden for practice on the grass, continued to use the sunny balcony, utilized the open plan lounge for cooler days and even managed a morning session on the beach. We all agreed that the challenges involved in beach practice woke up very different areas of the body and the added element of the wind coming off of the sea added a new dimension to stability and balance.
My own practice has changed and developed since leaving my classes behind and I was able to share some of my thoughts on the intelligent and intuitive nature of the Yoga that has inspired me via time spent with myself, through my new students and from time spent with other teachers. I have always been extremely lucky in having the opportunity to work with open minded students who can embrace different ideas and approaches and the group I had before me each day encouraged and inspired our sessions with shared thoughts and awareness and it was an absolute joy to teach. I continue to learn from every individual I am fortunate to spend mat time with and the idea that ‘we come to our mat every day as a beginner’ (as taught by Diane Long) inspires me every time I unroll my mat. By stepping away from the weekly class scenario we are potentially able to open ourselves up to something very different and unique and this group were no longer my students, but instead Yoga buddies sharing mat time – it was wonderful.
At the start of the retreat I had decided that I was going to offer the whole group and my wonderful cook an hour of Thai Yoga Massage, as a thank you for their support of my first European Yoga Retreat. Times were allocated throughout the week and it was good for me to get the practice in and to spend a little one on one time with everyone. Thai Yoga Massage complements Yoga practice so well and is useful for bringing attention to areas of need that are hard to reach by oneself. I had thoroughly enjoyed the massages I had treated myself to in Thailand and it was also good to try out some of the different techniques I had experienced.
During the week we took several afternoon trips out including visits to Punta Secca, Modica and Scicli. The lighthouse at the end of the coast in the small Italian fishing village of Punta Secca is a stunning feature on the Ragusa coastline and the village is used for the filming of the famous Sicilian detective series, Montalbano.
We also took a trip to the city of Modica, famous for it’s chocolate and beautiful Baroque architecture, which included a talk on the history of the famous Modica chocolate and a tasting of some of the yummy products available to buy (and yes, purchases were inspired!).
Our third bus ride out was to the beautiful town of Scicli, another site for Montalbano fans but reputed to be home to the best Gelato in the province, so of course justifiable for a visit and we weren’t disappointed.
We also took walks along the sea front in Marina Di Ragusa and visited Porto Turistico, the marina where Damian and I live. The girls all ventured along the gangway onto the boat to take a look at our modest little home.
Meals were taken in the large kitchen of the villa, with the girls helping themselves to breakfast each morning and we all gathered around the table to discuss the day ahead. Good food on retreat is essential and we were not disappointed. Throughout the week the wonderful Jackie treated us to delicious Mediterranean inspired meals and had thoroughly spoiled us with the most beautiful cheesecake (it was SO yummy!!)
The girls all helped out in the kitchen, laying and clearing the table, stacking and emptying the dishwasher and the harmonious sharing of tasks required no direction.
We had taken a walk out earlier in the week and chosen a venue for our group meal out on Friday evening, a beautiful pizzeria situated on the sea front overlooking the sea. That evening we were treated to a delicious Sicilian pizza fest with the head- waiter insistent on kissing every one of us on exit – Sicilian charm at it’s best! The walk home back along the seafront was most welcome, enabling us to shake down our supper!
The week began to draw to a close all too quickly and our last session of Yoga was taken once again out in the morning sunshine. We ate lunch together and discussed our shared experiences of the week and it appeared that everyone had enjoyed their Sicilian experience, especially with the weather having been so kind to us.
Many hugs were shared before departing for the airport and as we bade our last goodbyes at Departure, I was a little sad but encouraged by the sense of friendship we had shared and the knowledge that we would all meet again in the winter, when I return to the UK.
My next retreat will be 15 -25 November 2019, returning to beautiful North Cornwall for my 12th retreat at Caradoc of Tregardock. At the time of writing there are two spaces available 18-22 November and one space available 22-25 November.
Full details of our newest early summer retreat in the sunny South of France 8-13 June 2020 will go live very shortly, watch this space and save the date.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details of either retreat or to book.
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As always, thanks for joining me on my journey.
Love Sally xx