“The following is an article in the Guardian website which was partially reproduced in the section “Reader’s Tips”, a weekly entry in Saturday’s Guardian.”
Yoga at the level of your choice: one, two or three times a day; stunning natural surroundings; delicious imaginative vegetarian/vegan food; a swimming pool; a nearby river to swim in/canoe down; traditional markets in medieval hilltop villages? Yes, please! La Roane near Toulouse has all this and then some (a tree house, sauna, massage). Nigel Shamash (your host) is a wonderfully warm and open-hearted man, with much experience of life, and a mad sense of humour. He is a clown and a musician, but like many artists has a quiet reflective side as well.
La Roane is set in 20 acres of peaceful meadow and woodland, away from roads and neighbours. It’s peaceful and secluded with wonderful woodland walks to explore, a paradise for nature lovers. It is Nigel Shamash’s home, and when you stay there it feels as though you are staying with a friend. People (a maximum of eighteen at any time) go there to enjoy the activities of the week’s course, and to spend time in a relaxing environment where there are few rules. If you want, your greatest responsibility is to decide whether or not to eat another peach. Bring your books, your diary, and your computer, or your swimsuit and your running shoes, or none of them. It’s up to you.
La Roane offers one-week yoga retreats/holidays (as well as other holistic-themed weeks) during the summer months. There are three houses, a hundred metres or so from each other, set in a huge meadow and surrounded by woodland, all Nigel’s property. In the grounds are also a tree house, a swimming pool, a sauna, a huge swing in the forest, ping-pong tables, croquet and badminton facilities, and bicycles to borrow. The nearby medieval town of St Antonin has a thriving community, with a lively market on Sundays. The town nestles on the Aveyron river, surrounded by both the spectacular sheer cliffs of the Aveyron gorge and rolling hills of lush green countryside. It is exceptionally charming and peaceful too. In the heart of the village is the oldest civic building in France, which dates from the 12th century. You can wander through the maze of alleyways and enjoy the patchwork houses which bear witness to centuries of life. Coffee and croissants are never far away.
Each yoga course is run by a carefully-chosen and experienced teacher. There’s usually an early-morning session, another before lunch, and one before supper. There’s plenty of equipment – mats, blocks, belts, bolsters etc. The sessions are held in the converted barn; it’s cool and airy with a smooth wood floor and doors on three sides lead to the garden. Your teacher helps you to work at your own level, beginner or expert.
The place is full of flowers, both cultivated and wild. The local wildlife list is long and as well as deer includes jay, hoopoe, nightingale, buzzard, honey buzzard, glow-worm, edible dormouse, rabbit, hare, badger and fox. There are frogs and fish in the pond, and an occasional harmless snake. There are literally hundreds of species of butterfly and moth and zillions of insects, but no mosquitoes!
The pool, always clean, is set in the meadow and surrounded by flower and bushes that attract butterflies. A modern system has done away with the need to add chlorine. There are plenty of sun loungers and you can move them into the shade if you want.
All the bedrooms are comfortable, with rustic décor, not luxurious. But there are enough hangers for your clothes, and towels are provided. There’s a washing machine in each house and washing lines for drying.
Some afternoons, members of the local community arrive to give excellent shiatsu and aromatherapy massages. On Sunday morning you can visit the market in St Antonin, and twice in the week Nigel offers an optional excursion at no extra cost. On these trips you might go for a walk in the local countryside, picnic by and swim in the river, visit a local town for tea or a beer or an ice cream, or a group might go canoeing down the river.
Nigel’s philosophy is that you are on holiday, and if you don’t want to do an activity then you don’t have to do it. But going off to get drunk at a different bar each evening and turning up late for meals every day is not considered acceptable.
The food is exceptionally good! Breakfast (at 09.00h) is a help-yourself affair of seasonal fresh fruit, fresh bread, local cheeses, jams, cereals, yogurts, with an endless supply of tisanes, fresh coffee, tea, rooibush etc. If what you want isn’t there, Nigel will try to get it, or you can bring your own. You eat breakfast wherever you want: in a sunny spot in the garden, or a shady spot if it’s very hot, or inside if it’s raining; with or without others, as you wish.
Lunch and supper are taken on the terrace of the manor house, weather permitting. If it’s wet you eat in the big room of the big house. These two meals are prepared by Enzo, an Italian chef who has lived in the village for 20 years. He describes himself as an artist whose medium is food. All vegetarian, every meal begins with a smooth vegetable soup: turnip, beetroot, a broth with dulse, leek, nettle, courgette… whatever was in the market that morning. The main course will include a grain (rice, couscous, quinoa, barley etc) cooked in an interesting way; a protein (a pulse or two, local cheese, soya, eggs) and plenty of fresh local vegetables exquisitely cooked with herbs from the garden (a courgette/tomato/potato/rosemary bake, or grated carrot with anise) or a vegetable curry. His crepes don’t last long! Pudding at lunch-time is fresh fruit if you want it. In the evening, Enzo makes a desert: tarte aux pommes, chocolate mousse to die for, banana-and-coffee cream, fruit pancakes… You can help yourself to tea, coffee, fruit juice and biscuits throughout the day. Good local wine is served in the evenings.
If you have special dietary requirements Enzo will happily accommodate you: no wheat, no sugar, no dairy, no eggs, no problem!
There’s always enough to eat but you never leave the table feeling too full. Enzo studied food phytology and combines his ingredients with knowledge and intelligence. And what’s more, your plate always looks divine, decorated with herbs and flowers from the garden and blazing with colour. Enzo frequently gets a round of applause at the end of a meal!
The courses are held only in the summer months. Like all of northern Europe, the weather can be unreliable. If you’re lucky, you’ll get long hot summer days and long warm evenings; if not you might get a terrific electric storm or a few cool rainy days. In the summer it’s never cold.
I keep returning to La Roane. Fresh air and nature, peace and quiet, solitude, company, riotous laughter – all these are easy to find. The surrounding countryside is as beautiful as anywhere in the world. Nigel takes great care of his guests. His community is warm and welcoming and in the course of running La Roane he provides many local people with work. There is also always a wonderful new friend to be found and each group has a different flavour, depending on the personalities who come. La Roane is like the best box of chocolates!
Posted 14 April 2009