Deep in a shady forest our yoga group were gently relaxing into the warrior pose when ‘Boom!’ cannon fire ricocheted across the Ricote valley followed swiftly by the ‘Parpy parp’ and ‘trumpety trump’ of a marching band. It was clearly fiesta time in one of the sleepy villages nestling beneath the towering mountains. Resisting rising mirth, we maintained our poise and tuned back into the gentle sounds of birdsong and red squirrels scampering through the trees. This was day two of our four-day yoga and walking retreat at Happy Retreats, in Spain’s Murcia region.
Run by an amiable English couple, Andi and Terry, Happy Retreats take place at a delightful country house in the middle of a 60-hectare estate: El Parque de Marquesa. With just 5 bedrooms, two living rooms and an outside eating area, the house provides a perfect location for small group retreats offering yoga, mindfulness as well as more active walking and adventure experiences. Guests include solo travellers and groups of friends. Alicante and Murcia airports are less than an hour away and for a small extra charge, Andi or Terry will collect you from and return you to the airport. Andi will even fly out to meet solo guests venturing out on their own for the first time and feeling anxious about the journey.
I was using this retreat as an opportunity to spend some quality time with two of my adult sons. We share a love of travel and hiking, and the idea of a rural retreat where we could explore new cities, walk in the mountains and experience some yoga classes sounded ideal. Each retreat offers a programme of daily activities but there is no compulsion to join in every activity and there is some flexibility in the choice of walks, sight-seeing trips and other activities.
The focus of our retreat was yoga and walking, but some fellow guests were happy to simply wander through the grounds past lemon and orange groves to relax by the gorgeous pool or find a shady spot to read. Others enjoyed experimenting with the craft materials or tackling a jigsaw puzzle. Mealtimes are a chance to connect with fellow guests and team members, and to enjoy the home-cooked vegetarian and vegan dishes. B&B and self-catering options are also available on some retreats.
Andi’s team of yoga teachers offer different styles, including Hatha, Zen and Restorative Yoga. Our yoga teacher Bonnie is a specialist in using yoga to relieve backpain. During the sessions we used breathing techniques and held postures to bring mind and body in tune and gain inner peace. This gentle approach took me back to the 1970s when my mum and I followed Richard Hittleman’s TV series. Om shanti, shanti om!
Our retreat included two walks, but our fresh knee and ankle injuries curtailed our plans to hike the more challenging mountain trails. Terry kindly drove us to a point where we could follow one of the shorter trails for a couple of hours whilst Andi led the rest of the group on a gentle riverside walk.
For our second walk, Terry drove us into the city of Murcia to explore the old town: the magnificent 14th century cathedral and the Real Casino with its stunning Moorish lobby and baroque style ballroom. As non-vegetarians, my sons had developed meat cravings, so we lunched at Restaurante Salzillo – an authentic Spanish restaurant renowned for its tender Angus steaks. We were lucky to find a table as it was packed with local families and their incredibly well-behaved children.
Thermal baths & treatments
The thermal baths, Balneario de Archena, are just 3 km away (or 5 km if, like us, you follow the road signs that take you on a route march around a mountain!) €14 gives access to the main heated pools and Jacuzzis but we paid €34 each to enjoy additional access to a circuit with a dead sea style floating chamber, a pool full of lemons, various saunas, a hot stone bed and an igloo ice room plus supplies of free ice-cold lemon juice. Andi had helpfully provided us with compulsory swim hats and a locker key. The natural hot springs were wonderfully warm and the various jets provided massages ranging from gentle bubbles to ferocious water spouts. My sons had to hold me in place so the strongest jets could pummel my back and shoulders without blasting me across the pool!
Happy Retreats provides an all too rare opportunity for some ‘me-time’; whether you need to escape the demands of a busy life, work and/or family; recover from a bruising life experience; or just take time to reflect and maybe contemplate a change of direction. The peaceful natural environment combines with the nurturing approach of the team to let you relax, be kind to yourself and just do the things that make you happy.
Carole and two of her sons experienced a 4-night Yoga and Walking Retreat at Happy Retreats in Ulea, Murcia.