Once upon a time, a family of four and their dog, Moses, used to travel throughout Europe in search of a place to call home. Eventually, they settled down deep in the Portuguese mountains, created a loving home, and then opened it to others in the form of a yoga retreat they affectionately called Vale de Moses. Meanwhile, the kids moved away, but the family is still thriving, as now they have three cute dogs, a piglet, and a very shy cat.
But let me tell you a story of transformation. My transformation.
Just a few weeks ago, I was an overworked, overstressed girl who merely hoped yoga will bring some balance and peace into her life. I had never taken a yoga class before. But in between my husband and I, we figured that the best place to start would be a yoga retreat. And so we booked a room at Vale de Moses.
To put into perspective the transformative power Vale de Moses had over me, I’ll just say that the first thing I did upon our return home was to buy my first yoga mat. I’m happy to report that I’m settling into a nice morning yoga routine here and starting to feel its benefits into all areas of my life.
Also, inspired by Chef Raul Garcia’s vegetarian dishes at Vale de Moses, I’ve started cooking healthier and mostly vegetarian meals. I’ll probably settle somewhere between fishetarian and a part-time vegetarian (if that’s even a thing!). But if Raul’s ayurvedic cooking proves anything is that veggies are far from boring and there’s plenty of space for creativity in the kitchen.
For me, Laura, Vale de Moses was a place of firsts and will forever hold a special place in my heart. I had my first yoga class here and my first acupuncture experience (not nearly as scary as I imagined!).
Vale de Moses is located in a beautiful valley in the Serra da Estrela mountains. When the Winter family arrived, the place had been abandoned for decades. They lovingly restored the four family houses nestled in the valley, built the most spectacular yoga shala imaginable and extended a warm invitation to everyone to come visit and deepen their love affair with yoga in this restorative space.
I have to admit I’m utterly in love with their business philosophy, from the fact that they create jobs for their neighbors to the locally-sourced ingredients used in Chef Raul’s kitchen.
We arrived from Porto by coach and Andrew picked everyone up from the nearest station and drove us home. It was pitch dark and we could barely see anything but pine tree tops and a gazillion stars gently encompassing the winding, lonely road. We had a sense that we arrived in a secluded place, but the valley was to be a surprise until the next morning.
Before we knew it, we were seated at the table, enjoying a warm, nourishing meal, a quick glimpse into what was about to come. Then we were all shown to our rooms or SoulPad bell tents.
The two of us stayed in one of the private rooms inside the farmhouse and we both gasped in amazement as we walked in. The four-poster bed that reminded us of Bali and other exotic places, the old furniture, the stone walls, and the colorful carpets all radiated positive vibes.
And so, after a restorative sleep in the most comfortable bed, we were ready to start our week at Vale de Moses and get to know everyone.
The daily routine was quite straight-forward and revolved around yoga and food. Ah, life’s little pleasures!
We started the day with a half an hour silent walk through the forest with Andrew, followed by two hours of yoga with Fleur. By 10:30 am we would all gather in the kitchen for a big, beautiful breakfast. Lunch was at 2 pm. In the afternoon, a gentle yin yoga workshop took place followed by a light dinner at 7 pm.
In between yoga and food, we were encouraged to enjoy a massage, acupuncture or reconnective healing session.
I decided to try acupuncture on a whim. I’m pretty afraid of needles and stood my ground until the last minute. Then I surprised myself by saying yes. I have no idea where this strength came from, but I believe Vonnie’s sweet and gentle nature had a lot to do with it. And I couldn’t have asked for a more experienced and caring practitioner.
When not being spoiled rotten by the Vale de Moses team, we would lounge in one of the hammocks or follow the meandering forest pathways. Sometimes the dogs would join us for a walk. Once, we even found our way to a nearby abandoned village that seemed to have been taken over by grapevines loaded with fully riped, giant grape bunches.
On our last day, Andrew took us for a swim in the Zezere River, a few minutes drive away.
But the food… Oh, the glorious food everybody was raving about. Chef Raul’s larger than life personality translated into the most colorful and creative dishes. He is like a wizard of vegetarian cuisine, working his magic on each plate.
We would start the day with a scrumptious porridge, fruit salad, granola, yogurt, soy and brown rice milk, freshly squeezed juice, and honey. (A special mention goes to the orange and pineapple juice. Such a simple yet glorious creation!)
Lunch would consist of a rich buffet featuring seven or so dishes, from pasta, rice, curries, salads, stuffed tomatoes, baked sweet potatoes, lemongrass mushrooms, tofu masala, and so on. There was tremendous variety and no dish was ever served twice.
Dinners were lighter and there was usually a soup, a salad and homemade spreads, like hummus or pesto, and several kinds of bread.
After such an amazing and life-changing culinary experience, it’s easy to imagine everybody wanted to take Chef Raul home with them at the end of the week. But since that’s not an option, I’ll try to channel him from time to time and infuse my plates with positive vibes as I put on some music and dance in my kitchen.
But the person who truly made a huge impact on my life was Fleur, our beautiful yoga teacher.
As I’ve already mentioned, before Vale de Moses I was a total yoga virgin.
I’ve never considered myself a very active person. However, I long suspected yoga might be more of my thing. So my first yoga experience and teacher were essential if I wanted to make yoga a habit.
Needless to say, Fleur was simply amazing and helped me fall in love with yoga from day one. Gentle, fun, and passionate, she will be a tough act to follow.
Each class was carefully planned to target every part of the body and to help us find clarity and balance. Plus, Fleur is an amazing DJ and the soothing music she picked every day was always setting the right mood for the class.
The group was comprised of yoga newbs like us but also people with years of yoga experience. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was relaxed and we never felt pressure to do anything we weren’t ready to do, nor did we feel like we were in competition with anyone.
We also loved that right from day one, Andrew made it clear that they were not running a military camp. Everyone was welcome to make their own schedule, skip yoga or meals. The essence of Vale de Moses was to relax, recharge, rekindle with oneself, find inner peace, strength, balance or whatever each of us was looking to have more of into our lives.
It is amazing how easy it is to connect with people in such a protected environment. We made new friends we hope to see again soon and some of us are already planning a Vale de Moses reunion next year.
Vale de Moses is an act of love. We arrived on a cool Sunday evening as total yoga newbs and left on a cool Saturday morning feeling rejuvenated and more. The balmy days in between were beyond my wildest expectations and words can’t do them justice.
We’d love to thank the entire Vale de Moses team for such an amazing and unforgettable week. Still caring the zen vibes of the valley within me and hope to see you again soon, beautiful souls!