Well­ness

It starts with yoga on the rooftop of a riad in Mar­rakech and ends with desert glamp­ing. Larissa Dubecki finds a well­ness tour with the lot – in­clud­ing cake for break­fast.

Qantas - - Contents -

The Moroc­can re­treat where yoga is re­warded with cake

The road to well­be­ing is paved with good in­ten­tions. Barely used gym mem­ber­ships crunch un­der­foot along­side half-buried mem­o­ries of Zumba, Cross­Fit and Yo­galates.

That may ex­plain why I’m in Morocco on a yoga and well­ness tour when there’s a per­fectly ser­vice­able yoga stu­dio 100 me­tres from my home. An ex­trav­a­gance? Maybe. But some­thing about the com­bi­na­tion of “Morocco” and “yoga” feeds into fan­tasies of per­sonal ful­fil­ment the way “sub­ur­ban Mel­bourne” and “get home in time for the kids’ din­ner” do not.

This the­ory finds me on the rooftop of qui­etly lux­u­ri­ous Riad Les Yeux Bleus bou­tique ho­tel (ho­tel.qantas.com .au/ri­adlesy eu­xbleus) in the an­cient me­d­ina of Mar­rakech, shoul­ders planted on the ground as yoga mas­ter Peru­mal holds my body in the air at an im­pres­sive 90-de­gree an­gle in the pose known as sar­van­gasana.

Peru­mal is a yo­gic prince. A lim­ber cat of a man clad in white linen pants, he (like Bey­oncé) goes by one name only. It’s some­thing of a moment, this first morn­ing in the glo­ri­ously chaotic cap­i­tal of

Ber­ber cul­ture. The sun is glint­ing off metic­u­lously pat­terned tiles, birds chor­tle their songs and a pool bur­bles nearby. The il­lu­sion is bro­ken when Peru­mal re­leases his grip and I col­lapse into the yo­gic pose known as fe­li­nasana, or “cat hit by car”.

There will be no back­lit beach asanas, pop­u­larised by the likes of Gisele Bünd­chen, on this trip. “You have to de­cide if you’re go­ing on re­treat or if you’re go­ing on hol­i­day,” says Peru­mal, our in­struc­tor for this morn­ing only. I can only imag­ine that two weeks with him would make any­one straighten up and fly right but the tour by small-group com­pany Gyp­sian Bou­tique Tours (gyp­sian­bou­ti­que­tours.com.au) is bless­edly of the mod­er­ate school. Sorry, Peru­mal, but this is a hol­i­day – al­beit one with health ben­e­fits.

Well­ness tours in Morocco take many forms. Some com­pa­nies fo­cus on moun­tain bik­ing (bike-morocco.com), oth­ers on trekking (at­las­trek­shop.com). Can­dace Warner founded Gyp­sian Bou­tique Tours in 2012 af­ter sev­eral years of liv­ing and tour-guid­ing in the Mid­dle East. She leads the 11-night tours with a keen eye for com­bin­ing yoga and spa treat­ments with cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and lo­cal cui­sine. As an added bonus for any fraz­zled mem­ber of the work­ing-par­ent chain gang, she’s also happy to ac­com­mo­date pro­cliv­i­ties re­lat­ing to shop­ping and sleep­ing in. One word: nir­vana.

Any fears that we’re about to em­bark on a reg­i­men of boot-camp drills and self-de­nial are ban­ished this morn­ing when our group finds that the typ­i­cal Moroc­can break­fast spread features a rich cake. Clearly, this is a na­tion with its pri­or­i­ties in or­der.

Post-Peru­mal, we re­tire to a lux­ury hammam to be steamed and pum­melled into clean­li­ness by a team of cheer­ful women. It’s un­can­nily like be­ing a child again, re­lin­quish­ing con­trol to a higher power who will scrub, cod­dle and oc­ca­sion­ally scold.

As Morocco is an Is­lamic coun­try, al­co­hol is hard to come by. It’s a bit like go­ing to re­hab but with bet­ter views and com­fier beds. Go­ing (mostly) booze-free cer­tainly helps the well­ness, plus the food – as in­trigu­ing and mys­te­ri­ously spiced as the sur­round­ings – is healthy with­out mak­ing a song and dance about it. There’s no place here for talk of Pa­leo or su­per­foods. At a cook­ing class at Ate­lier de Cui­sine (ate­lier-chef-tarik.com) – less than an hour’s drive from Mar­rakech to a green vil­lage oa­sis – we make fra­grant lamb tagine with apri­cots. I tell head chef Tarik Hara­bida about the Aus­tralian ver­sion of cous­cous: open the packet, add to boil­ing wa­ter, leave for three min­utes and hey presto! He looks at me, puz­zled, be­fore it dawns on him. “In Morocco we have a fast method, too.” How long does it take, Tarik? “One hour.” There’s also plenty of time for saun­ter­ing. Can­dace and Ber­ber man Lah­cen lead us through a sprawl­ing, ser­pen­tine souk, a hub of com­merce where it would be en­tirely pos­si­ble to get lost and emerge blink­ing and con­sid­er­ably poorer two weeks later. We walk through the fabled Je­maa el-Fna square, which is a bit like the in­ter­ga­lac­tic bar in Star Wars: a riot of snake charm­ers; Ber­ber sto­ry­tellers spin­ning yarns passed down for a mil­len­nium; magicians and women who will paint your hands with in­tri­cate henna tat­toos. Char­coal, the cook­ing fuel of choice, sends ed­i­ble plumes of smoke into the air.

Four-wheel drive ve­hi­cles take us bump­ing out to a desert camp in the High At­las moun­tains, where glamp­ing reaches a new strato­sphere. Do­ing yoga early the next morn­ing in the brisk desert air is al­most tran­scen­dent, with a pink and blue sky show­ing off against the pale desert pal­ette. The beauty is ri­valled only by my ex­cite­ment that I’m al­ready much more bendy.

It re­minds me of some­thing Peru­mal said on the rooftop. “Some­times, when peo­ple ar­rive, they can bend only to here” (he in­di­cated his knees). “And when they leave, they can go to here” (his toes). What he meant, I think, is that ev­ery­one has their own bat­tle to fight. The road to well­ness is paved with self-ac­cep­tance and an aware­ness of what we have the power to change – and what we can only change mo­men­tar­ily be­fore thoughts turn to break­fast cake.

The oa­sis-like Pool Pa­tio court­yard at Riad Les Yeux Bleus (left); desert dunes south-east of Mar­rakech (be­low)

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