I don’t know about you but personally, I find staying fit on the road quite difficult. I want to eat all the local food and find all the excuses not to work out. As I am at a point of my life though when travel is taking up a big part this doesn’t really fly anymore. So I made a resolution to include more fun activities to stay fit whenever I travel.

With that in mind, I was super excited when Sole Yoga Holidays invited me to come along to one of their retreats. Getting together with a group that was equally keen on yoga and travel in one stunning location – what could be better?

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Shari Hochberg is the dynamic and quirky teacher behind Sole Yoga Holidays. Originally from San Franciso, she moved to Florence in 2010 where she found her love for Ashtanga and all things Italian. All her classes offer a fun and energetic Vinyasa sequence and the retreats are the perfect combination of yoga and holiday. This is definitely not for ascetics because the yoga is just as important as the local food, excursions and yes, also some wine. Her reoccurring Florence retreat is aptly named Movement & Mangia. So yes, location is everything and our goodie bags not only come with the yoga schedule and a meditation pillow but also with one of my favorite travel quotes:

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Mind you I am going somewhere familiar this time as my retreat takes me back to Essaouira in Morocco, one of my favorite seaside towns as you may know. Just a short 2.5-hour drive from Marrakech this town is as charming as it gets: lots of white and blue, crumbling sidewalks, cheeky seagulls, and an overall chilled, hippie-vibe. Quite the perfect location for a yoga retreat.

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To my credit card’s dismay, I realize that our home for the week, Dar l’Oussia, is conveniently located next to two stunning concept stores and very close to the souks. Tucked in a little medina side street it is also a 3-minute walk to the beach, the port and the best juice shop in town!

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Over tagine and Moroccan wine (not only Italy has bragging rights here!), I meet my fellow yogis for a week . We are a group of 10 including one couple and their daughter, 8-year old Gaia and some have traveled all the way from California. While our first get-together is a fun one, we all behave as we want to be fit for next morning’s yoga class.

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Lucky for me Shari also doesn’t seem to be a fan of early bird specials, because our morning classes only start at 9.30am. Even I manage to be up by then and we all meet again on our mats.
While I have done Bikram yoga for over ten years, I am less familiar with Ashtanga and neither are my arms. They start complaining after the first Chaturanga and won’t stop for the next 5 days. They don’t even appreciate that Shari walks newbies through a modified version. So in the morning either the call to prayer or my sore muscles wake me up very early. Mind you, I’m loving it and I balance all the sugared mint tea and crepes d’Amlou with a lot of yoga.

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For one of the days we move our practice to a private villa in the countryside and do our sun salutations in the sun poolside. Unfortunately, Essaouira is true to its reputation of being a windy city and the water is just a tad too cold for anyone but Gaia. Instead, we indulge in Moroccan barbeque smells which are quite torturous during class but make more than up for it afterwards during lunch. Needless to say, we also practise the well-liked posture called Wine-asana.

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I have written a post about Essaouira before called Camels & Kitesurfers. This time, I learn that I was wrong. There are no camels in Morocco but only dromedary. We are lucky enough to take them out for a ride, definitely a highlight of the trip. I am happy not having to do a Camel (posture) on a dromedary and instead enjoy the views over the magnificent Essaouira beach. We meet other dromedaries on the way, kitesurfers, goats, quadbikes, and I learn about some new Game of Thrones locations which of course make me look out for dragons too. No such luck, so I keep on snuggling with Aladdin, my dromedary instead.

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Ocean breeze and yoga make hungry and while our riad provides lovely dinners, no visit in Essaouira would be complete without eating at the fishmarket. Girls, I hate to admit it but we walked smack bang into the tourist trap fishmarket. As the one in the medina is currently undergoing renovations I didn’t know any better until my Moroccan friend told me long after I was gone.

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But really pushy vendors who basically all sell the same aside, the food is still really awesome. Fish and seafood (or seafruit as I read somewhere, making me smile) don’t get any fresher than here. Preparation is simple and without fuss: Pick your food, don’t be scared if some of it is still alive, have it weighed and get a seat. Coke, salad and fresh fries go down nicely with platters of grilled ocean goodness. I recommend sharing and trying everything and yes, that includes some super-fresh raw seaurchins – it doesn’t get much better!

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That is of course unless you have a hammam booked afterwards. Little is more relaxing than this local technique that combines being washed with black olive soap, a full body scrub, and a massage. If you are a bit shy (like some of our American yogis turned out to be) start with a nice hotel hammam before working your way up to a public one.
Over our final dinner, we all compare not only compare our now toned Jennifer Aniston arms and our shiny hammam shoulders. And of course, just in time for departure, my arms have stopped complaining about the Chaturanga and I see hope – maybe this is my start of being truly a world-traveling yogi.

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Sole Yoga retreats are a great mix of an in-depth yoga practice and holidays. While all levels are welcome, I’d recommend some prior Ashtanga/Vinyasa experience and a reasonable fitness level to get the most out of it. Mats, straps and blocks are provided, I recommend to bring enough choice of yoga clothes as well as comfy things to cover up before and after class. Shari’s retreats offer a mix of included meals and activities as well as free time. If you find yourself in Essaouira I recommend you also check out some of my favorite dining options:

One Up – Contemporary, cosmopolitan food, and a beautiful eclectic setting
Dar al Houma – Tagine, seafood & Co in a cozy, typical Moroccan setting
Loft Cafe – A quirky lunch spot for a modern take on Moroccan classics
Il Mare – Go here for a sunset cocktail and stunning view over the Skala
Juice shop on Avenue du Caire (you can’t miss it!) – Awesome fresh juice blends and waffles
And of course, Crepe Amlou (argan nuts, almonds and honey blend) from any of the Creperies

Thank you for the invitation, Sole Yoga Holidays!