There’s nothing like spending time with amazing people – especially whilst in Provence!
This August I did something I’ve not done in a very long time… I went on holiday with a group of friends and left my bike at home and it was bloody lovely! After the antics of cycling to Wales and back for the Glaudax on the Snowdonia Tour in early June and doing the Pennine Rally in mid-June my mind and body were longing for a proper break, to switch off, and to relax. And what better way to do it than in Provence in France – fabulous rose, champagne, food, beaches not too far away and a huge amount of laughter and fun.
Thoughts become things…
It was in late June I was thinking I’d like to go on a retreat, to do some yoga, eat healthy food, chill under the rays of the sun, and generally take a proper break, ideally taking in and exploring a new part of the world.
It must have been a week later that my friend Adeline chose to celebrate her 40th birthday in France and invite some of her closest friends – from all corners of the world – along from the adventure. Little did I know at the time that I’d be effectively going on a retreat and discovering some truly beautiful places in and around Provence.
It’s a fabulous feeling to be able to go abroad, to mix with old and new friends, and take a break from my daily routine. Let’s face it, the last year or so has been plain weird, so after much juggling with paper work, booking of tests, checking of travel guidelines, and sourcing flights, I managed to pack my trolly dolly and get to Gatwick. I’m not going to lie, I did find the last few days leading up to going way a bit stressful – “Did I have the right paperwork?”, “Had I understood everything correctly?”, and “Was I going to actually get on the plane and land in Nice?” Thankfully the reality was a big resounding ‘yes’.
Adeline had spent weeks preparing for her big celebration. What I hadn’t appreciated until I arrived is that she was hosting the week to create a template to build future retreats in her native home country – France. There’s a beauty in being part of someone’s creation, to see them shine, being immersed in the moment, and to truly share the experience as our time together unfolded.
Over the last 20 years I’ve been to France many times. Paris initially as a proper tourist, and in more recent years heading to the mountains – both the Alps and the Pyrenees. The latter tips have included me arriving with a bike and doing a variety of multi day rides such as The Raid Alpine which goes across the Alps from Nice to Geneva, the Raid Pyrenean that goes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and cycling in Provence up Mont Ventoux and through the Verdon Gorge (or Gorge du Verdon as the locals say). Whilst I do love being in the mountains and the sense of adventure, it was brilliant to discover some new places in France and see a completely different perspective.
Our first evening brought together Adeline’s friends from around the world – England, France, Sardinia, Mexico, South Africa, Italy, America… all to celebrate a beautiful souls milestone birthday. We ate (fabulous BBQ), we drank (rose – lots of it), played games (Uno – if you’ve not got it, get it, it’s hilarious but be warned it does bring out people’s competitive side), we laughed (about anything and everything), and talked until the early hours (no subject was off the table). I always find it fascinating how wherever I am geographically in the world, within a matter of hours it becomes ‘home’.
Throughout the week I discovered and experienced many new things…
Plage de Pampelonne – We visited Pampelonne beach near Ramatuelle and ended up on the nudist section – if you’ve not done it before I’d highly recommend a nude swim in the sea, it’s fun and really liberating.
Group Heart Meditation – Embracing the theme of water… at the gorgeous villa we jumped in the pool, formed a circle and did a ‘group heart meditation’ – this is something some of us experienced for the first time on Soul Safari in Africa a few years ago, but it was the first time we’d done this in water lead by the lovely Enrico.
Abbaye du Thoronet – We visited the Abbaye du Thoronet, a former Cistercian abbey built in the late twelth and early thirteenth century, now restored as a museum. Some-how we managed to get invited into a group sounding in the main chapel and the architectural acoustics were incredible. After you’ve finished making the sound it continues and echos around the chambers for quite a few seconds – it was really quite grounding and magical as you can feel the sound vibrating through your body.
Sillans de Cascade – Invited by the forest, we took the opportunity to walk to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in France, the Sillans de Cascade. Nestled in a magnificent vibrant green setting, the village of Sillans de Cascade is located on the edge of the Verdon National Park, 20 minutes south of Lake Sainte-Croix. On arrival we were greeted by another wonder of Mother nature… for anyone who’s into yoga, Chakras and making the appropriate sound for each chakra as they relate to an area in your body – the waterfall was an idylicc location to make the ’heart’ sound, amplified literally by the energy and vibe of our group, and the chamber created by nature.
There were so many other beautiful experiences I’ve not mentioned… watching Adeline as she landed from her paraglide, taking pedalos down the Gorge do Verdon, exploring St. Tropez and enjoying delicious food, singing Kareoke like we were centre stage at The O2 Arena (that was hilarious and will make me smile for years to come), and many meals together… I could go on.
I’m sure the word ‘refuel’ means many different things to different people. This summer, for me it was the opportunity to spend time with amazing friends and to make some new ones. It really, really was lovely to be in a group, to share conversations, food, laughter, games, and some downtime chilling poolside and on the sand.
Over the last 18 months I’ve had a strong, growing desire to spend more time in nature. It has the swift ability to light up all of my sense… smelling the fresh sea air, feeling the bouyant salty sea as it enables me to float and feeling the warmth of the sun, the taste of cold crisp dry Provence rose, seeing the tale end of the vast south alps mountain range in the distance as I drove into Nice, and touching the sand as it slips through my fingers on the beach. It felt like I’d been away for weeks – not days – and it felt great to return home ‘full’ in every sense of the word.
It’s time to party!
Now a 40th birthday party is not complete without the obligatory fancy-dress request. However, in the lead up to our adventure I managed to miss the memo of ‘80s Miami Vice’ for the big party night! How? I don’t know… What matters is I managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and make a pretty funky outfit from what we had available to me. Helped by Jayne for bringing a sensational eye shadow set – the order of the evening was ‘go big, or go home’. Needless to say, another memorable evening of giggles and fun followed.
And what happens on tour, stays on tour.
Until next time…
I don’t think it will be the last time this group of rather fabulous people get together – in fact we caught up virtually this weekend to have a chat and share what we’ve been up to since returning to our respective homes. In the months and years to come I’m sure Adeline will be hosting some more retreats… I’m keeping my fingers crossed I get to join a few more.
If you fancy connecting with Adeline and reading more about our trip do feel free to follow her on Instagram, I’m sure she’ll be posting more info about potential up and coming retreats in France during 2022 and beyond.
Header image – Source: Pexels, photo by David Bartus