Escaping the spring chill of London I headed to the mystical land of Morocco for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
Sanctuary Slimane, located just 20 minutes from the bustling city of Marrakesh, recently opened it’s doors to offer people a slice of paradise, so I hopped on a three-hour flight from London to check it out.
Set in 24 acres of landscaped farmland with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop, the retreat has a ‘Garden of Eden’ feel; Peacocks skipping through the olive groves, ducks quacking from the pond and donkeys happily grazing their way across the green foliage.
Created by long-time Wall Street banker, Aziz Nahas, 44, and managed by former New York journalist Jessica Satherley, Sanctuary Slimane promises to instantly take the city stresses away.
I checked in, along with eight other guests, for a weeklong vegan yoga retreat. On the first day, after dropping off my bag in an enormously plush bedroom and basking in some much-welcome 25-degree heat, the group sat down for their first lunch.
I’m no vegan, and certainly enjoy some bloody steak and chunks of cheese, but I was willing to embrace the on-trend diet for a week.
London-based chef, Natasha Piper, was in charge of rustling up a plethora of vegan delights. For our first meal we were treated to a princely spread, which included whole roasted Cauliflower, a refreshing cucumber salad and freshly baked Moroccan flat bread. The pièce de résistance was the olive oil, freshly pressed from the olive trees at Sanctuary Slimane. All of the guests fought over the oil so regularly, that in the end it made more sense to have two beakers of the golden-green elixir on the table.
After lunch I took time to explore the grounds of the secluded property. After venturing through the cultivated farmland, I stumbled across a beautiful herb garden brimming with fresh mint and lavender. Stopping for a moment all I could hear was the rustling leaves of some palms to my left, the running water from a fountain and some small birds chirping from the branches above. Another part of the garden was planted with a rich tapestry of roses, with their colorful blooms perfuming the balmy air. Bougainvillea was also in abundance, with shades of pink and purple punctuating the blue skies.
On the activity front, Sanctuary Slimane boasts an outdoor pool, a tennis court, indoor gym, a traditional hammam (similar to a steam room), massage therapy rooms, a yoga studio, Ping-Pong table and a number of hammocks to laze in. Yearning for some artistic release, I discovered some paints and colouring pencils in the indoor study and took some time out to do a bit of drawing.
As the sun started to soften into a stew of reds and yellow, it was time for our first sunset yoga lesson on the roof of the mansion-like Sanctuary Slimane property. For our retreat Ibiza-based Saida Yemanya had been recruited to teach a beginner / intermediate Vinyasa flow course. I felt completely tranquil as I switched between downward dogs, warrior positions and child’s poses looking towards the golden-hued sky. Everyone seemed pretty zoned out as the class came to an end and I found it tricky to snap out of my trance-like state.
After every 7pm yoga class we then had around 15 minutes to get changed before sitting down to discuss how our day had gone at dinner. Instead of wine, we washed each sumptuous feast down with a mix of ginger and mint infused water. My body appeared to enjoy the much-needed detox, with my sleeping patterns instantly improving.
Along with the daily 7am and 7pm yoga classes, there were also talks led by different experts at the retreat relating to the mind and body. Shirley Scott, a renowned therapist and hypnotherapist based in London, gave an inspiring talk one evening about how to successfully achieve inner peace. During her speech, she revealed tools to conquer anxiety, stress and unhealthy habits. With lots of city dwellers in the room, we listened eagerly in a bid to find the key to a healthy work / life balance.
Other speakers during the week included Marrakech-based nutritionist Sally Goldfinger. The Dane, who also teaches yoga in the city, specializes in Ayurveda nutrition after she spent several years working alongside specialists in India. She explained to us how there are different body and personality types suited to different foods. If we are high strung for example, we should avoid hot or spicy foods and if we have low energy carbohydrates should be sparingly consumed. Keen to find out what out body types were, many booked one-on-one sessions with Sally the following day.
Aziz Nahas, the founder of Sanctuary Slimane also gave a heartfelt speech about veganism one evening. The father-of-two turned vegan six months ago and is now a keen advocate of the diet. He even took to making his own almond milk at one point during the retreat thanks to some tips from one of the guests.
One of the last people to give a talk towards the end of the retreat was spunky New Yorker, Leah Jung. The singer-songwriter-model-actress has graced more than 40 book and magazine covers with her impressive array of tattoos. With us all sat mesmerized by her intricate body art, the lithe blonde gave a talk about the body prejudice she faces – especially via social media – and how she overcomes it.
During the retreat there was also opportunity to leave the comfy confines of Sanctuary Slimane and explore the Moroccan landscape.
Our first excursion took us to the stunningly vibrant Majorelle Garden. The twelve-acre botanical garden, bustling with bamboo and collections of cacti, was designed Jacques Majorelle, a French artist, in the 1920s and 30s. It was later acquired Pierre Bergé and his partner Yves Saint-Laurent, whose ashes were scattered there in 2008.
Finally, we couldn’t leave Marrakesh without exploring the city’s souks and medina. We all agreed that it seemed a world away from the tranquility of Sanctuary Slimane. Weaving in and out of the chaotic passageways we encountered snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, dancing monkeys and dozens of haggling store vendors. All happy with our various purchases, from bongo drums to suede slippers, we made our way back to the calmness of the countryside.
After a week of yoga and veganism – not to mention the sunshine – I definitely felt like a new person. My body felt more toned and my skin appeared more radiant thanks to a vigorous scrubbing session in the hammam. It felt like I’d been away for far longer than a week, especially when I looked back at everything we’d done.
All of the guests agreed that it had been an epic vacation, with the same question on everyone’s lips – ‘When’s the next retreat?’
Sanctuary Slimane’s six night retreats are priced between 1,500 Euros to 2,500 Euros depending on double occupancy or private room bookings. For more information on upcoming retreats please visit: www.sanctuaryslimane.com