The early morning sun is spilling through the trees, bathing the orange grove in golden tones. The scent of the blossom lingers in the air as I walk beneath branches laden with fruit to the yoga shala. I roll out a mat in the open-air studio, a breeze kissing my skin and birds singing overhead. Hidden in the Portuguese hills, this is the kind of setting that unwinds you – before the yoga has even begun.
So starts my first day at Soul and Surf’s new base in the Algarve, which opened in April. The yoga and surfing company already has bases in India and Sri Lanka, but this is it’s first in Europe, introduced following a string of successful pop-ups. With three- and four-night breaks available, as well as week-long stays, it’s geared towards both “weekend warriors” and those looking to maximize time in the sea and on the mat.
Accommodation for up to 20 guests is in a traditional Portuguese farmhouse, or Quinta, three miles north of Lagos, a port town with cobbled lanes, 16th-century walls, and golden beaches. I arrive in the evening to mint tea and pastéis de Nata (the famous Portuguese custard tarts), flickering candles and an en suite room with carved wooden bed and terrace. The other eight rooms are a mixture of twins, doubles and two triples, some with shared facilities.
The following morning reveals the quintain all its glory: whitewashed walls and terracotta roofing, ceramic-tiled steps, a sun-soaked patio dotted with pot plants and rustic benches, a seating area painted duck-egg blue, and a pool fringed by palms and lemon, orange, avocado, and kumquat trees. Those who have visited Soul and Surf’s Asian locations will recognize the relaxed feel, with multiple seating areas around the pretty garden, and an honesty bar, where a bottle of beer costs €1.50 and a glass of wine just €2 (around €1 cheaper than prices in town). Throw in a massage treatment list, excellent food and that yoga shala in the orange grove and you could happily spend your whole time inside Quinta’s gates.
But surf’s up (the yoga class is fitted around surfing conditions) which means venturing to the coast. I had been thinking that the Quinta was a bit far from the beaches, but the inland position works well, offering access to two coastlines – 10 and 40 minutes away respectively. “Unlike other European surf spots – Peniche further north, say, or places in south-west France – we have easy access to both the sheltered south coast and the wilder west, so there are more options for all abilities in varying conditions,” says assistant manager Adam Simpson.
The week begins with a small swell, so we jump in a van loaded with boards and wetsuits and head to Praia do Castelejo on the west coast, where there is enough of a wave to suit all levels. The group splits into different abilities for a three-hour session – beginners practice popping up on to their boards on the beach, then head into the white water, while the more advanced get tips from an instructor who surfs with us (and dishes out energy balls when we need a boost). I aim for unbroken “green” waves with fellow intermediate surfer Jo, a youth worker from Jersey, who is on holiday with her sister. Other days see us explore the south coast. My favorite spot is Porto de Mos, a sandy beach framed by beautiful limestone cliffs, where we’re treated to peeling waves, uncrowded water and, after a spring shower, a full rainbow. Afterwards, we refuel on more custard tarts – at €1 each, they’re cheaper than anything you’d find in a UK beach cafe.
Arriving back at the Quinta, windswept and salty, is like entering an oasis of calm – and the food is restorative, too. Rachel Weir, the chef, produces wonderful meals with a vegetarian slant, inspired by the likes of Yottam Ottolenghi and Asma Khan. “I like being playful with spices,” she says, setting out colorful salads and muhammara, a Levantine dip that she has given a Portuguese twist by using a local red pepper paste.
We have freshly squeezed orange juice and smoothie bowls for breakfast, lunches of filo pie or moussaka, and dinners ranging from paella to barbecued fish. Portions are generous – refreshing for a yoga retreat – and there is a communal feel, with staff joining us for meals.
Then yoga, the daily, 90-minute remedy for our tired bodies. Our instructor, Natalie Fox, is passionate about surfing – and believes it’s the perfect partner for yoga. “Both require mental focus,” she says, laying out mats in the shala. “Surfing also demands strength and flexibility, which yoga develops.” Our classes (either vinyasa flow or yin) incorporate sequences that use identical muscles, such as cobra, which echoes the prone position surfers use before popping up on the board.
But it’s more than physical. The deep metronomic breathing, or pranayama, keeps our movements flowing and relaxed and can also be a tool for remaining calm in the sea, especially when swells are big. “Yoga helped me deal with the fear of falling,” Natalie says. “I used my breath and learned to enjoy the wipeouts. Surfing and yoga are both explorations of what your body and mind are capable of. They should be an adventure.”
I may not have cracked perfect pranayama or wave riding just yet – but with another day of surfing and yoga in store, I’m confident more adventure awaits.
• The trip was provided by Soul and Surf, which offers three-night Weekend Warrior or four-night Monday to Friday breaks from €410pp; and seven-night All Week Long retreats from €790pp, including full-board, (except two dinners), surf trips, surf sessions, wetsuit and board hire, a video feedback session, yoga classes, and yin yoga sessions. Transport excluded; transfers to and from Faro around €70