Kildare... The start of something wonderful
An escape to the Cliff at Lyons proves restorative for Liadan Hynes
Full disclosure; a few years ago, I would have laughed up my sleeve at the idea of a yoga retreat with a group of people I didn't know.
Definitely not for me, I would have thought. Holidaying with all those strangers? The touchy-feely sharing of a retreat? No thanks.
But that was then.
You get to a certain age and it is nigh on impossible to have escaped some of life's knocks. I am of a certain age, and in the past few years have experienced certain of those knocks. Which has made me, much to my own surprise, something of a wellness junkie. I have dragged my best friend, a former scoffer of the highest order herself, on this journey (yes, I said it), with me.
The result is a burgeoning wellness hobby between us that is fast becoming an expensive habit to feed. Formerly the kind of people who sniggered at inspirational quotes and scoffed at any talk of healing, we are now the sorts who go to crystal workshops, guided meditations, intention setting seminars and who force upon each other phone numbers of sound healers and reiki practitioners.
Naturally, it regularly spirals into competitive one-upmanship. "I've found an amazing new Pilates class," one of us will announce breezily. "Meditated lately?" the other will hit back. There has, of late, even been talk of a silent retreat (me; of yet it's a step too far for herself).
Before we went the full mum, we decided to try our first retreat in the first week of the new year. Back to work anxiety was hitting a peak as we set off for a two day, one night, event at the Cliff at Lyons Hotel & Country Retreat in Kildare.
The Nollaig na mBan wellness retreat was designed to celebrate the power of female energy. What we're all about nowadays, we congratulated ourselves smugly in the car on the way down. The Cliff at Lyons is about as far from the sort of yoga crustiness I once feared from retreats as it is possible to get. It's made up of a collection of historic granite and slate buildings including cottages, a mill and a former dovecote; originally an 19th Century village. It's only half an hour's drive from Dublin, but you instantly feel as if you are tucked away in the back of beyond. Set on the edge of the Lyons Demesne, the orchards and kitchen gardens of the property sit on the banks of the Grand Canal.
Yoga instructor Lou Horgan was leading events. For the uninitiated, of whom I was one, Lou enjoys something of a cult following in the world of yoga. Her retreats sell out quickly, attended by her wide following of devotees.
The retreat would see us taking part in two classes, interspersed with lots of eating - nothing restrictive on the menu, Lou assured us, dismissing the idea of the sort of miserable-punish-yourself food January sees so much of.
The Cliff at Lyons boasts what might be one of the most perfect rooms for a yoga class; the high ceilinged hall of Shackleton Mill, a large, wooden clad room with huge open fireplaces and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows which look out on a small waterfall and fast-flowing river, which provided an incredibly soothing backdrop as we stretched and bent.
Lou began with a talk, setting out her stall, so to speak. Fascinating stuff; I could have listened for hours. Yoga, she explained, was invented by men, for men. It is in fact the oldest boys club in the world. Much of the traditional moves were not made with women's bodies in mind, she pointed out, noting how women's needs are not always met through traditional yoga teachings. She spoke at length about differences between men and women's energy cycles, a man's being daily, 24 hours, a women's monthly, and the respect we should pay to differing energy levels we experience throughout the month. Lou's philosophy is to align oneself with the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. In lesser hands, this might have sounded wishy washy. From Lou, it felt calming and reassuring, and like the most sensible thing you'd heard in a while, particularly in the face of the post-Christmas fear that was simmering within us all.
Now in her mid-40s, Lou has been practising yoga for about 20 years.
She is without question the most impressive practitioner of her trade I have encountered. As is our way with our wellness practitioners, the BF and I instantly imprinted upon her, and began a silent best-girl-in-class one-upmanship. The smug revelation that she had actually practised pregnancy yoga with Lou, gave the BF an instant edge.
Post yoga there was a chance for some me-time, in the vernacular of retreats. Some of our group decided to walk the canal, we decided to chill in our room. If you wanted to be more active, bikes are available.
Dinner was in the Orangery, a beautiful dining room overlooking the gardens. Both restaurants at The Cliff source produce from the adjacent kitchen garden. Everything was fresh, and delicious.
The thought of holidaying with a gang of strangers had been one of the reasons I had hesitated at the idea of a group retreat. All that small talk.
In fact, when we arrived, between the two of us we discovered we already knew half the group; friends, colleagues, acquaintances. Hanging out with this group of women proved to be one of the nicest parts of the resort. "It's a shame it's not a week with these people," the BF reflected after dinner.
The following morning Lou hosted a second yoga class, after which we feasted on a breakfast which made lunch a few hours later redundant. The retreat finished with a hot stone chakra massage at the The Well in the Garden spa, a restored carriage house at the rear of the property. The waiting room with its cosy high-backed armchairs, multiple rugs and soft cushions, and bleached white walls, was something of a retreat in its own right.
None of us wanted to leave. Reluctant to return to real life, we tried to book to stay another night but there was no availability.
We will be back.
Enjoy a relaxing break in Cliff at Lyons Kildare, with the perfect blend of rest, activity, pampering and delicious food to allow you to rebalance and leave you feeling happy and revitalised.
* The Stretch & Spa package includes one night's accommodation, a three-course dinner in The Orangery restaurant, €15 spa credit per person for the luxurious Well in the Garden spa, a loan of a seven-piece yoga pack, and a guide to yoga.
* Breaks cost €177 for a single room or €255 for two people sharing, with the option of booking a one-to-one yoga class for €50. Guests can avail of numerous activities including walks, paddleboarding or cycling.
More details at www.cliffatlyons.ie
This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
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