Under the Olive Trees – A Yoga Retreat in Montenegro

A couple of months ago I went on a week-long yoga and meditation retreat that involved silent breakfasts and vegetarian food. And it wasn’t the least bit pretentious or wank-y. Seriously.

Morning meditation
Morning meditation

The awkward thing about booking onto a yoga and meditation retreat is that then you have to tell people you are going on one. It inevitably sounds self-indulgent, new-agey or modern wannabe hippyish. Because, let’s face it, an actual hippy would never part with hundreds of pounds to sit in an exotic location with a bunch of strangers chanting ‘om’, drinking ‘cleansing’ juices and talking about how spiritual this place is, would they?

Well, I hate to ruin that illusion, but the My Yogic Adventure retreat was not like that at all, so I guess my hippy credentials are still intact. The place we stayed at in the town of Stari Bar, Montenegro, was definitely paradise, though.

The Grove, Stari Bar, Montenegro
The Grove, Stari Bar, Montenegro

The Grove is a converted olive mill located on the outskirts of Stari Bar, itself a small town surrounded by rocky hills on three sides and the coast on the other. The hard work that went into refurbishing the mill has led to the creation of an outstanding, unique hostel. Almost every detail of the property has been rebuilt, replaced or repaired, including many original features which have been repurposed – the best example of this being the olive oil vat which is reborn as a swimming pool. The Grove offers a choice of private rooms (with amazing open-plan rain showers) or dormitories complete with double bunk-beds, something I have never seen in over six years of hostelling and a genius idea.

My Yogic Adventure

A typical day on the retreat started with a two-hour yoga and meditation session at 8am (before breakfest – a struggle for me). Serbian instructor Marija guided the group through a gentle warm-up, before a focused practice designed to prepare us for about 30 minutes of stillness at the end of the class. It was obvious from day one that this retreat was not about attempting advanced asanas (physical poses) or trying to ‘detox’ or reinvent ourselves in the short space of one week – all unsustainable goals that could potentially do more harm than good.

Instead, we were here to practice yoga within our limits and prepare our bodies and minds for the meditation with which we ended each session. Sitting in complete stillness for up to half an hour is a challenge in itself; adding meditation to that is next level. It requires intense preparation and focus. Most of the classes took place outside in the garden of The Grove to the soundtrack of the neighbouring stream running past (both a relaxing and wee-inducing noise).

This was followed by a silent breakfast where we practiced mindful eating (when was the last time you thought about how all the food on your plate got there?). This felt a bit odd at first, but the idea was to mentally continue the yoga and meditation we had just done rather than throwing ourselves straight into the day. Anyone who has tried meditation knows the world can seem a bit loud afterwards, so this was a way of easing ourselves back into reality.

During the daytimes there were a range of activities on offer, but no pressure to join in if you didn’t feel like it. Chilling out at The Grove was a pretty attractive alternative. I’m not so much a fan of hanging out in a big group all the time, so my friend and I did our own thing a couple of times and had a walk up to the beautiful ruins of Old Town Stari Bar (and a cheeky glass of wine).

The view from Old Town, Stari Bar
The view from Old Town, Stari Bar

Another day we walked through the beautiful, gnarly olive grove to a secret swimming spot. We had it all to ourselves (apart from a few huge frogs) and it was pure tranquility. The water was a cold and welcome relief from the unseasonably warm weather. I love a hidden gem and this was definitely one of those.

Secret waterfall near Stari Bar
Waterfall near Stari Bar

I personally got more out of the meditation side of the retreat than the yoga, although they of course go hand in hand. We tried several different forms of meditating, from breath work to guided meditations to exploring mudras (symbolic hand gestures). The retreat definitely reignited my interest in meditation and I really enjoyed practicing every day.

The best excursion of the week was a kayaking trip to Lake Skadar, the largest lake in southern Europe which borders Montenegro and Albania. Two to a kayak, we padalled over 10km across the lake and back, spotting rare Dalmation pelicans flying overhead. It was tiring but good fun and a great way to get to know the others in the group better.

Kayaking on Lake Skadar
Kayaking on Lake Skadar

All in all, the retreat was brilliant and just what I needed after an eventful few months. I developed my own yoga practice, had plenty of time for introspection and soul-searching and got to see an amazing country at the same time. This is something I would like to do for myself at least once a year – take a week just for me and focus on myself, practice yoga and meditate every day in a beautiful environment. Montenegro was the perfect location for the retreat; a place I’ve wanted to visit for years, and it didn’t disappoint. Surrounding by beautiful mountains with donkeys trundling past every morning through the peaceful olive grove… what more could you ask for from a retreat, really?

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