When my friend Rebecca invited me on a pilates retreat in rural Gascony, I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded too good to be true but I still looked up Domaine du Pignoulet Pilates Retreat online. It looked great, peaceful and pilates seemed pretty similar to yoga. It was just what my body and soul needed after a difficult few months: a break with friends in an area of France I’d never been before, with gentle exercise and yummy food.
I don’t think we could have put together a nicer group of bloggers and we all deserved time away from real life. With over twenty children between us, lots of things going on in our lives and a general feeling of ‘tired mum syndrome’ for most of us, we were all in need of a holiday.
First Impressions about our Pignoulet Pilates Retreat
From the second we drove through the gates, I could feel tension in my body melting away. Susie and James are two of the most welcoming people I have ever met, and getting to Pignoulet felt like coming home after a stressful day and putting all my worries aside. All apprehension and exhaustion disappeared, to be replaced by excitement and wave of calm. Food was ready when we got there and it looked fresh and full of goodness. The rooms had a French countryside charm that wouldn’t be out of place in a romantic film and we had a schedule, but it wasn’t set in stone.
What can I say about Le Domaine du Pignoulet itself? It was a beautifully restored farmhouse with lots of outdoor space, a quirky pilates studio, a swimming pool, comfy bedrooms and possibly the fluffiest duvet I’ve ever wrapped myself in. I think the best way to describe it would be to say it felt like a home from home. I felt so comfortable there I kept leaving my camera on the sideboard and my rental car keys went with Susie and James’ keys. I was home!
All bedrooms and bathrooms were larger than average and spotless. I didn’t spend much time in my room, but when I did, it was quiet and comfy. A couple of weeks before the retreat, Susie mentioned there would be UK adaptors there and we’d be welcome to use shampoo and shower gel left by previous guests. We didn’t have to bring any towels either. It meant I didn’t have to pack these in my small suitcase (we’d all decided to go with hand luggage only).
I have to say that the location of the retreat blew me away. Le Domaine du Pignoulet is only a short drive from Lourdes (about 40 minutes) and not that far from Toulouse either (just under two hours’ drive), close to the sea and the Pyrenees. In fact, you could be having a walk on the beach one morning and go skiing in the afternoon and still go back to your comfy bed at Pignoulet. To be fair, I wouldn’t dream of doing that: once I was at Susie and James’, I had no intention of going anywhere else. It was a haven of peace and tranquility and I was happy to just sit by the pool, enjoy some gentle exercise, eat and rest. The weather was glorious for mid-September, with over 30 degrees every day and cooler nights.
We did venture to a ‘vide grenier’ (the French equivalent of a car boot sale) in a quaint village nearby one morning. It was lovely! I bought some piment d’Espelette (chili powder from the area), purple garlic, a few photo props (tarnished spoons, a milk pan, tiny casserole dishes) for pennies and had conversations with lots of friendly people.
The food at Pignoulet
We stayed at Pignoulet with all meals and drinks included and let me tell you something: the food Susie and James served us was an absolute highlight. Everything we ate was fresh, delicious and in season. Our hosts were not remotely phased when we started listing the dietary requirements in our group: dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, gluten-free, vegan… they took every single exclusion diet in their stride and effortlessly produced a myriad of gorgeous dishes and snacks throughout our stay.
At no point did it feel like we were burdening Susie and James with our list of dietary needs and that in itself is impressive. As an allergy mum, I have often encountered people whose eyes would glaze over at the mere mention of allergies or sounded way too casual about them for me to feel my little girl would be safe. There was none of that at Pignoulet, quite the contrary! I would have loved a fully catered holiday like this with Jumpy when I was really struggling with a long list of allergens to look out for.
What I loved most was how local everything felt. The figs we ate were freshly picked from the tree near the pool every day, the jam was made by the neighbours, the wine came from a mere few miles away. We had, amongst a lot of other things: lots of cheese, homemade houmous, fresh bread, vegan chocolate mouse, flourless clementine and nut cake, pea soup, homemade muesli… oh, and every afternoon, we were treated to cakes with tea and coffee. What more could anyone ask for?
Pignoulet Pilates Retreat: does that mean I have to exercise?
Last but not least, pilates… Anyone who knows me also knows I am not remotely sporty. Don’t get me wrong: I move around a lot. I walk everywhere, I am always on my feet and I love cycling with the kids but I wouldn’t do any of these things without a place to go to. I don’t exercise for the sake of exercising. I know I should, but I never seem to find the time or energy.
The pilates bit was the one thing I was slightly anxious about. Although I love yoga when I manage to drag myself to a class (the last one was in May), I am not flexible or graceful, and certainly not a natural. I’d heard a lot about pilates being great for posture and back pain, two of my bug bears, but I thought it might be painful or too tricky a form of exercise for me. How wrong was I?
Discovering this new form of exercise at our Pignoulet Pilates Retreat was the cherry on the cake for me. For any other pilates virgins out there, it’s like yoga but without the extra bits some of my friends find weird and irritating (fancy pose names, ohms and the odd overly eccentric teacher telling the world about how their life changed forever mid-cobra pose one morning in India).
As far as I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong, I really don’t have a clue), pilates is all about strengthening your core muscles with gentle exercise and always keeping in control of your movements. From the first session, I loved it!
In our group of ten, there were hard core pilates queens (hi Rebecca!), beginners, regular class goers and me, a total virgin. Suzie’s sessions were catering beautifully for our range of abilities and I fell in love with pilates from the first session in the open barn. Every single session was completely different from the previous one and they all made me feel invigorated.
Coming back from the retreat, I felt re-energised, ready to tackle anything and more than ever determined to start exercising a little more. It hasn’t been a quick and easy road but I have been working really hard to turn myself into a morning person rather than the night owl I’ve always been. I now make sure I sleep enough, drink plenty of water, exercise a little bit every day and always focus on the positive.
The benefits of the retreat have lasted this long, and I know they will last much longer as I keep focused. I had such a wonderful experience that I have already payed a deposit for next year’s retreat.
Check the little video I put together about the retreat:
Don’t just take my word for it. Check these lovely ladies’ reviews:
- Reneé at ‘Mummy Tries’
- Rebecca at ‘Glutarama’
- Emma at ‘The Free From Farmhouse’
- Kate at ‘Gluten Free Alchemist‘
- Vicki at ‘The Free From Fairy‘
- Laura at ‘Dairy Free Kids‘
- Mandy at ‘Cook Veggielicious‘
- Midge at ‘The Peachicks Bakery‘
- Mandy at ‘Sneaky Veg‘
- Eilidh at ‘Just Eilidh‘
Disclosure: I was invited by Susie and James for the purpose of this review but all opinions and photos are my own.
This blog post is my entry for the Yellow Zebra Safari competition to win a trip for two to Tanzania. If I won, I would take my mum with me. She has always wanted to go to Africa and since it’s her 60th birthday in a couple of months it would make the most unforgettable present for her and the experience of a lifetime for the two of us.