I never grow tired of flying into the beautiful city of Toulouse. It's aptly known as La Ville Rose because of the pink terracotta bricks used in many of its buildings. It's a wonderful place to explore on foot - for a romantic weekend perhaps - with the majestic river Garonne coursing through it. The boutiques, restaurants and cafés are decidedly chic and it's very easy to part with your euros.
Toulouse is also the landing spot for my Soul Alive Retreat. There are flights here from all over the UK but I favour British Airways from Heathrow Terminal 5; it's easy and accessible. Then it's only a 45-minute drive to the villa in this lesser known department of SW France where you can quickly feel as if you're stepping back in time.
I host two Retreats a year - in the late Spring and early fall. In June, everything is bursting forth with new life. In September the weather is still glorious and the grapes just harvested to make the delicious Gaillac wines for which this region is famous.
The Retreats take place in the tiny village of Vieux, which means 'old' if your French is a bit rusty. You won't hear a plane passing overhead but you may hear a tractor passing through or a busy bullfrog if it's the mating season.
Our home from home for six days is the 14th century property called Le Presbytere and we have the exclusive use of it. It sounds a bit 'churchy' doesn't it and that's because it was once the home of the village pastor who took in weary travellers on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail, which passes right outside the door.
The solid wooden door of Le Presbytere stands opposite the old church built at the same time. It's the perfect location for head-weary folk to take time-out from their uber-busy lifestyle to rest and regroup. We use the villa and its charming gardens in the mornings for creative contemplation using the somatic arts and mindfulness practice as starting points.
Not confined to the walls of villa, however, we venture forth to a different restaurant each day for lunch. The afternoons are spent exploring the Tarn Valley with its picturesque Bastide hill towns and countryside peppered with sunflowers and vines. A suitable balm for the nervous system and the opportunity to stop ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ and to absorb the riches that life offers so naturally and abundantly.
You won't find Costa on every corner here, not even in the city. I take my hat off to the French for honouring their traditions and preserving their history so tastefully.
With your own en-suite double room, this is a rare opportunity to take time-out to muse and to linger on whatever you fancy and to escape the need to be on call to anyone.
I encourage people to switch off their mobiles and not access the internet for these 6 days for their own benefit - but I don't forbid it! Out of respect for others I ask that any connection with the outside world is made quietly and discreetly from your own room.
Maybe September suits you better the weather is still glorious and the grapes just harvested to make the delicious Gaillac wines for which this region is famous. Just let me know.
If you've hit a metaphorical brick wall or know someone who is rather jaded and in need of a break, this all-inclusive Soul Alive Retreat might fit the bill.
We can always talk it through by phone on 0782 7017188.
Or I'm happy to meet for a coffee if that's practical.
A toute a l'heure, Mary
One participant from Sweden recounts her experience:
"I enjoyed Mary's week-long retreat very much. A beautiful place to stay and beautiful places to visit. I particularly liked the combination of inner work in the morning and exploring the surroundings in the afternoon. The silence before breakfast worked well for me and the writing, drawing, and sharing activities gave me a lot of useful insight and inspiration."
"I've continued writing and drawing since arriving back home. I've also been out into the woods gathering mushrooms and into the garden to pick apples for baking and juicing. A lot of creativity was aroused in me during the week and this has helped me find my way through a career change soon after my return".
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