The first type of travel newbie solo wanderers tend to lean towards is wellness, and more specifically, yoga. It's not hard to understand why: there's the possibility to unwind alone yet surrounded with the safety and company of others if wished for, the opportunity to transform and rejuvenate the body and mind through exercise, it's easy to eat well without needing to cook and if that weren't enough already, to top things off there's (hopefully!) the promise of a little bit of Vitamin D to boost that post-vacation glow. Oh, and let's not discount the Instagram-snaps of serene yogis on the sand, who definitely make it all look like a great idea, too. But what if all the aforementioned appeals but the word 'retreat' fills you with dread, causing you to instantly imagine preachy, vegan yoga instructors that all look (and bend) like Gwyneth Paltrow, while you lie like a beached whale attempting cobra pose? Then add to that the fact that many so-called retreats are cashing in on the trend and offering stays at extortionate prices with instructors who seems to care more about capitalism than karma, which makes the task of finding the real yoga deal extra tricky. Suddenly that wellness retreat idea is already causing a headache. Thankfully though I've found the answer for you – it lies hidden on the Canary Isle of Fuerteventura and goes by the name of Azulfit.
Atop the hills overlooking Correlejo, nestled among the houses of the Canarian village Villaverde, is Villa Azul. Set against dramatic volcanic landscapes with a view down to the sea, Villa Azul's position is the perfect place to unwind and draw energy from the picturesque surrounds. The big plus of Azul fit's location is that it's isolated enough to cut yourself off from the frenetic buzz of daily life, but in actual fact, is still only a mere 10-minute drive from the bigger 'civilisation' which is Correlejo and its much-loved sand dunes and beach. Before you start to panic about how as a solo traveller you're expected to make your way to a secluded Canarian village, don't – Azul organises inexpensive transfers from the airport with other arriving retreat guests, so you're route from plane to poolside is a smooth one. If you want to explore while at Azul you can do that easily too – in addition to the free transfer in the week to town or the dunes, the local bus stop is also conveniently located a short 5-10 minute walk from the villa.
The thing that's truly special about Azulfit, which is just impossible for a retreat to deliberately and successfully create, is that the moment you walk in the door you feel immediately at home. Is it the Feng Shui? The mix of guests? The warm and welcoming staff? The passionate instructors? The delicious smells wafting from the kitchen? It's certainly a combination of all of these things that gives Azul its unique atmosphere – but there's definitely a secret magic ingredient somewhere that makes it just work so well. One thing I certainly appreciated about Azul was that the vibe was a genuine one, which makes the whole experience unintimidating for the less sporty and non-yogis amongst us. Yes, there are quotes of the day chalked on the wall and you know what? They're truly motivating and set you in the right mindset for the day – no 'all american cheerleader' quotes here, but rather sometimes simple sentences that simply resonate.
Azul isn't an all-out luxury yoga retreat and it doesn't advertise itself that way either. However, on the other hand, it also isn't 'back to basics'. The best way to describe Azul Villa's interiors is that they are very much like 'a home' – cosy and comfortable, but without unnecessary extravagances. The rooms are all themed – but it's done well in a way that's understated rather than cheesy. The California Room is by far the best option for solo travellers who can't afford to stay alone in one of the other rooms, but are searching a little more privacy than sharing with someone unknown – there's no single supplement for this room. It's based down on the lower level of the Villa, which means there's no natural light. This isn't a problem though, the room still feels light and bright and there's a little window which opens out onto a small hallway to the outside, so there's always a fresh breeze running through. What's more, although the bathroom is technically shared, most of the time you will have the dinky space to yourself, as other guests tend to opt to use the other bathrooms closer to them on the upper floors of the villa. Oh and did I mention that it's right next to the yoga classroom? So for the early morning classes you can practically roll straight out of bed and onto your mat.
THE INSTRUCTORS + CLASSES
Throughout the week Azul offers an early morning class and an afternoon class, every day except for Wednesday afternoon where there is a mid-week break to rest your body a little and explore the area. The classes are great for yogis and non-yogis alike – the instructors work hard to tailor classes to everyone's individual level to make sure all guests are getting the most out of their stay, and even split the group into two smaller ones if necessary. What's more, the class experience is enjoyable and varied – not only focusing on one type of yoga, but several, with pilates, thai chi and meditation thrown in for good measure. Although an 8am before breakfast class may seem a little intimidating for some, by the end of the week you are guaranteed to be bouncing out of bed for 'mat time'. All the instructors are wonderful and talented people. However, it's important for me to highlight two in particular – Valentina, who made me fall in love with yoga all over again and gave me some great moves to combine with my running programme, and Frauke, a warm-hearted woman full of positive energy who helped me connect to meditation for the very first time.
Resident chef and Pilates instructor at Azulfit, Danish Jo Dombernowsy, creates dishes to die for. Brunch is included every day of your stay, and dinner for five nights – and what a spread it is! All of the food is vegetarian, sometimes vegan and gluten-free if wished, and is so good that after a week of her delicious fare, even the biggest of meat-lovers find themselves erring towards more of a veggie approach to food. All recipes are Jo's (or the team's) own, and she endeavours to keep the menu fresh and varied – even trying out new creations during the week and asking guests for their verdicts. Her use of local and fresh produce shines through in the end results too – everything is bursting with flavour and your piled up plate is a rainbow of colour. Being an avid #eatclean foodie already before my arrival I didn't expect to be as bowled over as I was, but Jo's cooking truly impressed me, taught me new tricks and left me (and everyone else) wanting more. At the beginning of the week you may initially be counting down to the moment you can eat out and have some respite from all of the healthy lifestyle, but when that day eventually comes I can assure you that you'll be heading out wishing that you were sitting down to another of Jo's meals instead. Luckily for guests wanting to take recipes home with them, Jo has written a book Truly Healthy, Truly Delicious, which guests can purchase for a reasonable price during their stay. This has now become one of my recipe bookshelf staples.
Although a retreat is an opportunity to relax, this doesn't necessarily mean just sitting around and reading a book – everyone winds down in different ways and for some, this may mean getting out there and doing some extra activities during your free time in between classes. Wellness treatments are, of course, an option on the activity menu at Azul. A 1-hour full body massage is included for all guests, but most people end up booking more. If in search of something a little more active, the Azul team is more than happy to help organise it for you – surfing, horse riding, mountain bike rental, one-on-one classes with instructors, the list goes on. One of the highlights though, is certainly the Volcano Hike – truly energising and breathtaking views from the top, what's not to love?
Travellers opting to go on a wellness retreat are often like-minded, and those at Azulfit are no different. The great thing about the guests here is that they are all a real mixture: regularly practicing yogis, first-time solo travellers, burnt out business types, mother and daughter duos having a girly break away, friends looking to relax together, non-sporty people looking to try something new or kickstart their fitness and, yes, some people that simply need some time to work through an emotionally draining time in their lives. The wonderful thing is that everyone has a story to tell, and people of all ages connect and form friendships throughout the week. A communal feeling is encouraged by the shared breakfasts and dinners, but it's not forced either – and all guests respect each other's need for some 'me time'. Friends for life can truly be made here, and I can say that because I loved Azul so much that I've been back twice (something I never do) and both times I've met some truly special people that I'm still in touch with to this very day.