The expectations I had of Morocco, when I visited for the first time, did not disappoint. It is exotic culturally, stunningly beautiful and full of friendly smiling faces. The busy souks of Marrakech with the haggling commerce and step-back-in-time sort of feel, contrast magnificently with the breathtaking views and serenity from the heights of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas mountains. Morocco is an ancient and sacred land full of unforgettable sites and smells. In my travels in Morocco I have recently discovered my favourite place in which to soak it all up. It is called Azaren.
Azaren is a private home nestled at the base of the Atlas Mountains, 35 minutes away from the brand new Marrakech Airport. I have been coming here to lead Yoga Retreats for a couple of years now and I genuinely think it is one of my favourite places to take people and practice yoga together. This walled 16 acre estate has 4 main bedrooms and 5 villas spread out around a vibrant and flourishing garden underneath the backdrop of the soaring Atlas mountains.
A typical day would start with a sunrise filled walk around the gardens lined with pomegranates, moroccan rose and orange trees. This peaceful stroll would lead us to the vast pool where we prepare for our morning yoga. Our view is of the mountains reflecting upon the pool. The call to prayer echoes across the valley from the Minaret as birds sing and welcome the morning sun warming the night’s desert chill. After our poolside practice we would find breakfast beautifully laid out with fresh juices, tea, fruits, moroccan pancakes and freshly baked bread. The tranquil magic of the morning fades as the remnants of our practice sink in and mixes with the stimulation of food and conversation. This is the best part of an Azaren morning. Feeling so blissed with the magic of our surrounding and our practice and beginning to vocalise the experience with one another over a morning cup of coffee. After the varied conversations of our practice, praise for the food and discussions of everyone’s plans for the day we disperse to all corners of Azaren. Some indulging in a double Hammam and Spa, some resting in the beds around the pool, others on their private terraces with a good book or some jumping into the taxi to Marrakech to explore the souks. By the late afternoon we would all gather to enjoy another more restorative yoga practice, basking in the sounds and smells of the lively garden. Just before sunset we gather again for drinks on the terrace, views of the Atlas mountains and dinner served at dusk. It is the epitome of of relaxation and restoration. I hope one day I can share it with you.
Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado reminds me of HOME. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains, of Idaho. Natural hot springs were abundant in my state and a proper wilderness campsite was not a perfect 10 unless it had a natural hot spring in the vicinity. Dunton (as the locals call it) is a little more than your average campsite with a hot spring. It is a privately owned, perfectly restored ghost-town just over the mountain from Telluride Colorado. Oh, and it just happens to be a Relais and Chateaux property so one does not have to worry about finding the right tree to pitch your tent under or whether or not bears will roam through your campsite in the middle of the night. All the luxuries of a 5 star hotel are available at Dunton, but the feel to it is rustic comfort in a serene and majestic setting.
Started as a mining town 1885 along the West Dolores River high up in the in the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado, at it’s peak in 1905 Dunton claimed about 300+ residents. However, the boom and bust cycle of mining towns did not spare even Dunton and by 1910 it was all but abandoned. The current owners purchased the property in 1994 and have restored it to what it looked like as a mining town complete with a Bar/Saloon rumoured to have been visited by Butch Cassidy and his trusty side-kick Sundance. While the buildings on the exterior look weathered and worn, the interiors are luxurious and comfortable. Nothing extravagant, but all the details are attended to. Small rustic cabins dotted along the river for about a mile with the Lodge/Saloon and hot springs bath house in the centre of town. This restored ghost town keeps its rustic authenticity with the intrinsically woven modern country chic presentation. I immediately felt at ease with my surroundings. What a place to spend two weeks practicing Yoga!
Our day would start with a morning walk down to the Yoga Barn which framed the neighbouring mountain and its fertile mix of Aspen, Blue Spruce, Fir and the occasional Ponderosa Pine tree. Often times after class we would spend time walking to the waterfall to absorb the residue of the practice before heading off to the Saloon for breakfast. Each day was filled with different activities. Horse back riding guided by Dunton’s Horse-Guide, Alison Eddy and her team of well kept four legged mountain climbers who kindly take the intensity of being 10,000-14,000 feet (3,000-4,500m) above sea level off the body to explore the many trails that surround the area. There is mountain biking with wild trails full of ascents and long descents and for those who find it too challenging there are bikes with assistance; electric MOTORS! Great for some of the steeper inclines. While I was invited to Dunton to practice Yoga, the abundant free-time and activities kept me busy and what better way to unwind after a full day than a soak in the hot springs and relive the unique experience from home.
As a child and young woman growing up in Idaho I have fond memories of soaking in natural hot springs gazing up into the nights sky, witnessing it with zero light pollution and a billion stars all around. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to Idaho to reacquaint myself with the sensation but as soon as I dipped my toe into the mineral rich, warm springs and assumed the ancient Hindu hot springs soaking relaxation pose, I was reminded of just how amazing the sensation is (might also have had something to do with the high content of naturally occurring Lithium in the pools). Dunton is a mountain oasis where rugged meets relaxation and the Mountain setting humbles the most confident of Yogis. If you ever get a chance to stay in Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado, ask about the Yoga Barn and make sure to soak up every ounce of blissful experience Dunton has to offer.
To rent Azaren privately go to www.azaren.ma
To book a room at Dunton or to rent the whole ghost town go to www.duntonhotsprings.com