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How Yoga and Portuguese Tarts Brought Me Back to Life

Nova Yoga Retreat - Portugal

I was so out of practice at this travel thing. It’d been 2.5 years since I went on an international trip and I felt like it was the first time. I had no idea what to pack or how to minimise my cabin baggage. I will say, this was the first time I’d ever packed a yoga mat into my checked bag.

Recently, I was given an amazing opportunity to attend a Nova Yoga retreat in Portugal. The catch was that the retreat was starting 8 days from when I got the message. All I had to do was book my flight and show up in Lisbon. The rest was taken care of. Did I want to go? Um, yes! It took me a few minutes to sort out work and home responsibilities and before you knew it, I had my first international flight since 2019 booked. But it didn’t happen without some hesitation.

The travel anxiety was real. For a few days leading up and periodically on travel day my stomach would turn over in knots. Did I forget some important paperwork? (I didn’t) Would my COVID test come back negative? (It did) Would I run into horrible lines at Pearson? (I did not) What on earth is an eSIM? What if some leg of my trip was cancelled? Did I have the right insurance? Deep breath.

Never mind the fact that my yoga practice was woefully out of date, except for a handful of morning sessions in my living room. Still, the thought of 7 days of sun, beach, outdoor pool, yoga, and delicious food had me convinced it was all worth it.

I needed this.

Obidos, Portugal

I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.

All through 2020 and 2021 I insisted I was doing fine. Great, even. My good friend had moved in so I had company. My work could all be online so no interruption there. I started a garden. I started a new blog. I embraced athleisure. I was made for hermit life. I was good. Except, I don’t think I was. Not really.

It took a spontaneous international trip to bring me back to life and realise how much I had slowly shut down over the pandemic.

When I first got the message from Melanie, the owner of Nova Yoga, about there being an open space on her Portugal yoga retreat and it was mine if I wanted it, all I had to do was pay for my airfare, I immediately thought “Yes!” but as I sat with the idea over the next couple of hours before I responded doubt and anxiety started to creep in.

Even though I was being offered an amazing opportunity, I actually said out loud to my roommate “It might just be easier if I stayed home.” That was also the moment when I knew just how much I needed to go. Exploring new places and doing new things had been a source of joy for the past decade and now here I was contemplating saying no just because it would be easier.

COVID had been like a slow acting Dementor and I hadn’t even noticed it. Week by week feeding on my happiness and joie de vivre. Home was cozy. Home was safe. Home was dulling my self-identity. Before I went to bed that Saturday night I took a swipe at my Dementor and booked my plane ticket.

Arriving in Country #22

By some minor travel miracle, despite me booking two separate flights on two different airlines to get me from St. John’s to Lisbon via Toronto everything went super smooth except for a minor delay.

I got my first jet-lagged glimpses of Lisbon as we drove through the city centre to pick up fellow retreat goers who’d arrived earlier in the week. I was enamoured. Narrow streets, shiny tiled sidewalks (wear grippy shoes if you visit) and tiled buildings. It was beautiful to my eyes, so used to seeing just the inside of my house for so long.

Nova Yoga was the first yoga studio I ever practised at back in 2010 after learning the basics at some municipal rec classes. I really appreciated Melanie’s teaching style and the way she guided classes. She is supportive and encouraging and she is an inspiration as a female entrepreneur. In fact, I interviewed her for my fledgling Leading the Pack series back in 2016.

Over the years I fell out of taking classes (life, right?) but I always followed along on social media and lived vicariously through her when she started offering yoga retreats around the world.

Italy. Greece. Mexico. Costa Rica. They all looked amazing. I could only imagine how great I’d feel after one.

However, with all the other trips I always had planned, a yoga retreat never quite fit into the schedule. So when I got that message from Melanie on a sunny Saturday morning it was an immediate yes. Well, sort of. 

Nova Yoga Retreat Portugal

Living That Yogi Life

There were 11 yogis on that retreat, including Melanie and her assistant instructor Emilie. Women from all walks, going through all manner of life events, coming together for a week of ease, flow, and joy.

Each day we’d start our morning with a 90min yoga class on the open air rooftop deck. The sun would rise over the back wall so that by the time savasana came around I could lie with the sun on my face. What a blissful way to start the day.

The first morning, tears came to my eyes as I sat cross-legged on my mat looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the other side. Pure gratitude.

I needn’t have worried about my having out out of date yoga practice or feeling like I’d be left behind in the flows. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about yoga is that it’s just between you and the mat. It’s about listening to your body and giving it what it needs and is asking for. Maybe today I don’t twist quite as far. Maybe tomorrow I stretch a bit further. It was so nice to be reminded of all that.

Yoga Poses

After class we’d head downstairs and go straight for the breakfast bar and the made-to-order omelettes and almond milk lattes. I’d fill up my plate with croissants, yogurt, granola, fruit, and cheese while I waited for my omelette. The hotel also had the most delicious coconut breakfast cake (gluten free too!). Of course every breakfast included the classic Portuguese pastry, pasteis de nata, and of course I had to take one each time. With a spread like that there was a reason we didn’t have a scheduled lunch each day.

Portuguese tarts

After breakfast we’d either be off on a day trip or off to the beach. We made trips to wineries, walled villages, enormous beaches, and multicolour castles. I also joined an afternoon day trip to Lisbon. I was glad I was able a quick look around the capital since I wasn’t able to extend my time in Portugal beyond the extent of the retreat because, oh yeah, I was starting a new business with a friend and we needed to get ready for launch.

I loved that free time and optional activities were built into our itinerary. The balance of yoga and vacation activities is something that really worked well for me. 

There was another 90min yoga class each afternoon before dinner. Too early for sunset but we’d get to watch the sun sink closer to the horizon over the course of our classes.

Catherine Allan, from the folk duo Fortunate Ones, was part of our group and accompanied us during three of our classes, including one set of instrumental tracks she’d written just for this retreat. It made these special classes just that much more special. We had one snafu during the first musical class when the rain decided it wanted to join us. Despite throwing a blanket over Catherine and her equipment and attempting to soldier on, we had to admit defeat and cut that class short. Makes for quite a memory though as we all laughed it off.

After our second yoga class of the day it was time for dinner. The food was just beautiful each and every day. So much fresh seafood and local produce. Just looking at our meals made me feel healthier. Several nights we all ate together at the hotel where the wine poured as freely as the conversation. Though most of us had never met previously, there never seemed to be a lull in the dinner chat. Everyone out there really does have a fascinating story when you take the time to listen. I appreciated getting to know so many wonderful people.

I feel like I came back to life in Portugal.


Take Me Back

I’ve been home for a bit and Melanie is back in Santa Cruz now for another retreat and watching her Instagram Stories is making me feel both nostalgic and envious.

Watching them shoot ginja in Obidos while I flashback to wandering the streets and taking tripod selfies. Seeing this retreat cohort at their seafood dinner on the beach and remembering the copious amounts of rosé some of my group indulged in and the laughs we had at the same location.

I want to be back there enjoying that giant pool overlooking the beach insisting that the cool water was refreshing or drinking local white wine chilling in the huge bean bag chair on my room’s terrace and realising that the only way up was to ungracefully log roll off it.

Amazing how many core memories you can create in seven days.

If you want to have a similar experience that I had, you’re in luck! Booking is now open for a September 2023 retreat. I’m half thinking of booking it myself and reliving all those wonderful days.


  1. Michelle Curnew says:

    September 27th, 2022 at 7:16 pm (#)

    Awesome read! I’ve done two retreats with Melanie(she’s awesome) and my retreat to Bali was cancelled because of the pandemic. I decided to use my deposit towards a retreat in Costa Rica next year as I didn’t want to travel to Bali by myself(travel companion gave up her spot). I still feel apprehensive about travelling to CR. I have travelled within Canada, but always within my comfort and secure level(ie. family visits). I have Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease which is challenging when travelling. However, I never dwelled on it before and always pushed forward saying to myself, “you can do it, Michelle! But pandemic and a few other issues have derailed that thinking making me nervous. After reading your blog, I feel excited and inspired to jump on the retreat train again. Hopefully, I can keep my head out of that zone I go to when I overthink travelling again. Thanks for sharing.



  2. Alouise says:

    September 27th, 2022 at 11:02 pm (#)

    Covid has been such a strange thing. I haven’t travelled internationally since 2019, and even just flying to Vancouver earlier this year (which is just an hour flight for me) gave me so much anxiety. I’m glad you got on the plane and went to Portugal (looks so beautiful). I don’t think I’ll get to go anywhere this year, but maybe 2023 I’ll head outside of Canada.

  3. lizzy says:

    October 5th, 2022 at 6:15 pm (#)

    Such an interesting post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. I wish I could adopt the habit of Yoga more frequently.

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