A wild riverside retreat where guests can ‘bathe’ away their stress in a range of incredible outdoor facilities.
Nick and Rachel Loening have converted a former activity centre in the Highlands to a Japanese inspired bathing and yoga retreat. Now ramping up their corporate offering, guests can de-stress in a collection of hot tubs, baths and rainforest showers dotted along the river Liever. Although don’t pet the cat – she’s as wild as the scenery! We speak to Nick.
When did you start your venue business?
The business began in 2005 with the purchase of Inverliever Lodge and the slow development and upgrading of current and new buildings. We had previously run a yoga centre in Edinburgh and were looking to set something up in a remote area where people could reconnect with nature.
We began running occasional retreats in 2008 and over the years these have become more regular (now weekly). With larger guest numbers we have almost reached full capacity for ecoYoga as a retreat centre.
Tell us about your location and site
ecoYoga is a five acre site at the southern tip of Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute. Inspired by nature we created it as an expression of our belief in a healthy, happy, carbon free and sustainable lifestyle.
Formally an outdoor activities centre, we have transformed Inverliever Lodge over five years into a guesthouse. We now offer 13 bedrooms and a shared yurt. We also have a hydro turbine powered by the river that runs through the site. It is so effective that powering the lodge uses just 2 per cent of its output and we sell the rest back to the grid.
We encourage guests to explore the untouched corners of the site but due to its rugged nature we do ask that they follow some safety guidelines – including the petting of our beautiful cat Lily; she is part bred Scottish Wild Cat!
What facilities do you offer?
We have a glazed yoga studio overlooking the gorge of the river Liever with underfloor heating and a range of spa facilities.
At the ecoYoga centre we believe that there is nothing better in life than a good long soak, chin deep, in hot water. We therefore offer a choice of bathing places for our guests from a simple cleansing shower to deep immersion in our wooden hot tub. All our bathing is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy and the water used is from our own private spring – a wonderful ‘soft’ water that leaves the skin soft and shiny.
Our bathing facilities follow the natural flow of our stretch of river. The sento dome is a geodesic glass structure filled with natural light. Close to the yoga studio, it houses rainforest showers and a hot tub which comfortably sits half and dozen people and is inspired by the ancient purification rites of Japanese bathing.
Following the river from the sento dome is our artisan sauna. Built with sustainable Scottish Douglas fir wood it has its own natural spring water plunge pool and can be reached via a few steps, or a secret passage.
Just below the sauna the river pours past the Upper Gorge Bath. Built into the rock, with hot and cold running spring water, this beautiful bath offers the perfect opportunity to scrub, soak and contemplate, or just dream.
The Lower Gorge Bath is located where our river plunges into a natural gorge and joins the mighty Liever River. This deep bathtub – that easily fits two – has piped hot and cold water, and stands on a solid wooden platform overlooking a waterfall. Guests can alternate a hot soak with a wild river swim.
We also have 10 main accommodation rooms with en-suite toilets, three rooms in a stone built bothy and shared yurt accommodation.
What services do you offer?
We offer fully catered yoga retreats, centre hires (where clients can book the whole centre for a fully catered retreat) and self-catering holidays.
As well as private and group retreats we have created a business retreat package for corporate bookings. Our venue offers an absolutely unique corporate retreat – perfect for developing teams, fostering creativity, strategy planning, mindset transformation and mindfulness training – all in a welcoming and energising wild setting.
A typical corporate retreat includes vegetarian cuisine, inspiring, private rooms for 13+ participants and two facilitators, yoga classes each day (tailormade to requirements for relaxing, de-stressing, invigorating etc.), and sole use of all the ecoYoga Centre facilities (hot tub, plunge pools, hot wild river baths and artisan sauna).
We also offer a tour of the ecoYoga hydro power station, luxury minibus transfers from Edinburgh or Glasgow and a free retreat for two, which is a great opportunity for organisers to plan the event.
In order to make sure we are aligned with a corporate client’s vision, we offer customers a briefing with our staff to make sure everyone is on the same page.
On the corporate retreat part of our website we show what we offer versus what we don’t. This works well to show our main points of difference, eg. unique and comfortable accommodation in a wild natural location vs. a sterile environment, fresh air and great views vs. corporate blandness, soft water that leaves your skin feeling deliciously smooth vs. over chlorinated hot tubs, really remote nature vs. easy access by motorway, owls hooting at night vs. light pollution.
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
All structures were built with recycled ecological and environmentally friendly materials. Research was based on decades of experience working with environmental building, houses and energy etc.
A good friend of mine is Laird Henderson, who created the Ice House on Lochgoilhead and was featured in the first series of Channel 4’s The Restoration Man. We both have experience in building from reused materials and worked together to create the structures at ecoYoga.
How do you publicise yourself?
Mainly word of mouth, however we also have a website, Facebook, Instagram and free publicity with magazines/online platforms. I believe in word of mouth as the most powerful form of exposure, and our unique offering and beautifully wild location has attracted a lot of press coverage.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Our USP is that the centre was inspired by nature and designed to integrate seamlessly with the nature around it. We promote a way to use nature to live in abundance while also being sustainable.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
We have worked with consultants who created our website to ensure it ranks highly in search engines and is encrypted to avoid data being compromised.
What are your plans for next season?
We are hoping to offer more in the way of corporate business retreats.
Describe your average day mid-season
There is no average day at ecoYoga! During a retreat we offer a yoga class from 8am-10am, this is followed by a delicious brunch served at 10.30am. Guests then have free time to relax, go on walks, have a massage or use the facilities. Soup is served at 1.30pm, followed by another yoga/meditation workshop from 4pm-6pm and dinner at 6.30pm.
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
That we are able to offer guests the chance to get away from their busy lives and spend time being in nature; seeing guests leaving relaxed and refreshed and full of joy and happiness is very special. It is especially satisfying when guests from a corporate background who may live hectic, stressful lifestyles get the opportunity to truly let go and unwind.
What are you most proud of?
The number of returning guests that come on our retreats – we must be doing something right!
We also have six members of staff living on site from March to November and I am proud of what we have created for them – a caring and healthy environment in a wonderful part of the world.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
To go with their gut and consult with as many different people to enable you to make the best decisions possible.
Argyll PA31 8RH