Yoga & relaxation holiday in Portugal

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Responsible tourism: Yoga & relaxation holiday in Portugal

Environment

We came from London with a mindset of “light footsteps” to produce the minimum environmental impact possible. However quite quickly we grew to realise that what we actually wanted to do was have the maximum possible impact on the environment through our life here. By managing the forest responsibly, clearing the bush vegetation on the forest floor to enable the larger trees to thrive and at the same time protect the forest and village from the ravages of fire. By producing tractor loads of our own compost to enrich the soil. By nurturing and encouraging a much larger array of biodiversity in the plants and wildlife. We have planted a thousand shrubs and plants with the sole purpose of encouraging more bees, insects and birds to be able to make their homes in this part of the forest. Along with hundreds of deciduous woodland trees that will alter the micro climate of the valley as they grow tall, wide canopied and strong over the next few decades.

Gardening and Farming: We are learning, through experience and through the wisdom of our elderly neighbours, most of whom have lived off the produce of these valleys all their lives, how to live more in balance with the resources of the forest. To this end for the last four years we have managed to grow a substantial quantity of organic produce to feed ourselves, family and guests. We have planted over 750 Forest trees on the land with species that we hope overtime will increase the biodiversity of this largely mono-cultural forest and encourage the development of a deciduous woodland floor. We have also planted over 100 Orchard trees to encourage Permaculture based gardens and useful shrubs with more berries to stimulate a growth in woodland bird population.

We live on the edge of wilderness and our privileged to share our forest home with a number of other wilder inhabitants whose families have lived here for generations: wild boar, stoats, foxes, badgers, rabbits and partridges all make regular appearances. The lberian lynx and a mature stag spotted just the once.

Buildings: Our homes were all renovated according to the traditional Portuguese methods of building with clay, stone, wood and lime and are excellent examples of this environmentally appropriate approach to the hand built shelter. We have added a few creature comforts of modern living too.

Water and Energy: The water to all the houses comes from our bore hole and is pure rock filtered spring water straight from the mountain. It's fresh and full of vitality. We are increasingly using the traditional water sources gravity fed from the river and the Moorish water mines to irrigate orchards and crops. All grey water from the houses is also used to irrigate trees and ornamental plants, so we ask our guests to choose carefully the products they bring with them. Ironically, Environmentally friendly branded products are not always the best for irrigation as many have high salt content, good for the oceans but harmful for plants in the gardens.

Water is heated using Thermo Dynamic panels that work efficiently all year in rain, wind and sun. Central heating in the houses during winter is from a number of wood burning stoves using firewood from our own pine, eucalyptus, willow and olive trees: trees are the best solar energy converters around. Research has shown that forests thrive where they are managed sustainably like this.

Electricity is currently from the national grid, although Portugal is one of the pioneers of alternative energy in Europe – wind, wave and solar. We are surrounded by wind turbines on the ridges of all the foothills for miles. One day we hope to be completely off grid by harnessing solar and also water energy from the 2 rivers that run through this valley.

Waste: Our local council of Oleiros provides excellent recycling facilities in the village of Amieira, which makes it easy for us to recycle the plastic, glass and tin packaging we use. All degradable waste is composted on site. Cardboard and some of our kitchen waste feeds the worms in our worm café, who work hard eating all year to create the best liquid fertiliser for our kitchen garden crops and once a year provides a tray of perfect compost to start out the Spring seeding.

The rest of the kitchen waste is composted along with the contribution of our guests in the delightful dry toilets here. Our indoor dry toilets, made from the chestnut panels of old wine vats and marble, use sawdust and chippings cut from the heathers and shrubs in the forest. When added with all kitchen food and garden waste in our compost structures, stored for a year, it turns into tractor loads of nutrient rich compost for the orchards and newly planted woodland trees. It takes a little more human effort on our part, but we suspect our trees are much happier as a result. The land here is stony and much of its soil’s nutrients are therefore washed away in the winter rains. For those trees and plants to thrive It is essential we regularly add back nutrients so along with our own compost we buy lorry loads of goat, chicken and rabbit manure from our neighbours each year.

Transport: It is not easy to arrive here using low carbon transport. We are a remote retreat space in the geographic centre of Portugal. Our local town is supported well by coaches from Lisbon and Porto, although the nearest train station is an hour's drive away in Castelo Branco with an infrequent and slow local bus service to Oleiros.

Community

The best people to ask about our community involvement would be our lovely Portuguese neighbours. They'll tell you what they think about us. We're proud to be considered their friends, but in reality it often feels like we're their students. They have been our best teachers since we arrived, always with open houses and gardens ready to show us how it's done, teach us their language and tell of their history. In return we help them with their olive, wine and crop harvests. It's a great honour to now be able to buy their produce too for our yoga retreat menus. Our own olive oil is delicious, but their's has a few more tasty decades worth of experience.

Eventhough it is possible for us to source cheaper building materials, plants and food from further away, we have always chosen to support our local town economy too wherever possible.

We buy local. It has always been important to us that our local economy benefits directly from our family life and retreat business in Portugal. All the building materials and manpower used in the 4 year restoration work on the 4 small stone houses were sourced locally. We employed, and still do, our neighbours to help us build in the old traditional Portuguese ways with natural materials of clay, stone, straw and wood, and to clear and manage the forest around us. We buy the majority of food for our yoga retreats from the local shops in our nearest town of Oleiros and also as mentioned directly from our neighbour’s own produce – their tasty olive oil, potatoes, onions, salads, beans and corn. We grow our own herbs, salads, fresh beans and tomatoes.

We seek to distribute the revenue made from our retreats directly to our community. During the yoga season we rent the working farm next door from our neighbours to house a small staff team of volunteers that help manage our retreats. This provides a much needed annual income for our neighbours. We employ local drivers to bring our guests the 15km from the nearest town of Oleiros.

Wider afield, we have begun working in partnership with other Portuguese owned rural tourism projects. In 2013 we are hosting our first Yoga and Surf retreat at one of these projects – a beautiful set of bed and breakfast cottages by the beach on the renowned Costa Vincentina. We hope to provide more retreats at other projects in Portugal in the years to come.

There isn't a day that goes by where we don't give thanks for what the Portuguese families built with their hands in this valley a hundred years ago. The stone work in the terraces and river walls run for miles and miles in every direction. The daughters of the men who built the original farmhouses that we renovated are still alive and living in our village up the hill. We feel very connected.

Wider afield, the kids have helped us all integrate quickly at the beginning by being such fantastic contributors to their local school in Oleiros. It's a small town of less than 5000 people spread over 465 sq km (population density 1 person per 4 square kms), and it hasn't taken us long to feel really part of it.

You will be warmly welcomed in any café or restaurant in our town. It's a region of Portugal famous for its hospitality.

Reviews of Yoga & relaxation holiday in Portugal

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 10 Sep 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Where to start! One personal highlight that I can't promise others will experience is the amazing lighting storm we witnessed in the middle of the night. It approached us through the valley until it was right overhead lighting up the sky, blinding us temporarily with no gap between the flash and the clap of thunder!
Experiences others can enjoy are the outdoor shower, the fabulous Bhajan chanting (I was sceptical at first but once you relax into it its so relaxing and a lot of fun) and the food! Oh the food!!! Its just delicious and plentiful (and even amazing when the cooks had to work with out electricity or water!)

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Fly into Portugal the night before. We spent Friday night and all day Saturday in Lisbon which is beautiful and the pastries are to die for! We also had the following Saturday to wander about as our flight wasn't until the evening which was really nice.
Whilst on retreat take the opportunities to go walking in the forest, pop to the river to swim etc...its a good way to see the surrounding areas.
Take a torch for getting about the grounds at night, but also be sure to turn it off and look up every now and again as the stars are incredible.
Other than that I'd just recommend turning of your phone and forgetting about home, work and reality for a few days.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


There is literally nothing at property that doesn't benefit the locals or protect the natural environment.
You'll find all the compost toilets (extremely clean, comfy and odour free!), recycling, natural building materials and local produce that you would expect from any 'eco' lodge / resort but what these guys have done is gone that one big step further.
Everything has been built to comply with local tradition. With a little help from local stonemasons, carpenters and builders Andrew, Vonetta and the kids have preserved the old buildings they originally bought and hope to be able to pass these skills on to newcomers moving to the area to ensure that these skills aren't lost and the landscape remains unchanged.
By learning the language,attending and working at the local school, offering treatments to the elderly and becoming friends with those who have lived in the villages for generations the whole family have become an integral part of the community and they benefit from this as much as the locals benefit from the retreats.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was amazing and fabulous and life changing. One of the best holidays I have ever been on, I just wish it could have been longer!!

Reviewed on 26 Apr 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The love and warmth of the Winter family made you directly feel at ease and at home. The yoga classes were of good quality and inspiring. Loved the silent walks in the morning.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


This would be a perfect and highly recommendable holiday if you're: interested in nurturing your mind and body by yoga and healthy tasty food, would like to be outside your daily environment, are looking for a place where you can be you and are valued for being you, an intense but accessible yoga experience.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


One of the beauties of this holiday was knowing that local people have been involved in rebuilding the properties and are still involved in the daily business of the yoga retreat.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


An A+, definitely

Reviewed on 03 Apr 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


So many memories and amazing times. Probably the most exciting was swimming in fast flowing rivers and waterfalls around the house!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Book it! Was an amazing relaxing time away with excellent food, brilliant yoga teacher and lovely family in a spectacular location.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, it was a very environmentally friendly house, the food was as far as possible sourced locally (neighbouring farms), household emissions were minimal. The air was so clean and fresh and there were good relationships with the local people- we often visited the tiny cafes in the area, supporting their businesses. From speaking to the family, they planted almost whole forests and also cultivate some of their own vegetables with the intention of expanding their self-sufficiency in the future.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


A brilliant holiday and I'd definitely go back.

Read the operator's response here:

And you'd be welcome here anytime Laura. We are all very touched by your kind words. Thank you so much. Love Andrew, Vonetta, Josh, Eloise, Olly and Ashley.

Reviewed on 02 Apr 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The massage and acupuncture therapy. Meeting wonderful, caring people. Incredible food - sometimes it felt there was more eating than asanas!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Come to this retreat to get away from it all and be pampered in a family environment. Bring layers, it can get hot and also very cold in the evenings - especially early in the season. This is a rustic and wonderful experience - do not expect a luxury hotel-style retreat. Bring walking boots and a swimsuit. Bring eco-friendly wash products and extra money in case you choose additional therapy sessions,

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, the family have built (with their own bare hands) a fantastic ecologically sound home - compost toilets, local produce - food from the garden as much as possible. I didn't hear a motor vehicle during my whole stay. (opps apart from the trip to the river for swimming)

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent. A great set up - the family open their home up to everyone and give you the chance to be part of their rural existence in splendid isolation. The facilities are good - Tonnes of amazing food, you can chip in with everything at any stage. Yoga really makes you think back to the essential elements. Then the massage therapy and acupuncture to tackle all the things that need to be tackled!

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