Yoya and Thai massage retreat in Portugal

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2017: 30 Apr
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Yoya and Thai massage retreat 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 Yoya and Thai massage retreat 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 07 Aug 2014 by

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


Opening up my life to different possibilities, finding a new hobby and meeting awesome people.

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


Pack light and bring light clothes. Most of all bring an open mind.

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


All the produce is sourced locally which is very responsible. The area of forestry itself is well maintained and supported. All efforts are made to make this as low impact as possible.

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


The most amazing week away - I only wish I had 2 weeks to spend there. It was the most idyllic place to relax after a demanding time, even if just for the quite time. It has opened my eyes to Yoga and the benefits of massage and Acupuncture.

Reviewed on 11 Aug 2014 by

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


The natural beauty of the area, friendly group, great space for yoga, great teaching. Wonderful massage and acupuncture - totally restorative.

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


Pack a head torch, a water bottle, good shoes for getting around, don't expect accommodation to be luxury and bring a hat in the summer! Carry an open mind.

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


It was certainly not heavy on the environment. The local people definitely benefited from having people enjoy cakes, drinks and local delicacies. I would say it is very low impact.

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


A great break from a mad city life. A great combination of people and therapies to recharge.

Reviewed on 11 Jan 2014 by

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


There are so many memorable moments...The Winter's family have created such a special place in this world. Tucked away, but exposed to nature in so much of its glory; you can’t help but immediately become intoxicated in the overall ambiance of the family home and surroundings. There is care shown in every simple task and so much love prepared in the food we eat together each day. There is an energy that runs through the place and you feel connected every waking moment; as you find a quiet moment by one of the water pools, or take a walk with one of the dogs, attending a yoga class, enjoying a good night’s sleep. It’s a healing place like no other.

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


Be open minded with no set expectations and you will be see the pure beauty of this place.

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


Yes, this was apparent in many ways, the compost loos, the recycling, outside showers, trips to the local town and environment.

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


Excellent...perfect in so many ways. I would gladly come back to this picture perfect spot in Portugal.

Reviewed on 10 Jan 2014 by

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


The whole setting was very nice - I loved my ninja cave. Personally I didn't expect that I would look forward to the yoga sessions - but I couldn't wait for the next one. Food and people were amazing.

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


Be prepared just to relax and don't make too many plans what you want to do.

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


Yes, I definitely got the feeling that everything was locally sourced and that the contact to the local community was very good.

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


Very enjoyable, very relaxing - I got some new experiences and insights!

Reviewed on 21 May 2013 by

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


Discovering an authentic and undiscovered part of Portugal. The combination of Yoga and acupuncture treatments was extremely beneficial and unique and the hosts were caring and thoughtful. The food was fantastic, fresh and plentiful.
Even though we were in a group context, everyone's individual needs were attended to in a very subtle way so we all felt very relaxed.

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


Bring plenty of layers of clothing as the weather is unpredictable and can be cold this time of year. Purchase your bus tickets on the day - no need to book in advance.

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


Yes - the retreat sources everything locally and is regenerating the mountain village communities.

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


Definitely to be recommended - a short break felt more like two weeks worth!

Reviewed on 17 Aug 2013 by

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


Scenery, retreat guests, Yoga, puppies, lake, meditation... Lots of good memories.

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


Beware the hills!

It's ok you don't need to be a genius at yoga! Very suitable for beginners and the classes are great, if challenging!

When you are receiving the complementary treatment you may be asked if you'd like it with acupuncture. What you're not told is that this costs an extra 25 euro, which you will be asked for on your last night... Came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of us we were not told this at the time of our treatments.

Bring your own towel. They say towels are provided... One... All week. No extra towels are left for guests.

Don't worry the food's delicious (from a non-vegetarian)!

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


Yes. Locals were supported and there seemed to be a great alliance between Andrew and the locals. This was fantastic!

Yes. Dry toilets, recycling, composting etc. Really on the ball here!

Surprisingly, though they use Persil washing powder, even though the guests are told to bring simple safe products as it all goes into the water supply.

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


Very good with a few little drawbacks.

Read the operator's response here:

Hey Orla

Thanks for your review on Responsible Travel. Sorry the additional acupuncture cost was a surprise. Normally Vonetta details this really well in your orientation on the first Sunday. Although we explain this in our Welcome Pack, maybe Olly didn't make this as clear as Vonnie would have done if we weren't partying with the kids at the Sudoeste music festival on that first weekend when you arrived! Last thing we would want is people to be surprised by additional costs. So sorry Orla. This is the first time we've ever had this happen, so we obviously got it wrong this week. We'll do better in future. :)

Secondly, on the grey water system, I normally explain this too at the start. 2 of our sinks in the farmhouse go to another system to treat the chemicals and salt. Our rinse sink in the kitchen and the waste on the washing machine. Eco friendly products for washing clothes are the worst for the land as they contain such high salt content. So we had to devise a separate system to deal with washing clothes.Likewise when we pick our olives we need to soak them in lots of salt before we can eat them. The first year we came we had to waste 2 barrels of olives because we couldn't dispose of the salt water anywhere without destroying plants.

But all the bathrooms you used, the water goes directly to water trees. So if people use products high in chemicals, it would kill our trees. Again, sorry we didn't explain this properly to you in the Pack or when you arrived. Although we explain this thoroughly on the Responsible Travel site.

Hope that helps Orla. This was our first "non glowing" review. But it's helped us to realise how important it is to explain what we do here better. So thank you.

Hope you get back home safely and thanks for being such a wonderful guest this week. We really enjoyed having you here. .

See you next year


Andrew, Vonetta, Josh & Ellie

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