A couple of weeks ago I hosted the first retreat at Relaxscape. Almost a year to the day from when I signed the papers and took possession of the enormous bunch of keys that was slid towards me across the smooth glass table in the Tomar notary office, my dreams for this house came alive. I still don’t know what half those keys are for, mind you.
After nearly a year of camping out on my own here (notwithstanding the six months of building work and builders on site daily), Relaxscape finally opened its (salvaged and restored doors) to its first guests seeking balance and tranquillity for a week, the inaugural one which happened to be a yoga retreat. It was a joyful experience, to see the bedrooms I’d so carefully planned being enjoyed as a cool, calm sanctuary for people to rest in after the day’s activities, and the seven (yes 7!) bathrooms that I’d gone all out on (with flagrant extravagance, the workmen thought at first, until they saw the finished results) with floor to ceiling tiling, deep soak freestanding baths and waterfall showers, being used with pleasure to wash away the day’s yoga toil and sand from swimming at the river beach.
Daily yoga to relax
And what a lovely week it was! We had daily yoga with the wonderful Helen Bright Yoga, who guided us skilfully and gently through an increasingly challenging vinyasa flow practice every morning, and a more soothing yin session in the evenings. We practised by the river Zêzere, to a backdrop of tree-covered hills, saluting the sun as it sparkled on the shimmering blue-green water,
and in amongst Relaxscape’s vines, olive, lemon and fig trees on the purpose-built rustic wood yoga platform. (Thanks to José Vicente Building Contractors whose team managed to pull it all together at the 11th hour as usual!)
Forest bathing and sound baths
We forest bathed out walking in the surrounding countryside in search of an elusive waterfall, we river bathed in the lagoon. And to top it all, Lizzy O’Connor treated us to some amazing soothing sound baths, designed to help us relax and move into a meditative state, while enjoying the health benefits that sound therapy has been shown to provide.
Quite how I managed to fall asleep to the sonorous vibrations of a 60cm gong reverberating round the room I don’t know (and in fact the aim is not to fall asleep, rather to keep some consciousness in order to soak in the sound more effectively).
Healthy, homegrown organic food
Breakfast and lunch were buffet-style, using fresh fruits and vegetables grown here at Relaxscape and locally. Nearly every day a kind neighbour would appear with a generous gift of just-picked produce from their own garden, till in fact we ended up with more lettuces than we could eat in a week!
And every evening, the wonderful Fatima came to cook us a three course vegetarian meal, in the style of traditional Portuguese dishes.
(The food at Relaxscape is based around healthy, nutritional eating and organic, seasonal, locally grown produce. This means that while it’s not always vegetarian, vegetables and fruit have a starring role in most meals here!). Over dinner, we chatted about what we’d learnt from the day, how this week of pressing pause on our normal busy lives was making us feel, what we were enjoying about spending time with a group of people we’d just met, brought together over a common bond of yoga and wanting to take some time out to relax.
Learning new habits, how to relax
Highlights for me were seeing Relaxscape full of life, and my guests discovering and rejoicing in the same things that I love about this place and want to share with others; as well as seeing them visibly slow down and surrender themselves to the business of relaxing after the first couple of days of adjusting to a new environment, new people and less structure to their days. I was so touched when one of them presented me with some watercolour paintings she’d done of Relaxscape while she was here, and to receive a message once she got home to say that Helen’s yoga had motivated her to find time daily for a yoga practice of her own.
Another guest told me she was now making her own healthy granola and overnight soaked oats, having seen how I make them, and was adopting the Relaxscape ethos of a healthy, nutritious unrushed breakfast every morning.
And this morning, I opened a thank you card from two other guests which made me cry it was so full of warm wishes and lovely comments about what they’d enjoyed (everything!) while they were here.
Transformations and new beginnings
My Relaxscape journey so far has been about new beginnings, and letting go of things that no longer serve me. Understanding myself better and what I need to keep me happy and healthy. I’ve been transforming this lovely old house while I’ve been going through a transformation of my own. Like Tio Armindo before me, I believe in the importance of staying connected with nature, and with the community, the benefits to be had from a natural and simple life. From what I understand, although he was a solitary man, he liked to share what he could, of his home, his garden, his learnings, with others. I’d like to feel I’m picking up where he left off, but in my own way, with what I have to offer too. And that’s been the best feeling, being able to share that with others, and to see this place finally become not just Tio Armindo’s house, but my home, Relaxscape, for everyone to enjoy.
As someone who used to live here in Cardal wrote to tell me: ”Part of my life was Cardal. I learned to swim in Bairrada, woke up early to go fishing, built my tree houses, bruised my knees when falling from my bike. This was my dream place in the summer when I was a young kid. I wanted to say a personal thank you! Because anyone can build a hotel from an old house. But not everyone can keep that house, that was once a home, with the memory still living.”
If you’d like to come and experience Relaxscape for yourself, you can book onto one of our scheduled retreats here (we offer a varied programme of relaxation & coaching focused weeks, not just yoga). The house is also available at other times to rent out for group bookings, if you’re just looking for a peaceful place to stay in this little corner of paradise that is Cardal.