Creativity in the Algarve

Creative Florbela Moreira

There must be something about the unique combination of sun, sand, sea and warm breezes that stimulates creativity because I find that the Algarve is loaded with creative folks. And those who choose to join me for my Feeding the Muse creativity retreat always find that it is so much easier to accept their creative nature here than at home.

Let me tell you about just a few of the immensely creative folks I’ve come across as I’ve been exploring the towns, villages and bi-ways of this glorious region.

Florbela's Creative Outpourings

First is visual artist Florbela Moreira whose collage paintings have inspired me from the moment I first entered her atelier in Silves a couple of years ago.  Her rich, vibrant colours, sacred/tribal themes and highly textured surfaces draw me to her art. I have a hard time keeping my hands to myself when in her small shop. I keep hearing my Mother’s voice “look with your eyes, not your hands” as my eyes flit from one creation to another. Florbela has always been generous with her time as I’ve hemmed & hawed over which creation to purchase on this trip. And she is patient as I whittle down my choices, keeping in mind that they must fit into my already swollen suitcase! Her artist husband can often be heard working away at his own art in a small room as we chat about Florbela’s wide assortment of amazingly well priced originals. I look forward to a return trip in October when I’m there to lead my Feeding the Muse retreat. With any luck, my retreat participants will get a chance to take in Florbela’s shop and talk with her about her amazingly creative approach to art. Florbela’s studio can be found at Rua da Sé, #10, Silves. As you walk down the main cobblestoned street from the Cathedral, you’ll find #10 half-way down to the stone arched apartments on the left hand side. Easy to miss. Florbela can be reached at 282 088 397 or florbela-moreira@mail.com

Next, thanks to my friend Vicki Good, Sales Manager at the Holiday Inn Algarve I had the pleasure of a delightful lunch with Barbara Fellgiebel, creator, founder and enthusiastic promoter of Lit Algarve, a bi-annual International Literary Festival where some 50 international and local authors host readings, seminars and speaking events all across the Algarve. Having done my share of event producing over the years, I was amazed and flabbergasted at the determination and commitment Barbara brings to her Algarve International Literary Festival project. Such scope of creative vision, such on-going passion and so much very hard work is involved in this type of enterprise. As a writer, I can only hope to be involved at some point in the future. The next International Literary Festival is scheduled for September, 2012. In the interim, Barbara keeps the Algarve’s literary community engaged by hosting a series of monthly get-togethers where authors can present their book and offer an associated workshop or seminar, if appropriate. To support the creative writing arts, you can connect with Barbara at +351 282 413 160 or e-mail her at fellgiebel@mail.telepac.pt

Amazing, Inspiring Barbara Fellgeibel - Patron Saint of Writers!

I’ve always been a keen networker, having discovered that you can never tell where one contact is going to lead you. Barbara mentioned during our lunch that there was an art show being held at the Visitor’s Centre at the Parque Rio Formosa in a few days. Now I’ve tried to find this Visitor’s Centre on earlier trips but had never been successful. So an art show was just the excuse I needed to head out and committedly explore the region. I finally found the Visitor’s Centre, only to realize that I’d driven right past it at least 5 times previously. My Canadian eyes was looking for the kind of imposing, brightly signed building we tend to plunk at the entrance to Canadian parks and public places. This centre was much more discreet. Signage is there, but you actually have to look for it, not have it whistle at you as you zip past!

Thanks to Barbara, my client Vicki and I spent a delightful afternoon discovering all kinds of art created by ex-pat German artists, it would appear. That’s one thing I’ve noticed from my trips to the Algarve. It would appear that ex-pat communities tend to stick together. Germans with Germans, English with English, etc. I suspect there is a hunger in all of us for the familiar that has us seek out people who speak the same language, know the same jokes, crave the same sounds, smells and tastes, even when we are drawn to exotic places to live. Anyhow, this was a wonderful art show with a Klezmer band offering background music and great eats and drinks as we wandered through several rooms of paintings and sculptures. But my favourites were outdoors. Several larger-than-life images of mythical people were hanging from the trees, swirling in the afternoon breezes. What fun they provided, especially when strains of lively Klezmer wafted across the meadow.

I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the creativity available across the Algarve. If you have an eye for art, an interest in literature or just enjoy interacting with artistic types, you won’t have to look far in the Algarve to have your needs met. And we haven’t touched on the wild array of ceramic artists, folk painters, crafts people and quirky guys who love to decorate their places in wild ways! Stay tuned for that post.

Why Women Need Retreats

Wild Calla Lily

I was talking with some friends this morning. They have both given themselves the luxury of experiencing one of my retreats. And they are very clear that a retreat and a vacation are not synonymous, even though many women think they are. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in taking vacations as often as possible. I also believe that one 3-week vacation a year does much more for our sanity than 3 one-week vacations possibly can. So what’s the big deal about a retreat then?

Basically it all comes down to the power of intention. Vacations, by definition, are periods of rest, relaxation,  and travel. They are opportunities to step outside our normal day-to-day activities, especially work and to rediscover how to relax, to play, to see new places and people. We return to our normal life refreshed, invigorated, ready again for the challenges of our life.

Retreats, on the other hand, are get-aways with an entirely different purpose or intention. They are opportunities to step outside our normal existence, to reflect upon who we are, to explore life’s challenges, to discover new things about ourselves and our relationship to our existing life, to consider changes we want to implement and then to move back into our life with a new perspective. Sure, a new perspective might happen by taking a vacation. But when we choose to invest ourselves in a retreat, we are committing ourselves to a process designed to up the ante on the likelihood that we will return changed.

Women, in particular, seem to be drawn to retreats that are designed to nurture and support them through periods of questioning their lives and purpose. Some women like retreats with a strong physical component: hiking, yoga, wilderness adventures designed to challenge our physical limitations. Others are drawn to religious retreats where the nature of God and their relationship with a creator is explored and deepened. Still others seek explorations of secular spirituality, of the meaning & purpose of their lives, of exploring and discovering their innate creativity and of letting go of lifelong habits that no longer serve them or bring the outcomes they desire. In my experience, women over the age of 40 are especially attracted to retreat experiences because they are examining their lives and wondering what they want from life after children, after work or after a significant relationship ends. Many have tried taking extensive vacations to exotic destinations, only to discover that while they had a good time and returned relaxed, the essence of their life hadn’t changed.

Our modern world is especially challenging for women. Not only are we expected to ‘be it all’, but we demand it of ourselves. Professionally successful, wise, sexy, always available to our friends, families and life partners. Oh yes, and young looking to boot! But for many of us, there comes a time when we begin to question our lives. We wonder

. . .what if

. . .what else

. . .what’s possible

. . .who might I become if

.  .  .

There's glory at the heart of everyone

These are not only the only reasons why women need retreats, but I find that when these thoughts start to surface is the sign that we need to step off the exotic vacation treadmill and give ourselves the gift of a couple of weeks to ourselves, for ourselves, guided by someone experienced in creating a framework that breaks through our existing worldview and invites us to consider possibilities and potential we’ve never contemplated before. In short, we need to start to invest in ourselves and our future.

So when you notice yourself wondering . . .what else? . . .what if? find a retreat for yourself. Take the plunge. I’d certainly welcome you to any of my offerings in lovely Algarve, Portugal (shameless plug: A Taste of Life, Oct 9-24 and Feeding the Muse Oct 23-Nov 9, 2011). And you may need something different than I offer. So I encourage you to resist the urge to book yourself on yet another cruise or all-inclusive beach vacation believing that will make the difference you seek. Go online instead and discover one of the many wonderful self reflection and self discovery retreats that are available. Begin to invest in yourself, begin to prepare yourself to step into a future that you create and that you deserve!

Algarve’s Exotic Loquats

Nespera/Loquat Growing Wild

Nespera By Any Other Name . . .

On my first several trips to the Algarve I kept noticing a fruit tree that I’d never seen before. It seems to grow everywhere, out of cracks and crevices, and each Spring these small trees are loaded with apricot sized and coloured fruit.

Turns out it’s what the locals call Nespera (nesh-pear-a). The woman who first introduced me to the name of the tree was somewhat dismissive of it. “Oh yes,” she said. “Nespera was introduced here and it’s a weed.” This spring I noticed it for sale at the Loulé farmer’s market. Continue reading

Choosing a Spa

Is there anything nicer when you are having a fabulous vacation than to treat yourself to a spa experience? Perhaps your preference is for a relaxing massage, maybe even one in a glorious setting overlooking the sea. Or you may be more of an esthetics person – pedicure, manicure, facial. Then again, there are all those mud baths and other exotic body treatments.

How are we to choose? How will we know that if we take a few hours or a day out of our vacation that we’ll have an experience that is worth the time and money? My friend Ben from Spa Villas D’Agua spent a few minutes with me offering tips on what to look for and consider when making your decision. He includes his especially important Factor X tip!

 

I’m a massage kinda gal myself. One thing I especially love about the Spa Villas D’Agua experience is hopping onto the golf cart and being whisked down the hill to the secluded and private corner of the grounds for a massage overlooking the Atlantic. So peaceful, so beautiful, sooo relaxing. I always feel like butter when I’m done!

Spa Villas D'Agua Tranquil Massage Tent

Tell me about Fado

Fado is an incredible Portuguese musical artform rooted in the ancient Alfama district of Lisbon. Usually described as Portugal’s form of blues, it is most often sung by women. These days you can find Fado offered in many restaurants around the Algarve. But don’t go looking for Fado houses in this neck of the woods; they are a feature of Lisbon’s unique brand of Portuguese culture. You aren’t likely to get the top ranking fadistas either, but you certainly can enjoy a fun evening of music for a modest cover charge.

It isn’t unusual once the fadista has sung a few sets to have locals begin to join in with their more earthy renditions of favourites. Sadly, I haven’t had much experience of the party evolving to this stage because I’m not much of a late night person!

The long deceased, but still reigning queen of Fado is Amalia Rodriguez. She set the standard for decades and many still try to emulate her vocal range, emotional depth and overall elegance and style. If you have a chance to spend an evening listening to Fado, I encourage you to do so. You’ll discover a world of passion and beauty!

 

What are retreats all about?

Massage helps you reconnect with yourSelf

When many people hear that I offer retreats in the Algarve they look puzzled and ask me what that’s all about. For many, a retreat is part of a religious experience that involves going off to some ashram, convent, monastery or other isolated place for a time of spiritual reflection and time away. If people know me at all well, they can’t quite make the connection as to why I’d be offering a highly ‘religious’ experience!

The truth is that in today’s world, time away from the madding crowd, a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, a period of Self reflection and questioning about life is as important as it has ever been. Perhaps it is even more critical given the break-neck speed at which most of us live these days.

Time to consider new possibilities

What’s different now is that for so many of us, organized religion is not present in our lives, nor is it a priority; we are much more secular in our approach to living.  But religion was about much more than a belief in a higher power. Because it was organized, religion provided social connection and support; we were invited to consider our lives and our issues in a larger social context. That is missing for many people in today’s world.

So people like me, people deeply involved in the world of human growth and development have begun to offer ‘secular retreats’ to those in need of time and space from the daily grind.  We know that there are periods in every person’s life where we need to reconnect with ourselves and consider the larger context of our existence, whether we believe in god or not.  We also know that those who have eschewed a religious path likely haven’t developed the skills and practices to support a meaningful period of Self reflection. At some point, we discover that another beach vacation, camping trip or jump off a mountainside isn’t giving us what we crave. We don’t know how to find it on our own.  So most modern, secular retreats offer some sort of framework so that searchers, seekers, cravers and lost souls can get in touch with themselves in ways that not only satisfy a deep inner need, but that help to illuminate the future in meaningful ways.

Modern Secular Retreats

The approaches to modern retreats are many. Some have a highly kinesthetic dimension to them: they use exercise such as yoga or martial arts, combined with meditation as their focus. Others involve journaling, activities to break down barriers and spiritual practices of traditional cultures to expand perceptions or a combination of diet and exercise to shift awareness.

My retreats, for example, offer a period of adjustment from the busy-ness of daily life, followed by a period where educational models are offered that invite participants to consider their lives through new eyes, along with a series of conversations and exercises that invite Self discovery and awakening to new possibility and potential. I always allow a 2-week retreat period. The first week allows people to slow down, to bring body/mind/spirit back into alignment so that they can really have meaningful explorations of Self during the second, more structured week.

It’s all about priorities

In the end, if you are considering a retreat, the right one for you really is all about your priorities and what you want to accomplish. Come on back next week when I’ll be offering a post on tips for selecting the retreat experience that will best suit your needs.

Public Art in the Algarve

Metalwork Palm Trees - Vila Nova a Cacela

Art in public spaces is not something I’ve encountered a whole lot of as I’ve traveled around the Algarve. However, on my January trip I did come across an impressive sculpture in a tiny little hamlet called Vila Nova de Cacela.

I had parked my car at the edge of the hamlet and wandered down to the fortress, enjoying the warm, sunny weather and then the incredible views out to sea and over to the Spanish border. It is easy to see why around the turn of the first century (yes, around 1,000 AD) a fortress would have been built to warn of maurauding pirates. It was subsequently well used in the centuries when the Moors and Christians passed control of the area back and forth. But sadly, like much of the Eastern Algarve, the original fortress was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and subsequently rebuilt at the turn of the century.  Still, it is an impressive structure to our modern eyes. And unless the ground opens up and swallows the cliff upon which it rests, the views are stunning.

Next to the fortress is a lovely old parish church. As I came around the corner of the fortification and headed towards an opening with more views of the water, I came upon two lovely metal sculptures of palm trees that filled a quiet, sunny courtyard. No one else was about; I had the place to myself. As I stood appreciating the way the huge metalwork trees graced the spot, the church bells peeled out the hour.  All in all, a delightful few moments when nature, history and art combined to give me an experience I had not expected. That this moment occurred in such a tiny hamlet seemed to make it all the more special. I can guarantee you that only the tiniest fraction of visitors to the Algarve even know about this place, let alone these graceful sculptures.

Now Vila Nova de Cacela is not the only place I’ve encountered public art in the Algarve. But it certainly was the least expected art experience I’ve had. That’s what I like about wandering around on my own. I never quite know what will be around the next bend. It isn’t always as gorgeous as this hamlet and these sculptures, but it gives me the thrill of discovery each and every day that I set out to explore!

Look below for some of the other public art pieces I’ve encountered in my travels. I know that on my next trip I’ll be conscious about seeking out even more of them to tell you about, because I know they are out there waiting for me to turn a corner and discover them.

Algarve’s Gentle Eastern Shores

I recently spent two more glorious weeks in the Algarve.  Only this time, I moved east, staying in the delightful town of Tavira.  My days were spent exploring the town, the back country, the waterfront and, of course, the many fine dining opportunities that abound in the Algarve.  Off-the-beaten track Algarve continues to be what calls to me.  This recent trip helped confirm, yet again, just how much diversity is packed into this tiny region of wonderful vistas, friendly, gentle people, great food and culture, fabulous beaches and good shopping.

Sunset near Tavira

The coastline feels more gentle because you are pretty much behind the barrier islands of the Rio Formosa in this part of the world.  Beaches are broader and backed by sand dunes rather than cliffs. The food feels more traditional, but perhaps given that it was the dead of winter many restaurants were offering all kinds of stews. There are several very small fishing communities that are still highly traditional and are delightful to spend time in. Boardwalks along the waterfront are much more popular in this part of the region.

And the countryside, oh my! The almond blossoms were just coming out when I arrived and were at the peak of perfection during my visit. And there are sooo many of them. In some places, there were white and pink blossoms as far as they eye can see.

Unfortunately, there are also some depressingly overbuilt and congested tourist traps in this area too.  And it was scary to be driving the back hill country only to encounter the massive up-scale golf courses and gated housing communities that have sprung up as ugly blots on the rural landscape.  But I suppose that tourists must be attracted in whatever way possible.  Sad to see, though.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks, folks as I document my most recent discoveries.  Great art galleries, public art displays in unusual places, villages, restaurants, country drives will all be featured to help make your visit to the Algarve an amazing and rich one.  Or perhaps even to tempt you to visit this wonderful gem of a destination tucked away in the southern-most reaches of an equally delightful country.

Spring is a Time for Renewal

Not only does Nature renew, refresh and enliven herself each Spring, but it is a great opportunity for women who want more out of life to do the same.  Join me for two great renewal opportunities this Spring. These women’s retreats are not to be missed.

Choose from A Taste of Life – March 29 – April 13th or Awakening Spirit – April 12 – 27th if you seek renewal, adventure, freedom and luxury.  Don’t miss out on these great opportunities to create the best life possible for yourself.

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Algarve – Without a Car

Bikes may not be public transport but they make a pretty picture!

I’ve had a number of enquiries from folks planning to visit the Algarve without a car. Where can I go?  What sightseeing can I do without a car? How easy is it to get around, they ask.  It is pretty darned easy, actually, as bus and train service is widely available.  Now remember always when you are using public transportation you have to allow lots of extra time.  Keep in mind that the except for the narrow strip along the coast, the Algarve is amazingly sparsely populated so don’t expect big city schedules and convenience.  But if you are willing to invest a little time and effort into planning and scheduling your outings, you can a lot of the Algarve and its many treasures without a car.  And it won’t break the bank either!

Bus

The good news is that local bus service is pretty decent so you can see a lot.  Eva is the Algarve bus company.  Alas, their website is all in Portuguese but there are enough pictures, etc. that you should be able to find your way around.  If you go to  you’ll see a page that shows all the towns across the Algarve you can visit using their Tourist Pass.  Eva’s buses run from Quarteira in the east to Lagos in the west, with branches off to Loule, Silves and Monchique.  The Tourist Pass is an ‘all you can eat’ over a 3-day period.  I’d recommend that you take some time to plan out your itinerary and then commit yourself to 3 days of intense sightseeing to make best use of your pass.  Locations where you can buy the pass and pick up the bus are also listed.

Check out other tabs on Eva’s very informative site.  They appear to have a tour bus run that takes you out to Cape St. Vincent.  And if you are interested in the commuter buses that follow the coast from town to town, there are bus route maps, timetables, etc.

Train

There is a commuter train that runs from the Spanish border (Villa Real de San Antonio) all the way west to Lagos.  Faro is the hub of this rail line and you’ll apparently have to change trains there if you want to visit towns further east or west.  CP is the train company.  The good news is that it has an English website   The less good news is that their information doesn’t seem to be well laid out.

Tourist Train

Finally, if you decide to stay in Albufeira or make a day trip of it, the city offers a small tourist train that meanders around various sites and lets you get on an off for a set fee.  Pick up a brochure and map at the local tourist information office or most hotels.

It always takes more time to travel around when you are using public transportation.  Make sure you allow for it.  The nice thing about hanging around waiting for a bus or train is that it is a great opportunity for people watching, for having another spectacular Portuguese coffee or glass of vinho and for just sitting quietly reconnecting with yourself.  So even if you opt for an Algarve visit with a car, you are not stuck to one village or town.  Probably 75% of the sights and activities that car drivers can access you’ll be able to get to as well.