Algarve — One of the world’s safe destinations

Once again the US is in a tizzy over another mass shooting, this time in downtown New York City in broad daylight. It must be terrible to live in a country where fear of your own personal safety is so prevalent. I live most of my year in the relative safety of Canada. And each time I visit the Algarve I am struck by how much safer I feel there than anywhere else.

Even single women can feel safe wandering Algarve’s beaches

Not that anywhere there are lots of people one is ever totally free from crime, but in the Algarve and Portugal there really isn’t a big worry about personal safety, nor food safety for that matter. If you are someone who likes to party hearty, heading for the local bar scene and staying out ’til the wee hours of the morning, the threat might increase slightly. There is something about the mix of youth, drink, and drugs that begets violence I find.

But except for that, I think you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who visit the Algarve who have horror stories to tell. Not like my friend who has a permanent scar on her lip from being assaulted with a machete on a beach in Barbados. At some places, usually parking lots near very popular beaches, you might have your car broken into, but that’s about it in my experience. And even that is relatively rare given the volume of tourists who visit this tiny region each year.

I recommend a purse that drapes across the body for safety and so you don’t get a pinched nerve in your shoulder

A friend was visiting me recently and the Algarve’s safety was very much on her mind as she considers a visit this winter. She was extremely pleased to know that there is so little violent crime. She was also extremely pleased to know that you don’t have to wash, peel and cook fruits and vegetables before eating them. Remember, this is both a first world country and one that is not tropical so parasites and critters are no more common here than elsewhere in Europe. She was also liked hearing that cockroaches are not a big issue either, nor is heavy spraying common to keep them down, as it is in Mexico and Caribbean locations.

Some locals having a chat after their visit to Loule mercado

So if you are looking for a safe place to enjoy a relaxing time, I can recommend Portugal and it’s sunny Algarve region very highly. Mind you, you can’t be an idiot about it. Put valuables out of sight in the trunk before you get to your destination. Lock your car. Keep your passport & credit cards in a safe place. Don’t walk down a street you don’t feel comfortable about, day or night. And don’t wander the streets late at night under the influence of drugs & alcohol. Pretty much the same rules you’d live by at home.

Come for a visit and rediscover how to truly enjoy yourself!

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!

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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What Women Want

Almond Blossoms

A woman’s needs and wants varies throughout her life.  Nowhere is this more evident and important as in her travel preferences.  What women want out of travel often changes dramatically as her life changes.

Many of us start out life either being interested in backpacking around the world, staying in hostels, finding inexpensive, culturally rich places to visit and eat.  Or perhaps we begin our travel lives with a preference for top-drawer, 5-star, luxe vacation oases, replete with massages, mojitos and perhaps even hot and cold running beach boys!  And some even choose to forego exotic travel, preferring instead to head to the cottage or campsite with kids and family.

But over time our lives change and our travel interests change as well.  As we move into our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s many of us find that whatever our travel history has been, we are craving different things.  For a surprising number of us, we begin to prefer to travel alone or in small groups.  For others, either through bereavement or divorce, solo travel is foisted on us.

It is not unusual for ‘women of a certain age’ to begin to seek out travel experiences that offer a combination of experiential learning along with opportunities to meet new friends and discover new cultures.  Our bodies may be telling us that while we still feel vital and interested in adventure, we are no longer drawn to sleeping rough or sharing with relative strangers.  Standard tours and cruises often don’t meet our needs:  too many people, too little time to really explore a place, too few opportunities to create our own discoveries.  Take my client Ida.  Recently widowed, she’d always traveled with her husband, taking cruises around the world and spending happy summers at the cottage.  As part of her re-discovery process she took an adventure trip to Turkey and reports a new sense of self worth.  Then there’s Vicki, a single woman who had become tired of vacationing with her girlfriends.  She came along to one of my retreats because she felt it was time for a process of reclaiming herself and discovering what she wanted for the future.  Her two weeks of reflection, exploration and introspection are still with her two years later.  Katy just wanted a couple of weeks away that had more focus than a beach vacation has but was free from the daily moving on that her typical tours entailed.  She selected a creativity retreat with me and discovered a renewed interest in painting, but also realized just how big an issue safety is in her life.  She realized that she’s missed out on a lot because she chose cruises, tours and all-inclusive packages in her earlier years.

I get numerous calls from women who are retiring or who are thinking about what kind of life they want for themselves now that their kids have left home.  What seems to be a common theme amongst them all is that they are seeking something new and fresh in their travel lives.

It never fails to amaze me how my personal experience parallels that of other women.  And what I discovered from the many women who’ve participated in my retreats and culinary experiences further supports this.  But what about you?

What are you craving in a travel experience these days?  What would the perfect get away look like for you?  I’d love to compile a list of what women want out of travel these days.  Please be certain to leave a comment and I’ll happily post a summary in a few weeks time.