Monday, December 28, 2009

Yoga Retreats at Moses, Amieira, Portugal

Our website for Yoga Retreats in Portugal 2014 is open for online bookings 
or you can follow us on Facebook. Below is our first ever post about retreats back in 2009.

retreat «ri tréet»
a movement away from danger or a confrontation, back along the original route; a withdrawal from a position or point of view to one intended to lessen conflict; a quiet secluded place where people go for rest and privacy; a period away from normal activities, devoted to prayer and meditation.

Retreat away. Retreat into. You are invited to explore the possibility of retreating to Moses, a small valley nestled in the foothills of the Serra de Estrela mountain range of Central Portugal.

On any Saturday from 3rd September til 17th December 2010, make your way to the local town of Oleiros by coach from Lisbon or Porto, from where you will be picked up and driven to the village of Amieira and below into the valley of Moses, to a renovated 3 bedroom Xisto stone cottage that carries the same name as the valley.

After cereal, fruit and yogurt breakfasts in the cottage, mornings are spent learning about various aspects of self sufficient gardening. Learning by doing. Learning by playing. Learning by seeing. Gardening activities and workshops will be determined by the season, the weather and the moon. And at olive and wine harvest time, you can join us in helping our elderly neighbours collect their harvest in too if you would like.

Afternoons are a time for meditation by walking. Walking into the wilderness of the surrounding forests and interconnected network of once cultivated river side terraces. Into a life once lived. A life of Romans and Moors and Portuguese small holding farmers, who all carved out a living from the stones and waters and soil of the mountainside. 

Afternoons are also an opportunity to receive a massage and/or acupuncture treatment in the Farmhouse.

Before dinner, yoga classes are given on the wooden eternity deck by the Farmhouse. Vonetta teaches yoga according to the Dynamic Yoga Method as taught by Godfrey Devereux which is suitable for any level of experience including absolute beginners. 

Lunch and Dinner are served in the Farmhouse and are lovingly and freshly prepared by Vonetta’s mum, Arlene Drakes from Barbados. Arlene uses her own special blend of magic to turn the food grown in the gardens into scrumptious meals, mainly vegetarian, with meat available for those who require it.  At some point in the week, Eloise will make a cake or two.

Massage and Acupuncture Treatments

Vonetta Winter is a fully qualified and experienced therapist (Body Harmonics, Cheltenham 2005) who uses a blend of Oriental therapies in her treatments.

Tui Na is the ancient healing art of Traditional Chinese Medicine where hands press and massage key acupressure points stimulating the body’s own natural healing process. Tension is released increasing the flow of blood, nutrients and energy (Qi) around the body.

Thai, the 2500 year old massage technique for relaxing the body and mind, is applied through clothes on a futon mat, using rhythmic pressing and stretching through a series of gentle yoga based postures. 

Indonesian is a deep pressure, essential oil based massage, involving strong pushing techniques to invigorate the soft tissues, making it a highly effective treatment for sports injuries.

Acupuncture is the needle based therapy component of Traditional Chinese Medicine, excellent for treating a wide range of physical and emotional ailments.

Price:             Massage & Acupuncture €75 per 90mins        


To find out if we have space on the dates you want to come, visit the online calendar on or give us a ring at the Farmhouse on 00351 272 634 006 or email us at info @ with any questions. If we are not around, leave a message and we promise to get back to you as soon as we get back in from the gardens!


Vonetta & Andrew

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Go on", A Christmas Message from the River

So here it is once again the approach of a Merry Christmas. Corrie Bailey Ray is a playing crooning to us about love and loss and achingly sweet vibes are all over the place. Effie Starlight and Memphis are cooking up a Christmas cake, punctuated with the occasional, "Von, where is the..." from Memphis and the reassuring "Don´t worry Papi I´ll find it" from our gorgeous little Starlight. She is all over the show making sure that Daddy stays calm, Josh gets the chance to lick the spoon and Mummy doesn't spontaneously combust due to proximity to a computer. Josh is up in his sleeping loft curtain drawn working away at something or the other, we only know he is there from the slight snivel of his persistent winter cold, poor love. As for me, at 3pm in the afternoon I am sitting in my pjs writing a blog.

Lazy, lazy, I hear you Papops, but not so, just badly dressed. Instead of the usual Christmas rush for pressents I have been out and about since 7am alternately loving and wringing my hands at the sudden rush of water come to join us for Christmas. Last night the winds holwed, the trees rocked, swayed, bent in defiance of the force. I have lost count of the number of waterfalls that have opened up on the land. Everywhere the bedrock is bleeding water and the land is just saturated with the bounty.

I personally couldn´t wait for the morning to see what all the fuss was about and what a vision. This is my time of year, green green green. The river is full to its banks and when you open up the door of our little home the sound of the water falling takes your breath away. So at 7:30am Moses, Me and Queenie ("Tom and Jerry"´s dog) went awalking. Dressed in boots, pjs and my favourite country girl cardigan I was transfixed as the  early morning fog infused with pink slowly dispersed shedding the clinging winter night to reveal the source of the tumultuous, racket outside our house, water. A wet and green and bountiful Christmas.

This is our first Christmas alone just the six of us including Moses and Angel. So what is it that I wish for this Christmas? Standing on a large boulder, normally surrounded by stone, but today surrounded by water, I took my cue from the river. This Christmas I want to love them with a ferociousness capable of washing away any desire for anything else other than being right here where we are together. I wish to empty out myself for my family this Christmas. To exhaust myself with loving them. To compete so to speak as to who can be the most loving, the most generous the most patient the most kind. A competition that no one can win but all can enjoy.  I have had some really good Christmasses and wherever we were or with who ever they have all had the same underlying desire the desire to give above and beyond your capacity. To exhaust yourself with loving.

So this is what I wish for for us this Christmas and for you if you have the chance to read this blog. That for one day that we give to what ever people we find ourselves with. That for one day we put aside any grieviences or guilts or shames or angers or frustrations with those people and decide to just love unconditionally without bounds or recall. Yes there may be a big mess to clear up after. Yes there will be issues and struggles to face in the future. Yes we will have to do something about the little stream flowing through our house. All of that can wait. I hope to give myself to the people I am with and that they will be willing to give themselves and that I will gladly receive whatever comes.

Last week Memphis said to me that while going into a teachers meeting one of the office guys just started singin "Last Christmas". You know the words, yeah you know Wham well, don´t be ashamed. Let me refresh your mind if its shy to own up. It goes like this, "Last Christmas I gave you my heart and the very next day you gave it away. This year to save me from tears I´ll give it to someone special." Well Ellie has been singing this little limerick over and over again. While walking I found myself singing it. Ah the blissful shameless freedom of aloneness. But seriously, this is what I think. This Christmas give your heart, press pause on all the shit, on tommorrow and just give it away this Christmas. Each person you are with is special because you are with them, so give give give. The next day or the next person might come, hurt may come. Struggle may come but don´t worry on that at Christmas. Turn to the light and shine, stubbornly despite all the odds.

Go ahead flow, gurgle, run, stream down the mountainside. Exhaust yourself after all it is Christmas. Have a very loving Christmas.

The Winters 6

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mammoth Tasks…Small Victories. By River.

When I started putting those stones in the wall I didn’t know if I could do it.  I didn’t know I could finish it. Our true summer began with the filling of the first holes in the walls of what will be our bedroom.  I remember the day clearly, utterly terrified that I would do something wrong and the house might fall over instantly.  But it didn’t and it hasn’t and I don’t think it will.  I think our work is there to stay for sometime.  But it is within the framework of building this house that our summer began and expended itself into our autumn and soon to be our winter.

Within that summer we have spent precious wonderful time with family, friends and strangers.  Sally and Papops, my Mum, Sister and Tia Avril, Uncle Andrew or Uncle Manly as he has been renamed,  shanti B,  Paula and Alfie and lots and lots of new friends and people we may never see again.  It has been one action packed summer a glorious summer and a gentle Autumn. 

When we finished the main structure of the stone walls I knew something more had to be done.  The room we built lacked the charm of the little stones characteristic of stone houses in this region.  For hours each day I sat looking at the beautiful stone work of our present little shelter – the house actually called Moses (our houses  midway up the land are actually called Cabeço meaning head like the head or source of a spring), anyway I sat and stared at these walls and one day knew what to do.  I would have to put the small stones in after the main structure was up. That way we could get the roofs on in time for the winter rains.

When the big stone work ended and most of the roof structure of our bedroom was in order I went up the hill to start on the face of little stones, I started as tentatively as the first stone I put in the house, I started with a little corner. The next day Senhor João the eldest stonemason, came and asked me who was doing this work.  Prepared to hear this is terrible and shrink off down the hill to go to my duvet,  I tentatively replied,  I did.  He grinned tapped me on the shoulder and said “this is the way.  The old way it takes a long time and no one has or wants to do it this way but this is the old way”.  An even wider grin appeared on his face as he said “one year to finish the small stone work on both houses”. 

At that moment, my eyes panned out. I looked at the house and thought I don’t even know if I can finish this wall let alone the whole house.  But set up the scaffolding I did with the help of my Memphis and I started with no instruction, no idea and no capacity to think of the whole wall let alone the whole upper floor.  Builders came, built the childrens house, roofs went up, tiles were put on, school started, ill health and good health has come, sun, rain, fog, and green grass grew from the terraces.  The grape harvest brought in.  The river got its voice back and the olives started to swell.  Strawberry fruit tree fruits started glowing jewel like, tantalising out of reach.  The school term started for Josh and Ellie, and I lost me Memphis to the little kids of Oleiros, Orvalho and Estreito, his days changed to singing nursery rhymes and dealing with naughty impish behaviour and still I continued on these walls.

At the beginning I felt sick to death of it.  Thinking I would do this and it would be pointless, it wouldn’t look the same or the stones will fall out instantly or I might dislodge something important.  But with every single stone my confidence grew until I was doing it without thought.  Without thought or instruction I have learnt a great deal about stone. The little stones have taught me about their quality, colour, how they will open up or whether they will crumble.  Where the fractures are and how each quality of stone is best bonded to the clay.  Which colours glow more in the night and wet and which stones will stand defiantly clear in colour in the face of the sometimes scalding Portuguese sun.  They taught me to stack them just like the big stones for the most stable support so that actually I was building mini walls within the bigger walls which we’d put together earlier on in the summer.

Every day for the few weeks Senhor João was here, he would come and shake his stone hammer at me and say “don’t think about the time, go to the wall”.  If he saw me deflatedly looking out over the horizon he would come and say “Maria, go to the wall”.  The truth is he was right it was the only instruction I needed.  Go to it, keep doing it and you will learn the way. Very yogic, Zen even.

Mario gave me my next lesson when one day I exasperatedly threw a stone over the terrace wall.  “What’s wrong Maria?” he asked.  Oh this black stone keeps falling apart.  “There are many types of black stone” he said dismissively as he walked away. And with a big Mosey sigh off I went to look for these elusive black stones and I found them.  I even learnt how to put in the crumbly stone letting it crumble or keep form depending on what I wanted.  From that experience I learnt that there isn’t just one way in the universal sense, but that each stone has its own way. 

Paulo taught me to look after myself, make sure I had a secure, safe and comfortable work place. Filipe has taught me to grin, jiggle to the accordion (yes I confess I have jiggled to the accordion on top of the scaffolding from time to time).  And Eugenia has taught me I must eat and rest on Sunday.

I knew I was on to a winner when Mister Farinha in his usual stern manner, said incredulously and with a dash of admiration, not too much mind you, “How many stones have you put in that wall?” I learnt my style was more different perhaps more feminine as female visitors would come over and gaze at the quartz or powder blue soft stone, while the men nodded at the hard black flint.  Hard because while it may take 10 minutes to break up a huge soft stone it takes over 30 mins to break a brick sized piece of the hard flint. I also learnt not to break up flint with a stone hammer on dry grass or twigs.  Very important lesson when living in a forest.

I am so grateful to João Antunes for teaching us this way it is slower but nothing moves not one stone can be easily removed and put back the walls are so solid, centered and strong like so many of our Portuguese neighbours.

With each small victory of stone put in that house I realised the mammoth nature of the task.  But last week I finished the small stonework of the bedroom.  I finished it and even up to the last stone I didn’t know I could finish it.  Perched on top of the highest corner wall of the house I hammered in the last hard black stones and when it was finished, I stepped back and my eyes panned out and realised it was complete.  I had done it.  The walls of small victories were over.

So much has gone into those stones, joy, anger, frustration, fun, laughter, disappointment, tension, apprehension, divine certainty, forgiveness, peace and above all love.

My eyes panned out further afield and I saw once again as new, all that we would be honoured to do in this land and once more I saw the mammoth task.  But I now know in a calm, patient and reflective way that it is possible perhaps even probable, since each task, whether it is picking Olives, or collecting seeds or planting trees or building walls or collecting firewood, each mammoth task is made up of a number or small, sometimes tiny, victories.  These victories are happening all the time until they come together and something apparently impossible has taken place.

I have finished what seemed like a mammoth task and at last I feel I can exhale, let go, kick back and know that whatever else we have to do, somehow we, whether that we be made up of Memphis and me plus the kids or with our neighbour Joao, Filipe, Jorge and Eugenia or with builders, or guests or friends, we will do what we can and we can do quite a lot when all those little victories have been added together.  We will, under the grace of the Infinite, find a way to do it and that is no small victory.

Thank you Memphis for encouraging me and stroking my back and telling everyone how beautiful it is that I was doing this. I really really needed that.

Paz e amor


P.S.  As I stood and looked at the jeweled walls, all of 10 minutes after finishing, my favourite João came and said “It’s beautiful Maria, now you can start the filling in the old walls of the house!”

I guess there is no rest for the wicked!