Responsible travel: Yoga & ayurveda vacation in Portugal
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.
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.