Some 25 odd years ago when I was just out of college I landed on the island of Tenerife with my backpack at the start of my travelling years. I remember asking the waiter in a local bar if he had something on the menu for vegetarians. After a puzzled look and a shrug he brought me a Sopa de Puchero and a salad.
Now this traditional Spanish soup might look like just dishwater but don’t let it deceive you as lurking at the bottom of the bowl were bits of ham whilst salads invariably have a big serving of tuna on top (sigh).
The Spanish were, and still are, diehard meat and fish eaters and at one time it was virtually impossible to see anything on the menu that didn’t contain meat somewhere, somehow.
But times are changing and the Spanish understanding of all things holistic, ethical and ecological are also slowly evolving.
The number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants has increased significantly for example. Back in 2011 the Happy Cow Vegetarian website listed 353 vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Spain. Today this has increased to almost 2,000.
Asking for a vegetarian dish is no longer a swear word whilst raw food, yoga, meditation, tai chi, detox diets, spiritual and wellness and mindfulness classes, workshops and retreats are springing up all over the country faster than you can say ‘OM’.
With a large foreign community influence and a change in the younger Spanish ideals, all-things-holistic – whether it is shops, retreats or courses – are now becoming thriving businesses and an important lifestyle change for many.
Meanwhile with an impressive outdoor recreation opportunity, huge renewable energy sources and conservation efforts, eco-tourism is fast becoming a thing for many areas in Spain.
It is totally understandable therefore that Retreats and Glamping are able to work hand in hand with both sides able to use each other to complement their businesses plans.
For those organising retreats, Spain is a perfect choice for a location whilst glamping sites are able to combine their location whilst also tying this in with vegetarian/vegan cooking classes or dining options, promoting eco tourism whether it be renewable energy, recycling and biodegradable products whilst others are going the full nine yards and offering retreats to run alongside their accommodation offer whether it’s meditation, mindfulness, detox, health, weight loss, creative writing, photography, fitness, walking, cooking, life coaching, therapy, spiritual classes or yoga for example.
There are so many to choose from but here’s a quick sample of some of the most impressive glamping/retreats locations in Spain:
Suryalila Retreat Centre is located near the village of Arcos de la Frontera in Cadiz in a beautifully old renovated olive farm which is made up of eight houses which form the cortijo with inner courtyards blooming with orange and lemon trees. The property is set on 45 acres of land and is a working olive farm with 350 trees.
The rooms inside the house are tastefully decorated and there are three yoga halls – the Ganesha Yoga Shala which holds up to 30 people; the Om Dome overlooking the hills and olive groves holds up to 60 with under floor heating and cooling and the Moon Shala which is a sustainable cob-built structure in the olive grove holds up to 16 people.
Suryalila was founded by a group of friends and today is managed by Vidya Heisel who is the director and an international yoga teacher. Vidya grew up in the UK but has lived in India, Bali and the US and arrived in Spain in 2011.
Vidya said: “Including glamping as a sleeping option at our retreat centre gives our guests a more affordable option and also offers them a real back to nature experience. At night you can hear the sounds of owls and horses nearby and if you need to pop out to the bathroom in the middle of the night you are overwhelmed with an incredible canopy of stars.
“We chose this particular location because it is in the very heart of Andalucia and is equidistant between the culturally rich cities of Seville, Jerez, Ronda and Cadiz and Andalucia is arguably one of the most beautiful regions in Spain with the best weather and beaches.”
Retreats range from four night yoga retreats to yoga festivals, teacher training and Spanish language retreats. There are double rooms available for those seeking comfort inside the house, there are dorm rooms sleeping up to eight then outside on the land there are three Eco Casas; Deluxe Yurts (double, triple or family size) or a Twin Tent.
There’s a salt water pool, sauna, permaculture and organic farm, boutique shop for yoga equipment, therapists and gourmet vegetarian cuisine provided.
If you prefer a more active retreat how about a Surfing Retreat? Dreamsea Surf Camp in Ruilobuca, Cantabria in the north of Spain is located in the campsite El Helguero, whilst the camp offers a whole host of activities from surfing to yoga, sports, massage, concerts and excursions.
There are basic 10 hour surf lessons per week or 15 hours intensive for newcomers with all the equipment provided whilst accommodation is in the luxurious glamping tents for couples or there are also shared fully furnished tents for groups or families. The campsite El Helguero meanwhile also offers camping plots and bungalows.
Dreamsea began six years ago in France and have been active in Spain for the last four years. Alba Camacho Reina said: “I think glamping and retreats work so well together because glamping melts with nature in a harmonious, peaceful and magic way, generating a perfect environment and location for a retreat.”
Also in the north of Spain is Asturias Yoga retreat centre offering Ashtanga yoga and teacher training courses plus massage and healthy dining run by partners Alysia Simeone and Simon Loughlin.
The retreat is located in the heart of the mountainous chestnut forests of Los Picos de Europa national park and provides various accommodation options from a comfortable private room in a cabin to economic options in bell tents set on their land or via the nearby Casa Rural for those looking for more luxury.
They support sustainable living and the yoga centre and guest house all function off solar power whilst water comes from a natural mountain spring, the heating from a wood burning stove and the forests, land and orchard provide an abundance of seasonal vegetables, nuts and fruit.
Alysia said: “The concept of glamping combines camping in nature with comfort and many people are instinctively drawn towards connecting in a deeper way with nature and realise the benefit such connection can have on energising the body and mind.
“However when it comes down to it, the thought of being squished into a tent, or trying to get a week of rest on a little camping mat is often enough to detour people before even setting out.
“The furnished bell tents we prepare provide participants with the comforts of a bedroom and security of some spacious living while still only being the width of the tent’s fabric away from evening owl song, the morning bird chorus and the sound and smell of the natural elements like wind and rain. The yoga practice has the effect of refining the senses, making all of these outside influences much more pronounced and intoxicating.
“We were drawn here by a shared vision of living simply and in harmony with the environment around us. Practicing and sharing yoga is our passion and our retreats and teacher training courses serve as the vehicle for making this possible.”
Meanwhile relative newcomers to the retreat and glamping scene is Riverheart Retreats located in the south of Spain in Coin near Malaga who held their first retreat in June last year. This place was set up by Samantha Short and her partner Mike Helme and they offer accommodation via a wooden self contained chalet, two little wooden cabins, a bell tent, a Sami Lavvu Scandinavian teepee for solo travellers or couples plus a wooden clad geodesic dome decorated with an impressive and colourful hand sewn gypsy kaleidoscope inner lining.
Samantha runs a series of workshops and retreats throughout the year from yoga and yoga teacher training retreats; pilates; mind, body and spirit retreats; creative writing and painting and art workshops.
Samantha said: “We offer workshops, courses and retreats in the creative and healing arts so anything from yoga, meditation, creative writing, Qi Gong or painting. We also have work away programmes where people come and stay with us and help us with our projects in exchange for food and board.
“We see a strong link between creativity, mind body practices and wellbeing. All our teachers are multi disciplinary and bring a breadth of experience and knowledge that adds subtlety, precision and innovation to their teaching.”
Riverheart have a unique Yoga Cathedral area sculptured with a bamboo roof which holds the shading cover and a hand painted mandala design on the yoga floor.