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El Paradiso

by Hannah Davis(more info)

listed in retreats and travel, originally published in issue 104 - October 2004

It's a few minutes past 9am on a Sunday morning and what's astonishing is that I'm up, showered, breakfasted and already writing. Normally, I'm a sluggish starter; the sounds of urban London and the distractions of my own life take me anywhere but to the computer.

This is why I've come to El Paradiso, which is quite literally a taste of paradise in Andalucia, and the serenest of places to get down to the beautiful art of writing, or indeed any creative activity.

El Paridiso

I'm sitting in the sunny courtyard of the 200 year old finca; the rolling green hills and mountains provide a nurturing and peaceful setting. The only noise is the constant stream of bird chatter. Yesterday as I looked up at the blue sky I saw two eagles soaring in loose circles and I felt a sense of home-coming and of being at one with my spirituality. Native American culture says that eagles are a reminder that it is possible to live in the realm of the spirit and yet remain connected and balanced within the realm of Earth. The feathers of eagles are considered to be the most sacred of healing totems and for centuries have been used by Shamans to cleanse the aura of patients coming to them for healing. Above the old, stone bread oven in the kitchen is such a feather, symbolizing the aims of El Paradiso, which are to support the healing of the body, mind and spirit in an environment of ecological sustainability.

Situated only 40km from Malaga makes El Paradiso easily accessible for weekend breaks or longer retreats; yet it sits completely secluded in a hidden valley, surrounded by rugged mountains and criss-crossed by streams. Within the 50 acres of organic land there is a waterfall and even a resident pet pig, Buster. The finca has been lovingly renovated by an English couple and operates on many levels for the public: as a retreat centre running various holistic courses such as Shamanism, Reiki, Yoga, Neurolinguistic Programming and Personal Development etc; as an affiliated member of Wwoof (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) offering working holidays to people from all over the world (whilst I am here a Japanese student from Tokyo is busy levelling an area of land in preparation for a yurt); and as a b&b, where people like me, a busy screenwriter living in North London, can come, be inspired by nature and find the time and space to write; indeed, there are also creative writing courses on offer. My fellow guests are from all walks of life, each on a unique path to enlightenment; they include a Baroness writing her fifth novel and a long-distance lorry driver cultivating his passion for erotic poetry.

My room is a converted stable which before me used to house donkeys. Luckily all donkey residue has been cleared away and what remains is a rustic, white-walled bedroom with the most comfortable of double beds. Its unique feature is the array of nooks and crannies in the walls, all of which have been filled with shimmering candles. All seven rooms are simple but each has a personal touch to make you feel at home. And it is like being at home here. The hosts, Steve and Sarah, keep up a fun, informal atmosphere and an almost constant stream of tea. Food is very much organic, most of which is supplied from the land right outside the back door: oranges, lemons, peaches, pomegranates, almonds and olives, indeed there are around five hundred olive trees to choose from and over a thousand almond trees. Pure, sweet-tasting well water is fed by mountain springs living up to El Paradiso's aim to be as ecological as possible, including the inviting chemical free eco-swimming pool, with its water lilies, reedy perimeters and babbling cascade.

I've been here two days now and one of the more magical aspects about being here is how time extends. The first day I relaxed by the pool, soaked in the Andalucian sun and drank tinto de verano, red wine mixed with lemonade, and even managed to do some writing. Yesterday I went for a long walk around the land, strolling knee-deep through wild flowers, spotting scores of delicate butterflies, and observing the orange, green and blue colours of the North African bee-eater and the lilting, distinctive flight of the hoopoe. Upon my return I was treated to a healing from Reiki-master Sarah, which left me feeling relaxed and centred. At night, as the light from the solar and wind powered electric system cast out a soft glow, the eight of us feasted upon a delicious barbecue of fresh fish, caught by Steve the day before, and shared our travel tales. When we fell silent the evening sky was full of chirping cicadas and the hoot of owls, and later still when everyone else had gone to bed the night was alive with stars and the eerie cry of unknown animals. Who knows what beasts hide in this valley?

The nearest town to El Paradiso is the enchanting Alora, a small town nestling between two great hills, rather resembling breasts, on one of which sits a ruined Moorish castle, and the other, a convent. Visits to Alora can be arranged, otherwise car-hire is a must if you want to explore beyond the delights of the finca. Even leaving El Paradiso is an adventure as we clamber into the 4x4 twelve-seater Land Rover, cross river-beds and bump along muddy tracks for twenty minutes before hitting tarmac. Nearby also is the town of Cartama, which has a lively Sunday market. Lunch in tapas bars is a Spanish treat, serving tasty portions of tortilla, fresh prawns, marinaded red peppers and other morsels of local food.

A day trip to the beach is easily done, but somehow visiting the grey sand of a tick-tock Anglicized resort on the Costa Del Sol didn't appeal to me, and so instead we went to the stunning lakes of El Chorro.

Whereas the coast is packed with English holiday-makers, the gleaming turquoise lakes of El Chorro remain one of Andalucia's best-kept tourist secrets, and nearby is one of the geographical wonders of Spain, the Garganta Del Chorro. This immense chasm 180m (590ft) deep and in places only 10m (30ft) wide has been cut by the Rio Guadalhorce through a limestone mountain, and is infamous for the Camino Del Rey, a catwalk clinging to the rock face which leads to a bridge across the gorge. This area is quite naturally a magnet for rock-climbers and walkers, and other popular activities include mountain biking and caving.

Malaga, the second largest city in Andalucia, provides a stimulating and cultural adventure, and isn't bad for nightlife either. The former Museo de Bellas Artes has been adapted to house a new Museo Picasso and the Casa Natal de Picasso, where the painter spent his early years, is now the Picasson Foundation. In the vibrant old town visits to the 16th century cathedral and the vast Alcazaba are a must.

Malaga is surprisingly Spanish (for the Costa Del Sol) and nightlife here gives a real taste of just how good Spaniards are at enjoying themselves. If you want to sample it for yourselves don't even bother going out until about midnight and centre your night around the Plaza de la Merced. Near here are a plethora of decent bars, night-clubs and restaurants, where the Malaga specialty is the fritura malagueno, which are small fish flash fried in olive oil.

But back to Paradise. I've spent a productive morning on the laptop, accompanied by swooping swallows drinking from the pool, the smell of the earth and the sight of a verdant valley. I've always found my creativity is revitalized and stimulated in natural surroundings and nothing feeds my imagination better than the magical, earthy, healing spirit that is El Paradiso.


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About Hannah Davis

Hannah Davis worked in the London Film Industry for many years before becoming a screenwriter herself. In addition to her writing she also runs scriptwriting courses and creative writing courses at El Paradiso. She can be contacted on; spain/el_paradiso.htm For more information on her courses see

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