Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as your retreat venue

Five reasons to choose Apartamentos Sierra Alta as a venue for your retreat

Perfect for a writing retreat
Perfect for a writing retrea

Nestled in the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra de Cadiz mountain range in Andalucia, our friends and family have been staying in these wonderful apartments since 2013. Since 2014 we have been hosting our annual writing retreat here. We really love these apartments and not just for the quality of the accommodation – there’s something special about the surroundings too.

Here are five reasons why I think these apartments are special:

  1. Location

If you have read my article about Backwell House, then you will know that when I’m looking for a retreat venue, for me, there must be a wow factor. Something that your guests may not have expected, or even if they were expecting it, it still makes them say “WOW!”.

8 with caption ECR2
Sunset in Benaocaz

Here, the location really is a wow factor in itself. Sierra Alta is on the edge of the little village of Benaocaz at almost 800m above sea level. It’s surrounded by mountains and there are amazing views. Some stunning sunsets can be seen from the apartments as the sun goes down behind the mountain known as ‘La Silla’ (The Saddle).

‘This place is magical’  Martine Louis, Money Coach

2. The Apartments

There are six apartments in total making this a small and cosy place to stay.

Sierra Alta Apartments
Sierra Alta Apartments

Each apartment has either a balcony or a terrace giving you a great view and some outdoor space. There are two two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments which would comfortably fit ten people on a retreat (if participants share a bedroom, you could take up to 14).

Each apartment has a lounge area with a kitchen and a bathroom with a walk-in shower. There’s air-con if all gets a bit too hot in summer and they are centrally heated for cosy winter stays, which, believe me, you will appreciate in the evening if you stay here from November to March.  There’s also a fireplace and logs are on sale in the village if you fancy a cosy fire.  My experience with log fires here depends very much on the way the wind is blowing!   And, unless you are an expert at lighting fires, I would recommend popping up to the restaurant Posada El Parral to enjoy their log fire instead!

Inside an apartment
Inside an apartment

The apartments are clean, comfy and equipped with basic cooking equipment. While there’s only a two-ring electric cooker, it’s fine for cooking a simple meal or breakfast when you don’t feel like eating out. If you go away on retreat or holiday to cook like a pro, this probably won’t suit you. As an extra bonus if you are travelling light, a washing machine and ironing facilities are also available if you wish to wash your clothes and dry them off in the sunshine before you go home!

3. Carlos and Maria

This is point number three, but actually, hosts Carlos and Maria are one of the main reasons why your stay at Sierra Alta is so special.  Not only are they friendly and welcoming, but they have also put a lot of thought into making your stay comfortable. Their thoughtfulness and personal service shines through and is one of the things I love most about them. If they haven’t got what you need, they’ll do their best to sort it out for you. And while they are never in your way, they are always on hand if you need anything and are quick to spot a way to improve their service. Nothing is ever too much trouble, making this ideal as a retreat venue as you can be sure your guests will be cared for. They pay attention to the little touches that, for me, are so important, yet so often get overlooked.

Carlos and Maria are always making improvements. Last year we arrived to find hairdryers in the bathroom and two newly built barbecues in the garden area. This year we discovered that they now provide pool towels for guests (at no extra cost). After realising that many visitors (particularly those who arrive in Spain by plane with hand luggage only) weren’t bringing pool towels with them, they decided to invest in some for guests’ use. These are the little touches that I believe give added value and comfort to your guests.

4. The Pool and Outdoor area

The natural backdrop in the area is amazing and Carlos and Maria have created an outdoor space that is relaxing and laid back. Sun loungers around a salt water pool, sun shades and a seating area where you can admire the view, use the space for a workshop or watch the sunset with a glass of wine if your not watching it from your balcony.

Helens view edited

Carlos maintains the pool and keeps it clean all year round meaning that if you are brave enough to swim in December you can, – the pool is unheated and even in summer, it can sometimes be a challenge to get in – but more importantly it means that it’s aesthetically pleasing all year round. It always looks beautiful whether you are sitting around it or admiring it from your balcony.

We generally go in September to enjoy the good weather (and the pool), but if you are here in December or January the pine tree is light up for Christmas and New Year. At the end of January or beginning of February you might even get to see some snow!

5. The ambience

Thanks to the beauty of the natural surroundings and Carlos and Maria’s efforts and good taste, there’s a very special atmosphere here that’s difficult to beat. It’s not just your normal apartment block. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a sort of magic to the surroundings. It’s generally peaceful although you will probably hear the donkey braying, cockerels crowing and perhaps the church bells, along with the tinker of goats’ bells if they happen to pass by. A few dogs might be barking in the distance, but it all adds to the atmosphere and won’t disturb the peacefulness.

Will we carry on holding retreats here?

We most certainly will! Our guests love it and so do we.

Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015
Our lovely guests from the writing retreat 2015

In September 2018, we will be running our fifth retreat here and every year the venue holds its magic. It’s a beautiful location and ideal for taking time out. The mountains are a big wow factor for our guests. Apart from the natural surroundings, one of the other wow factors for me here is that I always feel like I am the first one to use the apartment.

If you decide to hold a retreat here, bear in mind that unless you book the whole venue, you may come across other guests staying at the apartments. This has never bothered us as the type of guests who come here tend to be looking for peace and quiet or are off hiking all day. However, that said, during the school summer holidays it is likely to be a bit nosier (in Spain that includes the whole of July and August).

I think it’s always a good idea for you, or your retreat or event coordinator, to visit any venue before booking to get a feel for the place to make sure that it’s right for you and your guests.

What you need to know

Prices:  start from 60 Euros per night for a 1-bed apartment for 2 people

Parking: free

Nearest airport: 1 hour 20 minutes from Jerez airport / 2 hours from Malaga airport / approximately 1.5 hour from Seville airport / 2.5 hours from Gibraltar

Public transport: a bus runs twice a day to Ronda, Malaga and nearby Ubrique

Website:  http://www.sierra-alta.com/

Contact details:   You can email Carlos and Maria at: apartamentosalta@gmail.com  (Remember to let them know you read about the apartments on Rebecca’s blog!) or contact me to make a booking for you.

 

My big hairy avocado goal: setting goals and blogging

This week I spent a lovely morning at Bakesmiths in Bristol with business coach Linda Davies-Carr at her workshop on goals; Review Refresh Revive

When Linda first advertised this workshop as ‘a half way through the year review session’, I realised with a surprise that the year was almost half way through and I still hadn’t achieved many of my goals as a writer. It’s easy to go off track and get caught up in the other things going on life. So, I signed up for the workshop realising that this was an opportunity to recover my motivation.

One of the first things Linda asked us to do was complete a form with questions about our business. The first question asked if we have a business plan. As a retreat organiser, I have a business plan. However, as a writer I don’t have one. An ‘Aha moment’ came as I realised that I have not been paying attention to my writing goals. Actually, I wasn’t even sure what those goals were. So, it’s no wonder I don’t write as many blog posts as I’d like to; I am not taking myself seriously. I teach others to set goals using the wheel of life as part of wellbeing courses, but I clearly am not walking my talk in this area of my life.

So, why are goals important anyway?

Procrastination seems to be a popular word nowadays and ‘finding time to write’ is a common complaint among writers and business owners who write a blog. One of the great advantages of having a coach to help you set goals, is that you have someone you are accountable to. You set a goal with your coach, decide how best to achieve it, let your coach know what action you will take and then report back with your results. Not only do you not want to let your coach down, but you also feel motivated, so you get on and do it. Besides, it’s embarrassing telling your coach that you didn’t do it because the dog ate your notes, or whatever excuse we use. Setting goals helps to keep you going in the right direction. It gives you clarity. Your goals motivate you when you get stuck or can’t remember what you were supposed to be doing. They help you deal with overwhelm and create a strategy in your work.

The big hairy avocado goal

Linda talked about having a big hairy audacious goal (which I later misread as a big hairy avocado goal in my notes) and having smaller goals that you can tick off.

She suggested that we set thirty day, sixty day and ninety day goals as well as twelve month goals and five year goals. If you are thinking ‘I don’t have time for that’, Linda also pointed out that for every minute we spend planning, we later save ten minutes in execution.

The big hairy goal is usually the one you are working towards long-term. Whether that’s to own a boat and navigate the world, to write a book, to own a beautiful home, to set up a charity or to earn a five-figure income from your blog. It’s the dream-big one.

Take action

Linda repeated the importance of acting immediately. So, after the workshop I set about writing my goals as a writer. I’ve committed myself to writing two blog posts a week for my own blog, a guest post once a month for other blogs and to write two articles a month that I can sell. Each goal has a deadline, a list of things I can do to achieve it and three things that I can do to move me towards that goal. It was exciting to see my goals taking shape as I planned how to achieve them. I have also set myself a financial goal. And, of course a goal to write a business plan for my freelance writing career. Now I have posted this online, I also have to be accountable to you, lovely reader or, alternatively, find a blog-eating dog and attempt to deny all knowledge of any goals. In other words, it will now be hard to let you down. Not only do I feel motivated, but I’ve also made a commitment.

Make goal setting fun

Make it creative. Sit somewhere inspiring, get yourself a drink and plenty of water to keep hydrated, put on some music, create a vision board, use different colour pens, buy yourself a special notebook, use coloured paper, whatever makes it enjoyable for you. Find someone to help you gain clarity whether that’s a brainstorming session with a friend or a coaching session. Writing your goals down provides a visual reminder of what you need to do. Many experts believe that writing goals down has a powerful effect. Check out Brian Tracy to find out more. Make sure you can see your goals every day. Linda’s advice is “do something towards your goals every day to keep up your momentum”.

Now I’m accountable to you, dear reader

So, will goal setting as a travel and personal development blogger help me to take myself seriously? In other words, will I write more blog posts? I’m hoping you will be able to see for yourself by watching my blog grow week by week. I don’t want to let you or myself down, so I have set dates on my calendar for each goal that I have set myself. I also don’t want to let my personal coach down – she has worked hard with me to help me gain clarity and create a vision of where I want to be with my writing career. I have my goals written down in a pretty notebook – there’s one on each page and today I brainstormed where I want to be in five year’s time. I feel motivated and in the last few days I have been far more productive as I look at my goals and get to work on them. And guess what? It feels good.

I hope this article has been useful and would love to hear your comments in the box below.

Love and literacy: Book Day in Spain

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For book lovers and writers in Spain, April 23rdroses outside bookshop, World Book and Copyright Day, is characterised by an expression of love. A book and a rose are given as presents to loved ones to celebrate El Dia del Libro (Book Day) all over the country.

Originally started in Barcelona, in the 1920s, by the writer Vicente Clavel, Book Day later went on to become declared World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO.

Clavel, who lived in Barcelona, came up with the idea of a day to celebrate books and reading. Since the 15th century people had given roses to their loved ones on April 23rd the day of the patron saint, San Jordi (St George), in Catalonia. Realising that April 23rd was also the anniversary of the death of both Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, it was decided to celebrate Book Day in Spain on this day and encourage people to give books as presents.

At first, men gave a rose to women on this day and women gave a book to men. Nowadays, books and roses are given as presents to both men and women. Schools, bookshops, readers, writers and publishers celebrate this day all over Spain. Bookshops decorate their shop windows with roses and events take place with readings and authors signing books.

Books and flowers outside the bookshop in Chipiona
Books and flowers outside the bookshop in Chipiona, Andalucia

In Catalonia it’s a big event and you will find La Rambla in Barcelona lined with book and flower stalls. The area quickly fills with crowds of people buying books and roses as an expression of love for their families, friends and partners.

In the mid-1990s Book Day became a worldwide festival and was declared World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO. Every year on April 23rd a city takes over the honour of being World Book Capital  to promote books and reading for the following 12 months. This year, 2017, Conakry, the capital of Guinea has been designated World Book Capital. Conakry’s mission is “”to promote reading among youth and underprivileged sections of the population.” (Source: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/wbcd).

As books can be expensive in some parts of the world and libraries are scarce, UNESCO is encouraging the use of mobile telephones for reading as mobiles are cheap and widely available. Mobile devices are often used as a reading platform and can be accessed in areas where people can’t afford books or education is seen as a social stigma.

As a bookworm, or ratón de biblioteca (a library mouse), as they say in Spanish, I can´t imagine my life without books or reading. I am grateful for all the things I have learnt, the feelings I have felt, the places I have visited, the adventures I have lived and the people I have met in books.  In the words of William Styron:

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

Which book would you like to give as a present to a loved one to show you care?