Searching for ‘Alternative’ Rural Spain
Further Explorations of Rural Spain II
This is the final installment of our trip to our trip Gredos, Extremadura at the end of 2021. It was a short trip- only five days!- but big dreams need nurturing and that’s exactly what those five days seeking out alternative rural Spain did. In this post I share about some of the alternative happenings that I was fortunate to come across on my explorations and how this has helped me to gain clarity on who am I am, where I am going and what the road the ahead might light like as I continue on this path.
The final fews days of our getaway in the tiny house in the forests of rural Spain had finally come round. It had been a really special trip, full of inner growth, new discoveries and chance meetings. Except, there was one thing missing for me: meeting like-minded people.
I had been hoping that somewhere we would meet a few fellow ‘back-to-the-landers’: people who had already left the city in favour of a slower, more alternative life in the countryside. But as yet, we’d had no such luck.
As a last ditch attempt to see what else was going on in the area, I googled ‘eco-village Gredos’. To my surprise, a Facebook page came up. “Eco-village in the heart of Gredos”, it said. My eyes lit up! I knew there must be more to the area than meets the eye, and this confirmed it. Maybe I was going to find the ‘alternative’ rural Spain after all!
Who were these people?
What were they doing there?
Where were they from?
What were their plans?
I immediately went about investigating. There was a number on the Facebook page to ring, so on the off-chance, I gave them a call. A guy answered. I could tell his Spanish wasn’t his strong point and detected a foreign accent. I switched to English and he seemed relieved.
I dived into explaining who we were and why I was ringing. I asked if it was possible to come over for a visit, maybe help out for a day or something?
Unfortunately for me, luck wasn’t in my favour.
“Oh, the thing is, right now I am..erm…skiing”, he said.
“You’re where?” I asked, “Skiing?”
“Yeh, I’m up a mountain doing a bit of skiing. Can I call you back tomorrow?”.
“Err, sure!”, I said. “Enjoy your skiing!”.
Skiing? Well, lucky him! Sounds like these eco-villagers are doing alright for themselves!
Alternative Rural Spain
Unfortunately, we only had a short amount of time left and so a visit was out of the picture now. However, good to his word, he did very kindly ring back to have a chat. However, this time it was me who couldn’t really talk much, because we were driving at the time and the noise of the car made it difficult to have a comfortable conversation. But I was able to find out a few interesting details about the project.
It turned out that it was a new eco-village currently under-construction. He told me that there was nothing to see right now though, just grass and trees. But they have over a hundred hectares of land close to Villanueva, (the place I wrote about in my last post) and plan to move there this spring. He explained to me that they were in the process of drawing up plans for buildings, which include an alternative school.
He invited me to get back in touch later in the year when they will be living on the site and in need of many volunteers. I appreciated the offer and told him I would keep it in mind. There were many more interesting questions to ask, but with the noise of the road, it didn’t seem the right moment. However, it was exciting to know that there were people in the area doing and creating interesting things. I felt inspired and motivated to continue my journey. It seems we were on the right track!
I made a point of following them on Instagram and Facebook to keep up to date with how their project is going. You never know, maybe I will be back in the area at some point. It’s always good to make connections!
And so we continued with our last day of exploration. We passed a modern village with a quirky touch: hedges in the shapes of a multitude of different animals! It had taken a novel approach to attracting visitors for sure!
Next we passed another little village that had a similar vibe to the previous ones we had visited. More crumbling buildings, more historic architecture, more cute doorways with colourful flowers. As we explored we fantasied about all the creative ways that the buildings could be repurposed and rehabilitated with a bit of creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Once on the way back to our forest dwelling for our final night, I contemplated everything that we had discovered a learnt during our short trip. We had come so close to discovering the alternative rural Spain; yet it seemed that we were so near yet so far!
After all the changes that I had been through in 2021, I was eager to find my tribe. I wasn’t ready to give up on my search for alternative rural Spain yet! But time was running out; soon we would be back on the road, Madrid-bound.
Suddenly I remembered a lovely woman called Harmony that I met at a women’s festival I went to last summer. She had told me that she lived in Gredos and when she found out that I was looking for a way out of city life, she invited Sergio and I to visit her family at their finca. Maybe I could get in touch with her?
I wondered whether it was inappropriate timing, since it was still the festive season. But it seemed rude to be in the area and not at least say hello. So I decided I had nothing to lose and got in touch.
A British Encounter
True to her word she told us to come over for a visit. They had just returned from a holiday on the islands, she told me, but it was no problem. I was worried that we would be imposing, but Harmony insisted.
“Don’t be so British!”, she said, jokingly. “You are both more than welcome to come over for a visit.”
And so it was settled. As per her instructions I dropped my Britishness and arranged a time. As it turned out, her place was on our way back to the city. Perfect!
After a picturesque drive through pine forests and quaint villages we arrived at her finca. She greeted us with a cup of tea and biscuits, making me feel right at home! Harmony was born in Spain but grew up in England. However, she eventually came back to her roots and came to Madrid to teach English, and she has been here ever since.
However, not long after arriving in Madrid, did she train as a yoga teacher and massage therapist in India and she has been teaching yoga ever since. In fact, the reason why she was at the women’s festival was that she was leading some yoga workshops there.
She invited us on to her large veranda and set out the tea and biscuits on the table. As we sat and chatted, I admired the beautiful views of the mountains. It was perfectly peaceful, with the sound of birds in the air and olive and fruit trees all around.
“Wow, what an amazing place you have!”, I couldn’t help exclaiming. “How did you find this place?
The Back Story
She told us the story of how her and her partner Jorge had been looking for the perfect piece for land for years before finding this place. By then, she said that she was so tired of city life that she didn’t care about the state of the house, she just needed to get out of the city once and for all.
Defying the advice of those around them, they decided to take the risk and bought the finca in 2006, even though it was in a bad condition. Since then they have slowly done the house and other buildings up to the point where she can hold yoga classes and retreats there.
After our tea, she showed us around the land. The house was surrounded by luscious lemon and orange trees, which we harvested as we passed. Below, they had Jorge’s carpentry workshop, her newly renovated yoga studio and a cute guest house. And to just top it all off, they even had a natural spring that fills a pond-like plunge pool where they can cool off in summer.
“Wow, it’s so beautiful!”, I kept saying. I must have sounded like a stuck record, but I was really struck by how lovely it all was. I really liked the energy that the place had, no doubt created by all the beautiful activities that they do there and the love with which it was created.
They even had a ceremony space where they gather on auspicious days, such as the equinoxes and solstices. “Oh wow, I want one of those!”, I thought to myself, mentally taking note of all the things that inspired me.
As the end of our visit neared, we spoke about the surrounding community. She told us that there are many ‘alternative’ people living in the area but since there isn’t much for them going on in the villages, they are not always that visible. But she assured me that there are many people living in the area that are into alternative things.
This confirmed my original suspicion that there was more going on in rural Spain than meets the eye. But unless you are in the know, you may be hard pushed to find out. I felt intrigued and really didn’t want to go back to Madrid. There was so much to explore here, people to meet, things to learn. We were just getting started!
My Kind of People
Being around harmony and family I felt connected to the type of people I want to surround myself with. There was a certain vibe that really resonated with me, that felt like home. It extended to the alternative communities that I was yet to meet, all the people choosing to go against the grain and lead a different way of life, apart from our consumer culture. Those were my people and I was eager to find them.
Even though I felt sad to leave this ‘alternative’ rural Spain behind, I was grateful to have had this experience. My inspiration had been renewed and my dreams bolstered. Spending time with Harmony and her family at their finca and the resonance that I felt there, helped me discern my path from that of my previous life working in the English academy.
This is the beauty of contrasts. They help you recognise one thing from another; light and dark, day and night, up and down, left or right. In my case, I feel that in my previous life in Madrid, with my 9-5 job and metro commutes, I only knew one of these halves. Now I am meeting the people and places that indicate to me what the other half is, and it feels like finally, I am on the right path for me.
That is what 2021 was about for me, undoing what was no longer in alignment, letting go of things, people, jobs that no longer felt resonant with me and making space for the new to enter. This trip to the Gredos over Christmas, with our stay in the little round house, the closeness to nature, our discoveries about alternative rural Spain and meeting Harmony again at her finca, confirmed to me that I have made the right choices.
The question is: how do I make this dream happen?
Harmony offered me some advice: “You have to be here”, she said. “You need to get to know the local people. That’s the only way to find land and good opportunities”.
This was not the first time I had heard this. Max and Nic, who we visited at their off-grid permaculture farm when we first started out on this journey, had said the same.
“You can rent a flat in the village here for 200 euros a month”, she continued. “When we were looking for land, we bought a van and slept in the back. That could also be a possibility”.
By this point, I was brimming with inspiration and could have quite easily gone to look for that 200-euro-a-month-flat right that instant. It sure was tempting to say “f*ck it! Let’s do it!”.
But it is easier said then done. Spain is a big place and we don’t know yet where we want to move to. I have still seen so little of it; there is so much more to explore and discover. With that in mind, it is true that a car or van would be useful. Last year we spent 700 euros on car rentals in total, enough to buy a car with! Maybe that could be our next step forwards?
As you can see, Harmony gave us a lot to think about. With that we said our goodbyes and thanked them for our visit. I hoped that I would be able to visit again someday, maybe as a participant in one of their retreats, who knows?
As we got back in our (rental!) car, I reflected on all that I had learnt during our trip. The snow capped mountains of Gredos made way to flatter lands as we got closer to the city. I was sad to be leaving Gredos behind and returning to real life again.
However, I also felt buoyed by possibilities. It was the start of a new year. Who knew what was possible? I had already made a big step forward by quitting my job. Now it was time to take some more action.
Whilst I didn’t know at the time how the rest of the year would play out, I knew that my first priority was to really knuckle down and finish my permaculture design project for my community garden in order to get my permaculture design certificate. Sergio also has some things to finish up in the first half of the year, so in that sense, I knew that no great steps would be taken right any time soon. But somehow, my dream of leaving the city felt closer. It felt more real, more possible, not just a wishful fantasy.
Once back in Madrid, I reflected on what Harmony told me about where they started out. Curiously, their city life had centred around the neighbourhood of Lavapies, my favourite neighbourhood and where the community garden is. They even used to live on the street called calle Salitre which is where Sergio and I met, where he works, where I took art classes, where my favourite Brazilian music bar is and where I have a lot of good memories. It seemed like a strange coincidence that we share a common starting point.
If they were able to do it, then who says we can’t too? There may be some important obstacles that we are yet to figure out how to overcome (such as the small detail of money!), but one thing I know for sure is that if we believe it is an impossibility for us, then for certain we will go nowhere. Alternatively, if we believe that anything is possible, then we will be more likely to take steps in that direction, and therefore increase the likelihood of fulfilling this dream.
Is it going to be easy and straightforward? Probably not. But that’s what makes it an interesting and exciting journey.
As my friend Paul (who is another inspiring character that we met on our off-grid adventures) loves to say:
Fortune favours the brave.
A big thank you to Harmony and Jorge and their family for being so hospitable and providing us with so much useful info and inspiration! If you are interested in knowing more about what they offer, you can find out more at Nayanayoga.com or @nayanyoga/ @harmonynayana (in-person and online yoga classes) and paréntisvital.com (retreats) @puraprana_project.
Got any thoughts, reflections, comments? Would love to hear them 😀 Let me know in the comments below.
🌱Follow my journey from city life in Madrid to off-grid living & permaculture in the country
🌈Let’s co-create a more beautiful world!
✍️ Blog posts👇🏼