As you might have seen, late last month I went on a retreat in Portugal, up in the foothills of the beautiful Serra da Estrela mountains in a place called Honey House Retreat. It was magical there, and I tried to capture a bit of the spirit of the place in a live video, which you can watch here.
Honey House was just what I needed – a quiet, vegan-friendly guesthouse in the countryside (UPDATE 10/2017: Honey House is now fully vegan!) where I could shut myself away from the outside world and concentrate on writing my upcoming book, Italy for Veggie Lovers. I spent most of my time by myself, sitting in a caravan named Bessie and typing away furiously on my laptop.
But whenever I felt like I had to come up for some fresh air, there it was in abundance. A walk into the nearby village of Melo, or perhaps a longer excursion up into the mountains to the picturesque village of Folgosinho, was just what I needed to get those creative juices flowing again.
Or a quick cuddle with Mishka or one of the other rescue dogs who call Honey House home was sure to lift my spirits and remind me why I devote so much of my time and energy to spreading the vegan message of love and compassion for all sentient beings.
And then there was the food. The food!! Lunch was usually a hearty and filling soup, while dinners were more elaborate and often involved a dessert of some kind. Every single day, I was astounded by what Adam and Annie were able to conjure up in a kitchen that I would affectionately describe as a "fixer upper". The lack of a refrigerator and running water didn't stop Adam from creating an amazing vegan feast every single night.
In fact, the whole experience was a huge reminder for me of just how unnecessary the trappings of modern life really are. Sure, on the first night when I traipsed along a muddy path to the compost toilet in the outhouse, I felt like I'd stepped outside my comfort zone.
I've used plenty of outhouses before, but it had been awhile, and I suddenly realized just how accustomed I had become to the little creature comforts that I take for granted. But within 24 hours I had adjusted and was thankful for the chance to get back to nature and live a simpler life.
Adam and Annie, the owners of Honey House, are perfect examples of people who appreciate the little things in life and don't need many luxuries to be happy.
Originally from the UK, they lived in Bulgaria for several years before relocating to Portugal in 2015. There, they bought a dilapidated farmhouse on a 13-acre plot of land in the Serra da Estrela Natural Park, in the northeast of Portugal.
Actually there's more to their story than that. It's quite romantic, really, but I'll let you read it in Annie's own words on the Honey House website.
While you're there, you can also read the stories of the rescued horses, dogs, cats and chickens who live at Honey House. Or most of them anyway. With four roosters in the brood, the chickens seem to be reproducing faster than Annie can update the website! At last count there were 19.
My favourite was Joffrey. While most of the animals came with Annie and Adam from Bulgaria, Joffrey is pure Portuguese. He was going to be sacrificed in a Halloween ritual until he was rescued by a local woman who runs an animal shelter nearby.
When Annie saw him locked up in a cage, she decided to bring him home to Honey House where he could have the run of the place with the rest of the chickens. Now he's living the good life, bossing the smaller roosters around and doing his best to make sure that everyone wakes up in the morning!
If you're visiting the nearby city of Porto, check out this guide to the best (and the worst) museums there.
The animal I bonded with the most, though, was Mishka. Nicknamed Mishka the Mischievous, she had been trapped in a snare and needed 18 stitches in her neck when Annie first rescued her. Despite being terribly mistreated in the past, she is an extremely happy and friendly dog.
Every time I emerged from the caravan, she would bound up to me and demand to be petted. If I didn't pet her for long enough, she would jump on me as I was walking away to let me know she wasn't done! She also loved joining me on walks, whether it was just down the road to the village or deep into the forested hills.
My nomadic lifestyle has meant that it's been a long time since I've shared a home with a companion animal. Having the chance to spend some time with non-human animals was one of the main reasons I chose Honey House for my writing retreat. It was wonderful to get to know them as individuals and see their personalities come out.
While the purpose of my stay at Honey House was to get started on writing my book, Italy for Veggie Lovers, it's perfect for many different kinds of retreats. Annie is a massage therapist and is qualified in a number of different types of massage, including hot stone therapy and Indian head massage.
She also teaches yoga and meditation classes, and she's a reiki master. In addition to offering reiki and crystal healing, she also teaches the practice at all levels, from reiki 1 all the way up to reiki 3.
I didn't know much about reiki until I met Annie, but I was fascinated as she told me the story of how it had brought so much healing, peace and joy into her life. I'm certain I will return to Honey House for future visits, and I would love to learn reiki from Annie the next time I'm there.
Whether you want to connect with nature and animals, learn natural healing techniques, or just be pampered with a relaxing massage every day, Honey House is a wonderful choice. As long as you're willing to forego a few creature comforts, like flushing toilets.
Prices for accommodation and extra activities are extremely reasonable, and meals (which are all vegan) can also be provided for just a little extra.
Honey House is a vegan haven of peace, quiet and loving kindness in rural Portugal. During my week-long stay I fell in love with the place, and I can't wait to return.
Want to know more about the vegan guide to Italy I started writing there? Download a free chapter here, and you'll be the first one to know when it's published!
My stay at Honey House was at my own expense, while meals were kindly provided on the house. The peace, clarity and pure bliss were entirely my own, as are the opinions expressed here.