How Cortijo Romero, in Spain, is keeping calm and riding the ups and downs of the pandemic.
Early August at Cortijo Romero is normally hot, but a warm breeze allows guests to relax fully under the clear blue summer skies. Nestled in a lush, fertile valley within the Alpujurra region of southern Spain, Cortijo Romero has been welcoming guests for over three decades. It describes itself as a personal development or creative holiday centre with a weekly programme that ranges from yoga courses, walking weeks, all kinds of creative expression to more therapeutic courses.
As you arrive at Cortijo Romero (CR) after a long journey, you are greeted by both the warm staff and a deeply nourishing energy that feels like no where else on earth. It makes me want to breathe more deeply, as if a weight lifts from my shoulders and I arrive back home fully into my own self. I've been fortunate to visit as a guest a number of times, mostly participating in restful and rejuvenating yoga courses. I have also worked and lived in this beautiful oasis for two periods as their volunteer helper, so I know the hard work that invisibly happens behind the scenes.
Normally in August, CR would be busy with guests delighting in the sunshine and immersed in their course with like-minded fellows. The peaceful atmosphere would be punctuated by chatter over delicious meals outdoors, moments of song or laughter and the splash of water as guests cool off in the swimming pool. Pause for a moment and you would detect incredible aromas of vegetarian cooking wafting from the busy kitchen. Sit for a while in the garden, overlooking the awe-inspiring mountains that surround CR and feel uplifted. Listen to the breeze as it rustles through leaves of ancient olive trees, tall palm trees and distinctive orange and lemon trees. If I was there now, I would be curled up on a blanket in the shade of the orchard, writing or reading and letting my body slowly recover from the last few months of living through a pandemic. It would be just what I needed.
Cortijo Romero sadly closed its doors from March this year along with the rest of Spain, starting their lockdown two weeks before UK finally realised the same necessity of closing down. The dedicated staff have thankfully stayed well at home or have been working to keep CR maintained during their long lockdown. Fortunately, the local area around CR has been spared the worst, with only seven cases through the whole period. But it doesn't stop the collective sense of grief, loss and uncertainty that has been hovering over both UK and Spain with many parts of the world still suffering the enormous effects of the pandemic. Times have been beyond difficult for many and that will take time to heal. Yet at the same time, a shift is starting as we begin to widen our lives from "keeping safe and surviving" to "keeping safe and living". The question that many of us are exploring has become: how do we continue to grow and live, even as coronavirus remains a problem to navigate? Is it possible and okay to find pockets of happiness while we simultaneously adapt to this constantly changing "new normal"?
After much preparation, Cortijo Romero was thankfully able to open again on 25th July for the popular week perfectly titled "Being Here". Finally, CR was able carry on doing what it does best, allowing guests to rest, heal, grow and connect. The magic of CR is that it gently allows each person to receive what they need for themselves. After four difficult months of living through the peak of the pandemic, I imagine that some guests might just want to stop and allow themselves to unwind and recharge fully. As the uncertainty of the pandemic continues, we could all do with a welcome break and some nurturing away from the 24 hour news updates. Just the thought of being away from my home, escaping from my little kitchen where we've cooked and eaten all our meals since March fills me with excitement.
However, once again, the pandemic's ups and downs have unfortunately caused Cortijo Romero to close, having only just opened, for much of August. As soon as I heard the FCO advice change for travel from UK to Spain, I felt a lurch in my stomach as I thought of CR. The immense preparations that would have to be rearranged yet again, the disappointed guests that were due to fly out, the upheaval with further uncertainty. It is hard to imagine CR standing empty during this peak holiday period, calmly waiting, as I write. CR is expecting to re-open (again) on the 29th of August and continue into the autumn. How are all the staff coping I wonder through these challenging times? The answer I imagined was with lots of deep breaths, plenty of patience, a huge amount of flexibility and a sturdy faith that CR will get through this period. Somehow.
My last visit to Cortijo Romero was only last autumn, where I joined a vibrant course titled "Yoga and Sound" led by expert and gentle yoga teachers Leah Barnett and Fiona Agombar. As I lay on my yoga mat in the afternoon sessions on the roof terrace, surrounded by such majestic mountains, I felt moments of relaxed bliss. While I chanted and breathed fully on my mat, I felt not just connected but immersed in something greater than myself. I felt at one with the sky, the mountains that embraced me and the beauty of this planet. During that restorative week, none of us were aware of a pandemic ahead and how it would change our lives for a period. And as I think back to that blissful moment, it reminds me once again that there is something far greater than this pandemic that remains supportive and solid. We just need to connect back with it and find our way into the "new normal".
As soon as Cortijo Romero can re-open again, it will provide a much needed healing balm during these unprecedented times. But it will obviously be a big step in this "new normal" to travel to Spain and will take extra courage, determination and hand-washing to make it possible. I wondered how CR would manage all the necessary aspects of social distancing and was reassured reading about their extensive procedures. CR is blessed with an abundance of stunning outdoor space for hanging out, conversations, quiet reflection and eating. Guest numbers will be limited to 18, so there will be more than ample space for everyone. Apart from being mindful of social distancing, hand sanitising and food being served from the delicious buffet differently, CR will be much like it always has been.
In the meantime, a whole host of online events and classes are being offered by Cortijo Romero's talented course leaders. Since March, I have been grateful for gentle online yoga classes with the wonderful course leaders from my last visit, Fiona Agombar and Leah Barnett. I recently participated in a mini yoga retreat (on zoom) with them both and it was the calmest I've felt since March. Charlotte Watts, who leads "The De-Stress Effect" regularly at CR, has definitely also helped my tense body to soften during these times with mindful and somatic yoga classes. I might be tucked into the spare room rather than under the blue skies of CR, but the thread of connection remains.
And in the restful arms of Cortijo Romero, we might just be able to start to assimilate the last few months and possibly start to ask important questions. What is this pandemic here to teach us about how we live? How can we tread more gently on the earth? Can we slow down a little and become more present in the moment rather than always rushing towards the next thing to do, achieve or acquire? It might take me a few months or so until I am ready to venture back onto Easy Jet or my much preferred long distance trains, but don't worry, I will be back. Hasta pronto, see you soon!
Photos taken at Cortijo Romero by M. Elliott
For more information go to https://www.cortijo-romero.co.uk