The mountain range where the retreat will be held, Las Alpujarras de Granada, are an extensive system of interlocking valleys that stretch all the way from Granada to Almeria. The Emirate of Granada was the last Muslim province of al-Andalus after the Reconquista took back the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, and remained entirely Muslim – apart from pockets of Mozarabic (Arabised) Christians – for 400 years. During this time Hispanic Arabic was the main language spoken in the province, which originally incorporated Jaen, Almeria and Malaga, which today constitute their own provinces. With its hidden valleys, coves and forests, the Alpujarras were famously the last refuge of the Moors who refused to go into exile after the fall of Granada in 1492.
On the southern slope of Mulhácen, Spain’s largest peak (named after a Moorish ruler, Mulay Hassan), Órgiva enjoys a more temperate microclimate compared to Granada itself, with milder winters (we rarely see snow settle) and spring and autumn that are closer to a sunny summer day in England – or even warmer. The mountains still display the terraces dug by the Muslims here hundreds of years ago, and are still planted with the trees they brought here: almonds, oranges, mandarins, lemons and figs, among others. Only a half hour’s drive south takes you to the Costa Tropical, where local farmers produce bananas, mangoes, custard apples and other exotic fruits.
The Zende retreat we will be set in the Hotel Taray, a beautiful botanical garden hotel in Órgiva, which features both double and triple bedrooms, two gorgeous terraces (one which is part of the restaurant so you can breakfast with views of mountains and palm trees) and a conference room which we will use for the calligraphy classes. The poetry classes will be based on the upstairs terrace but can move about to find inspiration from different sites of the hotel and in the gardens, for instance, taking a ‘Gingko Walk’ as haiku poets would do in Japan to connect with nature before writing.
There is a stunning swimming pool with a smaller pool for children, and by the end of April the temperatures should be high enough to swim in. Our intention is to book the whole hotel, in which case we can plan specific times for those who wish to have separate swimming. In between classes and after lunch there will be time to stroll, lounge, soak up some sun, read, scribble and generally take advantage of this idyllic setting.
The Hotel Taray has an excellent new restaurant, Flor del Limonero, as well as a laundry service, money exchange, and some of the friendliest staff ever. For more information about booking your place on the retreat, please have a look at our Bookings page