When anyone mentions Playa Paraiso, I smile because taken literally, it means Paradise Beach, yet the reality is far removed from any vision that I have of Paradise. There is no beach and little to do outside of the few high-rise hotels that blot the landscape. I was therefore intrigued when I heard there was a holistic retreat less that 2km from the resort centre.
I know little about the holistic approach to life other than it looks at the spectrum of our existence, the relationship between mind, body and spirit and to me this conjures up images of peace, relaxation and meditation in a beautiful environment, not the building site where visitors are outnumbered by contractors’ cranes. Therefore, with this in mind I went to seek out the Hacienda Cristoforo.
It is easy to find, look out for the bell tower on the right-hand side of the road just a few hundred yards from the main roundabout leading to Playa Paraiso. You can park outside and enter through the large double gates. Once inside, you have entered a different world, one that is far away from the noise of traffic, a place of charm and tranquillity.
My first sight of Denis Devaris was a halo of white hair shining in the sun. He was supervising the renovation of a small duck pond that stands adjacent to the volcanic rock swimming pool that is fed by a waterfall using naturally purified water.
We sat on the sundeck under the shade of the trees and talked about how the architect had started to build the retreat 40 years ago. It transpired that he had found a plot of land known in English as the ‘badlands’ because nothing would grow there and had started his labour of love. This originally consisted of one small room, which he extended as his family grew.
Today the centre consists of covered terraces, paved pathways leading to a communal dining room and kitchen, meeting halls and a beautiful central square around which several small houses, hand-built by Denis, stand. These are built in such a way that each is aware of its neighbour without encroaching on their space. The houses, in fact everything in the centre is built using natural stone, wood and incorporate hand-made elements from old houses so that the whole harmoniously blends into the landscape. There are some very tactile elements around, that include carvings from Indonesia, wedding chests from South America and in every nook and cranny, you will find statues like the Buddha Vairochana that you just want to touch.
We wandered around the beautiful garden where flowers, shrubs and trees thrive and where once nothing would grow. There is a biological vegetable garden filled with herbs and medicinal plants and an area set aside for the chickens, pig, sheep and a mule.
We peeked into the small Kindergarten that caters for children aged 1 to 4 years. I cannot think of a better start in life for any child than to learn from such an early age respect for each and every person’s freedom and individuality.
Denis talked about the therapies Hacienda Cristoforo offers, the regular classes of Thai Chi, Yoga and Reiki. We also learnt that whilst Cristoforo has been a charity institute since 1986.
All too soon our visit was over we had to leave this picturesque retreat, this paradise in the midst of the man-made tourist resorts. However, I will be returning, and would encourage anyone who wishes to get away from it all, whether they are a resident or a holidaymaker to visit Cristoforo’s website to see what you have so far missed.