Girona Gem for Solo Travel, Romantic Getaway, or Group Retreat

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View from Balcony of Hotel Santa Marta, Lloret de Mar

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused. —Rainer Maria Rilke
When drowned by stress, I go to one of my Happy Places which is often the ocean. 
In my 2015 travels one of my happiest solo travel stays was at Hotel Santa Marta  –a beauty break amidst botanical gardens winding down, down, down to the shore. Sheer. Bliss.
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The near 15-acre (6-hectare) estate is located on its own private bay, Santa Cristina, and was chosen for the opening night party of this year’s European Travel Bloggers Exchange. I had already booked a stay there for a restful retreat after the networking/workshops of the conference ended, but by the time the ship reached sand I was in love with a wonderland lit by sunset.
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Costa Brava
The Spanish Mediterranean coast is as beautiful as beaches in Southern Italy and France.  I was there in spring when, like late fall/winter low season, a single sea view room can be as low as 115 Euro per night. I love boutique hotels for their privacy, but plan ahead because this paradise stays booked, particularly by Europeans who vacation along Costa Brava in high season.
The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.— Kate Chopin
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The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea. –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
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I loved swimming in the pool and sea, writing on the balcony,  and sleeping to the sound of waves in the ultimate room with a view.  It’s the perfect solo, group, or romantic retreat in Lloret de Mar.
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I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.-Anna Quindlen

For more on the beauty of Girona and the Costa Brava Coast, see my 5-Part Series (links below) and go here for more information.
Discovering Costa Brava: Spain’s Medieval Coast, Part I
Discovering Costa Brava’s Medes Islands, Part II
Discovering Costa Brava’s Bounty, Part III
Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages, Part IV
Discovering Costa Brava, Part V

Hmmm…I had a Hammam

I did it. I bared all to be pampered like a princess and bathed like a baby. And I liked it.
Marrakesh Must-dos for a Girl’s Day Out are what I call the 3 Ss–souk shopping, Jemaa el- Fnaa Square, and a scrub.   By- day the largest market in Africa hops with henna and monkeys and snakes, Oh My.  And by- night, pop up food stands serve with a shake (aka) belly dancers. But to really Go Moroccan, after a day of dodging noisy motorcycles, pushy peddlers, and some pungent smells, globe trotters can wash away a world of care. IMG_5725
For locals through the ages, public bathhouses, like those found in Turkey and Rome, are places to steam to release steam weekly. Those covered head-to-toe on the street disrobe and socialize here, but for those too shy to go public with strangers, private spas and hotels are ways to test the waters.
My first two hammams were with three friends at two different private spas. While those experiences were good, this Goldilocks found the third bed at my last close encounter—the slab of stone on which the washing takes place—to be just right. It’s not surprising that at Royal Mansour, a luxurious mini medina of private riads built by king’s decree, one will receive royal treatment.  The spa is open to the public for those wanting to splurge.

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Massage room

Up to a party of six can receive hammams simultaneously. I went solo, but a party it was nevertheless. Whether your fantasy is to be Jasmine preparing for Aladdin in Arabian Nights, or a mom, who after years of bathing little ones and watching the Disney version gets to rediscover her own child within, letting go under waves of water is wonderful.
First I was given a plush robe and slippers to walk from the dressing room to the entrance of the hammam across the hall. At the cold pool where the hammam begins and ends, the attendant took the robe from my shoulders and led me to a warm, king-sized slab of stone. She filled a silver bucket of water from a beautiful basin, poured it on me, and left me to stretch out and steam.
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My stone bed and silver bucket

Next, she lathered me with black soap and olive oil, sabon beldi, and left me as my skin became more supple for what was to come. Slippery like a seal or mermaid, I waited, till it was time for her to scrub off my scales.
She untied a gold bag that contained an exfoliating glove or kese. She told me to turn over and sanded my back side from scalp to heels, then my front side from forehead to toes, taking layers of peeled skin till silk was exposed underneath. Next she covered me in local Argan oil with honey from the Maroc Maroc line. On my face she used a mix of Argan oil and powder. I was rubbed with aromatic Vallée des Roses cream, and on my hair she used almond shampoo, then an orange masque for conditioner.  More buckets of warm water.
We walked back toward the frigid pool for a final dip, but first she instructed me to take a tepid shower with multiple nozzles. Wrapping me in the robe, she led me to the “relaxing room” where I had my own tented bed to sip mint tea served by the waiter. Or was he just a dream?
Like Scarlet O’Hara at the Wilkes’ picnic, I was encouraged to nap. Unlike her I obeyed.  Outside my curtain, birds sang about the balcony. After my rest, I sat by the pool and thought about how good it felt to feel be like a little girl again. Arms raised and lowered to be dressed and undressed. Back massaged, and my hair caressed. I left smelling of oranges, roses, and almonds. And feeling pretty.
Thank you, Royal Mansour, for the invitation to tour your haven and for the hammam.  Indeed, the experience was a whole new world.

Beauty Break at La Mamounia

“I’ve always found this a trying time of the year.  The leaves not yet out, mud everywhere you go.  Frosty mornings gone. Sunny mornings not yet come.  Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this nothing time, not this waiting room of the world.” — C.S.Lewis in Shadowlands


Spring at La Mamounia Marrakech

IMG_4855 I’m so ready for spring, and last weekend I needed a Beauty Break. Badly. I’m not talking about manicures or makeovers. A new ‘do or fancy frock may make me feel all togged down, as Mama Lou would say, but later, if I couldn’t afford it, I’m left feeling all bogged down. I’m talking about focusing on beauty. Focus on
IMG_4833 Thankfully, the world brims with it. Somewhere—whether in urban parks or suburban backyards—there’s a place to look up at blue and out at green. To breathe. To relax. To enjoy. For free. Or almost at the legendary La Mamounia Marrakech. 1

Finally Saturday

Voted “Best Urban Hotel in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, the hotel was, until 1923, the palace of Prince Moulay Mamoun, son of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah, ruler of Marrakech in the 18th century.  I was treated like a queen last Saturday though I wasn’t there for the 750 dirham/$78 USD lunch buffet by the pool nor for a room (starting at just under 500 Euro per night).

Pool Buffet

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IMG_4749A sandwich on the terrace and a glass of wine was my price of admission–well worth an afternoon walking the gardens. IMG_4768

Down the Garden Path

Winston Churchill loved painting there and, as Con Coughlin reported in The Telegraphinvited President FDR to meet him there where they made history. z

’20s Art Deco at La Mamounia Marrakech

Other guests have included Sean Connery, Kate Winslet and Hitchcock’s cast of The Man Who Knew Too Much.  While directing Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart some say the king of thrillers decided to make the movie The Birds.  Judging from fine feathered friends eyeballing me from orange trees and chasing one another under my chair , I see why.  I loved their singing–my own pre-Grammy show. IMG_4784

Alfred Hitchcock’s Muse at La Mamounia

Studies show workplace productivity increases when employees have windows with views. Natural light and green space reduces stress and boosts morale. The University of Washington lists many benefits of going green, including alleviating symptoms of Alzheimers, demntia, stress, and ADD.  Nature breaks also enhance development of cognitive, imaginative, and social function. More basic, almost twenty years ago Brent Curtis and John Eldredge in The Sacred Romance affirmed what I felt. God created humans with three basic needs: relationship, adventure, and beauty. Likewise a decade ago Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way sent me out on weekly “artist dates.” She was right, “Creativity lies in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.” IMG_4816
IMG_4813 We are serious art, created and creators. Daily we fashion our lives through choices—some deciding how to deal with setbacks we didn’t choose. IMG_4872 When my children were small and I was a full time teacher and single mom,I tried to write in every spare moment I could find. There weren’t many. Still, I learned that when the kids were with their dad I needed to do more than clean house and grocery shop.  Writing was refuge, but the good stuff , truth, came faster after focusing on my play date, God, as he showed me the world He made. I needed to back away from the laptop and go find pretty—whether in paintings hanging on the Frist Center walls, in light reflected off Old Hickory Lake, in woods surrounding a Monteagle B and B. I now live in Marrakesh, a city where garden havens hide behind ocre walls. IMG_4820
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zz With filtered lenses and selective shots its easy to live in a Pinterest Perfect world, censoring ugly realities–human, animal, and environmental ills– that need our attention.  Yet paradoxically, to face what’s wrong…to remember good ultimately wins… zzzz
zzzzz starts with focusing on what’s already lovely and worthy of praise.  Hearts thirsting for the world-made-right-again are quenched beside fountains of blessings.  And lifted when we simply look up. x