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Zen Vouga

14-18 June 2018

Retreating to the mountains has long been a means to attain deeper insight, more concentrated and more elevated thought. ZenVouga offers a very special atmosphere for writing – protected from distractions, with a lofty view over the green valley to the neighbouring mountains, yet also connected to the earthy realities of nature and quaint village life along cobbled paths to the vibrant café.

Our location is at Zen Vouga, a farm in the quiet rural village of Ribeiradio close to the Dão wine-growing region of Portugal, about 1.5 hours south east of Porto. The farm has a renovated cluster of farm buildings, including 3 independent houses, a covered swimming pool, and many secluded spots for writing. Our host, Manuel Trindade, will welcome us to his ancestral home, assure quiet, undisturbed conditions for work, and will be our guide to local walks, village characters and excellent cuisine.

Born in Lisbon, Manuel Trindade is a citizen of the world. Having lived in eight countries across three continents, his curiosity and love of people have led him to learn ten languages, of which he speaks six fluently. He has organized many events and several festivals, in a few countries. Manuel will warmly host you and happily introduce you to the Portuguese culture and gentle way of life

¡Bem-vindos a Portugal! Welcome to Portugal!  
For centuries, Portugal has inspired writers and artists to create their greatest masterpieces. Some of the best-known include: writers Fernando Pessoa and Camões; architect Álvaro de Siza Vieira; and writers Eça de Queiroz, Florbela Espanca, José Saramago, Antero de Quental, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Lord Byron and Alexandre O ́Neill. Porto is home to the world-famous Port wine, the Serralves museum and the Casa da Música concert hall among many other interesting venues.

Scores of other artists and writers have called Portugal their home and left their mark on its rich heritage.  

With hundreds of miles of coast and more than 300 sunny days per year, Portugal is a coastal paradise backed by fertile hills, panoramic views and exquisite valleys. It is the oldest country in Europe with its current borders (since 1249, in spite of briefly losing its independence to Spain between 1580 and 1640). Its culture is as diverse as its geography: while in Portugal you can visit Neolithic and Roman ruins, romantic valleys, medieval castles and churches exciting contemporary architecture and enjoy fine wines and cuisine. From the modern to the ancient, from the mountains to the sea, Portugal offers plenty of room for adventure, contemplation and awe.

  • Portuguese Catherine of Braganza introduced the habit of drinking tea to the English court after marrying Charles II and becoming Queen of England from 1662 to 1685

  • The Portuguese Empire once stretched from Brazil to Indonesia, having shared the world with the Spanish in the Tordesillas treatyof 1494

  • Portuguese food is known for its freshness and flavours inspired from the four corners of the world, wherever the Portuguese have ventured to

  • Though Portugal is most known for its Port wine, it has fine red, white and green wines.

"I think it was a wonderful experience. You created the conditions where people were able to think about what they are going to write, to do some productive work and also to think about why they write.

A couple of the informal conversations went well beyond the boundaries of the words on the page/screen and into existential issues. It seemed that writing was therapy for many of us." - 2017 Participant


Accommodation will be at two locations: Zen Vouga itself and a lovely house in the village, less than a five minute walk away. You will have the option to select a private single room or share with another person, or bring your own tent.

  • Most rooms have private bathrooms or shared with one other. 

    There are stunning views from the terraces

  • Each house has writing desks and tables and there are several outbuildings, patios and terraces for shady writing spaces

  • There are both indoor and outdoor areas where you can access wi-fi internet; and you can also get away from it entirely.

If you would like to bring a partner, friend or family member, these non-participating guests are welcome to share your room and attend meals and outings. But they should respect the quiet and focused atmosphere of the retreat. We welcome young writers, but this retreat is not suitable for children.

Of the three houses that make up Zen Vouga, one is for staff; another is divided into two one-bedroom independent apartments, each with a bedroom + sitting room/kitchen; and there is a villa that has three separate bedrooms (two twins and a single) and large sitting room plus an American kitchen. Each house also has a sofa bed. Rooms will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Register early to get your first choice!

There is space for a couple of tents or campervans, and separate toilet and washing facilities in the pool area. There is a reduced fee for campers.

View from mountaintop
Wall & tree
Vine & tree
Vine & terrace
Sitting room 2
Table on pool terrace
Pool at night
Sitting room 1
House 2 with person
Dining table 3


The delicious meals focus on local and organic ingredients. The mouthwatering vegetarian menus, prepared by expert chefs Odete and Fausto Rodrigues, will provide you with real inspiration for your writing sessions, leaving you light-hearted and with vibrant energy. Meals will be served buffet style with a variety of vegetarian options, and one evening the group will dine off-site at a nearby restaurant. Let us know in advance if you have dietary restrictions.

​Odete and Fausto Rodrigues learned their craft catering for North-American doctors in two missions in Angola (Kiquku and Bongo), where they lived between 1966 and 1975. Upon their return to Portugal they ran a successful herbalist shop and restaurant in southern Lisbon throughout the 80s and 90s. They then took over Odetes family small-holding in Prova, near Ribeiradio, where they grow organic fruit and vegetables for their own brand Taste a New Life (  Fausto has a diploma in Healthy Nutrition from the Portuguese Society of Natural Health (Sociedade Portuguesa de Naturologia) in Lisbon. 

"I really enjoyed the retreat and found it helpful and beneficial. The food was great for me and I found the timings - 1.5 hr blocks - just right and I’ve adopted it at home now. The transport worked well and the venue was lovely. The morning meditation was a good start to the day" - 2017 Participant



10-14:00-Participants will be collected at Porto airport or Aveiro rail station.

15:00-Time to settle in, tea/cake/fruit 

16:30-18:00-Workshop - what we’ll work on (and how)

18:30-Sundowners by the pool and dinner on the terrace


8:00-Optional meditation session


9:00-Writing Session 1


11:00-Writing Session 2


13:30-Writing session 3

15:00-Afternoon Tea



17:30-Writing session 4

18:30-Drinks and dinner


08:00-Optional meditation session


9:00-Writing Session 5


11:00-Writing Session 6


13:30-Writing session 7

15:00-Afternoon tea


17:00-Break/ Optional-heritage walk and an opportunity to hear more about the local area.

18:30-Drinks and dinner


08:00-Optional meditation session


9:00-Writing Session 8


11:00-Writing session 9


13:30-Writing Session 10

15:00-Afternoon tea



17:30-Writing Session 11

18:30-Drinks and dinner


8:00-Optional meditation session


9:00-Writing Session 12


11:00-Closing workshop


13:30Transfers to the airport for flights from 16:30, or rail stations.

Introduction to Portuguese Culture and Language
Zen Vouga, the retreat center, is run by Manuel Trindade, whose grandmother and ancestors farmed here. Manuel will welcome us with an overview of Portuguese culture, teach us essential words and phrases, acquaint us with some basic pronunciation, and provide a unique and sophisticated insight into the changing fortunes of this region.  

Extension tours to Porto and the Douro Valley
After the retreat, join us for a guided tour of Porto and the region. The Douro valley region is a Unesco world heritage site where wine has been grown for over 2,000 years, providing amazing sceneries and experiences. The itinerary will be designed to suit your interests and budget. Please contact Manuel to discuss options:


June is one of the warmest months with average temperatures around 23°C to 28°C (73° F to 82° F) during the day and around 13°C to 15°C (55° F to 59° F) at night. You will enjoy long, sunny, summer days and can expect 15 hours of daylight, as the twilight wont come until 9:30 pm. 

Registration and cost

To register and for another questions about the Retreat, write to
Questions about Zen Vouga, Serra do Lagar, the excursions, the region or local travel? Write to Manuel Trindade at

The fees include:

  • Writing workshops and advice sessions

  • Accommodation for 4 nights/5 days

  • All your meals: 4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners  

  • Morning and afternoon refreshments and sundowners

  • Round trip transportation from Aeroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro in Porto 1 excursion  

  • Use of wi-fi, pool, sitting rooms, library, gardens, farm facilities and local know-how

Fees do not include airfare, travel insurance, additional accommodations or personal expenses.

When you book your travel, just a reminder that we can collect you from Porto airport (midday) or Aveiro rail station (2pm)  on Thursday 14th June. (This suits flights from London and trains from Lisbon). We will depart Zen Vouga at 1:30pm on Monday 18th June, so please ensure Porto flight departures are after 4:30pm that day. 

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