Wellness Buzz: Hives and Healing in the Andalusian Hills

Wellness Buzz: Hives and Healing in the Andalusian Hills

One writer finds balance among the bees at a luxury Andalusian farm stay offering an up-close and personal encounter with the local pollinators

friend works as a winemaker at Finca La Donaira, an
organic farm high up in the mountains of the Andalusian Serranía de
Ronda. She’s tempted me to join her with the words “natural wine”,
“natural pool”, “baby donkeys” and “bees”. Without further
consideration, I head to the airport, booked on a flight to Málaga.
From there, it’s a two-hour drive along dusty highways and through
lush valleys to the whitewashed farmhouse.

Finca La Donaira sits discreetly among vineyards and olive groves. It’s a landscape of
sounds: meadows filled with crickets; the trickle of water down by
the emerald-green springwater pool luring me down for a post-flight
splash. From the outside, the traditional farmhouse could be any
other farm stay, but its interiors, elegantly curated by the owner,
Manfred Bodner, skip to a different beat. It isn’t
characteristically Spanish, save for its dark stone walls and
floors. Colourful, seminal books on psychedelia and wellbeing fill
towering shelves and tabletops; art deco furniture pops against
rustic walls. There’s a grand piano, and one-off artworks dotted
throughout. The nine bedrooms found inside – and outside – the main
farmhouse are airy. Built from natural materials, they house
bronzed roll-top tubs, statement sculptures and an array of
paintings. I’m staying in a yurt that boasts a double basin and a
vast, circular bath. As I unpack, the clicking and humming of
insects outside fills the space.

Finca La Donaria Farmhouse
Finca La Donaria, Bedroom

Finca La Donaira through the vines, left, and one of the
airy bedrooms. | Photo credit: Clara Lozano

The place is steeped in the richness of its surroundings: one
floor-to-ceiling window in the dining room makes for a living
painting of the still mountainscape. The open kitchen teems with
pickled things, eggs that have been laid that morning and an
abundance of fresh greens. My childhood memories of Spam and chips
on the Costa del Sol are a distant memory. It buzzes, but with
serenity. It reminds me of somewhere.

Another world

In 1973, Spanish film director Victor Erice released his magical
realism debut, a movie about a dynamic young child living in
French-occupied Spain. Carefully navigating the censorship rules of
the time, the filmmaker crafted a masterpiece of modern cinema that
captured the quiet self-sufficiency of Spanish rural life and the
bewitching sensation of long, hot summers through a child’s eyes.
Produced when Spain still lived under Franco’s regime, it was also
a portrait of the strains of life within a ruptured societal

The Spirit of the Beehive depicted a six-year-old drawing
jarring parallels between her reality and her imagined worlds. At
the centre of the child’s world was the hum of the unknown; at the
centre of her father’s world, his beehives. At La Donaira, out of
my kopfkino and in modern-day Spain (the spectre of hard living and
autocratic European leaders not so distant from Erice’s 70s
masterpiece), I’m about to enter a similar hive-like state of mind
as I climb into a bee bed.

Hazy Hills of La Donaira
A Bee Bed

Hazy hills, left, and the bee bed. | Photo credit: Clara
Lozano & Anna-Maria Indra

These coffin-like wooden chambers, located among the farm’s
trees, allow you to be encompassed by the bees without the chance
of a sting. Positioned above two hives, a single layer of wood is
all that separates you from the insects. Inside, it’s dark and it

Lying there, entombed, is strangely nice. You’re encouraged to
meditate. Practitioners report that the sensation brings about
balance and inner harmony; it requires a level of submission. “The
experience is humbling. It helps one to come closer to nature and
these beautiful creatures,” La Donaira’s wellness manager, Paula,
tells me. It’s a little like being in a sensory-deprivation

Benefits of the bee beds include eliminating body tension and
enhancing sleeping cycles. I see it as a sort of body scan, similar
to sound baths. I was aware of my vibrations, just as I was aware
of those of the bees. I’m with them for less than an hour, but time
disappears and twists while I’m inside. Paula also leads aerial
yoga on a terrace with landscape panoramic views, and ecstatic
dance classes. Then, there’s shinrin-yoku, Andalusia-style. The
property’s resident donkey healer leads the forest-bathing sessions
in the cooler months. Wellness at La Donaira is nature-led.

La Donaira, Eco Retreat
La Donaira, Bench Corner

The farmhouse living area, left, and a tranquil seating
spot. | Photo credit: Clara Lozano

In the medicinal garden

Having started out with 20 hives, the property has now added a
further two. Seven of them are housed inside trees, 12 within
traditional hives and three within the bee beds. The beekeeping is
simple, with minimal intervention – an attempt to solve
colony-collapse issues and improve the ecological outlook of the
landscape. Most of the honey is left to the bees, and no pollen or
royal jelly is removed in order to strengthen the colonies. Success
has been helped by the estate’s organic gardening ethos.

Ballerina-turned-medical horticulturalist Gigi (and brother of
La Donaira’s founder, Manfred) keeps the gardens healthy. Some
pathways lead to blossoming flowers and orchards, others to cacti,
herb gardens and vegetable patches, and another to a 700-year-old
oak tree. Much of the goodness grown finds its way to the kitchen,
where menus feature guinea fowl and lamb, goose terrine, goat’s
ricotta, steamed vegetables and raw salads with fresh peppery
herbs. As we wander, Gigi snaps off the leaves and flowers of
everything from aloe vera to chilli and mint, listing to me the
healing powers of each.

La Donaira, Dining Area
La Donaira, Dinner

The dining area, left, and a snapshot of the food. | Photo
credit: Clara Lozano

Later, I visit the spa, a dark granite oasis, positively
onsen-like, with saunas and a plunge pool, rainforest showers and a
swimming pool offering valley views. As dusk turns to nightfall, I
wash away the soil, sweat and fluff from a packed day at the farm
in preparation for my last dinner.

That night, we’re offered the chance to look through a giant
telescope. I gaze up at the constellations, spotting Jupiter and
Saturn. The North Star burns brightly. La Donaira has its own
manifesto, available on its website, which I’d read earlier. One
bit in particular jumped out: “We are in a social crisis, an
economic crisis and a spiritual crisis. We are halfway through the
life of the sun. Eventually, beyond the drunken delight of human
conquest and progress, lies a sacred opportunity – to become
heroes, to become the custodians and storytellers of an otherwise
silent universe.” Looking at the stars above, those words running
through my head, I feel like the little child in Erice’s movie.

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