Words & images: Charlotte Philby

In my defence, I was on the verge of a breakdown… Though in hindsight, I can’t exactly map how I got to the point I was at, it definitely involved a whirlpool of hormones, exhaustion, and a sprinkling of one or two of the everyday pressures of life. However I got there, the sense of powerlessness had become so all-consuming that as the sleepless days and nights rolled into one another, I could feel the anxiety crawling over every inch of my skin.

So, a month or so ago, while staggering towards the end of a particularly nauseous first trimester, I announced to my husband that I needed a break – from the kids, from him, from our life. I know what you’re thinking: a break? What mother with two young kids can expect the luxury of trotting off on her own for four nights? I’m inclined to agree. But I must have been bad, because rather than objecting to me leaving him in sole charge, as expected, my husband practically escorted me to the door.

I’d heard of Finca de Arrieta in snatches, from friends who had visited and from articles on alternative family-friendly stays. But, as I trotted towards customs, with a single bag in one hand and a coffee in the other, my eyes bleary and red (4am is still 4am, children or otherwise), I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The 'master' yurt and another for the children (theoretically) in the Eco Twin Yurt area

My first impression was the four-hour plane ride, spent in blissful silence, reading my book, catching up on sleep and watching on while other people dealt with screaming babies and absent pushchairs. Met at Lanzarote’s ACE airport by Manwell – who is part of the same local family which has worked at Finca de Arrieta since it was first opened to the public in 2007 – I watched the endless swathes of mountain and rock tumble past under a blue sky, for 25 minutes as we drove to our final destination in the North of the island.

Positioned just above a long, quiet road which follows the shore-line, Finca de Arrieta has come a long way since expats Michelle and Tila Braddock first bought the land above the sleepy fishing village of Arrieta in 2005, as a home for themselves and their four children.

At that point it was nothing more than the ruins of an old farmhouse. Michelle first came to Lanzarote from England when she was just 21, and has never left. It was here that she met her husband-to-be; together they’ve spent the past 10 years transforming this pocket of land – far removed from the bright lights of Lanzarote’s tourist traps, including Puerto Del Carmen – into an off-grid oasis which is now home to 15 units including yurts, a stone tower and a restored farmhouse; several chickens, hens, ducks, cats and a donkey. Offering a piece of solitude on an island known for mass tourism – the result of year-round sun and low prices – this is something special.

To be honest, by the time I left England, a month or so after booking my flight, I already felt much calmer. Now 20 weeks pregnant with my third child, the hormones have settled a bit, and I’ve managed to get my head around the various facets of my life that were causing me sleepless nights. Nevertheless, I’m not going to suggest I wouldn’t feel better still for a few days of working from a sun-bed in 24 degrees heat…

And yet, once I have overcome the frenzy of excitement of not being plagued by constant demands, and then the confusion of being able to set down my bags, make a cup of tea and actually drink it, uninterrupted, I’m struck by a terrible wave of guilt. The first thing you see when you approach the finca is a playground made up of up-turned boats and rope ladders. Then there are the animals, the pretty cacti, the ping-pong table, the sunken trampoline, the pool, the potentially endless ice-cream from the well-stocked honesty shop, and the path down to the beach, just a four-minute stroll away. At every turn, in other words, there is another reminder of the reasons why my kids would have loved to have been here with me (or maybe having left me at home).

The view from the beach, across to Finca de Arrieta (on the left) and the village above

There is no escape from the self-admonishment in my living quarters, either. Inside my allotted private living area (the Eco Twin Yurt), which consists of a master yurt, if you will – imported from Mongolia and decked out with a double bed, sofa and chest of drawers – there’s the outdoor kitchen and diner; a separate, shaded eating area, a day-bed, hammock, and sun-loungers – all in its own contained area with a beautiful bathroom to boot – and amidst it all, there stands what should have been my kids’ yurt, with twin beds. Not to mention the highchair, the plastic crockery, the potty, the baby bath…

As I watch the other families enjoying the safety and ease of the resort, which is lined with colourful, indigenous plants and scrub, and connected by a series of stone pathways, and laid out so that everyone has their own, private area but situated close enough together that you feel safe here even as a lone woman (perhaps why it is so popular a destination with single parent families), I can’t help but think how much my kids would love it here. And how easy it would be to actually relax, as a family.

But then again, there is relaxing and then there is relaxing… And as I mill around the site, listening to the waves in the distance, the guilt begins to fade. While it might be self-indulgent to be here alone, it is – no doubt – a once-in-a-lifetime experience; it’s my time, I remind myself, and I’m going to enjoy it. So, with no further ado – bearing in mind that I’m pregnant, therefore unable to crack open the complimentary bottle of fizz that awaits guests in the fridge – I don my bikini and head for the pool. Once I’ve done that, I wander down to the beach, just a five-minute walk through handsome scrubland, and have lunch at one of two picturesque fish restaurants which line the sea, along with a children’s playground and a small public football pitch.

Once I’ve soaked in some sun on the beach, and wondered along the jetty to where local kids bomb into the water, I make firm plans to visit the nearby market, which only sells local produce, including silk scarves dyed with cochineal, and to drive to the famously beautiful house of artist and architect Cezar Manrique. Passing up the opportunity to surf, hike or go sailing (on grounds of pregnancy rather than laziness), I resolve to utilise the BBQ and walk to the picturesque nearby village square and admire the boats. In the end, during the course of four days, I do none of these things.

The playground inside the resort, made up of old boats and ropes

Instead, I laze on the sun-loungers reading my book, take advantage of the wi-fi in the pool area in order to catch up on work and life admin – taking the time to think things through, uninterrupted: a concept I’d almost forgotten existed. I collect eggs from the chickens to cook for breakfast, and feed carrots to the donkey. Every lunchtime, I stroll down to the beach and eat a huge, fresh seafood meal for less than a price of a sandwich from Pret.

I walk along the shore and take photos (until my camera inexplicably breaks) and stroll to the local shop to stock up on cereal and coffee. By the time evening draws in, I’m so tired from all the fresh air that I curl up in my yurt, and wait to be gently awoken the next morning by the distant sound of other people’s children playing, or the cockerel stretching his lungs.

Returning to London, I wouldn’t say I’m worry-free – I don’t think that’s entirely within my nature. I still wonder about the logistics of running a business while raising three children, about bills, life, and the rest of it… but somehow, with this newly-found headspace it all feels a lot more manageable. Or maybe, with a gentle shift in perspective, none of it seems to matter so much. It’s a feeling that even the experience of landing in Stansted to pouring rain, only to sit on a piece of chewed gum moments before stepping off the plane, can’t entirely quash. And that has to be worth something.

Prices vary according to which accommodation you choose and the time of year. For the Eco Chico Yurt – which would suit a couple or single grown-up and young child, sharing – the 7-night rate is from €665 (approx. £500); the Eco Palm Yurt, which can sleep up to four people is €805 (approx. £600). For more information or to book, visit lanzaroteretreats.com

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