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Meet the Owners of a Retreat Centre on the Camino

Basia Goodwin, Bertrand Gamrowski, Ami and Izi

In the fall of 2018, I co-taught a painting workshop at Flores del Camino, a retreat centre in a tiny historic village in the north of Spain that's built entirely of warm-coloured stone. Located on the Camino de Santiago, the owners, Basia Goodwin and Bertrand Gamrowski are the heart of the retreat centre, focusing their energies on holding workshops with a sacred focus and serving the pilgrims who walk the 750km route. Basia and Bertrand have infused their retreat centre with such beautiful loving energy that I'm returning to Castrillo de los Polvazares in May to teach a second painting workshop. I thought it would be lovely to interview them and learn their stories so I sent them a questionnaire. They have answered it in the form of a conversation between themselves which I am privileged to share here.

The small village of Castrillo de los Polvazares

Open house at Flores del Camino when we had an art opening in 2018

Bertrand: We met each other at a turning point in our lives. Basia was wanting to move to Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Soon after we met she sent me to walk it. In the name of love I embarked on this journey made by millions of pilgrims through the ages. I had just finished a successful career in London, England, but which no longer inspired me, and was retraining in psychoanalysis. Both Basia and I share a passion for psychoanalysis, or to be more precise, a passion for self discovery.

Basia: yes self discovery feels like the Golden thread. I knew I wanted to live on the Camino for this reason. I had walked it when I was 20. So young and unformed. It was the deepest, most profound experience that shook me, even violently I would say, to my very core. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I processed it for years until I realized that I wanted to move there. It has been a journey of self discovery and trust. Trust in myself has been key. It has been a difficult road, edged on by a sense of urgency after my parents died by the time I was 30 and I was left without family. This sense of urgency has been a blessing in some way. I may die young too so I must not waste time! What sings to my heart? How can I enter into greater, deeper authenticity? Because for me that is what life is about at its best. I stress 'for me' because we each have our own journey, questions and answers. My surest understanding is that I want to deepen connection to myself and then to others. Relating is this big juicy invitation into the dance of the dialectic, otherness, risk and growth as we move through truths.

Bertrand: yes courage and trust have been themes for us. We trust in our relationship and in the space that we hold. We receive pilgrims and run retreats centred around creative contemplative practices, as well as creative writing retreats and giving space to hosting other retreats that feel in alignment. Basia’s background is in traditional art. Mine is in mathematics. When I got introduced to the use of geometry in traditional and sacred art, it was a big inward explosion. Mathematics, beauty, creativity, philosophy all coming together. For ten years now I have been researching the use of geometry in the architecture of the Camino. It fulfils and inspires me and I enjoy sharing it with others.

Basia: yes, it relates so well to the Camino. The Camino is a space. It’s a space that invites an inward journey. It’s an inward journey as well as an outward one. You often hear people talk about the magic of the Camino. In this liminal space the inward and the outward meet. It is hard to describe. One has to do it, or rather they say one has to make it and live it.

Sacred art also gives space for an inward journey. Like the Camino it is time tested and infused with subtle wisdoms that can nourish us if we are attentive and open. It teaches us skill and invites us to intimately know the matter and medium we are using . We shape it and it shapes us. It is also infused with symbolism and points to the archetypal. I studied icon painting for a few years after I walked the Camino . It wasn’t because I was religious. It started out with the desire to contemplate the relationship between the sacred and the earth/body as I did on the Camino. I found walking was prayer and so using the hands could be prayer too. The natural pigments used in egg tempera icon painting reminded me about the joy of the dirt under my feet when I walked. This dirt was very nourishing and sacred to me. Today we collect and make our own pigments from the beautiful Camino ochre earths that we have here. I also make pigments from metals and stones. Sometimes I feel like an alchemist. The Camino taught me the importance of the process. For me collecting the pigments and the processes involved in making them is just as important has the finished piece. It’s not just about expression but participation and celebration in creation. I discovered that Nature is my greatest teacher. I found that her rhythms, cycles and patterns also mirror our own. We are after all a part of nature.

Bertrand: moving here and being closer to nature was also a big pull for us. It’s a great privilege to live, work and serve on this road. We are surrounded by nature. This landscape is so beautiful. I’m happy to spend the rest of my life exploring it. It’s also a great privilege to receive pilgrims who have embarked on a brave journey of soul work.

Basia: holding space is a big theme. Ultimately it’s all about space. How do we nurture and nourish sacred space? Space and listening to the space is exciting. It makes room for what bring us alive. Holding space for others is an even greater joy. The Camino healed me, pushed me into areas of discomfort and helped me grow. It also showed me that the ultimate gift is to be in service to others.

Bertrand: refurbishing our home as a space for pilgrims and retreat participants made us want to make it beautiful. Beauty matters. Traditional craft and sacred art has made me contemplate the importance of Beauty.

Basia: in sacred and traditional architecture, art and craft there is an invitation to discover the depth of Beauty. Beauty is in this art form is also connected to harmony of proportions, it’s the language of nature. In geometry we always go back to contemplating unity. My understanding of unity describes wholeness which embraces everything, even the discord. Everything is in need of being seen and held. Identity often works through separation and opposition. Unity in the sense of wholeness, or Love is truly beautiful because it doesn’t reject.

Bertrand: we can see in earlier traditional art that there is also space for mystery. Mystery and the non rational is just as valid as the rational. It’s the form and the space that give room for exploration and discovery and to the infinite possibilities of creation. That is what we hope retreat participants take away from their experience of the retreat centre. We hope that being on the Camino and this beautiful land nourishes them. 

Basia: for me nourishment is key. Nourishment supports trust in ourselves and what brings us alive, allowing us keep moving and growing.

Bertrand: the village is situated in the Maragateria, a region with specific traditional architecture and customs. The villagers have embraced us as we keep to ourselves because we are so focused on our work. We enjoy and learn from how the Spanish celebrate life and community. Eating together and socializing is so important. Here both children and older people are valued. Perhaps this is why Spain has the longest longevity in the world. We are still getting used to how slow things move here. It has been frustrating but also a learning process.

The village is a heritage site and considered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. It dates back to the 16th century and it has retained its character. It is made up of local material, in complete harmony with its surroundings. The stones of the houses are rich in iron, giving red, orange and golden hues in contrast the big old wooden arched doors painted green and blue. When we first arrived the warm colours embraced us. Basia found out she was pregnant with our first born the day we viewed the house and we decided there and then this would be our home.

Basia and Bertrand accommodate pilgrims on their way to Santiago at Flores del Camino and throughout the year run and host several retreats in sacred geometry, stone carving, icon painting and other contemplative creative practices. They work in collaboration with artists, craftsmen and writers providing nourishing offerings that weave in notions of pilgrimage, the inward journey and outer expression. See their website for more information.

Sunrise in Castrillo de los Polvazares


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