A Botanical Painting Retreat at the Cherry Tree Manor

Tags: Art, Romania, Travel

From time to time, I like to treat myself.

Sometimes it's a pampering session at a spa, other times it's a shopping spree (although I should really put a stop to those, it's only July and I've already gone over my clothes and books budget for this year!).

And other times it's that more expensive, but more satisfying option - a retreat.

So it happened that at the end of June I booked a retreat which combined two of my favourite things: nature and painting.

The place and the food

The 2-day botanical painting retreat took place at the "La Cireși" Manor near Vălenii de Munte, Prahova county, Romania. The name of the manor refers to the many cherry trees (cireși) that surround it. Unfortunately, by the time the retreat took place all the good cherries had mostly been picked, so we had to make do with raspberries. And truffles.

Oh yes. Truffles <3

The catering for the 2 days was provided by a local chef, who spoiled us with local food and reinvented dishes, as well as gourmet pizzas made on the spot, at the professional pizza oven in the courtyard, by our own dedicated professional pizzaiolo.

My favourite? The Tartufata (truffle pizza). Not only did we have that, but we also had truffles at our untethered disposal. I think I made my fill of the fragrant mushrooms for at least a year ;))

Oh, and the cherry (LOL) on the cake: Nutella calzones O_O

Any idea of a diet flew right out of the window.

We were also spoiled with local plum brandy of various strengths (țuică and pălincă), as well as with sour/morello cherry liqueur made by our host's husband.

Our host, Flavia, was amazing. While not living at the manor herself, she was there from morning until late evening, taking care of our every whim, making sure we were happy and had everything we needed. I don't have enough words to say how warm and welcoming she was. Besides her and the chef, who came at mealtimes to oversee things, we also had one or two waitresses from the chef's restaurant who set the table, put out the food and cleared out everything afterwards, so we literally didn't have to worry about a thing.

Pampering, I tell you!

Needless to say, I fully recommend the manor if you have a party of minimum 6 people. And if you want to organise a celebration there as well, you can either request that catering be provided (it will be fully local, hands-on and yummy, as I mentioned above), or you can bring your own food and drinks. They also have a conference room, so you can organise seminars and courses there too.

The Manor

Located not far from the capital Bucharest (1h30 to 2h30 by car, function of the traffic; also reachable by train, with a change in Ploiești, and, as I understand, by minibus), the Cherry Tree Manor is a gorgeous country house in Neo-Romanian style (one of my favourite architectural styles, by the way).

Given that Romania is full of old manors from various epochs, it would be easy to assume this had also been an old manor, carefully restored. To my surprise, Flavia told us the manor was new: it had actually been built ten years before or so.

I applaud architects and their clients who choose to build houses in traditional styles, rather than plonk a cube of grey concrete in the middle of beautiful natural landscapes and call themselves 'modern' (yes, I am rolling my eyes).

The Manor has 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, a conference room, a cosy kitchen and dining area, a drawing room (called 'The Cognac Room') and a superb veranda that goes around half the house and includes a large outdoor dining area - where we chose to have almost all our meals, in fact.

If that weren't enough, it also has a large grassy courtyard where you can laze about on some very comfortable lounge chairs (I have to find out where they got them from!), either in the sunshine or under the shade of a cherry tree.

And yes, you can park your car in front of the manor.

It is, quite seriously, an almost perfect destination if you are looking for luxury and quiet time in nature.

What else you can do in the area

If you're more of an 'active holiday' type, there are various activities at your disposal, and your host can help you book them:

  • Tennis - there are two clay courts literally 2 minutes away on foot
  • ATV tours
  • Horseback riding
  • Truffle (or ordinary mushroom) hunting

And of course you can do yoga in the courtyard, on the grass (the manor can provide the mats).

About the only thing that's missing is a pool, in fact.

The botanical painting course

I had come to this retreat primarily lured by the perspective of a watercolour botanical painting course held by a very talented botanical artist.

It was my first time meeting Irina Neacșu and I totally fell in love with her and her warmth, style and talent. If I lived in Brașov (where she is now based), I'd take all the courses she is offering at her studio in the city centre.

Irina is a trained architect, an interior designer and a botanical artist of great talent, with many international exhibitions and fair participations.

You can see some of her beautiful work here and in some of the images above.

I've always loved plants and I am fascinated by botanical art. I wish I could paint plants as beautifully as botanical artists do, although I am aware of the many years of daily training behind their craft, which means discipline, patience and a lot of practice are needed.

In the meantime, until I achieve that calm and balance in my life that would allow me to draw and paint every day, I assuage my soul with workshops.

This one was a rather short one for what it proposed, and I was wondering how far we could get in the just 6 hours we would have together - considering that watercolour is one of the most difficult painting mediums, and botanical art in itself is very precise and demanding.

Surprisingly (and this is a credit to Irina's pedagogical talent), at the end of the 6 hours we had managed to advance quite a lot.

I had taken some watercolour classes before, but not enough to even consider myself and experienced beginner.

We started with the basics - the materials needed, some watercolour techniques, the basic shapes that would help us construct flowers, drawing and transfer techniques... the first 3 hours (on the first day) were dedicated to this.

On the second day, we found various potted flowering plants on our tables. We were to start drawing them and advance as much as we could over the last  hours of our course.

I felt daunted by this task. It didn't seem easy to just go ahead and start drawing such a complex thing as a flower, but draw we did. Irina moved between us as we progressed, correcting here, helping there, showing each of us how to deal with the more complex bits of our respective plant.

My own flower was a moss-rose purslane of the Portulaca genus. Quite appropriately, it is a plant that is thriving in my home region of Dobrogea. Not an easy one to draw, though. Not for a semi-beginner like me, at least.

The participants had various degrees of experience, some were more talented/experienced than others, but by and large everybody managed to produce the watercolour painting of a flower and certainly learned many useful basics of the craft.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I wish it had lasted longer.

I came back home with a renewed zest for everything creative and with a resolve to put some time aside for drawing and maybe even painting.

So far, the only thing I have managed to do was put time aside for writing, and that is good enough for me 🙂 I also started doing yoga again, because that grassy courtyard on a quiet morning was extremely inviting and it took me back to the best retreat I had ever had - a yoga retreat in La Roche (Spain), one week of gentle, daily yoga, of sea and sunshine and easy living.

I now leave you with the lovely mascot of the retreat, Scala (Irina's dog) 🙂


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