Tuesday, 23 April 2013

To mark our 15th anniversary, we have sent Cotswold Life journalist and artist Tracy Spiers on a painting holiday to Gozo, Malta!

Quick ten minute sketch: view from hotel balcony
In our bid to initiate some press for our 15th anniversary year, I was delighted to be put in touch with Tracy Spiers, not only a talented freelance journalist working for Cotswold Life, but also an accomplished and practising artist in her own right! How perfect then, that we send her on a painting holiday to Gozo, a wonderful and sunny island a short ferry ride from Malta's mainland.

Tracy hasn't been 'adventuring' for twenty years, since her first solo adventure spending seven months living in a bure - a small mud hut - in Fiji. Two decades later, she is embarking on a different kind of adventure with Authentic Adventures, this time leaving a husband and five children behind! We feel that she is more than deserving....and particularly as the trip is being led by our Senior Tutor, Roger Jones, who is reassuring in a kind, fatherly way and instantly puts Tracy at her ease, when they meet at Gatwick.

Over the course of her trip, Tracy has promised to send a daily diary of her findings, through pencil, paint and words. Follow her experiences right here on our blog and via Facebook. Sitting in the office here in Stroud, I feel totally inspired and delighted by her daily images and copy, and I think you will too!

Day One:


Going to Gozo

It's greener, more traditional, picturesque and quaint than it's big sister Malta and a fabulous place for artists, walkers and anyone who just needs to be uplifted, inspired and refreshed. Gozo – thought to derive from the latin “gaudium,” meaning gladness or delight – is indeed a joyful place so it's not surprising why visitors are spellbound by its special magic. For 15 years Authentic Adventures has been running holidays, specially geared for painters and ramblers, and more recently photographers and singers. To mark the company’s anniversary, Cotswold Life writer and artist Tracy Spiers is currently visiting this idyllic island and records her findings through pencil, paint and words.

Realise it’s exactly 20 years to the day, I flew home from my first solo adventure abroad, having spent seven months living in a bure - a small mud hut - in Fiji.  Two decades later I spread my wings again; this time as a wife and mother of five. I feel more nervous and apprehensive than at 23. Leaving my brood behind is tough yet award-winning artist and Authentic Adventure’s Senior Tutor Roger Jones, who leads this painting trip, is quick to reassure me in his kind fatherly way – as he does all his guests. So I allow the intrepid explorer within to step forward. I did manage to get locked in my parent’s garage yesterday however and envisaged spending the week cushioned between rakes and mum’s Mini Cooper. So to go anywhere today is a bonus; to go to Gozo even better.
Roger’s job requires stamina, patience and forward-thinking. Twenty-four people – half are painters, half are walkers - fly in to Gatwick from a range of towns, cities and even countries. It reminds me of geese flying into the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge from across the globe. Arrival and departure times are all different. It’s no mean feat organising minibus pick-ups and ferry rides to get everyone across the water to delightful family-run Hotel San Andrea, owned by Jason Galea and wife Sharon but it all works seamlessly thanks to careful planning.
First meal for weary travellers
Defrost car before leaving Stroud early this morning so to get off plane and feel warmth is heaven. Equivalent in size to the Isle of Wight, Malta’s palette is a rich patchwork of cream-coloured buildings, rustic hues of olive greens, burnt umber and iron-rich soils with smatterings of vibrant red poppies. Terrain is agriculturally rural and rugged and a dream for market gardening. It is strawberry season and we get chance to taste the fruits later.
En route to catch ferry, get chance to see Popeye’s Village, an intriguing mix of authentic and ramshackle wooden buildings, built as a film set for the 1980 live-action musical feature film Popeye, starring Robin Williams. It took a 165-strong construction crew seven months to build what is now a theme park. 
Popeyes village
Across the water, Gozo, Malta’s little sister has an independence and individuality about it with different traditions, topography and milestones. According to Edward Lear, the coastal landscape of Gozo is "pomskizillious and gromphiberous." By that I think he means remarkably stimulating with its tiny creeks, turquoise bays, red sand beaches and majestic high cliff faces. Our hotel overlooks a secluded bay. The sound of water lapping on beach follows us into the dining room and sooths tired travellers. I manage a quick sketch of the secluded bay from the fifth floor balcony and enjoy a meal with the wonderful eclectic mix of walkers and artists, buzzing with enthusiasm and delightful banter.