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Volunteering at Mas del Encanto (part 1) - Things to know before you apply

If you're looking for a cheap and fun way to travel, we would recommend working exchanges; we mainly work with Workaway (we're on HelpX too, and we do accept direct applications). In short, we provide our volunteers with accommodation (and food), in exchange for help around the farm. 

We look for open and outgoing volunteers with a positive attitude. Ideally, you'd like to start a project similar to this one some day - or maybe you just want to experience life on an off-grid property in the middle of nowhere in Spain. A special interest for permaculture, homesteading and green living is a plus; speaking either English, Dutch or Spanish fluently a must. 

We're happy to share our skills, knowledge and experience with you, and hope for the same in return. Please get in touch if you'd like to come and stay with us for a while! Make sure you've read this page first though. This contains the most important things you need to know before coming here. 

When you contact us about a volunteering opportunity, please mention the following: 

  • Names and ages of everyone travelling with you
  • Your mode of transportation
  • What languages you speak
  • When you'll be (and won't be) available / how long you'd like to stay

Here are a few useful links for our future volunteers: 

  • How to get here (link to the contact page on our website)
  • Help out on a Mas del Encanto project in winter
  • What to do around here
  • Mas del Encanto Facebook page. If you've got Facebook, follow us to get an idea of what's going on here before you arrive. Once you're here, you might see pictures of yourself popping up on the page - if you're not comfortable with that, we won't post them. 
  • Simple Living in Spain Facebook page, blog & newsletter. These are Sandrine's scribblings about permaculture, off-grid living, campo lifestyle, hosting volunteers and homesteading. 

PLEASE READ AND NOTE THE FOLLOWING

  • Communication is important to us. Since we're both quite outspoken, we work well with volunteers who're not afraid to tell us if they've got something on their mind. If you don't understand something, ask questions until it's completely clear and if you've got a problem, tell us and remind us until it's been resolved. We do our best to be clear about our expectations and to make time to talk about everything you'd like (or need) to know. If you've got an idea to make things better or more efficient, talk to us! 
  • Length of stay: we don't usually accept applications from people wanting to stay less than two weeks. It takes more than a week to really get a good feel of this place, and if we'd hosted short term only we'd spent our time explaining things and showing people around. 
    If however you're looking for something longer term, it could be an option but we don't like to discuss that before you get here. We don't want to make long term arrangements with people we've never met before! 
  • It is possible that things don't work out for you here. If you don't feel comfortable here or if the work turns out to be different than what you thought, we don't blame you for leaving (better to leave, than to stay while you hate it); in that case, tell us as soon as you've decided (unless you'd like to leave us with extra food and a messed-up planning). We could ask you to leave at any time as well; we'll give you time and opportunity to arrange your trip or we could set you up to stay with friends nearby if that's an option. 
  • There are various things to do here at any given time:
    • taking care of animals (feeding, cleaning),
    • gardening (weeding, pruning, mulching, digging, planting, watering, turning compost),
    • landscaping (collecting stones, building / repairing terrace walls, making stairs between terraces),
    • construction (tiling and grouting, mixing cement / adobe / glue, building animal shelters, cleaning),
    • decorating (painting, assembling furniture),
    • general housework (cooking, cleaning, laundry) & working in the bed & breakfast
    • many smaller projects (preserving, beer brewing, winemaking, building a drying oven and beehives, building retreat areas).

There's many more things, but this should give you a general idea. We expect that you're willing and able to do any of the jobs described above (or similar). If you're not (e.g. allergy or a handicap), please talk to us about it before coming here, so we can plan around it. We do our best to provide you with some variety, and feel free to tell us what you'd prefer to do.
Off-grid living is really not all about playing with animals and gardening - especially in this stage (we're still building up), a lot of other things have a higher priority

  • We expect you to have basic insurance for anything that might happen while here. If you're asked to do anything that you don't feel completely safe doing, please let us know. We have protective gear of all kinds (gloves, glasses, earbuds) and you should use them whenever you feel the need to (at least take them with you when we suggest it would be a good idea) - the only things we're not providing are working shoes and sun protection. 
  • We expect you to speak either English, Dutch or Spanish at at least intermediate level, so we're able to communicate - about work and well-being, and about safety. We speak Dutch / Flemish with each other, but we're happy to speak English (or our beginner's Spanish) with our volunteers. 
  • We are 100% off the grid. This means we get our electricity from a solar system, water from our own borehole and heating (in winter) will be done on wood (being installed as I'm writing this). This is not something that influences our lives and comfort greatly, but it is something we keep in mind. We also don't throw away food (we've got dogs, chickens, worms and compost) and try to recycle as much as we can. 
  • We like to eat good, healthy and local food - and we like to know where our food comes from. Luckily, that's exactly the kind of food we find in the shops in neighbouring towns. You might not be able to find the exotic foodstuffs or the specific brand you're used to (or they might just be very expensive); if you think that could be an issue, this is not the place for you. We still indulge in the occasional junk food though (Axel loves pizza and Sandrine loves baking). 
  • We are not vegetarians. We don't eat meat every day and don't mind cooking vegetarian dishes while you're here, but there will still be meat in the fridge (or on the table, sometimes) and some of our roosters (who are living a good and happy life for now) will get eaten at one point. If you've got a problem with this, this is not the place for you.
  • Things can come up. You might have come here for olive harvest, but then it rains for the full 2 weeks you're supposed to be here; or you might have applied for almond harvest, and it turns out we're harvesting earlier than planned - and before you even get here. There's no shame in admitting you don't want to be here after all; just tell us as soon as you have doubts, so your spot can become available to somebody else. 

HOUSE RULES

House rules are quite basic and made so we'd all have a good time while you're here. 

  • Respect: clean up after yourself, knock (or call / announce yourself) when you enter, respect people's property and privacy, pick up stray litter,... 
  • Smokers: please smoke outside only, pay attention to where the ashes are going (fires are an issue here!) and only dispose of your cigarette bud in an ashtray. For the same reason, gas stoves and camping fires are not allowed. 
  • Dogs: we have a B&B and don't want our dogs to harass our guests (not everybody loves dogs!), so they're not allowed to jump up, beg for food, go into guest rooms, (Jabba) play roughly or (Jinx) growl and bark until somebody throws the ball or stick. Jabba is also not allowed to chase the chickens or take them for a walk either (he's a work in progress). Doors also need to stay closed when nobody's around, so they can't go and look for food. 
  • Bed & breakfast: when paying guests are staying in the guest rooms, the whole ground floor of the big house is reserved for them, and we do our best to stay out of their way. We expect the same of our volunteers. 

Important: if you planned to come here but for whatever reason have decided not to, please write to us as soon as you know. As long as we're keeping your spot, we are saying no to other volunteers!

If you've read all of this and would still like to come, please let us know! The best way to contact us is through Workaway or HelpX, or at info@masencanto.com or WhatsApp +31 652 636064. If you don't have WhatsApp on your phone, we suggest you download it as it's an easy and free way to keep in touch, exchange information (like grocery lists) and pictures while you're here. 

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Book now for Mas del Encanto - season 2018!

It's official - we just opened up the bookings for the spring, summer and autumn of 2018 at Mas del Encanto. You can either come and enjoy our bed and breakfast services, or rent one of our self-catering accommodations. More about the different options here!

If you're not quite sure yet about your dates, not to worry; if you book directly with us, we can be quite flexible about your dates. Our terms and conditions stipulate that if you want to change the date until 14 days before your arrival (and provided the new dates you'd like are still available), you can do this at no extra cost. These conditions do not apply if you book through a third party website (like Booking.com or AirBnB) - they only apply to date changes, not to cancellations. 

These are the ways you can book your stay at Mas del Encanto: 

  • Our standard and secure booking system (PayPal payment only). Just select the dates of your choosing to get started! 
  • Send us an e-mail or contact us through WhatsApp (+31 652 636064) for a personalised proposal - we do discounts for groups, custom arrangements for special occasions (from weddings to writer's retreats and everything in between), and can be very flexible with pricing, food, farm activities and workshops. 
  • You can book a stay in the Maset or book the whole downstairs floor (self-catering) through Natuurhuisje or Airbnb
  • We also have a listing on Booking.com for the B&B rooms. 

Please not that for now, it's only possible to book for at least 2 nights (weekends) or 3 nights (week days). Shorter stays might become available as last minute bookings. 

So... have you started planning the holidays of 2018 yet? 

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Looking back - Summer Season of 2017 at Mas del Encanto

There's nothing simple about starting a bed and breakfast. Add to that that we live off the grid, on an olive and almond farm in the middle of nowhere - and that we're managing a few other projects on the side; we must be nuts, right? We probably are. 

We have learned countless things in the first 15 months at Mas del Encanto. I wrote the most important lessons down in a blog post on Simple Living in Spain, last May: "7 lessons we learned from our Farm Stay bed & breakfast". If you're thinking of opening a B&B of your own (one day), go and have a look; some we were warned about, others we learned the hard way. 

We also learned that the theory can never beat real life experience. In other words, we changed lots of things as we went along. We changed bedding and decorations, the location of breakfast (it's now served upstairs), and (thanks to the relocation) breakfast itself (I'm now able to cook and bake things on the spot). We worked hard on the gardens, got some alpacas, hatched more chickens (so we really get fresh eggs every day now), and tried not to neglect the rest of the farm in the process. 

We learned how seasons work in this area: as our clientele is mainly Spanish / Catalan, we learned to keep an eye on long weekends and special festivities. We learned that B&B biz goes down in May and June when everybody gets married and has parties at home - but it picks up again in summer, so we were able to top the summer with an amazing August. September was even busier - and we now learned to not plan our yearly holiday in October, as that gets in the way of business. 

We're taking all this knowledge, and currently designing a new strategy for 2018. We talked about renting out the house as a whole in the summer of 2018 (like, we considered it *really* seriously), but are slowly realising now we won't be able to get everything ready in time. We are however planning to dig / build a natural swimming pool anyway - and we have 1001 other small and big projects planned for the winter. 

One last thing to mention, is the use of OTA's - third party booking agents. We've been working mainly with Booking.com in the last year, and they have helped us get a steady influx of guests. However, we also notice that they are often not our ideal guests; we're not allowed to write our own text on Booking, so we often get people who complain about the distance to the village, the fact that the parking lot looks messy, the distance to wherever they actually would have preferred to stay (Alcañiz during the MotoGP, the beach, or some other village during a festival) and are clearly not very interested in what we actually do here.  

We've also started renting out the Maset, the renovated stable we lived in before the house was built. We've been advertising it through AirBnB and Natuurhuisje, and have been able to host the most wonderful people this way; lovers of nature and everything simple, fellow foodies and adventurers, birding enthusiasts and bikers,... it was great, and we're very much looking forward to another season of that! 

After our adventures with OTA's, we decided to focus more on other ways to book this year.

If you have found this site, we would definitely recommend booking directly through us; not only does it save us the extra cost of paying high commissions to third parties, it also makes us a lot more flexible. You can book directly by clicking here (payment with PayPal only for now, sorry about that) - or you can contact us directly (payment by PayPal or bank transfer). If there's enough demand, we can start implementing credit card payments as well; drop us a line if you'd prefer that! 

Some high season weekends will be available for booking only directly (not through Booking or Airbnb); these are 

  • The wine festival and medieval market in Cretas, 24-25 March 2018 
  • Semana Santa / Easter week, 27 March to 1st April 2018
  • MotoGP de Aragon, 21-23 September 2018

So don't worry if others are telling you we're closed; just book directly on our website, or contact us by e-mail or WhatsApp to reserve your spot. 

We also have a listing on other websites like AirBnB, Farm Stay Planet, Natuurhuisje (Rural Hut) and de Groene Vakantiegids (GreenHoliday.info); these will hopefully make it easier for our dream guests to find us, book us, and have the great stay they're looking for here. 

Oh, one last thing: at this moment, we only accept bookings for a minimum of 3 nights on week days, and 2 nights in weekends. Come spring 2018, we will probably allow bookings for shorter stays for periods that have not yet been booked. We found that people who stay more than one night actually enjoy their stay more; we're more than just a bed and a quick brekkie before they go on to other more worldly adventures, and we become a place to stay and relax. That, and we often feel ridiculous doing 3 loads of laundry every single day, just because (rather clean) people slept in that bed for just one night. There's not much eco about that! 

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News from Mas del Encanto

February 26th, 2017 - that's when the last blog post appeared on the Mas del Encanto blog; it was about all the hard work we did in the winter of 2016-2017. It called for an update (things looked so much better when everything was done!), but instead I dropped the curtain and started writing on Simple Living in Spain exclusively. If you wanted, you could still follow our adventures on Facebook, Instagram or with the bimonthly newsletter. 

We do feel the need to put the occasional news about our farm and B&B out there though - hence this, a new tiny blog. 

The newsletter only gets sent out every two months and can never contain everything noteworthy about our little farm -slash- bed and breakfast; if you subscribe to the RSS feed of the Mas del Encanto News though, you'll get an e-mail in your inbox every time something new appears here. 

I'll just drop a few numbers here to recapitulate... 

We moved to Matarranya, Teruel, Spain, in October 2014. Read here about the scary-but-fun weeks we had when we just moved here and had to adapt to all the little things that were quite different from the city we just moved away from... 

The winter of 2014-2015 was spent making plans and rebuilding an old mule stable that was on the land already. Axel and a local friend got it a new roof, rebuilt the walls, laid out a floor, put in electricity (a tiny solar system) and running water (from our well, of course). We spent our first summer living in that little "maset", with friends and family members - visiting, camping on our land, and just generally having fun. It was a summer to be remembered

In March 2015, work finally began on building our "real" house: a 5-bedroom masia (local style rural house) where we'd live on the first floor, and the ground floor would be reserved for guests. It's difficult to say when the house was finished - we feel like there's still so much to do! We moved in on April 29th, 2016. No floors, no doors, but at least we had shelter from the storm that night. If you're interested in our building process, do take a look at this post: What to expect when building an off-grid home in Matarranya

In the summer of 2016, we had a few guests - mostly friends and friends of friends, to test the waters and see what direction we needed to take with the bed & breakfast. Little did we know. 

In March 2017, we opened for real; so far, we had guests from all over (from Russians to a Canadian), from all walks of life (artists and motorbike fanatics, hoteliers and business people) and all ages (from a few weeks old to 85+). Needless to say, we were happy with all the experience - and with all the kind feedback and awesome reviews we got from our guests. We've come a long way; if you see how much the B&B has changed between March 2017 and September 2017... it's just a different concept. 

I will write more about the concept in the next few weeks - expecting to put one post online every week. Some will be about the B&B, others about our animals (alpacas, chickens, dogs and a really old cat), maybe a few on the garden as well. If there's anything you'd like to know more about, do feel free to contact us!

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