Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Endless Summer: A Place in the Sun

Summer is my favorite time of year. An invitation to breathe, relax, explore. After living in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, I don’t dread winter as I once did. I appreciate changing seasons.  And yet… when the cicadas’ song crescendos from a low hum heralding summer in May to a hiss screeching summer’s end in September, I have trouble letting go.

This is my salute to the longest day of summer where I escaped to a beach house in Asilah, south of Tangier. The ocean is where I feel God’s power most intensely, especially on the northern African coast. 

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Road between Asilah and Tangier

I returned to Marrakesh in June to see students I’d taught graduate, reconnect with old friends, and collapse for a reset. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor at my friend’s place grounded me again.

My first year back in the US had been harder than expected. Everything had changed. I’d come back focused on writing my memoir about the time away, feeling positive about getting a full time university position for which I’d applied, and expecting to buy a home near work and my daughter. When the position didn’t happen, I continued job searching though thankful for adjunct positions in the fall and an interim position in the spring. Housing prices in Nashville kept rising; my kids were busy with lives of their own (as it should be but as a Stage 5 Clinger I felt lonely at times no less); and Mom became ill and moved from Kentucky into my apartment with me. At times we both felt lost (more on podcast), but God, as always, never let go. 

Mom made a miraculous recovery and celebrated her birthday in April in a new apartment. We’re all so happy she’s finally living in Nashville. One day after the summer term ended, I boarded a plane. I met my Spanish friend, Moni, in Madrid, then headed to Marrakesh.

After resting until mid-month, I headed north with my Aussie friend, Kate. We stayed in the old city of Asilah, the cleanest town I’d ever seen in Morocco.  Whitewashed in preparation for the annual Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, a mural/art festival, the medina was as quiet, pristine, surreal as a movie set.  

Below was the Airbnb respite —a dream writing space. I felt protected within the 15th century ramparts built by colonial Portuguese. I fed on seafood. I felt free. From the rooftop I watched the waves rumble. On the second floor, I wrote as the sun rose and fell with the tide.  I didn’t know then that I’d teach full time for a university this fall. That I’d have benefits again and a schedule that would give me time to write.  But I knew the One telling me not to fear. I recognized the way He moves–the way He moved me while I lived in Morocco. The unforced rhythm of grace. I remembered a promise that led me here in 2014. A promise extended to all…

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”—Matthew 11:28-30 

Smoother than Nora Jones, He’d again called, “Come away with me.” I did, and though I had no idea what fall would bring, He knew. And it was enough. I knew my only job at that moment was to give thanks in the summer sun.

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Asilah
Photos of me by Kate Woods at https://www.moroccobespoke.com/. Other photos by me.

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Asilah Rooftop
Asilah’s white and blue rooftops reminded me of breezy shoreline escapes in Greece.

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Asilah
These guys, sure-footed as cats, played and sat along the fortress wall watching the sun set and a friend swimming below.

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A really good day

 

 

Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness

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Making a grand entrance must have originated in Marrakech. Crossing that first threshold from the manic Medina into a roofless riad respite– blue skies or stars above—is a moment no one ever forgets. I am still thrilled every time I follow surreptitious streets snaking through the medieval city… duck archways and dodge motorbikes, donkey carts, and darting cats… then knock on a heavy wooden door that slowly swings open into a secret, peaceful place.

But for me, entering the world of Riad Emberiza Sahari was epic.

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One of those surreal experiences when so much of what my heart loves to see, hear, taste, and touch materialized like magic. Here classic French Elegance, Hollywood’s Golden Age Glamour, and Desert Dreams meet…a rhapsody in blue.

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Welcomed warmly by owner Alexandra Richards, I could hear past the streaming foyer fountain Mancini crooning “Moon River” to a chirping courtyard chorus. Named for the Emberiza family of birds indigenous to South Morocco and considered sacred in Marrakesh, the boutique hotel that took two years to renovate was guarded by these feathered friends. They had comforted Alexandra who moved from Melbourne and found the process, like other expats building a new home in a foreign country, fraught with frustrations. A Barrister of Queen’s Counsel, the highest appointment and level of professional recognition in Australia, the Human and Civil Rights attorney is, no surprise, a strong, smart Leading Lady of her new life. But she is also a woman of beauty, style, wit and grace and reminds me of Big Screen legends like Lauren Bacall and Faye Dunaway.

When I asked what moving to Morocco taught her, she replied:

“One thing I have learned here is to ‘never say never and never say always.’ I believe Talleyrand said this of politics and war. I would say it of everything here.”

 

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To a musical mix of Moroccan, French, and Frank (Sinatra), I wandered the riad as slowly as the turtles who live there, delighting in the details—gorgeous artwork, antiques, bedding, and baths. As I climbed the stairs to tiered terraces, then the rooftop, I could imagine Truman Capote working or Holly Golightly playing here. Riad Emberiza Sahari is a venue for artists’ retreats, weddings and social gatherings, solo or romantic escapes, and the ultimate girls’ getaway. Offerings include excursions, cooking classes, massages, yoga, or meditation.

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Alexandra and Kate, a friend who lived near her in Melbourne though they never met until each moved to Marrakech.

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As darkness descended the riad became even more magical–the pool and fountains dancing, flickering,  reflecting lights and candle flames to classical music.  We talked at table under orange and lime trees about our love for our children and for this strange, irresistible city.

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I would return months later for Kate’s birthday and always look forward to seeing Alexandra. She inspires me as a woman of reinvention, as one who followed her dream and created an oasis where others can rediscover theirs.   Riad Emberiza Sahari is the manifestation of who she is and what is right with the world– a dramatically beautiful, comfortable, and peaceful place.

Alexandra: “I agree with Winston Churchill that ‘Marrakech is the most beautiful place in the world.’ But a place of great beauty AND great ugliness, a place of contrasts and contradictions. Therefore it never lets you alone and you always know you are alive.”