Dr. Paul Arts and his wife Marina de Boer have opened a rural getaway in Mijas. Conveniently close to the hustle and bustle of urban life yet hidden in a secret natural nook. Seemingly like a whole other planet. At Back to La Tierra, rural tourism meets wild nature in a marriage made of passion.


Changing Direction

When we first featured Dr. Paul Arts in essential our report focused on something very different. His profession of aesthetic dentistry, fitting for a Renaissance-type man who was also an artist. He has also been and keen follower of the permaculture movement for some 25 years. I remember Dr. Arts telling me what a big difference a smile can make.

To illustrate, he recalled an episode in which one of his patients cried with happiness when seeing his new smile. At that time, I didn’t know he was housing a secret of his own. His own discomfort at perceiving tension in his patients. Dr. Arts, an empath through and through, absorbed this anxiety. Over the years, it became evident to him that it was time for a change.

Getting Back to His Roots

A few years after our last meeting. Dr. Arts (whom most people simply call ‘Paul’ nowadays) headed back to Holland. The country where both he and his lovely wife Marina hail from. Their children were at the stage between adolescence and adulthood. Holland was convenient for their schooling and for Dr. Arts to work freelance while exhibiting his artwork. In fact, his painting ‘Daniel’ was exhibited at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Paul’s work is a spectacle of colour; mysterious, contemplative, and profound as the artist is himself. “When I started painting,” he says, “my style was more figurative. As time went on, I began approaching the abstract as a way to add an interactive element to my art. I enjoy seeing people guess at what the painting expresses. As ultimately, their truth is the ultimate judge of what they are contemplating.”

Paul comes from an artistic, inquisitive, and active family. His twin brothers built both the heating system at home and Paul’s art house, perched above the garden. The shed is sustainable chestnut wood from Jubrique. “I work in the garden in the morning then paint in the afternoon,” says Paul. He is as passionate about art as he is about sustainability.

A Beautiful Retreat

Paul and Marina have a lovely finca, called Back to La Tierra, in Mijas, comprising three main houses. They live in the top house, since their children, now aged 20 and 21, live independently. There are, additionally, two accommodations used for holiday rentals, retreats, and weekend breaks.

The Back to La Tierra Apartment

This two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment can house four guests. Measuring 68m2 and boasting floods of natural light and views to the lush garden. Moreover, it affords direct access to a beautiful pool and to the orchard itself.

The Apartment has two suites: Sienna and Ochre. Both of which contain beautiful antique furniture pieces, many of which hail back to former generations of the family. Here, natural materials like wood and clay abound and Paul’s gorgeous art graces signature areas in the suites. For instance, Marina shows me an antique chair once belonging to her family. “We were always looking for the perfect spot for it and we found it here. We acquired cushions that complement its upholstery and I am so happy others can now enjoy and rest on it.”

The Apartment has all the amenities you could wish for. Including air conditioning, heating, a kitchen and lounge, washing machine, and more. The ensuite bathroom and beautiful corner-side bathtub in the Sienna Suite is perfect for Instagram. Other details include the handles on the kitchen cabinets made by Paul using cane from the garden. Clearly fitting in a place where nothing goes to waste.

So many magical parts of this luxurious yet sustainable oasis are the work of different members of the family. This includes a gorgeous table setting beneath the 300-year-old oak in the garden. Likewise, the poolside relaxation area, covered with a palm leaf roof.

The Sand Studio

This is a smaller abode, comprising one bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen. It can be rented alongside The Apartment or on its own and it is ideal for couples and BFFs, since it accommodates two guests. It has a kitchen, ensuite bathroom, air conditioning and heating, and all essential amenities. There are some lovely details here as well that I have to inquire about when talking to Marina – including the stonework in the shower that look as if they are picked from the garden but are in fact bought at a DIY shop and then turned into something artistic. “We love to turn natural elements into artistic touches by combining them with other materials.”

Workshops and Courses during Your Stay

Paul and Marina are so laidback and eager to inform guests about their unique lifestyle that it is a joy to be around them. Marina tells me that she teaches yoga classes in the spacious outdoor yurt, made of canvas and placed directly into the Earth. Guests can also check out Paul’s artwork at the gallery, though many stunning works are also casually placed around the houses. You can also opt for an introductory permaculture course and lunch, lasting four hours, which delves into how you can make the transition from being a dependent consumer to a responsible producer.

A Family with Heart

Paul and Marina take me through the gorgeous garden. Here, ‘swales’ (or channels) built by the family collect rainwater. Vegetables, trees and shrubs grow boundlessly and their son works endlessly alongside a HelpX volunteer, using cardboard to block the sun and kill weeds without the need for pesticides (since the sun doesn’t reach the weeds, they simply die, and can then be used for mulch – a necessary ingredient in this permaculture ‘forest’).

Regarding volunteers, Marina tells me, “We invite them to stay in the camper van for free and we share meals with them, and in turn they work on the land a few hours a day. Most people who ask to stay are those interested in setting up a permaculture system back home.”

The Swales

Paul explains a bit about how water is collected: “When it rains, our lower driveway turns into a river. If we do nothing, the water runs off the land again and that is a waste because Andalucía is so dry and we need to conserve water. Permaculture techniques allow us to slow down the water, spread it, and soak the land. It takes years for the soil to become fully saturated but once it does, you no longer need to water it.”

The Compost Toilet

Back to La Tierra has its own well. Moreover, as part of various ongoing experiments, the property has a compost toilet in the garden which means no more flushing and a valuable gain for the compost heap. If you know little about compost toilets then you might think they smell. I checked it out and am pleased to say there was literally no smell at all. The solution is super simple and you should check out Back to La Tierra’s website if you wish to know more about it.

The Reed Bed Filter

All the home’s waste water goes into a three-chamber septic tank. Solids and grease stay behind and the dirty water runs into a deposit with a pump. From there, it runs in small quantities and in short time intervals to the filtre bed. Paul says, “for the reed filter, we built a 9m3 basin, laid all the required tubing and filled it with rock wool as a substrate for the plants.”

The rock wool, he adds, was obtained from a greenhouse in El Ejido – Spain’s largest agricultural area. “It meant two long journeys with a van to one of the most depressing landscapes you have ever seen: plastic, plastic and more plastic, as far as you can see.” The rock wool was then covered with marble gravel (to eliminate smells) and the pump placed. The dirty water goes through the oxygen-supplying reeds and is released as clear, odourless water that can then be used to water the plants.

The Swimming Pond

As I sit beneath the ancient oak and happily chat with Paul and Marina, life suddenly seems infinitely more positive and beautiful. It is a joy to watch their son working relentlessly. I’ll admit that I know people this age and you wouldn’t catch them working outside or separated from their devices and phones for more than a few minutes. Paul’s son beams with a huge smile when he sees me; he has every inch of the kindness and gentleness of his parents, who are doing this, Paul says, “not for ourselves but to leave something to them.”

Into the Wild

Paul and Marina’s children have not grown up the way most have. Marina laughs as she tells me, “They never wanted to swim in the (main) pool. They have always preferred to have a swim in the pond because they loved being surrounded by frogs, tadpoles, and dragonflies.” Indeed, the orchard is home to many animals – including plump chickens clucking away happily, the ‘smiling’ dog Beno (whom the family adopted from Triple A) coming up to say hello, and three cats (Pipo, Semy, and Shiva) lazing around.

As I leave Back to La Tierra, with its lovely breeze and leafy surrounds, life somehow starts to feel smaller. There is something indescribably vast about living the permaculture lifestyle and about sharing your knowledge with others, the way Paul and Marina do every day. Working on the land, finding creative ways to establish a many-layered forest, and inviting others to join you is incredibly meaningful.

“I hope to one day create a community of people doing the same thing,” says Paul. “In a town called Davis, in the U.S., there is a self-sustaining community created in the 1980s that now comprises 240 houses. They produce so much food that they cannot consume it all and have to bring it to market.”

Paul and Marina’s plans are endless and varied. He says, “We all know we are on a dead-end track and I don’t want to say, ‘You knew about it, why didn’t you do something about it?’.” Marina adds, “We are enjoying our journey and constantly developing new insights and understanding. Permaculture is an entirely new way of life; one that addresses the causes of imbalances rather than finds quick solutions to its symptoms.”



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