Podcasts for the Pandemic: A Playlist of Inspiration
Stuck at home? Feeling out of sorts? We picked 10 episodes of our podcast, Essential ...
Explore our full 2023 Retreat Guide here!
One of my favorite times of the year is when I get to compile this annual Retreat Guide. In the eight years since it first launched, there’s one constant that has remained true: Our quest to be one with our natural surroundings, to meld into Mother Nature, and to come out of that experience with a lighter way of looking at and being in the world around us. As Colleen Inman, Wellness Guide at Castle Hot Springs, once shared with me, “A well-timed retreat is a right move to restore energy to persevere.” I couldn’t agree more.
In the big wide world of retreats, nature beckons like never before. We’re all craving more time and space in the great outdoors—and retreats, both here and abroad, are heeding the call. We’ve rounded up topnotch experiences that celebrate nature in all her glory. There’s something here for everyone, from those seeking solitude and silence to those who want the camaraderie of community. Fair warning: lots of sunshine, water, and mountain views ahead.
Return to your senses and restore your natural rhythm. Nature provides not only a sanctuary but sanctity we need to recharge our batteries.
In the heart of the Peloponnese, in a valley on the edge of the Byzantine town of Mystras, is a unique retreat founded by Marina Efraimoglou. Euphoria Retreat offers a creative approach to living a holistic and happy life. As Efraimoglou explains it, the method “converges varying healing philosophies and marries East and West, ancient Greek and Chinese health approaches and science with naturalism.” The staff here includes a team of doctors, nutritionists, therapists, fitness instructors, and mentors who work together during your retreat to support and encourage you on your personal journey. Signature retreats include Spartan Spirit of Adventure, a playful experience of exploration and joy with a physical focus; Odysseus Journey, which aims to help you find and live your inner purpose; and Emotional & Physical Transformation Retreat, an immersive experience of Euphoria’s core philosophy for joyful transformation.
This is a ruggedly wild and beautiful property envisioned and painstakingly—and lovingly—built by its founder, Sajeela. Haramara is a soulful, open-air yoga and meditation retreat on 12 acres of private land between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Tucked into a hillside steeped in tropical jungle vegetation, it offers dramatic views of the rugged coast and electricity-free casitas. Personal retreats include the Roots Getaway, Haramara’s all-inclusive five-day signature healing package, while recent retreats have included Medicine Women: Returning to the Source of Our Nature and Nurture & Nourish You Retreat. The intimate healing center and spa on the property offers a temazcal ceremony, an ancient purification ceremony, on a weekly basis.
Save this one for a special occasion. This intimate luxury eco lodge, nestled in Costa Rica’s northern rainforest jungle, offers private customizable retreats. On the four-night agenda: daily yoga and meditation practices, three daily meals, and a number of onsite experiences like cooking classes, hiking to Oro waterfall, and sustainability and farm tours. Healing therapies (sound healing, reiki, chanting mantras, and breathwork sessions) and spa treatments are available for an additional fee. As of this writing, Origins just received the 2022 Prix Villegiature Award for Best Sustainability Policy for Hotels.
This just-over-the-border wellness resort remains the classic weeklong retreat. Its 4,000 acres include 40 miles of well-kept hiking trails. You begin each day with an early morning hike up the mountain or to the organic farm for breakfast or to birdwatch or to meditate, and continue with the choice of dozens of classes, workshops, pools, games—you name it. The entire place, founded in 1940, is a sculpture garden crafted with timeless landscape design (there are 32 acres of gorgeous gardens). Healthy food served in a grand dining hall, rustic luxury, an excellent staff, and topnotch teachers draw guests back year after year.
If you’ve been saving up for a special experience and love trekking, this ultra-luxurious retreat has your name on it. RESET Telluride debuted last May and offers a six-night, six-day wellness and trekking retreat surrounded by the spectacular San Juan Mountains. The retreat is designed to empower you with daily half-day treks in the rugged mountains, clean plant-based cuisine, meditation and yoga, and a plethora of holistic wellness therapies. There’s unlimited access to RESET’s state-of-the-art wellness center and lots to choose from for a complete physical and mental experience. Think acupuncture, oxygen enrichment, IV therapies, hyperbaric chamber therapy, and nutritional coaching, for starters.
Sometimes you just need to get out of your head and move your body—and this is the perfect place to do just that. Long revered as an adventure resort, Red Mountain has trails right outside its door and is at the heart of some of the most spectacular hiking in North America. On offer are a variety of Essential Adventure Retreats for all fitness levels, as well as restor-ative Health and Wellness Retreats. You’ll find great trails for biking, hiking, climbing, and walking, as well as a wonderfully staffed wellness center and Sagestone Spa. This is an ideal retreat for both solo travelers and friends who want to get away together.
This is a secret gem a couple of hours from Seattle set in a high-desert vineyard overlooking the spectacular Columbia Gorge. The property is adjacent to the famed Gorge Amphitheatre where concerts hold as many as 27,000 guests. But don’t be alarmed! In the shoulder seasons, Sagecliffe is deliciously quiet and a great getaway. You can book a Desert Yurt, a Cliffehouse, or a Cavern Room and savor not only nature, but fine local wines. There’s a delightful spa on property, as well as a very good farm-to-table restaurant, and lots of outdoor options including mountain biking and hiking trails.
If you take Mother Nature in all her glory and combine her with artistic sensitivity and loving kindness, you create a benchmark experience—welcome to The Retreat Costa Rica. Part yoga retreat, part world-class destination spa, and part boutique hotel, The Retreat pretty much has it all. Situated amidst the rainforest at the base of a 50-acre crystal-quartz mountain outside the colorful town of Atenas in Costa Rica, The Retreat offers vast and painterly views of the Nicoya Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean, and the lush Costa Rican rainforest valley. The onsite spa is the first Ayurvedic healing center in the country with a meditation deck you’ll never want to leave. In addition to yoga retreats, there are excellent programs like Emotional Healing & Recovery and Art of Resting. Of special note is the five-day Immersive Wellness program.
A time-honored tradition, communal bathing is making a big comeback. From urban bathhouses to Nordic spas to hot springs–it’s time for a good soak.
Alaska’s very first Nordic spa opened last September, offering a wonderful opportunity for guests to unwind, unplug, and reconnect with nature. As befits a true Nordic spa, there are outdoor hot and cold hydrotherapy pools in addition to aromatherapy-infused steam rooms, a halotherapy signature sauna, a Finnish sauna, and an exfoliation cabin featuring Alaskan sea salt. All of these bliss-inducing spaces are connected by a heated pathway. There’s also a very cool (pun intended) forest loop that features an elevated boardwalk through the Chugach forest. Here’s where you’ll discover hot and cold wooden tubs, large barrel saunas, and banya saunas. Stay at the resort and book the Hydrotherapy Access pass and soak and steam and plunge to your heart’s content from nine in the morning until nine at night.
This urban bathhouse is a temple of sweat that pays homage to ancient traditions of Greek iaconica, Turkish hammam, German thermen, and Russian banya. Built by Russian mathematician Mikhail Brodsky, a passionate sweat aficionado, Archimedes Banya is a terrific example of an urban bathhouse that provides a complete total body workout—inside and out. Plan a day retreat and cycle from extreme hot to extreme cold, and then relax on the roof deck overlooking the Bay. “Our mission,” attests Brodsky, “is to bring the ancient culture and the health benefits of community bathing activities to the high-tech era, as a single alter-native to working out in gyms and socializing in bars. We wish for every American city to have a banya, to revitalize the body, relax the mind, meet old friends, and make new ones.”
Come for the night, book a personal retreat, or sign up for special events like quiet weekends or women’s only weekends. But most of all, prepare to get off the grid and soak to your heart’s content in the clothing-optional natural earth hot pools and spiral tubs. There’s also a cedar cabin sauna for the taking and a river-rock-lined labyrinth that’s modeled after the nave at Chartres Cathedral in France. Breitenbush is the largest thermal spring area in the Oregon Cascades, and it did sustain damage from the 2020 wildfires. Open on a smaller scale, the property has commenced a multiyear rebuild-ing plan and is happily welcoming guests back to the magical location.
Historic hot springs rich in mood-lifting lithium and magnesium are at the heart of this secluded desert destination. Established in 1896, Castle Hot Springs is believed to be the first Arizona wellness resort. There are special expert-led retreats throughout the year, including the noteworthy Zen Wellness retreat created by Colleen Inman. “The fact that the springs and surrounding nature of the place remain au naturel with only the most refined touch of construction allows the matching of the holistic teachings and environment,” says Inman, who adds that the main focus of the retreat is “to aid the participant in nudging towards closer harmony with the natural flow state of their body, vitality, and mind, thus reducing suffering and symptoms of disease.” The three-night program includes four hours of private instruction with spa credit and options for additional private sessions for more extended stays.
There’s a very good reason why this natural wonder is at the top of many a bucket list. The otherworldly location with its beyond-blue geothermal seawater and transformative wellness experiences has lured guests since its opening in 1992. Situated on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa where you can soak in the restorative waters and soak up the scenic beauty for days. It is without a doubt Iceland’s most popular attraction. Go for a day visit or plan a stay at the Silica Hotel, a lovely contemporary hotel designed with wellness in mind, or the Retreat Hotel, a super-luxe and super-serene escape. The latter is a great place to retreat from it all—you can soak in the private lagoon or hide away in the subterranean spa.
Situated along the vast and tranquil St. Lawrence River in Old Quebec City, Strøm Spa Nordique boasts the largest flotation bath in North America. There’s lots more for water lovers to experience here, including an infinity pool at the edge of the river, steam baths, a number of indoor and outdoor hot tubs, and pools with and without waterfalls. The property, opened in 2020, is divided into four distinct pavilions and also offers a number of healing spa treatments as well as a Scandinavian-inspired menu in its restaurant.
The soothing, lithium-rich mineral waters at this iconic property flow from a 600-year-old spring and emerge from the earth at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can experience the benefits of the geothermal hot springs while soaking in the palm-tree lined Grotto. There’s also a Celestial Yoga Dome on property, as well as a spa with a menu that offers a number of renewing treatments, such as an adaptogen wrap, craniosacral work, and lymphatic massage. There are a bunch of creative workshops, too, such as Art Meditations and the New Moon Sound Bath with Sound Bliss Experience. This boutique property is spread out over 72 acres of desert landscape and has all the makings of a restorative and restful retreat.
One of the best places in the States for a true-blue bathing experience, Ten Thousand Waves modeled itself on the onsen of Japan and offers sublime soaking experiences in eight unique hot tub suites ranging from the Grand Bath—the largest—to the intimate Ofuro—the ultimate in luxury bathing. Shiatsu massages are on the menu at the spa, and simple yet elegant accommodations can be had at Houses of the Moon. New is the Ketamine for Transformation retreat. Ten Thousand Waves partners with Jinsei LLC, the therapeutic arm of its property, to offer the medically administered and professionally guided ketamine journey that is “designed to open new doors to new possibilities for wellbeing.”
As more and more retreats hit the market, the quality can suffer. So, how exactly can you tell if the retreat you are drawn to is authentic? There are three core ingredients to a real retreat experience, explains international wellness alchemist Patrizia Bortolin, spa director at Preidlhof in Naturno, Italy.
Core ingredient 1: The authenticity of the therapists and how they walk the talk, living what they preach, and their ability to personalize the experience is key, affirms Bortolin.
Core ingredient 2: The harmonious design of the retreats, with a constant flow of progression and engagement for the guest. “There should be coherence in the teaching and sharing from all members of the team, educating the guests on holistic approaches to life and how to have healthy relationships with themselves and others.”
Core ingredient 3: You should realize results based on the retreat’s description. “A retreat is more than a series of a la carte treatments,” says Bortolin. “It needs to grant a significant improvement, a specific result or a transformation. It might add a new skill, give new perspective on a specific matter to inspire a next step in life, provide a solution, heal or solve a problem, or teach a new way of living according to what it claims. At the same time, it should flow in all included activities, vibrate with the place, and welcome all that emerges.”
Feed your spirit, widen your horizons, and learn something new for a better you at an educational retreat.
Spread out over 380 serene acres atop Heavenly Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this nonprofit center was opened by beloved spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. A true sanctuary designed for simple living without distraction, Art of Living is a favorite respite with spiritual seekers. The center is renowned for its Happiness Retreat, which includes silent time as part of its schedule. Speaking of silence, it has also recently increased its Silent Retreats. Additional retreats include Rest & Relaxation retreats, plus a number of meditation, yoga, and wellness retreats. Accommodations run from rooms that are simple and spartan to boutique hotel rooms and a few specialized spa suites. Speaking of spa, there’s also an authentic Ayurveda spa, a labyrinth, and meditation halls.
Dedicated to healing and serenity since 1639, Le Monastère des Augustines was founded by Augustinian Sisters. Its storied history includes the fact that it was the birthplace of the first hospital in North America. Today, it is a National Historic Site of Canada as well as a unique destination offering a number of holistic health and culture programs. Sensitively restored and opened to the public in 2015, the monastery gives guests the opportunity to stay in two types of rooms in its former cloister: Authentic Rooms, where you can experience a stay in a former cell that has been nicely restored in “the spirit of monasticism,” or Contemporary Rooms, which are minimalistic and comfortable spaces. Recently opened is Le Vivoir, a dining space dedicated to mindful eating. Special programs are based on rest, renewal, and self-discovery. There are also Solidarity Retreats geared specifically toward health workers, teachers, and caregivers.
There are numerous retreats to choose from at this nonprofit retreat center and health spa that’s embraced by nature. It’s nestled in the middle of the Catskill Forest Preserve on a 330-acre private nature reserve. Named after the Tibetan Medicine Buddha, Menla was founded by Tibet House US. Its vision is to “draw from Tibetan wisdom sciences to reinforce the new wave of holistic integrative medicine now emerging in Western societies.” On offer are group retreats on addiction recovery, Buddhism, conscious dying, the sacred feminine, holistic health and wellness, and yoga—to name a few. Don’t forget to schedule time at Dewa Spa, where one can find rare Tibetan therapies as well as herbal baths and energy healing.
A sense of old Hawaii permeates this historic compound that was originally built in 1910 as a retirement home for plantation workers. Today, the building is home to 24 simple but elegant rooms where seekers come to stay for a variety of classes, workshops, retreats, and programs. There’s much to choose from here in addition to meditation and yoga, including classes on Hawaiian heritage, movement, ecology, and new thought. Don’t miss a meal at The Wooden Crate, the onsite restaurant that offers fresh farm-to-table meals and fish from Maui waters.
There’s a very good reason why guests have been coming—and coming back—to Kripalu for the last 50 years. This nonprofit educational organization is essentially the American university of yoga. Naturally, there are yoga workshops for every level from beginner to master and palate-pleasing Ayurveda-based cuisine—but there is also Retreat & Renewal, a signature retreat that you create based on your current needs. The best rooms to book for a personal retreat are in the Annex, a minimalist and environmentally sustainable building, and come with lake or tree views for an extra charge. Nature lovers take note: Kripalu is situated on 100 glorious acres on the traditional, unceded Mohican territory of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans.
Located on a beachfront campus in blissful El Pescadero, Modern Elder Academy (MEA) is on a serious mission to “reclaim the word ‘elder.’” MEA was cofounded in 2018 by hotelier and entrepreneur Chip Conley, and its main focus is to guide and support 40-year-old-plus adults through transitional periods in life. “Having been on the Board of the Esalen Institute for a decade and been a consultant to a few retreat center founders, I knew that I wanted MEA to fill a gap that was missing in the personal growth world,” shares Conley. “We’re the first school to specifically focus on ‘midlife wisdom’ and how to navigate the transitions of this life stage. We have a social science–based curriculum that’s been crafted by some of the best academics and experiential designers in the world. And, we have 26 regional chapters so our alumni are part of a global community of inspired mid-lifers who are supporting each other.” A few examples of recent retreats are Mastery Week—Regenerating Soil and Soul: People, Planet and Purpose and Cultivating Awe: How to Make It Your Superpower.
The wooded trails and gardens never get old at this nonprofit institute that has been attracting expert speakers and loyal guests since 1977. Located in the Hudson Valley, Omega offers a true sanctuary with lots of great options for rest and renewal. Spend quiet time reading at the Ram Dass Library or step inside the Sanctuary, the heart of the campus, to meditate or take time to reflect. There’s a very good wellness center here, offering everything from acupuncture to shamanic healing to Reiki. Upcoming workshops include Freedom from Chronic Pain; Start Fresh: Let Go, Reconnect & Look Forward; and Yoga & Longevity: 8 Secrets to a Long, Happy & Healthy Life.
Many retreats today offer Ayurvedic and Ayurvedic-inspired treatments. So how does someone who knows nothing about Ayurveda choose a retreat? We asked Raja Rogers Badgett, founder of The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa, to share his expert advice. The Raj, founded in 1993, is a Premier Ayurvedic Health Center where all of the treatments have been approved by the Maharishi Ayurveda Council of Physicians.
“Ayurveda is a sophisticated medical science. It is not something that one becomes an expert in by reading a book or taking a few courses,” says Badgett. “An authentic Ayurveda retreat should have programs developed by Ayurvedic experts with degrees from legitimate Ayurvedic institutes. Over the last 20 years, Ayurvedic spas and treatments have become increasingly popular. Many spas mix Ayurveda treatments with other kinds of massage and New Age techniques, creating a pick-and-choose approach to relaxation and wellness. But, just like extracting one active ingredient from a plant, what gets missed is the synergy of the whole. It is this holistic approach that provides the profound effectiveness—and safety—of Ayurveda. When every aspect of the program at an Ayurveda retreat is grounded in a deep knowledge of Ayurveda, each step can support every other step to accelerate the healing experience.”
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