It’s an experience most women crave — a day or two spent with friends, away from the responsibilities of everyday life. For some, it’s the chance to slather their skin with sunscreen and lie by the pool; others might welcome a few days in a bustling city, shopping, attending plays and drinking good wine. But for many women, the opportunity to combine the fun of a girlfriend getaway with a deeper purpose is an intriguing and inviting proposal.
In the Pacific Northwest, we’re blessed with scores of beautiful venues offering glorious landscapes, invigorating physical programs and renewing spiritual practices.These sanctuaries for the spirit range from serene single-family homes to full-service, internationally renowned facilities. Here’s a small sample of what our gorgeous area has to offer for a “soulful getaway” in 2009.
Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center
Located east of Salem, Ore., in the Oregon Cascades, Breitenbush is a worker-owned cooperative that describes itself as an “intentional community providing a safe and potent environment where people can renew and evolve in ways they never imagined.” Breitenbush sits on 154 acres of wildlife sanctuary surrounded by ancient forests and abundant hot springs, offering exceptional opportunities to connect with the natural world.
In addition to soaking in the swimsuit-optional hot springs and saunas, guests can participate in daily well-being programs such as yoga, meditation, guided hikes, concerts, dances and labyrinth walking. Healing arts and massage are offered by various practitioners, and a monthly sweat lodge ceremony is available to overnight guests. Several renowned hiking trails lead through the majestic forests to stunning mountain vistas.
Musicians, actors and artists often come to Breitenbush to share their talents, and past performances have included Shakespeare on the deck, fire dancing on the lawn and poetry in the lodge.
Accommodations range from tents in the summer to simple, rustic cabins, and include three meals, 24-hour access to the hot springs and daily well-being programs. Rates range from $50 per adult in non-peak periods to $115 during peak periods (May 22 – Oct. 24). The 75-year old historic lodge on the premises houses a dining room, library and an event space. Organic, vegetarian meals are served three times a day and sack lunches can be ordered for hikes into the surrounding areas.
A rural spiritual retreat located about 2 ½ hours south of Seattle near Castle Rock in southwest Washington, Cloud Mountain provides an environment that is “conducive to meditation and quiet contemplation or study.” Founded in 1984, Cloud Mountain supports all Buddhist traditions and offers several retreats open to the public throughout the year.
The 5-acre complex is composed of several buildings surrounded by trees and connected by rock-lined paths. There are two meditation halls and a lodge which houses the kitchen, dining room, sitting room, staff quarters, office and library. The grounds support an organic garden, greenhouse, a fishpond and several resident pets. Offering a mix of dormitory-style rooms, accommodations at Cloud Mountain are simple but comfortable; toilets and showers are available in separate buildings.
Simple, healthy, well-balanced vegetarian meals are provided, with the largest meal served at midday. Fruit, light snacks and tea are available throughout the day and meals can be adapted to dietary restrictions. Guests participating in retreats at Cloud Mountain are asked to help with daily chores — chopping vegetables, washing dishes, sweeping floors — and are expected to clean their rooms prior to departure.
Retreats at Cloud Mountain are conducted in silence; sitting and walking meditation are common practices. The observation of silence allows each guest to quiet the mind and cultivate an “inward focus of attention.” Teachers and staff are present for support and there are always opportunities for discussion and questions.
Located on Whidbey Island, Earth Sanctuary offers the Earth Sanctuary Retreat House, adjacent to a 72-acre preserve, for individual and small group spiritual retreats. Its mission, to combine “exemplary ecology with art and spirit,” insures that Earth Sanctuary is a peaceful place for personal renewal and spiritual connection. Founded by Chuck Pettis, a longtime environmentalist, Earth Sanctuary is home to the Tara Meditation Center for the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, and is open to the public for daily nature walks and contemplative study.
Earth Sanctuary is heralded as a “meditation parkland,” and features monuments and sacred spaces designed for reflection and prayer. While daily activities are often designed by individual preference, guided tours are available.
Each stay at the Earth Sanctuary Retreat House includes
access to the trails, stone circles, labyrinth and medicine wheels. The
retreat house features two bedrooms (accommodating up to six guests),
and is a self-serve facility with a fully equipped kitchen. A spacious
living room overlooks the surrounding trees, and a private collection
of books on meditation and spirituality is available for study. Because
the space is regarded as a “spiritual house and not a romantic
getaway,” guests are asked to show reverence and respect in behavior,
dress and attitude throughout their stay. Overnight rates range from
$60 – $70 for one person and $25 – $30 for each additional
person; a discount is offered for stays of five days or more. Several
local women’s groups return annually to the retreat house and surrounding
contemplative sites to renew their spirits and friendship.
Harmony Hill’s stated mission is to improve the quality of life for those affected by cancer; however, the center also offers caregiver retreats and wellness retreats (which are open to anyone) throughout the year. Located in Union, Wash., Harmony Hill overlooks beautiful Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains.
Programs include retreats for cancer patients and survivors, workshops for caregivers, and specialized cancer sessions for those with breast cancer — all offered at no cost. Additionally, for-fee wellness programs, yoga mini-retreats, gardening workshops and labyrinth walking workshops are available to the general public.
Harmony Hill offers a three-day retreat and one-day workshop designed to help individuals “find emotional, mental and spiritual healing in the face of cancer.” Desiring to help people expand their concept of health to include mental, emotional and spiritual wellness, Harmony Hill supports cancer patients in finding ways to deal with their illness, including nurturing attention, support and gentle humor.
Additionally, Harmony Hill offers “in Harmony” retreats for anyone interested in yoga, meditation techniques or sustainability projects. These “mini-retreats” are one-day sessions, with overnight accommodations available at three separate facilities on the property. Sleeping rooms are double-occupancy and bathrooms are shared. Creekside Lodge, the newest facility at Harmony Hill, is a BuiltGreen structure designed to provide first-class accommodations for those with allergies or compromised immune systems.
Meals are served buffet-style and are composed of mostly vegetarian ingredients, with salmon and other seafood included. With an emphasis on fresh, whole foods, Harmony Hill devises delicious menus that can be tailored to meet the special dietary needs of its guests.
Harmony Hill features the only wheelchair-accessible labyrinth on the West Coast, in addition to a second labyrinth on the grounds. Guests are welcome to utilize the grounds for daily visits, subject to the schedule of cancer retreats.
An internationally known learning center on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Hollyhock offers women seeking personal, professional and social development a spectacular natural setting and an “ideal backdrop for transformative experiences.” Linking its beautiful surroundings with 26 years' experience as a center for learning and well-being, Hollyhock provides a “refuge for your soul” or simply a place to relax, rest and play.
Begin your stay with a revitalizing morning yoga class, a kayak paddle on calm waters, or a hike amid the natural beauty of nearby trails. If you seek a more solitary start to your day, meditation classes are offered daily and a sanctuary is available for your use. Resident naturalists lead afternoon walks and evening star talks; bodywork practitioners rejuvenate body and mind with services ranging from a 15-minute chair massage to a full body massage with warm sea stones.
Campsites, dorm-style rooms, cabins or beachfront rooms are available for overnight stays. Cozy and clean, each accommodation reflects the serene landscape of the area. Packages include organic vegetarian meals; morning meditation/movement/yoga; use of outdoor ocean-view hot tubs; library; 24-hour beverage/toast bar with juices, organic coffee and teas; periodic evening performances and presentations; and shuttle service from Cortes Island seaplane, water taxi and ferry docks. Rates range from $79 CDN to $274 CDN per person, per day.
Featuring a unique curriculum of activities that includes wellness and wisdom practices, business and leadership development, arts and culture, Hollyhock supports an interactive, accessible and fun environment. Hollyhock was established as a nonprofit organization in 2006 with a mission to “inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.”
Perched on 160 acres in the Methow Valley, Skalitude offers a focus on solitude for women wishing to “get away from it all.” Surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest wildlands. Skalitude features leisurely strolls through gardens, hikes in old growth forests and daylong adventures that culminate in majestic views of the Sawtooth range and the Columbia Basin.
With even its name originating from the Salish word meaning “to be in harmony with nature,” Skalitude offers its guests the ability to connect with wilderness experiences and still enjoy all the creature comforts. Its three-bedroom Lodge features a rustic wood interior, rock fireplace and skylights; all creating an atmosphere for rest and renewal. Additionally, the Bermhouse and the Cottage offer additional sleeping/showering accommodations while the 2,000-square-foot Sky Lodge can be used for outdoor meetings or conferences. A cedar-lined sauna is also available and is the perfect way to end a day of hiking trails or practicing yoga.
For groups of 10 or more, Skalitude Retreat offers catered meals prepared by local chefs specializing in local, organic ingredients. Menus feature seasonal produce, and can be tailored to meet the dietary needs of any group. In the nearby town of Twisp, guests can find a farmers’ market, art gallery and professional theatre.
In helping women to come to an understanding and a fuller realization of what life can offer, Skalitude combines the breathtaking beauty of a natural wilderness setting with solitary pursuits, producing a retreat experience of tranquil comfort.
Whidbey Institute at Chinook
Whidbey Institute offers opportunities to “connect the human spirit with the natural world through education, reflection and experience.” Guests are encouraged to relax among its 70 acres of protected forests, meadows, gardens and wetlands. Bringing women together while allowing each enough solitude to rediscover their own needs is a central belief in the retreats offered at Whidbey Institute.
Overnight accommodations include a fully restored farmhouse, three personal retreat cabins and tent camping. All are designed to provide a getaway that is both peaceful and rejuvenating. While community meals are offered only to groups, kitchens are available for personal retreats and restaurants are located nearby.
Guests may use the fire circle (available to both large and small groups), the Finnish sauna, the labyrinth and the library. Organic flower and vegetable gardens and picnic shelters are also on-site, and the Sanctuary is available for music, prayer or meditation.
The regular rates for an overnight stay range from $20 for meadow camping to $75 for a standard room in the Farmhouse. However, for personal retreats these prices are suspended, and you are encouraged to “pay what gives you joy!”
So, grab your best friend, your mom, your daughter or your sister, and find a place that invites you to shed your worries, calm your heart and listen to the wind. With 2009 promising to be a challenging year for most of us, perhaps this year, more than any other, is the time to schedule a few days of renewal and restoration. Here’s hoping you’ll find the perfect place to soothe body, mind and soul.??
Below are some upcoming events at our featured locations. They offer plenty more. Please contact retreat centers for complete schedules, cost and other information.
Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center
Whidbey Institute at Chinook
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