If I could, I would gladly escape the mad over-commercialisation of Christmas this year and opt for time-out in a retreat in the back of beyond. Whilst this isn’t possible – I have family commitments – I can provide, for those lucky souls amongst you who can choose from the wonderful options below to head for the hills, a list of retreats that provide a real space for introspection.
Whilst many accommodation options call themselves retreats, the word has come to mean a space away from it all with little to encourage individual exploration and meditation. A retreat in this article means a withdrawing, a retirement or a period of retirement for religious exercise or meditation. Any of the following places will allow you ‘time out’ and some will even provide guided retreats. Whilst spiritual, none are religion-specific, and everyone is welcome …
Temenos in McGregor, Western Cape
Temenos is set in a huge garden, in the midst of the beautiful little country town of McGregor, said to lie on ley lines, which may well be the reason for the sanguine gentleness that permeates this space. Beautiful accommodation options lie ensconsed within the huge gardens, which also include a myriad meditation spaces that allow one simply to ‘be’. The sanctuary is there to allow tranquility and to provide you with a sense of peace and well being.
A stay there evokes a sense of the monastic, although the only ‘rules’ are the option to join a daily meditation at 9am and 6pm, and the hourly chimes of the church in the village. If you are even vaguely tired or overstressed then this is where you go for restoration.
They also offer regular silent retreats, during which the gardens are closed to the public.
Bodhi Khaya near Stanford, Western Cape
Set alongside Grootbos Nature Reserve, just outside Stanford, Bodhi Khaya lies nestled in amongst the hills on a 217 hectare farm. It’s a magical space filled with an energy that makes guided visualisation, meditation, nature hikes and labyrinth walks flow with an almost otherwordly ease.
Bodhi Khaya works really well for group retreats and for individual quests. Its location right in the hills means that, despite being only minutes from Stanford, one feels completely isolated and away from it all. Accommodation is in gorgeous restored farm buildings and the vegetable garden, labyrinth, pond (complete with lily pads) and easily accessible walking paths make this a perfect place for introspection, meditation and commune with the elements.
Daily Ch’i Gung sessions are provided, as are facilitated retreats.
The Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal
Perched on a ridge overlooking the Umkomaas River, the view predominantly rolling hills and gorgeously undisturbed valleys, the Buddhist Retreat Centre has provided what they beautifully term a ‘sympathetic’ space for over 20 years.
The beautiful 125 hectare country estate lies near the village of Ixopo, south of Pietermaritzburg and provides a variety of accommodation options and meals for which the centre is famous (the centre has produced a book, Quiet Food). The buildings and environment are exquisite and time spent here on walks, the zen garden, labyrinth and meditation room are restorative in the real sense of the word.
Choose from conducted retreats (daily schedules to achieve the most benefit), self retreats (unstructured) and day visits.
The Edge in Hogsback, Eastern Cape
Whilst the Edge specialises in weddings, their famous labyrinth and incredible setting (perched on the edge of a gorge with views for miles around) make it a wonderful space in which to escape on a self retreat. The whole of the village of Hogsback set high in the Amatola Mountains has an element of the spiritual about it.
The Edge provides a number of accommodation options, a couple of which are perched on the edge of the cliff, around the labyrinth, which people from miles around come to walk. The fifteen acre garden, mountains, gorge and spectacular indigenous forest make for a wonderfully beautiful and tranquil environment and the space is naturally peaceful, spiritual and healing.
The wedding function room doubles as a meditation room for larger groups, and overlooks the labyrinth.
Little Samadhi in Barrydale, Little Karoo
This venue offers a more personalised retreat for the individual who wants to nurture body and soul. Little Samadhi, which means bliss or enlightenment, lies perched above the Karoo village of Barrydale, roughly 3 hours’ drive from Cape Town. This is a small retreat, offering accommodation for only four people, so focuses on individual yoga retreats, weekend retreats, detoxifying programmes of between five to ten days and massage. Little Samadhi is a highly nurturing environment where even if you’ve never done yoga before, you will benefit from time out and the attention of Atma.
Retreats are also aimed at visiting yoga teachers or facilitators and their students and further accommodation can easily be found in Barrydale to accommodate larger groups.
Boondocks Mountain Lodge, Kaapmuiden, Mpumalanga
Boondocks is perched on a mountain in Kaapmuiden, overlooking a valley – a perfect place for a retreat centre, offering a natural healing environment, the restorative power of mountain spring water, and a highly original Boondocks labyrinth built next to a stream and used for meditation, transformation and healing.
The lodge is gorgeous, beautifully furnished, lovingly nurtured and creatively designed. Throughout the gardens are secluded niches for meditation, whilst absolutely incredible views, an open-air shower, a jacuzzi that gives new meaning to the word and an array of birds make this a wonderful space in which to reflect.
Ann Barr provides Days of Transformation, a facilitated and guided ‘game’, which helps you uncover your particular question.
Emoyeni Retreat Centre, Magaliesberg, North West
Lying on the northern slopes of the Magaliesberg Mountains, Emoyeni, meaning ‘place of spirit’, is a beautiful Bddhist retreat centre and meditation space. Mindfulness and non-harming towards all living beings forms the basis of the retreat’s attitude and anyone is welcome to this safe space for the weary. Accommodation is functional but all your needs are met. They offer conducted retreats or you can book yourself in for a self retreat to be done in your own time.
The meditation room can seat up to 25 people and three lacto-vegetarian meals are served a day. A New Year retreat is scheduled between the 29th Dec and 3 Jan for those who want to take time to reflect and meditate, perfect to learn that the New Year is a powerful symbol of impermanence. When there on a self retreat, the centre follows a regular daily pattern that includes lunch at 12.30 and supper at around 18.00. Meditation is at 6.30 and at 19.30 and then there is a Noble Silence until after breakfast the following morning. The rest of the day is yours to walk through the grounds, read material from the library or simply to be.
There are also work retreats, where in exchange for gardening, maintenance or cooking, you receive accommodation and meals.