10 life-changing retreats worldwide: readers’ travel tips
Winning tip: Lochside yoga magic, Stirlingshire
Dhanakosa, on the banks of beautiful Loch Voil, near Balquhidder in central Scotland, is truly a place to stop, breathe, unwind and take stock. Amid the glorious scenery, you eat delicious, healthy vegetarian meals (and can even take a recipe book home), do yoga, hill walk, learn to meditate or reinvigorate your practice and your life. It’s the perfect place to come if you just want some time out to reset yourself. I’ve come here for the weekend and for a week. They operate on the Buddhist principle of Dana or generosity. You pay the deposit of £75 (for a week) or £50 (weekend) and then from a suggested scale (from £285 to £445 for a week). It’s a magical place.
Seekers’ rest, Carmarthenshire
The Mandala Ashram in south-west Wales calls itself a “home for seekers” – and it really lives its values, offering a screen-free, turmeric-rich environment with a rule of silence from 9pm to breakfast, after which you’re allocated a task to help the community function. You’re invited to use this work to meditate on the values of “right-living” – even when off your yoga mat. If you manage to shatter two glass shelves as you clean out the fridge – as I did – you are supported in reflecting on mindfulness.
• Three-day retreat £235 full-board, mandalayogaashram.co.uk
New horizons, North Yorkshire
After a short but destructive relationship broke me I Googled “place to go when you are tired” and found Raw Horizons, near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. I spent five days and nights with five other women (all were there for different reasons) plus the life coach and her mum in their beautiful private house. While doing things I have never done before (guided meditation, daily yoga, collaging, goddess dancing and raw eating) I rediscovered my inner strength and mojo for life. Modern UK life is difficult, so I wish everyone had the opportunity to take time out like this.
• From £1,195, rawhorizons.co.uk
Highland writing haven
Moniack Mhor, in the Highlands near Inverness, offers a five-day untutored writing retreat that had everything I needed. Peace, quiet, walks, sunsets, poetry library, whisky, fires, ghost stories, other writers and haggis. It’s brilliant value for money, and the staff are exceptional, giving you just the right support. I can honestly say it changed my life – I quit my job soon after I came back and am heading back to Scotland soon.
• £350 for five days full-board, moniackmhor.org.uk
Nordic nature, Sweden
I spent four days at a lakeside yoga retreat in the wild forest of Bergslagen, a two-hour drive from Stockholm. The enchanting setting offers a nourishing immersion into Nordic nature, yoga and spirituality. From the moment I arrived, I went offline, replacing screen time with yoga, meditation, forest walks, wild swimming, kirtan (shared recitation) and journalling. Highlights included a floating wood-fired sauna and wholesome vegetarian meals, inspired by Ayurveda (holistic healing). Shambala is an invitation to step away from the humdrum of routine, to live in communion with nature and reconnect to self.
• £500 for four-day retreat, shambalagatherings.com
Andalucian idyll, Spain
Going on the Kaliyoga retreat in Orgiva was the best decision I ever made. Twice a day we practised yoga in a space that opened on to the beautiful Andalucian countryside, in a group that ranged from complete yoga newbies to qualified teachers. When we weren’t perfecting our downward-facing dogs we were taken on guided walks in the breathtaking Alpujarras and ate delicious vegetarian food. We slept in tipis. Thank you Kaliyoga – what a week!
• Week from £895 full-board, kaliyoga.com
Writing and more, Spain
Meditation at dawn as the first swifts scream through blue skies. Morning walks through cool cork forests into the Andalucian hills. Back in time for freshly cooked paella under the shade of the kitchen patio. A short siesta, and then time to put into writing the sheer joy and exhilaration of this new-found experience. It is run by the amazing Elaine Kingett, who guides, lovingly, words you didn’t know you could articulate. It’s held at a finca near Seville , where Sam, Jeannie and Charlie Chesterton make you feel like family. I’m still writing.
• Week from £1,550 full-board including wine, cocktails, and local transport, write-it-down.co.uk
Buddhist monastery, Nepal
I went alone to Kopan Buddhist monastery, near Kathmandu, for two weeks to learn meditation and mindfulness but once there found myself among a hundred like-minded people from all over the world. We started early morning meditation with different meditation techniques. We had silence inner peace and happiness. I found my real self and it has empowered me to be able to control my mind. It cost only £85 for two weeks’ accommodation, all veggie-fantastic meals and meditation and mindfulness training by monks. Best experience of my life.
Honest ashram, Tamil Nadu, India
Among a bewildering growth of dubious yoga retreats across India, the Meenakshi ashram, a short bus/rickshaw ride out of Madurai, is honest and peaceful. For about £47 a day, you get five hours of well-taught yoga, a clean bed and two simple vegetarian meals. Dawn meditation among a medley of cicada song and jasmine blossom provided a sense of peace I still often think about. Go with an open mind and a sense of humour. Throw yourself into the chanting, temple visits and enjoy some random lessons on life and the universe from a charismatic sadhu. I always smile when I remember my visit.
Healing Centre, Thailand
The Wonderland Healing Centre on the island of Kho Phangan offers yoga, meditation, detox, delicious fully vegan food and many alternative therapy treatments … it’s truly a wonderland! I spent seven nights here during a year-long backpacking trip around the world and didn’t want to leave. It completely rejuvenated me (I am much older than the average backpacker) and almost a year on I’m still drawing on stuff I learned there.
• Week in a four-bed dorm £378 full-board, Wonderlandhc.com