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Best Zen Trips

author
Danielle Fletcher
• Thursday, 07 January, 2021
• 8 min read

When San Francisco ad executive John Porter started planning his annual vacation in 2005, he knew he wanted something different. But this time, he felt, he wanted to make a deeper sort of journey, one that would leave him with something more than just pretty photographs and fond memories. The desire for what he called “a more meaningful travel experience” is what eventually led Porter to book a spot on a weeklong meditation retreat, at Holy Isle off Scotland’s western coast.

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Contents

Though these retreats may promote different styles of meditation (and different degrees of creature comfort), all aim to send their participants home with roughly the same thing: a foundation of spiritual practice that they can maintain long after they've returned to the hubbub of the outside world. The location: This 100-acre estate in the foothills of the Himalayas, formerly home to the Maharajah of Tehri-Garhwal, is set at 3,000 feet and has sweeping views over the Ganges River and the nearby temple villages of Rishikesh and Hardware.

The accommodations: 78 posh rooms, suites, and villas with huge windows for taking in the mountain views (and, unusually for retreat destinations, minibars and televisions). The location: The 600 pristine acres of Shamble spread across a Rocky Mountain valley in the northern part of Colorado.

The property includes extensive botanical gardens, a bird sanctuary, several spacious meditation halls, and, most dramatically, the Great Stu pa of Dharmakaya, a traditional spired Buddhist shrine. The program offerings at Shamble range from weekend-long “Learn to Meditate” retreats to multi-week intensive study for advanced practitioners; there are also specialized workshops for children, painters, and writers, and those who prefer to combine meditation with activities like canoeing and hiking.

Be mindful: Shamble has centers around the world, including retreats in Xalapa Valley, Vermont, France, and Mexico. The location: On the tranquil island of KOH Lao NOI is the superb Paradise Retreat: perhaps one of the best places on the Andaman Coast for inner exploration.

The retreat center offers simple, clean and comfortable accommodation, enabling you to live in close contact with nature. The location: A slick, modern 40-acre “campus” just outside Mumbai that includes extensive, manicured Zen gardens, a soaring meditation auditorium, seminar spaces set inside a complex of black space-age pyramids, and a few other very unorthodox amenities: tennis courts, a nightclub, and a mini-mall.

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Be mindful: All guests at Oslo must wear dark red robes during meditation sessions and maroon sports or swimwear. One of the most popular seminars on Holy Isle is “The ABC of Meditation,” a beginning retreat led by visiting BBC actor-cum-Buddhist Alistair Appleton.

Be mindful: Because of the island's delicate ecosystem (which includes centuries-old species such as Risky ponies, Shane goats, and many indigenous plants), some areas shouldn't be explored on foot. The location: An aromatic eucalyptus-wooded valley north of San Francisco that opens up onto Muir Beach and the Pacific Ocean.

Many meditation sessions are held in the Assisi East-West Center, a serene vaulted space near the Cathedral of San Roughing (a former 12th-century courthouse that Simple Peace founders Ruth and Bruce Davis renovated in 2000). Bruce, a scholar in the teachings of St. Francis, leads weeklong, largely silent meditation retreats both in Assisi and in the Haiti Valley (two hours south), where the saint first discovered his calling.

The main “campus” includes dining and lodging facilities; there's also a separate Forest Refuge, set a few miles deeper into the countryside, for long-term retreats. The accommodations: At the main retreat center, 79 sparely furnished single and small double rooms are available to guests.

Rooms all have twin beds, chairs, pillows and blankets (lodgers bring their own sheets and towels), and thermostats for temperature control. Be mindful of: Since silent meditation can lead to heightened sensory awareness, the use of perfume, incense, scented products (and, of course, tobacco) is strongly discouraged.

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The location: While its home base occupies a rural spread on the coast of central Maine, Rolling Meadows runs meditation retreats several times a year in Tulum, a stunning spot on Mexico's Yucatán peninsula where ancient Mayan ruins overlook the Caribbean Sea. The retreats take place at Casey Om, a chic beachside camp with a palapa-roofed meditation center, a KOI pond, and the nearby Puerto Morelos beach.

The accommodations: As many as 16 yogis can bed down at Casey Om, a space furnished with traditional and tropical accents like onyx Puebla lights, travertine floors, carved Balinese headboards and organic bamboo sheets. But Retreats, a new website launched in May 2019, allows users to search by location and filter by type to find their perfect match.

The 27-acre campus includes a farm and gardens, an art studio, and a clothing-optional cliff side bathhouse and natural hot springs. The Shamble Mountain Center holds more than 100 two-day to weeklong programs per year, including introductions to meditation, deep dives into different practices, and multidisciplinary offerings that incorporate indigenous wisdom traditions, body awareness practices, contemplative arts, and more.

The modern and distinctly American practice draws on the traditions of Zen Buddhism as they evolved in ancient China and Japan. Curious newbies can join regular meditators in the monastery’s weekly Sunday Morning Program or participate in an Intro to Zen weekend retreat.

The center also offers longer programs, from one week to one month to one year, during which residents have the opportunity to learn more about integrating their practice into everyday life. Visitors stay in dorms (for short courses) or private rooms (longer retreats), and the main building, which was built as a Benedictine monastery, is a national and state historic landmark.

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Intimate Rolling Meadows only accommodates 11 guests at a time to a handful of silent meditation and yoga retreats each year at its restored 1840s New England farmhouse. Guests are encouraged to stroll the walking paths and through the flower and organic vegetable gardens of the 100-acre property, relax in the sunroof or library, or unwind in the wood-fired sauna as a valuable part of the experience.

Less than an hour outside of San Francisco, Spirit Rock nonetheless feels worlds away from any metropolitan hustle and bustle on its 411 acres of quiet, hilly countryside in West Marin. The teachings at Spirit Rock also draw on other practices, including mindfulness through breathing and loving-kindness meditation, which focuses on compassion.

There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re looking to dip your toe into a two-hour class, interested in getting involved at a daylong event, or ready to commit to a longer (three days to two months) silent retreat. Guests spend their days on these silent courses alternating sitting and walking meditations, enjoying vegetarian meals, and sleeping in simple single rooms.

Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga, approaches wellness based a person’s constitution. When you are stressed out and life seems overwhelming, there is nothing like a nice yoga session to bring you back to a state of tranquility.

A week at a Zen yoga retreat is one of the best ways to completely remove every shred of stress from your system, leaving you calm, at peace and ready to tackle anything. Just imagine the sheer bliss of enjoying a wonderful yoga session with the spectacular backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea as the setting.

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Located in the northern Peruvian beach resort town of Manor, Samara Chakra is a wonderful place to enjoy a Zen yoga retreat. It is located right on the balmy waters of the Pacific Ocean, which are great for surfing, snorkeling or just leisurely swimming.

It is constructed from native timber and stone, offering a rustic setting that is outfitted with modern conveniences like an amazing hot tub complete with waterfall. It has practically every style of yoga, spa facilities, meditation rooms everywhere, pools, a sweat lodge, amazing cuisine and much more.

The resort is spread out over 25 gorgeous acres of lush landscapes that are meticulously maintained using organic gardening techniques. Visitors will enjoy lots of yoga, spa treatments, meditation classes and some amazing food that is prepared from organic ingredients harvested at the resort.

When visitors are recovering from the intensity of the yoga workouts, they can relax on the beach or in the lush gardens that surround this world-class resort. Despite the roaring waters cascading down the Aryan Threw mountain, Angel Falls is undeniably serene, the perfect place for a contemplative hike.

This placid, island-filled 27-mile lake, located in the Lock Lomond & The Transacts National Park, offers stunning views of the lush vegetation the Scottish Highlands are known for. A popular destination for boaters, this gorgeous river, surrounded by the dense vegetation that fills Kerala's rolling hills, is as peaceful as it is picturesque.

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Located in the six-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve outside of Heavy, Alaska, this frozen wonder is equal parts stunning and serene. The Namib Desert, which spans the coast of Namibia, Angola, and South Africa remains amazingly untouched by human hands.

Although it stretches for over 31,000 square miles, the Namib Desert is virtually uninhabited by humans, with only sand, ocean, and wildlife to greet you as you journey through its vast expanses. Home to some of the world's tallest trees, this coastal paradise, perfect for a meditative hike, feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

At Lake Titan Guatemala, topped by clear sky and surrounded by the Sierra Made mountains, the only thing you'll have to worry about is charting your course. Occupying 21,000 acres full of red rock cliffs in the Paid Lumber valley, this tranquil area is truly transformative, embodying the true spirit of the American Southwest.

This island, surrounded by the Andaman Sea, is known for its pristine white sand beaches, tranquil gem-toned waters, and cloudless blue skies. Known for its milky blue water and stunning views of the lava field in which it's located, this relaxing spa is world-renowned for its supposed healing powers.

Guarded by giant geography and full of relics, including hair presumed to belong to Siddhrtha Gautama, this gilded monastery is about as peaceful a place as you'll find anywhere. Even if you have a long journey ahead of you, you can make your trip less stressful and more fun with these travel hacks you won't find in any guidebook.

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Also known as Shirin, this unique destination is rife with Chinese mythology, having been allegedly created when folk character AHIMA turned to stone after being told she could not wed her true love. Thought to have been built for emperor Pachacuti in the 15th century, Machu Picchu is home to some of the most stunning views of the Sacred Valley below.

Tranquil waters and islands at every turn make Along Bay in Vietnam a worthwhile sight for any intrepid traveler. A popular boating destination, Along Bay offers freedom from the disturbances of modern life, with just land and sky to occupy your thoughts.

This Tibetan Buddhist monastery, founded in the 1400s, has been meticulously maintained over the years, offering beautiful views both inside and out, perfect for the contemplative traveler. Inhabited by Tibetan monks and surrounded by the breathtaking natural beauty of the Kathmandu countryside, a trip to Koran is sure to relax even the most tightly-wound traveler.

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