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Spiritual Retreats: A Low-stress Vacation

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Forget the go-go-go vacation and try the relax-and-be-soothed getaway.

Stress. It's the leading cause of vacations. And the leading cause of failed vacations. Even a tropical paradise won't calm your nerves if you fail to leave the stress at the office—which is why more of us are turning to new destinations. Often spiritual in nature, these retreats cater to a sense of self that runs deeper than the car you drive or the clothes you wear.

Esalen, (831) 667-3000, (831) 667-3000, Fabulously situated on Highway 1 atop the sea cliffs of Big Sur, Esalen offers workshops on topics from meditation to yoga, relationships to philosophy. Get a massage beside the ocean-view swimming pool; top it off with a soak in the clothing-optional baths.

Rooms are in cabins or guest homes. Communal meals are tasty.

The Expanding Light at Ananda, (800) 346-3530, (800) 346-3530, In the Sierra foothills northeast of Sacramento, this yoga community was founded by yogi Paramhansa Yogananda. It offers yoga and meditation classes and unstructured retreats. Lodging runs from tent camping to rooms in cozy houses. Vegetarian meals are communal in the octagonal dining hall.

Huntsville Trappist Monastery, (801) 745-3784, (801) 745-3784, The Trappist-Cistercian monastery north of Salt Lake City is famous locally for the honey the monks make to support themselves. It offers silent reflection for mostly male guests, who may join the traditional services, as early as 3:30 a.m. Retreats are limited to three days.

Guest rooms are private with shared bathrooms. Also enjoy a library, bookstore, and hiking in the countryside.

New Camaldoli Hermitage, (831) 667-2456 or (831) 667-2341, (831) 667-2456 or (831) 667-2341, This remote Catholic hermitage on Highway 1 straddles the Santa Lucia Mountains near Big Sur and is home to 20 Benedictine monks who live in seclusion.

Visitors (male and female) come for reflection and prayer and to hike the surrounding mountains.

Guests may join the monks at services, starting at 5:45 a.m. Spartan single rooms include private garden-patios with panoramic Pacific Ocean vistas. Trailer hermitages offer more privacy with baths, kitchens, and sun- decks. The mostly vegetarian (and very good) meals are eaten privately.

Shenoa Springs Retreat Center, (707) 895-3156. This beautiful 160-acre retreat sits at the headwaters of the Navarro River in the Anderson Valley off Highway 128 near Boonville. The owners say shenoa, a word of uncertain origin, means "the peace you find in nature."

Guests wander on Shenoa's trails or among Hendy Woods State Park's redwoods. Daily meditation is led by a resident Zen priest. Yoga, tai chi, and other workshops may be arranged.

Family-size cottages offer gourmet kitchens and private sundecks. Smaller cabins and camp tents are also available. Guests bring their own food and prepare it in their cottage or in the beautiful Redwood Lodge. Hot tubs and pool are on-site.

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, (415) 865-1895, (415) 865-1895, America's oldest Zen Buddhist monastery, located in the Santa Lucia Mountains, becomes a luxurious hot springs resort May 1-Labor Day.

Workshops cover everything from the Zen of cooking to yoga and the arts. Hiking trails wind into the rugged wilderness of the surrounding mountains. Guests feast on Tassajara's famous vegetarian cuisine and soak in the hot springs. Lodging is in shared or private cabins, all with no electricity.

Photography courtesy of Thomas Wanhoff/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in January 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.