If you want to experience the much-needed relaxation that comes with connecting with South Africa’s beautiful natural landscapes you don’t have to choose the obvious route and go on a safari. If you’ve had your fill of Big Five spotting, why not unwind with an altogether more contemplative experience? South Africa is home to some wonderful retreats set deep in nature which offer everything from yoga classes, meditation workshops and lessons in tai chi to pampering spa treatments and delicious organic food.
Little Samadhi Karoo Retreat, in the small and serene Klein Karoo town of Barrydale, is all about yoga. Whether you’re a beginner to yoga or an advanced pretzel-shape maker, you’re welcome at this retreat, which offers regular classes and weekend yoga retreats, meditation, individual retreats as well as five-day detox programmes and healthy, organic vegetarian meals. There is only accommodation for four people (in two stylish ensuite rooms) at Little Samadhi, so book ahead – or choose to stay in one of Barrydale’s many lovely country guesthouses.
At the foot of the Witkransberg in the Overberg on a 217-hectare property of fynbos and milkwood forest, Bodhi Khaya is a peaceful sanctuary just two hours from Cape Town. Retreats, held year-round on weekends, cover a range of practices and topics including qi gong, whale communication, art, guided meditation, lucid dreaming and yoga, or you can go mid-week pamper retreats where you do yoga and get massages and reiki treatments. When you’re not in a workshop or getting a treatment, there are lots of things to do in the area, from hiking on one of the six beautiful trails on the property, whale watching on the coast nearby or horse riding through valleys of fynbos. Cosy rooms in the 19th century Cape Dutch farmhouse with king-sized beds, Victorian baths and fireplaces seal the deal.
Below the Winterhoek Mountains in the Tulbagh Valley, the Blue Butterfly Retreat hosts a wide range of retreats, including yoga, nutrition, breath work and spiritual workshops in a magical natural setting of the 400-acre Welbedacht Nature Reserve. Set among the fields of fynbos and surrounded by gardens, the retreat centre is housed in a beautifully restored barn. Book one of the secluded self-catering cottages (which come with indoor and outdoor fireplaces) and in between retreat sessions head out on one of the walking trails and spot some of the reserve’s animals such as springbok, zebra or bontebok. Or go swimming in a peaceful dam, explore the labyrinth set in a forest of blue gum trees, or go horse riding through orchards on the neighboring farm. If you really just want to take it easy, there’s always the option of having a massage in your own cottage.
The Temenos Retreat Center, housed in a restored 19th-century farmhouse in the quiet country village of McGregor, runs retreats throughout the year, many of which focus on health – such as detoxing and stress release – but also covering themes like creativity and cooking. They also have regular “wellness weeks” where you go on country walks, do guided meditation sessions and yoga classes and get some pampering body treatments. If there are no scheduled retreats on, you can always stay at Temenos and do a “self-retreat” and relax with detoxing, reflexology and aromatherapy treatments as well as massages and private yoga lessons. There are gorgeous, understatedly stylish self-catering thatched cottages with fireplaces and private patios to stay in, healthy vegetarian meals to feast on, two libraries to while away a few hours reading books in, a tranquil meditation room, peaceful gardens and a labyrinth for outdoor contemplation.
The Buddhist Retreat Center couldn’t have a more calming environment than its huge estate of mist-wreathed rolling green fields, forests, valleys and dams in the hills near Ixopo. South Africa’s longest running Buddhist center, established in 1980, offers much more than just Buddhist-focused workshops: weekend and week-long retreats run the gamut of drumming classes and tai chi workshops to art and creativity classes and yoga retreats – with some of the best variety of any retreat center in the country. Another big draw of the center is its renowned healthy and delicious vegetarian food (they’ve published two cookbooks of favorite recipes in recent years). Expect to feast on farmhouse bread, nourishing soups and fresh salads, warming curries, hearty veggie bakes, meat-free bobotie (a traditional South African dish), and wonderful desserts such as chocolate pumpkin bread.
Kurisa Moya means “tranquil spirit” in Xitsonga, which is surely how you’d describe yourself after a break at this eco-lodge near Magoebaskloof, a four-hour drive from Joburg. On the northern Drakensberg escarpment, Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge is surrounded by 422 hectares of mountains, indigenous forest and pine plantations, streams and a lush valley. Just spending time in this natural environment going hiking, fly-fishing, mountain biking or on guided birding walks (the bird life here is a major draw for many guests) is relaxation enough, but you can also do yoga lessons and get treatments such as reflexology, Indian head massage and cranio-sacral therapy. Accommodation at the electricity-free lodge includes a six-sleeper self-catering cottage and a large ten-sleeper 1930s farmhouse. If you’re after more seclusion or are on a romantic break, book one of the atmospheric treehouse-like cabins on 10-foot-high stilts in the forest canopy.
North West Province
Situated high on the northern slopes of the beautiful Magaliesberg mountains less than two hours’ drive from Johannesburg, the Emoyeni Retreat Centre is a haven of tranquility from the fast pace of the city. Run on Buddhist principles, Emoyeni (which means “place of spirit” in Zulu) runs regular retreats – some of which are conducted in silence – which take from two days to a week and range from healthy cooking and Nia to “Stoep Zen” – a retreat about Zen practice and meditation. With no TV, silence after dinner and simple vegetarian meals, this retreat is all about disconnecting and getting back to basics.