Retreat to a Refuge

in the foothills of the Pyrenées Mountains

A retreat should be a refuge: somewhere you can escape to, a place where you feel safe, seen and heard.

I mentioned that I run old-fashioned retreats that first and foremost offer my guests a safe haven where they can thoroughly relax, rest and fully recharge their batteries.

But what is a safe haven?

My definition of a safe haven is my grandmother’s kitchen. In the blink of an eye, I can imagine myself back there, sitting at the rough kitchen table, my feet dangling in the air as my legs are too short to reach the floor. The whole room is saturated with the smell of baking bread, and my mouth is watering in anticipation of the thick slice of steaming hot bread, drenched in homemade butter, that my grandmother will soon put in front of me. While I wait, my legs swinging back and forth impatiently, I stare in fascination at the huge variety of herbs drying on hooks on the 300-year-old oak beams, humming absentmindedly along with Maurice Chevalier on the radio, as he sings about bicycling down the deserted country roads. Finally, my grandmother gets up from the table where she has been shelling peas from her potager, to check the bread. I hold my breath, is it ready yet?

For my guests, I have tried to create a similar experience here on my little farm, in deepest rural France. The setting is an ancient half-timbered farmhouse, renovated as authentically as possible, rustic but comfortable, surrounded by woods, sunflower fields, vineyards and lush meadows, where my horses are grazing peacefully. The breeze here carries the perfume of a thousand wildflowers, and birds serenade my visitors from dawn to dusk, through the night even, if you count in the wooing owl couple. Talking about the night, here you can lie in a sunlounger, -or should that be a moonlounger? – and breathlessly take in the millions of stars that fill the night sky, as there is barely any light pollution here.

Here you can sleep for hours, and most of my guests do. They often sleep 10-12 hours on the first night, some sleep 10 hours every single night they are at Esprit Meraki, which means, loosely translated from the Greek, « made with love. »

A safe haven, a refuge, created with love.

Uninterrupted sleep, safeguarded from the sudden nerve-wracking blast of an alarm clock, just when you are sleeping at your deepest can do wonders for your general wellbeing. I usually suggest that my guests switch their phones to airplane mode and sleep until they wake up naturally, whether it’s 10, 11 or 12 o’clock. Many of my guests haven’t dared to do that for years.

Soon, feeling safe and supported, my guests break free from the suffocating stress that threatens their physical and mental health – it dissolves like the morning mist at sunrise. Breathing sparkling fresh air brings a healthy flush to everyone’s cheeks and simple rituals like strolling up to the potager to pick some sun-warmed tomatoes for the evening’s salad – and eating as many straight again straight off the plants – become a pilgrimage back to a simpler, slower, stress-free way of living, a lifestyle wholeheartedly indulged in here in the unspoilt and largely unexplored southwest of France.

I feel it is crucially important that retreat guests have enough time, at the beginning of a retreat, to leave their troubles behind and disconnect from their often demanding personal and professional lives, before the retreat program starts in earnest. If they want to spend the whole time they are here reading a book in the shade of the gnarled-with-age lime trees, sipping fruit juice or homemade herbal tea, and listening to the horses grazing peacefully close by, that is fine too.

Finding a safe place to rest and recharge your batteries can be transformative too.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. – John Lubbock