Meditation Retreats

The off-grid community of Kausay, Valencia, proves the science of stress reduction by silence

Whether you go for a short break or choose to live off-grid for a little longer, the benefits will seep into your soul. Who of us hasn’t yearned for a life free from bills and the 9-to-5 grind; to have a routine governed by daylight and cockerels, instead of clocks; and perhaps to live as part of a close-knit community where connections are unfractured by constant phone and screen use?

Two Dutch couples, Ellen and Jeroen and Inge and Brother, and their children, had this yearning, and so they set up Kausay – an off-grid community in Valencia, eastern Spain. Hidden in a valley outside of mobile-network reach and surrounded by olive and orange groves and fields of grazing horses, Kausay is a collection of Mongolian yurts with an organic garden, steeped in quiet and the sweet scent of pine and wild herbs.

Kausay is an Incan word meaning “life force” and this is what the families try to restore to their guests in a landscape that has barely changed since Roman times. In this country, Ellen – who is trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction and has attended Vipassana (the Buddhist practice of silent meditation) retreats for over 20 years – guides five-day silent retreats.

These follow a relaxed schedule beginning with morning yoga, and including yatra (silent meditative walks), singing circles, meditative dance, and talks on the senses and metta (the Buddhist ideal of loving kindness). No previous experience of meditation is required.

If sitting still sounds frustrating, then Ellen also hosts five-day walking retreats because she believes the very act of placing one foot in front of the other calms the mind and keeps you focused on the present, reconnecting you with your body and the Earth.

More on meditation

The center also offers affordable week-long family retreats, too. Mornings are spent separately: kids (aged four and over) are entertained by Jeroen (a former social worker) leading them on adventures in nature, such as harvesting vegetables or making music, while parents practice yoga, or meditation, or sit in periods of silence.

The afternoons are for family time, such as swimming in the local waterfall or going for ice cream in the village. Come nightfall, parents can take turns looking after the children while their partner takes part in a women’s or men’s sharing circle beneath the stars.

A cork oak in the mountains near Kausay (Photo: Shutterstock)

Families, couples or individuals who’d like to stay longer can apply for a volunteering role and work in the garden in exchange for food and board. Although similar to the concept of ‘Wwoofing’ (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), Kausay differs in that it’s not strict about the number of hours you are expected to work each day, but rather agrees them based on an understanding between the individual and the collective need of the community and, of course, the season.

Outside of this work you can hike through the valley, bathe in the fuente (natural hot springs), take horseriding lessons, or just laze in a hammock with a good book. But above all, the lesson here is learning how to enjoy community living in the company of two families and a mix of short- and long-term volunteers.

To spend quiet days beneath the sun, with your hands in the soil and, at the end of them, sit down to a meal prepared with food you’ve grown and gathered together, and swap ideas instead of gossip, or just sit in collective silence listening to the wind, or the far-off whinny of horses.

The nearest airports are Valencia or Alicante or you can catch the train to the nearest station Xativa, a 2-3hr drive away. Kausay can arrange pickups from all of these locations. Stays are donation based.

Three alternative retreats

Shambala Gatherings, Skinnskatteberg, Sweden

This homely lakeside community of artists and yogis opens its doors to top international yoga and spiritual teachers running retreats. On the fringes of the elk-filled forests of Bergslagen and with a floating wood sauna, it’s undoubtedly beautiful in summer but best visited in the snow-muffled silence of winter.

New Life, Serra Da Estrela, Portugal

If you’re suffering from burnout, anxiety, depression or loneliness, this wellness retreat offers a holistic blend of meditation and yoga combined with counseling and life-coaching in a community setting in order to cultivate a sense of belonging. All set amid the mountains of central Portugal.

Joali Being, Bodufushi, Maldives

A holiday to the Maldives offers peace and quiet anyway, but this transformational luxury resort goes above and beyond to help you reconnect, “to one’s self, one another, and one’s environment”, with an individually tailored mind and body program created by Oxford and Harvard-trained doctors.

This is an extract from Quiet Escapes: 50 Inspiring Destinations to find your Zen, by Emma Thomson, published by Quercus, £22

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