It was Cristi’s birthday (that’s her aglow above on the left), and a group of us were out to celebrate it in style. In Stowe, that meant Michael’s on the Hill, which is celebrity chef-owned by Swiss-born Michael Kloueti (his wife, Laura, runs the business side of things). The couple moved to Vermont and founded the restaurant when they had children, and have spent the last decade creating a local institution.
Not only is Michael a world-renown chef, having worked in restaurants from Hawaii to New York City, but he and Laura recognize the importance of healthy, locally-grown food. The restaurant is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network, Local First Vermont and Slow Food, and “the usage of local, organic products is of premier importance.”
From top right (counter-clockwise) are Starre Vartan, Healing Arts practitioner Cara Joy, Kristen Rosfeld and Kelly Cunningham.
All of that is in evidence when you sit down at your table in the circa-1820′s farmhouse with giant wrap-around porch which affords gorgeous views of the Green Mountains; everything on the menu is based on both seasonality and nearby availability, which means local meats (some in our party had the venison and local pork), seafood and fish from the nearby New England Atlantic coast, and of course, a host of harvest vegetables during the second week of October when I visited to see the last of the brilliant leaves blanket northern Vermont valleys.
Smoked Local Trout with Heirloom Bean Salad & Horseradish Cream
Getting away—really getting away—is harder than it’s ever been. That’s why it’s so important to seek out those places that embody being a new place, that exemplify both their locale and that unique mental relaxing-letting go that makes a vacation so very special. The SeaU Guesthouse in Bathsheba, Barbados fulfills all those authentic getaway desires.
Run by a former travel writer, the Guesthouse is located at the top of a giant hill overlooking the sleepy town of Bathsheba (that happens to be an international serious surfing destination; apparently Kelly Slater is a fan of the perfect waves at the Soup Bowl and filmed a piece of a surf movie for Billabong there a couple years back). In town, you can find real (delicious!) Bajan food and plenty of (naturally!) rum.
I was in Barbados to really relax; though I travel often, it is usually not ‘time off’ but doing-seeing as much as possible so that I can write about it for magazines and websites. Not this time. At SeaU I napped, stared at the ocean, went for meandering walks, and spent bountiful amounts of time hammocking on my porch at SeaU or on the hammocks in the common areas.
SeaU was incredibly quiet, so much so that I was surprised to see other guests (from England and Brazil) when my boyfriend and I showed up at breakfast in the mornings. And let me just gush about that (complimentary!) breakfast for a minute: Off-the-tree fruit so ripe it practically melted in my mouth, fresh local eggs cooked up by the capable cooks, homemade sweet breads (so delicious!) and of course, tea and coffee.
The east coast of Barbados is tropical relaxing at its best; not overdeveloped, not touristy, and definitely off-the-beaten-path, which makes it ideal for a real getaway (more on Barbados here). While SeaU had free WiFi and I definitely checked my email when needed (and even watched a movie with my boyfriend from the Internet), I felt a zillion miles away from home. Which is exactly what I needed.
Kripalu is many things, but really it is just one. It’s one of those rare places where you get to explore just ‘being’. Because that’s not an easy place to get to – between taking care of ourselves and our families, doing our best at our workplaces, not to mention the myriad random details life throws at the modern person, it’s no wonder the Monkey Mind* sometimes seems like he’s taking over.
Because our lives are so full (sometimes wonderfully, sometimes frustratingly) finding the space to be quiet with ourselves doesn’t happen as easily as we would like. Places like Kripalu offer us a variety of tools by which to better understand our own processes and habits, whether they be mental, physical, psychological or spiritual. And it is only by being able to both look and learn to modify those things that we are able to make the true changes in our lives that we really need to move forward, live more consciously, feel healthier, and love more openly.
In other words, Kripalu rocks. (Because yes, all of the above can be plenty of fun too!)
Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to Kripalu to check it out – I had never been. I signed up for the “R&R Retreat“. The center offers both open-plan visits like the R&R as well as retreats and programs around a specific focus, like yoga (at all levels), couples communication, heart health care, chanting and dancing, and more.
The R&R program includes three meals a day (more on that below), and yoga classes three times a day (at three levels each time – so one can take a Beginner class in the morning and a more advanced one later in the day) as well as open classes in ecstatic dance, meditation, nutrition, mind-body communication and other health and spiritual topics. (Check out a sample schedule here.) There are also live music performances, films, and lectures, and plenty of on-your-own activities like hiking the grounds, going for a canoe ride, or napping (I can’t imagine any kind of getaway that doesn’t include at least one nap a day).
Upon check-in, after a lovely and leisurely ride from my home in coastal Connecticut to the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, I organized my things in my Standard Plus room (this always makes me feel more relaxed), which was relatively spare and not gigantic, but cozy in a modern sort of way (see my photo below). The bathroom’s tub was deliciously deep and I definitely enjoyed it one evening post-yoga. My room was located in the newly-constructed annex, an impressively green addition to the main building, and it was extremely quiet every time I was in my room, which is a necessary part of being able to truly relax.
Nestled high above Costa Rica’s scenic Pacific coastline, on acres upon acres of teeming-with-wildlife rainforests and adjacent to stunning Manuel Antonio Park, sits Parador Resort and Spa in Punta Quepos. It’s a sustainable jewel of a resort you must visit.
I stayed at Parador for nearly four unforgettable days a few weeks ago. It far surpassed my every expectation with its impeccable service, commitment to sustainability, and raw beauty. The resort was honored as a worldwide leader in sustainable tourism by receiving the Platinum Level “Leader in Sustainable Tourism” Adrian Award from National Geographic traveler, as well as having been recognized by TripAdvisor as one of the “Top 25 Luxury Hotels in Central America” just this year.
It was a first-time trip for me to the beautiful country; sincere thanks to Costa Rica’s tourism board. I had heard so many wonderful things about Costa Rica, and I received more advice than I could take on where I should visit, things I should do, and what I should eat. But there’s nothing better than letting moments overcome you when traveling. Rather than carefully plotting out and orchestrating my every move in Costa Rica, I decided I’d go for the ride and experience the country and its people. I wanted this trip to be as authentic as possible.
The fact that I am writing this post from an actual hammock should demonstrate to you my dedication to the art and craft of hammocking (yes, it’s a verb, at least in my world – as it should be). Growing up, I availed myself of the large hammock in my backyard on a pretty regular basis – after mowing our acre of lawn, when I needed a mid-Summer’s nap, or when I needed to get away from my grandma’s pretty demanding routine.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks make the variety of hammocks you see below, which includes a number of colors, patterns and styles (love the chair version – perfect for reading!) and they also have impressive social and sustainable cred, including economic health, environmental stewardship, social equity and cultural stewardship.
The company calls themselves a ‘social enterprise, not a charity’:
In Southeast Asia, hill tribes such as the Mlabri are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of society. Hammocks have been the means to securing civil rights, combating deforestation, creating basic infrastructure and achieving financial security for hill tribe villages in this region of Northern Thailand.
As a hunter-gatherer society with no concept of land ownership or relationship with the outside world, the Mlabri way of life was devastated when the land around them was claimed and deforested. Impoverished, without citizenship, and enslaved by opportunists, their future appeared bleak.
Yellow Leaf aims to engineer a turnaround in which marginalized ethnic groups such as the Mlabri apply their artisan talents towards creating a micro-economy that will elevate them from their former state and maintain their cultural identity, with the added benefit of eradicating toxic farming methods within the communities we partner with.
Get your hammock on AND support people in need with honest work. How much more awesome can it get?
All photos courtesy of Yellow Leaf Hammocks except where indicated.