Ten Top Delicious Places to Rejuvenate and Recharge: A Bucket List

Once upon a time in an earlier life, when I was a workaholic journalist in my 30s — a divorced single mom obsessed with packing so much into each day that I felt allowing myself more than four hours sleep a night was an unnecessary indulgence — as you might expect, I started to burn out.

How did this manifest?

I was often irritable. I didn’t feel good about myself. There came a time when even if a good friend called, it felt burdensome. While I was pretty obsessed with making sure my daughter ate good and healthy fare (and luckily still had a dad living nearby happy to cook and babysit), most of my meals were grabbed on the fly. Caught in what I’ve come to call “busy phobia,” I was unfit, pasty and podgy.

I share this at the start of the new year — a time when so many of us pledge to give up on lifestyles such as what I have just described — as a backdrop to the profound impact that can come about when you go to the right place at the right time; when you’re pushed into a space of reflection and mindfulness; when you’re fed or feed yourself fresh, delicious, wholesome and nurturing food; when you start doing activities that reconnect you with your body.

Because if we’re not in touch with our bodies (impossible when we’re physically rushing and mentally obsessing and stuck in our heads) we can’t monitor stress; we can’t gauge out true hunger (which may, in fact, be for love and connection); we can’t feel our real feelings (which we could be stuffing down and blocking with too much eaten-on-the-fly food); we can’t set intentions around how we want our lives and relationships to be (got to step off the treadmill and out of “habit cycle” to do this).

Welcome to 2014 and may your year be filled with deliciousness!

As a New Year gift, here is a little exercise. You can do it walking, sitting, lying in bed, indoors or outdoors, alone or with people (they might notice you get “quite,” which could well have a calming effect on the company you’re with).

We get to start by feeling the breath as we breathe (which can always, anytime, bring us back to the here and now when our minds have flown off to some problem); then smelling the smells (a good stew simmering; fresh bread baking); then listening to the sounds both external and internal (how popcorn “pops” versus the constant stream of thoughts); then really seeing (the seasonal kaleidoscope of colors at the farmer’s market that changes as the year goes by is a perfect place to look-see); then noting our moods (just notice; no need to do more). Do this little exercise several times a day. You’ll find yourself, without even trying, letting go of stress — at which point, we can begin to rejuvenate and recharge.

Food, Quiet, Meditation, Movement

Returning to my story, I was in serious burnout way back when I went to do a creativity workshop run by a dance therapist at the rural Buddhist Retreat Center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or even interested in Buddhism to go there.

You might, however, immediately find yourself beginning to slow down and unwind. And what I found there are the four essential ingredients that are the standard fare at any place that invites you to unwind, rejuvenate and recharge. It’s good to be aware of them because then one can seek out places to do this that might not advertise themselves as such. Also, you can introduce them into your lifestyle in your own home.

1. Nourishing, delicious food. The Buddhist Retreat Center, like many wellness and spiritual havens, grows herbs and vegetables and serves up delightful and delicious season meals. They are colorful, flavorful, creative and substantial. You eat some of the meals in silence. You eat well. You feel nourished and nurtured.
2. Quiet. There are a lot of silent times. Only in silence can you “hear” yourself. Tap into your intuition and wisdom.
3. Meditation. Essentially this involves following the breath and becoming present. Whereas some people used to run away from the word meditation, research has made it mainstream. It has been shown to have huge physical and mental health benefits.
4. Movement. There are forests to walk through. Paths to wander along. The sounds of nature. We did yoga in the morning outdoors in the sunshine.

My life started transitioning the first time I went there. It was a slow process getting myself off the treadmill of habit and into new ways of being. A quiet vacation, an inner journey, can be both an adventure and a life-changer. And that’s what many of us are after at the start of a new year.

The Top Ten Bucket List

I researched, spoke to people and came up with the following “bucket list” of 10 places to share with Cuisine Noir’s Delicious Life readers. Researching them made me slow down; had me stretching; doing a little yoga; thinking of the farmer’s market and what’s in season.

Let them fuel your imagination. You might put them on your bucket list. You might visit one or two. You might let them inspire you to create your own bucket list of retreat and wellness places in locations you’d like to visit. You might research them and see what they offer so that you can create your own “Do It Yourself” rejuvenation package at home.

Ten Top Delicious Places to Rejuvenate and Recharge: A Bucket List

1. Absolute Sanctuary
At this premier detox and yoga resort on Koh Samui Island, visitors are promised a Moroccan-inspired boutique resort that is “a haven to those seeking a journey back to balance, rejuvenation and a healthy lifestyle.” You get “the pleasures of an island paradise” plus “a life-changing experience” — and The Love Kitchen that offers what looks like sublime vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare.

2. Brookdale Health Hydro
South Africa
I have many friends who rave about Brookdale, “a haven bordered by forest and farmland with a meandering stream” in the rolling Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. The focus is escape from the stresses of everyday life. To this end,  they offer “a quiet place where physical health and mental well-being can be restored to their balance.” They are well-regarded for their nutritious, delicious menu. See the Brookdale food link for recipes.

3. Esalen
Here, spiritual enlightenment is on the menu along with delicious organic fare inspired by the Esalen garden. Since the ’60s, Big Sur’s Esalen Institute — devoted to the “exploration of human potential” — has attracted seekers, philosophers and others interested in the mind-body connection, the hot springs, the numerous workshops and the gorgeous views. See some favorite Esalen recipes here including an adapted version of malva pudding from Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe in “Soul of a New Cuisine.”

4. Hawaii Island Retreat
Big Island, Hawaii
You’ll find an eco-boutique hotel and spa and “a place of intentional peacefulness” where you can relax and unwind on 50 acres of gardens, wild groves and ancient valley trails. They grow much of the food used in the hotel kitchen from salad greens to lychee and sunrise papaya and on their organic cuisine menu you’ll find fresh eggs and goat cheese from their retreat farm, as well as seafood fresh from Hawaiian waters.

5. Jackie’s on the Reef
Here you get eco-friendly accommodations and local Caribbean cuisine (on-site organic gardens), colorful hammocks and bamboo beds, spa treatments (including the ion cleanse, yoga, meditation, tai chi and reflexology massages) and “a serene, supportive and loving environment designed to allow your temple to reconnect to your special purpose.”

6. Kalon Surf School
Costa Rica
Here you are invited to learn to surf “amidst the majestic beauty of Costa Rica’s stunning jungle-bordered beaches.” All levels are welcome to enjoy daily personalized surf coaching, Pilates classes and massages staying in a “boutique style surf hotel” and enjoying fresh food prepared by a private chef. “This retreat is perfect for the active adventurer looking for the balance between exhilaration and relaxation.”

7. Miraval
Mindfulness is at the core of the philosophy of this award-winning spa, reputedly an Oprah favorite. Situated on 400 acres with a Santa Catalina Mountains backdrop, Miraval has built its programming around the concept of life in balance. The menus, featuring healthful locally sourced seasonal ingredients, focus on “textures and flavors that please the palate and respect the waistline.”

8. Parrot Cay Resort
Go there for yoga and Pilates packages and to achieve balance of mind, body and spirit through Asian-inspired holistic therapies. Parrot Cay is located on one of the most secluded and exclusive resort islands in the northern Caribbean. Enjoy spa packages and seasonal five-star dining from three menus (Terrace, Lotus and Shambala) that “tempts the palate while nourishing the body” with a focus on fresh and local produce — including seafood.

9. Rancho La Puerta
Baja California, Mexico
Here you’re invited to “renew your mind, body and spirit” in a tranquil setting through “exciting, energetic fitness options, delicious organic cuisine and pure fun and relaxation.” Go for the great escape, one of a series of workshops, the accessibility (not far from San Diego) — stay for (and take home) the culinary experience. Founded in 1940, Rancho La Puerta has an organic farm and La Cocina Que Canta Cooking School. Yum!

10. Retreat Selous
Now for an eco-lodge and spa that offers extreme luxury and an “authentic” African wildlife and wilderness experience complete with elephants, lions, black rhinos, leopards and more than 400 different birds. They promise visitors “absolute seclusion” and “a journey that blends the soul with nature and untamed wildlife and tailors each day according to individual pace and needs.” You will eat five-star cuisine prepared by a Swiss chef. You can fly via Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam. I would guess that after an extreme adventure such as this, your life will be transformed forever!

Wherever you go to rejuvenate and recharge for 2014, enjoy!

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Long-time Cuisine Noir contributor Wanda Hennig is an award-winning food and travel writer, an author, a blogger and a life coach. A native South African, she believes we are what (and how) we eat (and drink). Thus, she says (only a little tongue-in-cheek), the best way to truly understand a country, a city, a culture—and a people—is via your taste buds and your stomach.