Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Menla R&R Hiking Retreat in the Catskills

One of the highlights of the summer was the R&R Hiking Retreat at Menla Mountain Retreat Center for Health and Happiness, from July 8-10th in Phoenicia, NY. Menla is nestled in the heart of the Catskill Mountains, on a tranquil and peaceful 320 acres of forest preserve. Menla, just turning 15, operates as a nonprofit organization sponsored by Tibet House US, hosting approximately 80 retreats a year, from April to November. 

The hiking retreat is the perfect getaway for starting your mornings with yoga, experiencing a variety of beautiful hikes, indulging in spa treatments at Mahasukha Spa, enjoy amenities such as the swimming pool, tennis courts and fitness room and eating amazing gourmet vegetarian cuisine sourced from the organic garden. There's a lot to explore in just one weekend, and Menla's retreat makes it easy to enjoy with a schedule of activities. Here's a breakdown of what my weekend looked like. 

Friday, July 8th
5pm: I had a pretty packed itinerary for the hiking retreat, from the moment I got there. After check-in, my first stop was to my deluxe single room at the Kathmandu House, named after the capital of Nepal. My room was located on the second floor of the two-story chalet-style building, with a Queen size bed, and complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi. I had actually brought my laptop on my trip but trust me - you are going to want to leave that at home. I was easily able to get through emails, texts and social media posts on my phone. 

6-7pm: I was introduced to Michael, Menla's Executive Director, and Lynn, Mahasukha Spa's Director and enjoyed a lovely dinner with Robert & Nena Thurman, who are parents to actress Uma Thurman. Robert is Menla's Spiritual Director and President of Tibet House US and Nena is the Managing Director of Menla Mountain Retreat and Tibet House US. 

Dinner was amazing! Roasted Creole Monkfish with Garden Ranch Sauce, Tangy Collards + Mushrooms, Succotash Skillet Cornbread, Watermelon Gazpacho, and Cherry Berry Cashew Cheesecake for dessert. 

7:30pm: Over at Mahasukha Spa, Michael, Lynn and Nena took us through an overview and Q&A on Menla. We then got a quick tour of the spa, steam rooms and saunas. 

Saturday, July 9th
7:30 - 8:30am: We started the morning off with Tibetan 5 Rites Yoga & Breathing Practices at the Vintage Barn with Nidhi Huba. I have never taken this type of yoga class, which is more focused on spirituality, breathing and stretching than your typical yoga class. It's the type of yoga class that everyone can participate regardless of what level you are at. 

8:30-9:30am: Breakfast couldn't get any better! Avocado Egg Nests with Sundried Tomato, along with Steel Cut Oatmeal with Peach Sauce and Vanilla Chia Pudding.

9:30am: It was time for our hike! We went on the Giant Ledge trail, with peak elevation at 3,725 feet. This was an intermediate trail, and it took us about 4 hours to get through the hike. It was raining for part of the hike, so it got slippery going up but the manmade trail made it easier to climb. It was completely foggy at the top, but glad we made it up there! I would definitely love to hike along this trail again and see the view when it's clear. 

1:30pm - 4:00pm: I was running about a half hour late for my spa appointment, which was supposed to start with the Five Nectars healing bath, which includes artemesia (mugwort), juniper berries, ephedra, cedar leaves and rhododendron, all wild-harvested. I spent about 30 minutes in the soothing bath, and was then ready for my full-body Tibetan KuNye Massage. It was the most unbelievable massage I have ever had! It included some hot stone therapy, stick therapy and cupping. Essential oils, including rhododendron and forest were chosen and worked into my skin. By the end of the massage, I had felt any negative energy leave my body, and my mind and body felt completely connected and stress-free. Nicole, my aesthetician, has had extensive training on the Tibetan KuNye massage techniques, and I highly recommend her. It's hard to go back to a regular massage after having one like this one! 

4:00pm: After my massage I was ready for a late lunch - salad with vegan chili and beans and went back to my room to get showered and dressed for the wine reception. 

5:00 - 6:00pm: We enjoyed a lovely wine reception hosted by Robert & Nena Thurman with hors d'oeuvres created by Executive Chef Charles Goodall.

6:00 - 7:00pm: It was time to enjoy a delicious dinner, of Sake Simmered Sakana (Fish), Sesame Crusted Tofu and Garlic, Carrot Ginger Sauce, Miso Yaki Origiri (Rice Balls) and Roasted Bok Choy, and Pate a Choux for dessert.

7:30pm - 9:00pm: The night ended with a group sound healing session with Nidhi - laying down with our eyes closed, we focused on acoustic instruments and the sound of Nidhi's voice, leaving us relaxed.

Sunday, July 10
7:30 - 8:30am: Nidhi walked us through our last yoga class of Tibetan 5 Rites Yoga & Breathing Practices. 

8:30-9:00am: Another amazing breakfast, and this time with Cloud Eggs! Check out my interview with Chef Charles below as he demonstrates how to make Cloud Eggs and walks us through how to make baked Avocado Egg Nests.

11:00am: To allow us some free time, we decided not to go on the morning hike, and instead ended up wandering around. We were going to get moving on the trail ourselves but ended up getting lost and not hiking to far from where we started. 

12:00pm: We enjoyed our last meal of the day - Creamy Lentils, Crispy Smashed Potatoes, Patty Pans with Zuccini Garlic Scape, Raddicchio, Endive, Fennel and Dijon. 

1:00pm - 2:00pm: For the last hour of the trip, I decided to head back over to the spa to use the sauna. We would have loved to enjoy the pool but the rain all weekend put a damper on that.  

This was the most relaxing, spiritual and peaceful retreats I had ever been on. I definitely intend to come back, even for a day or overnight trip. My favorite moments were definitely my spa experience, the hiking, and all the amazing food (I ate at least two plates during each meal). One helpful tidbit of yoga advice that Nidhi had offered was that baby pose with breath of fire for 3 minutes is equivalent to 2 hours of sleep. This is a great way to start my day, especially when I only get 4-5 hours of sleep. 

If you decide to visit on your own instead of going on a retreat, there is a $30 spa day fee, with meals priced individually. 

The next R&R Hiking Getaway is October 7-10th but Menla also hosts a variety of retreats throughout the year. The retreats includes your room, complementary massage, access to the steam rooms and saunas, morning yoga and hikes. 

Thank you to everyone at Menla, who had made my stay an inviting one. It was such a peaceful and friendly environment to be in, away from the everyday stress of work and city life. Now that it's fall, it's the perfect time to go hiking! 

 - Kim Weling

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