Getting time away on your own is, for lots of us, the dream break – but a solo trip can be hard to justify. It can feel selfish, especially during the summer holidays. But by losing yourself a little, surrendering to nature, going a couple of days without your phone, you could be restored by a quick retreat.
Here are places that have something extra, whether it’s their isolation, their location in areas of natural beauty, the people who run them, or the fact that some kind of spiritual practice has been taking place there for so long it has seeped into the very stones of the place and cannot help but touch you.
Solas Bhríde, Kildare
"A woman burst in the door here one day and said she wanted a cup of tea and some peace," says Mary Minehan, co-director of Solas Bhríde in Kildare town.
“We asked her: which did she want first, the cup of tea or the peace?” Laid out in the shape of a St Brigid’s Cross, the centre offers courses, retreats, a quiet room and a library, and is open to all faiths and none.
The centre has three hermitages, circular pods in the garden entitled Faith, Hope and Love. Visitors often do their own thing, staying away from the main building, going to the well, walking around the grounds, others come into the centre and join the meditations. The hermitages are tiny dwellings with wood stoves, looking out on the gardens full of oak trees.
There's no television, no wifi – all you can hear is a cacophony of birdsong and the gentle whinnying of the horses at the adjacent National Stud. "Everything happens in the silence," says Rita Minehan of Solas Bhríde.
“People are very busy and it’s a challenging life out there – they want to come home to their inner selves. We touch into what they are carrying in their heart, we ask, what do they need to leave behind in Kildare, what can they get healing from? People love coming to the well, love listening to the legends, they love the rituals, the quiet space – you would not believe the tears that come.”
Hermitages from €50 per night.solasbhride.ie
Dzogchen Beara, Cork
Overlooking Bantry Bay, the Buddhist centre of Dzogchen Beara offers retreats, courses and care breaks in unparalleled surroundings: there are cottages on the cliff tops, a hostel and a care centre where those in need of respite can stay.
If you stay in one of the cottages, without wifi or phone signal, you might try to read and fail completely because your eyes will be continually dragged back to the vista before you: the ever-shifting sea, the changing light, the wheeling birds, the thump of the waves on the cliffs.
You can go to the morning and afternoon meditations even if you have never meditated before and know nothing about it – they are guided – you can visit the shrine room at quiet times of the day and sit there in peace, and walk the paths and wonder at the unsurpassed nature all around you. In Dzogchen Beara, they listen; it’s not counselling, it’s more a holding of the person, what they are carrying, giving space to pain, loss and grief.
“Thirty years of a spiritual tradition here creates a powerful energy; people pick up on that, it inspires people to slow down,” says Malcolm MacClancy, the centre director. “It’s a place where you can find true rest, you can release yourself from all the stresses of your daily life, people often comment after their stay they feel renewed, reconnected with themselves.”
“You have this blend of open views which visiting masters have said inspires the experience of meditation without effort and you’ve got this wild rugged beauty, but at the heart of it is this deep peace. People find the peace of the place resonates in some way with the peace within themselves.”
Anam Cara Retreat, Cork
"I deal with everyone from composers, to choreographers, writers, artists. People come wanting to write and leave calling themselves writers. They have learned that they can from their own perspective, encouraged and inspired by others that were here," says Sue Booth-Forbes who owns the writer's retreat in Eyeries, west Cork.
Guests meet at meals, and work to their own schedule in between. The centre is full of book-crammed nooks in which to read or write. Overlooking Coulagh bay and the Kenmare river, with Miskish mountain behind the centre, there are plenty of walks for those looking for a break or inspiration.
The interaction between guests is a huge part of Anam Cara – people arrive alone and leave with new friends and contacts. “We all have our own creative processes and while they may be similar they are never the same; it’s inspirational to others, there’s a cross-over: I’ve had people come to write and they end up painting.”
While individuals come here to work on their own projects, Sue is on hand to give advice if necessary – she worked as an editor at Cambridge University Press. "For the first couple of days in a place like this that is so quiet, you lose the focus that is outward, the physical noise of your own life – you end up quieting down inside, you hear your own voice. That's what happens here."
anamcararetreat.com – contact centre for workshop/accommodation rates.
Glenstal Abbey, Limerick
Glenstal may have a reputation as a top-flight boarding school, but with its beautiful setting, deep in the Limerick countryside, it has more to offer: a place to retreat, escape on two levels.
Visitors can stay in the congenial guesthouse, with 12 rooms, drop into the kitchen for tea, attend daily services and eat with the monks, or they can truly retreat to the purpose-built “God Pods”, set away from the school and the monastery in isolation.
"Only a particular kind of person will go there, as you will be absolutely alone – it's a glass and wood hermitage in the middle of nowhere, with deer, foxes and badgers for company," says Fr Christopher Dillon, the guest master.
“People come here and find like-minded people, they have conversations they would not otherwise have, the outlandish can be posited without being ridiculed. They like coming to a quiet place, where others are quiet.
"No one has to explain themselves here, they communicate in a different way. People engage as much or as little as they are comfortable with. There is complete indifference here as to what anyone does. There is freedom, no one looking over your shoulder. This is more than a B&B, more than a country house, there is other stuff happening here, parallel to it all, you can plug into that or not."
Guesthouse rooms: discretionary donation. God Pods: €45 per night. Minimum three-night stay.
Ard Nahoo, Leitrim
Tucked away in the hills of Leitrim, Ard Nahoo is another isolated getaway where you can be as active or as lazy as you like. For the active, there are yoga classes, walks in the surrounding mountains, and for the less physically inclined, there’s the Uisce hour, which consists of sauna and outdoor hot tub overlooking Loch Nahoo.
But the allure of Ard Nahoo is undoubtedly its luxurious eco cabins, with natural paints, pellet stoves, sheepskin rugs, outdoor decks. There are three cabins on site, two of which can accommodate a group of up to seven people, while the smaller one can sleep up to three guests.
Although Ard Nahoo runs yoga courses, it is possible to visit and just take time out in the eco cabins and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding countryside, with a few relaxing treatments thrown in such as the uisce hour, massage, and reflexology.
The “Ultimate Escape” package includes two nights in an eco cabin, access to the outdoor hot tub, a massage, an organic food welcome pack and dinner delivered to your cabin on one of the nights. Prices are from €195pps midweek to €225pps weekend.
Cloona Health Retreat, Mayo
If you want a health fix to go with your retreat, Cloona in Westport could be just the place. Guests can avail of food detoxes, liver cleanses, restricted diets, with a range of activities and treatments.
Owner Dhara Kelly finds a lot of the time people come with the intention of keeping to themselves but end up chatting to others. "People leave with better energy levels, they have destressed – the simple (optional) act of handing in the phone can be the ultimate escape."
Detoxing is an experiential process, “at the end of it you should have more coherence, you know your limitations better, you’ll know how to say no to things. Make better choices for yourself. Your instincts resonate a little more solidly,” she says.
Three-day retreats from €420pp. cloona.ie