I can’t think of a better place to rejuvenate and heal from the isolation and stresses of the pandemic than Canyon Ranch. Tucked into the beautiful Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts, this acclaimed wellness resort known for its excellent practitioners and impressive selection of holistic offerings has returning guests singing its praises. The scenic locale has historically attracted tycoons who bought gilded mansions including one called Bellefontaine built in 1897, which Canyon Ranch used as its centerpiece when it established its East Coast base here in 1989. Once home to Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and Norman Rockwell, the area is also home to Tanglewood whose star line up this summer (after being closed for a year) includes Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and Judy Collins.
Walking through the forest, immersing myself in the sights, sounds and smells of the natural environment, I could feel my mind letting go of its usual chatter as my breathing began to deepen. It felt like a walking meditation. My guide directed me to sit down on a small wooden bench, close my eyes for some time and experience the forest. I opened my eyes and heard the rippling of a nearby waterfall, the sound of bird flutter and breathed in a rich earthy scent wafting from the trees, their leaves swaying in the gentle breeze.
Welcome to Forest Bathing, (Japanese Shin Rin Yoku) the conscious practice of taking in your surroundings, tuning your senses so you are communing with nature. Studies have shown that trees release compounds into the forest air called phytoncides that enter our body and induce a state of wellbeing. This increasingly popular ‘forest therapy’ has been proven to greatly reduce stress and elevate our mood. Today’s excursion was part of Canyon Ranch’s wellness experience ‘Pathways’ reformulated for their April reopening. I chose the ‘Outdoor Escape Pathway; which seemed like the perfect antidote for my prolonged Covid indoor stay. And the lush landscape made everything even more inviting.
Another ‘Outdoor Escape’ highlight: I felt my body relax as I was kayaking on Lake Mahkeenac, taking in the great natural beauty, the sun’s rays shimmering on the water. Other Outdoor Escape options include guided hiking, biking, archery, a high ropes challenge, climbing wall and the Contemplative Circle. During this guided walk along a circle of stones you pay close attention to your five senses, breathing, emotions and thoughts to get in touch with what is necessary for your healing. The ‘Outdoor Escape’ Pathway is designed around the restorative energy of nature; something I found key to re-igniting my own inner power.
The experience Pathway programs are divided into customized 3, 5 and 7 night plans. ‘Transition Purposefully’, another Pathway, provides new perspectives and tools for adapting and thriving when facing major life transitions and challenges as you embrace change. An integrative wellness team can identify the source of medical concerns and combine alternative and holistic tools, healing foods and exercise plans as part of the ‘Optimal Health Exploration’. Another Pathway, ‘Reconnect With Joy’ is designed to help guests find renewed strength in pure happiness as they explore new forms of creativity and expression after loss, burnout and stress. ‘Lifestyle Reset’ supports re-imagining a new life, stepping away from old ways to a path of greater energy, vitality and passion.
Canyon Ranch also offers individual and group sessions with a wellness practitioner for those seeking healing for stress, grief, loneliness and loss, which have become widespread during the pandemic. These include ‘Loss, Grief and Remembrance’ as well as ‘Rites of Passage’ using dialogue, ceremony, rituals and sound therapy. I found these sessions to be very powerful and use what I learned here in my daily life, every day.
The retreat features a state of the art spa, gym, indoor and outdoor pool, tennis clinics, ayurvedic treatments, spirit walks, acupuncture, a naturopath, yoga, pilates, meditation, zumba, cardio workouts, tai chi, astrological consultation, tarot readings and more. Did I mention the locally sourced cuisine including tastiest crab cakes, apricot glazed salmon and beef tenderloin? They somehow manage to keep the calories low and the taste high.
Additionally there are a multitude of excellent classes, lectures and demos, as well as musical entertainment in the evening. Or you may enjoy the peace and serenity of relaxing outdoors on the gorgeous green lawn taking in nature’s splendor.
For those seeking something more sumptuous, look no further than nearby Blantyre, a member of Relais & Chateaux. Here, the main house is one of only 12 remaining Gilded Age mansions in the Berkshires. This noble Tudor style mansion was built in 1902. A charming carriage house and several cottages are set on the sprawling 110 acres of lush lawns and woodlands. Interiors are opulent and elegant with a mix of posh contemporary furnishings and handsome antiques with exquisite attention to detail. Guests enjoy the pool with poolside café, tennis, hiking, croquet, pampering spa with bespoke offerings and the new Dom Pérignon Salon, featuring rare specialty vintages from Blantyre’s award-winning wine cellar.
Last year, star chef Daniel Boulud brought his award winning cuisine to Lenox, with a pop up restaurant at Blantyre. Café Boulud was such a hit that it has become the permanent dining venue this year. You have only to taste the master’s rendition of yellowfin tuna crudo with fines herbs, capers, chickpea crisp, lemon and tonnato dressing and luscious, cooked to perfection rack of lamb en persillade with artichoke, spinach subric, barley, oven dried tomatoes and garlic jus, to be transported to foodie heaven. But don’t leave before trying Gateau Marjorlaine for dessert; a hedonistic concoction of rich dark chocolate ganache, vanilla Bavaroise and hazelnut ice cream that is utterly addictive.
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