10 top South African spiritual retreats

Mahatma Gandhi's meditation room. South Africa's spiritual getaways run from monastic to mellow.
CNN  — 

South Africa’s open spaces and natural beauty make it a good setting for a spot of spiritual self-improvement.

Compared with the collective wisdom of these South African mellow centers, what you know about relaxation couldn’t fit into an herbal tea cup.

Get ready to humble.

1. Emoyeni Retreat Center, Magaliesberg

Head to the Magaliesberg Mountains to unwind.

Offering an austere but peaceful-sounding program, Emoyeni is set high on the northern slopes of the Magaliesberg Mountains, 100 kilometers from Johannesburg.

Run on Buddhist principles, Emoyeni (“place of spirit” in Zulu) seeks to foster mindfulness and what it calls “loving kindness” among its guests.

A typical day starts at 7.30 a.m. with a light breakfast followed by meditations and other “mindful” activities (cooking and gardening) throughout the day.

There’s a light supper in the evening and then Noble Silence (no speaking) till the following morning.

All meals are vegetarian, the accommodation is basic and there are no TV, games or swimming pool – the lack of distractions meant encourage a spirit of introspection.

The main building has beds for 14 guests, and tents are also available.

Emoyeni Retreat Center, P.O. Box 190 Mooinooi; Tel + 27 82 308 1533

2. Blue Butterfly Retreat, Welbedacht Nature Reserve

In the middle of the 400-acre Welbedacht Nature Reserve, Blue Butterfly adds chanting meditation, massage and yoga to the more conventional mix of hiking, swimming and wildlife tours.

There’s a natural labyrinth to explore and you’re advised to set aside time simply to sit on the porch and soak up the incredible views – they’re pretty meditative, too.

Accommodation includes spacious loft bedrooms and self-catering cottages.

The Blue Butterfly Retreat, Welbedacht Nature Reserve, P.O. Box 372, Tulbagh; + 27 0 83 952 5448

3. Bodhi Khaya Retreat, Gansbaai

Yoga overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, meditation in the wilderness, improve your sex life or delve deeper into the secrets of your dreams.

These are offerings at the Bodhi Khaya Retreat in the Western Cape coastal town of Gansbaai.

Other optimistic-sounding courses and activities are Five Steps to Golden Success (how to realize your dreams, in other words), Open the Heart and Still the Mind and Great Sex, Great Love, Great Death.

There’s even a “whale communication” workshop – and plenty of whales in the ocean nearby, although whether they’re there because you called them or not presumably remains a moot point.

Bodhi Khaya’s name, a blend of Sanskrit and indigenous African, means “Home of Awareness.”

Accommodation ranges from rooms in the restored 1820s farmhouse to self-catering cottages.

Bodhi Khaya Retreat, P.O. Box 1001, Gansbaai 7220, Western Cape, South Africa; +27 0 28 388 0156

4. Satori Farm Eco Retreat, Natal

Set high in the Natal Midlands, Satori Farm is a beautiful place surrounded by mountains, with fresh water streams and a river.

Forging a connection with nature is one of the goals at Satori Farm.

The retreat offers yoga, reiki and Pilates classes, plus meditation and massage.

There are art and drumming workshops and plenty of down-to-earth activities such as helping to prepare meals and bake bread.

Satori Farm Eco Retreat, Impendle/Dargle Road, Natal Midlands; + 27 0 82 551 7402

5. Little Samadhi Karoo Retreat, Little Karoo

This small yoga retreat high on a hill overlooks the village of Barrydale in Little Karoo.

The vibe is homey and relaxed – as if you were staying at a friend’s house. Bedrooms are clean, cozy and understated.

Beauty treatments sit alongside daily yoga classes, massage and meditation – hinting at the low-key theme.

Little Samadhi Karoo Retreat, Barrydale, Little Karoo; +27 0 28 572 1002

6. Bijlia Cana Wellness Retreat, Prince Albert

In a village at the foot of the spectacular Swartberg Mountain, you’ll find this wellness retreat in a Tuscan-style house with a pretty courtyard and gardens.

Retreats range from two to six days and include daily holistic treatments include shiatsu and reiki, reflexology and crystal therapy to balance “electromagnetic energy.”

One of the most popular retreats is the marathon, six-day Gateway course run by Valentine Lange, a reiki and meditation teacher.

Using creative visualization and walking, drumming and art therapy, the retreat aims to explode the hidden emotional and spiritual blocks preventing you from realizing your goals.

Sounds like hard work: when you’re not transforming yourself you can go walking and swimming or ambling in the countryside.

Bijlia Cana Wellness Retreat, P.O. Box 195, Prince Albert, 6930; + 27 0 23 541 1872

7. Hearth and Soul Eco Farm, near Stanford

Ah, the serenity.

Set in a valley halfway between the villages of Stanford and Napier in the Overberg region, this farm and retreat is so remote it doesn’t even have a postal address.

That seclusion is part of the spiritual prescription here – other ingredients are yoga, walking, reading and meditation.

There are 10 bedrooms (with en suite bathrooms), communal dining areas, a large conference room and a “hearth” room for socializing.

Hearth and Soul Eco Farm, near Stanford (full directions on website): +27 82 774 5576.

8. The Buddhist Retreat Centre

Surrounding by stunning views of valleys, hills and open land, this Buddhist Retreat is located in Zulu tribal land and also does outreach work with the local population.

Former President Nelson Mandela also awarded the center National Heritage status for its environmentally friendly outlook.

Not just for practicing Buddhists, the retreat offers a variety of programs, courses and facilities.

The Buddhist Retreat Centre P.O. Box 131 Ixopo 3276, +27 (0) 39 834 1863

9. The Satyagraha House

If it's good enough for Gandhi ...

You don’t have to travel out of South Africa’s capital to find inner peace.

The Satyagraha House, in the residential neighbourhood of Orchards in Johannesburg, was the home of Mohandas Gandhi from 1908 to 1909 and has now been turned into museum and guest house.

It was at this place that Gandhi developed his philosophy of passive resistance: a movement that was instrumental in Indian independence in the 1940s and has been used successfully by just about all civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela.

The garden setting is serenity incarnate.

Satyagraha House, 15 Pine Road, Orchards, Johannesburg. +27 11 485 5928

10. Temenos Retreat in McGregor

Head to picturesque McGregor for a week of wellness in a healing garden.

Temenos is renowned for its beautiful gardens, each of which serve a purpose on the path to mindfulness. There’s the Garden of Remembrance, for example and a Zen Garden.

The retreat’s name comes from the Greek word for “a sacred space” and this is the crux of the resort’s ethos.

You can even get married here in the secluded garden chapel.

Temenos Retreat, Corner of Bree and Voortrekker Streets, McGregor, near Robertson, Western Cape, +27 0 23 625 1871

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.