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With so many of us dealing with chaotic lives on the go from dawn until dusk and beyond, the prospect of a tranquil escape away from the hustle and bustle is just what the doctor ordered. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to join a retreat that will help you find your zen. There are many peaceful places across the globe where you can refresh and recharge your spirit, whether you want to stay closer to home or jet off thousands of miles away.
Portland Japanese Garden - Portland, Oregon
One of the best Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden is tucked into the city’s scenic West Hills above Washington Park. It’s a haven of tranquil beauty and a top garden in the world, providing the perfect spot for finding your zen no matter what the season. Winter reveals its inner essence and a gorgeous contrast against the backdrop of evergreens, while the magnificent cherry blossoms can be marveled at in the spring. View the flowery purple petals of irises in the summer and the iconic reds and oranges in autumn on the Japanese maple trees. There are picturesque bridges, pagodas, meandering streams, and an authentic Japanese tea house too. The five separate garden styles were designed to create a sense of peace, including the Strolling Pond Garden, the Tea Garden, the Natural Garden, Flat Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden, which uses the elements as focal points for quiet contemplation.
Sedona Vortexes - Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is well-known as an artsy New Age town attracting many to find their zen through a wide variety of experiences, including meditation and yoga in the red rocks, especially in areas with vortexes, which are believed to emit high levels of natural energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. There are miles and miles of scenic hiking trails, but one of the best is the Airport Mesa trail, a 3.3-mile loop where you can soak up the mystical energy and enjoy incredible views of Elephant Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, and Cathedral Rock. After dark, the haze-free and often cloud-free skies make for some of the best stargazing around for zen among the cosmos.
Ring of Brodgar - Orkney Island, Scotland
Orkney boasts more ancient sites than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, including the spell-binding Ring of Brodgar, arguably the most iconic symbol of its prehistoric past. A site of ceremony and ritual, it’s hauntingly beautiful, with 27 of the original 60 stones still standing. if you’ve ever watched the popular series “Outlander,” you’re familiar with the stones that are pivotal to the story with the ability to travel through time. While that’s unlikely to happen, megalithic sites like these are known to generate their own energy field, creating the kind of environment where one can enter an altered state of consciousness. They also make for great photo ops.
Meteora - Kalambaka, Greece
Perched high atop spires of conglomerated Calcerous and sandstone rock, the monasteries of Meteora are one of the world’s most spectacular sacred sites. Translating to rocks in the air, Meteora has long evoked awe, with Paleolithic remains indicating settlements around the stones from between 100,000 to 40,000 BC. Some of these immense rocks include historical monasteries, and while there were originally some two dozen, seven remain, with six open to the public. Said to hover between heaven and Earth, many believe a visit here is a transformational, spiritual journey.
The Philosopher's Path - Kyoto, Japan
There are numerous peaceful places for finding your zen in Kyoto, from magnificent temples to the famous bamboo groves and the Philosopher’s Path. The stone path is one of the best trails for viewing Japan’s famous cherry blossoms and winds through the northern part of the Higashiyama district along the Shishigatani canal. It stretches for about one-and-a-quarter miles, lined with cherry and maple trees getting its name from Nishida Kitaro. One of Japan’s most famous philosophers, he was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyoto University. There are several temples and shrines just steps from the canal, including Honen-in, which is especially magnificent during the cherry blossom season and in autumn.
The Redwoods - Redwood National and State Parks, California
Forest bathing is the ancient art and practice of immersing oneself in the peacefulness and natural splendor of the forest. The Redwood Forest is one of the best places to do just that, as you’ll be surrounded by the ancient giants. Redwood National and State Parks along the northern coast of California protect nearly half of the world’s remaining coast redwood old-growth forests. There are many scenic trails for forest bathing, including an easy 1.4-mile trail through Lady Bird Johnson Forest winding over flat ground through a beautiful ridge-top grove in Redwood National Park. For the ultimate trek, consider the 12-mile loop in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, one of the most beautiful with its soaring stands of old-growth redwoods, fern-lined canyon, and a wild coast with remote, driftwood strewn beaches.
Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat stretches more than 150 square miles, home to the remains of several different capitals of the Khmer Empire, all constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries, although the most well-known is the Temple of Angkor Wat and the Bayon Temple. The early morning hours are an ideal time for tranquility, and when the light washes over the ruins and temples, it looks like a painting that has come to life. Soak up the beauty of the sunrise and then head into town to enjoy blissful treatments at one of the many spas.
Tepozteco Mountain - Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico
Less than two hours from Mexico City, the village of Tepoztlan has long been considered a spiritual hub and the birthplace of the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. It’s said to sit on a vortex where one can tap into healing frequencies at the base of Tepozteco Mountain. Yoga and meditation retreats are hosted here throughout the year, while the important archaeological site holds a small temple and boasts spectacular views of the enchanting valley.
Pura Saraswati Temple - Ubud, Bali
Ubud is Bali’s spiritual capital, famously featured in author Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love journey. Home to many beautiful temples, lush rainforests, spas, meditation, and yoga studios, it’s long been a haven for spiritual and natural wellness. While there are many ways to find your zen here, you won’t want to miss Pura Saraswati water temple with its detailed carvings of dragons and flowers along with lotus-filled ponds. Pura Tirta Empul is another must with sacred springs that are believed to offer curative properties.
Uluru Rock - Northern Territory, Australia
Uluru Rock is known by many as Australia’s spiritual heart, a mythical place believed by the indigenous people to be sacred and alive with history. The monolith is worshipped by the Aborigines, who believe it’s inhabited by ancestor spirits, and they still perform ritualistic ceremonies in the base of the caves today. Not only is it a place where you’ll feel the stress melt away, but it can be quite transformative. Many come to explore the spiritual side by taking part in one of the many Indigenous experiences or a wellness retreat. Evening meals during Sounds of Silence and intimate sunset tours are available too.
Avebury Stone Circle - Avebury, England
While Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous ancient stone circles, is one of prehistoric Britain’s greatest marvels, if you explore it on your own, you can only see it from behind a fence. At Avebury, which includes the largest stone circle in Britain, you can walk among and even touch the extraordinary stones that are part of an extraordinary set of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites. Originally there were about 100 stones enclosing two smaller circles, built and altered from around 2850 BC to 2200 BC.
Mnajdra - Qrendi, Malta
Built around the fourth millennium BC, Mnajdra is a neolithic temple complex along Malta’s southern coast. One of the world’s most ancient religious sites, it’s also the site of an astronomically aligned solar temple, positioned so that the sun’s light illuminates the structure in special ways on equinoxes and solstices. It conveys a spirituality and an energy so strong that some can feel it upon touching the stones.
Sound Bath at the Integratron - Joshua Tree, California
Sound baths are a form of meditation in which you lie on the floor getting “bathed” by sounds produced by crystal bowls that provide an incredibly relaxing experience. Something that’s been practiced for centuries, they’re known to reduce stress and anxiety while boosting one’s mood. One of the most popular places in the U.S. for enjoying this unique practice is the Sound Bath at the Integratron just outside the village of Joshua Tree. The 60-minute experience includes 35 minutes of 20 quartz crystal singing bowls that are played live and an introduction and history of the Integratron, designed by ufologist and contactee George Van Tassel, who claimed it was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity, and time travel.
Camino de Santiago - Santiago de Compostela, Spain
The Camino de Santiago is a nearly 1,000-year-old European Christian pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela and the relics of Saint James in its cathedral. In addition to being a pilgrimage route for Christians who wanted to visit the tomb of Saint James, many experts believe that pre-Christian people traveled it into the setting sun to the “end of the earth.” Many major cities throughout Europe have a path that leads to Santiago de Compostela, with the walk taken for a variety of reasons, from escaping worries and unplugging to personal fulfillment and enrichment. Whatever the reason, the memories made here are likely to stay with your forever.