We were recently invited to visit Hollyhock Educational & Retreat Centre, located on Cortes Island, BC. Seeing as they offer fantastic (but intensive) yoga retreats, I decided to put my aspiring yogini skills to the test and make the trek over to the discovery islands for a 3 day get-away. Tucked away in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, Hollyhock is actually situated just down the road from the quiet Smelt Bay Provincial Park on the edge of Cortes Island.
Once a residential community, the Hollyhock Centre is now a fully operational educational and spiritual center that offers guests a unique type of get-away experience. By combining unique and informative learning opportunities with the stillness and sense of community often found in retreat centers, Hollyhock has created a destination that consistently attracts teachers and students from all over the world. From intensive yoga retreats, to corporate styled lecture series’ like “Media that Matters”, to very personal meditative and restorative retreats, Hollyhock’s program calendar stretches far beyond what would be expected from a typical education centre.
Getting to Cortes Island, however, was half the adventure! After an early departure from Chilliwack, three ferry rides and a few orca sightings, I arrived at the welcoming gate of Hollyhock just in time to unpack a little before dinner. There is almost a bit of culture shock when experiencing “island living” for the first time, so the journey (although a little long) acts as the perfect transition between the busy lifestyle we are used to, and the very relaxed lifestyle of the Discovery Islands.
After arriving, I was shown my room in the Gingerbread house located just a stone’s throw from the lodge and dining hall. This particular larger house was divided into 4 smaller private rooms that included a writing area, double bed, a small living room area, a deck and a bathroom in each. The décor is fitting with the rest of the resort, very clean and minimalist with lots of earth and nature tones to quiet the mind. The room was equipped with the expected necessities (towels, soap, etc.), minus a few of the creature comforts we have become used to finding (no televisions or alarm clocks here!), which also helped to whisk away the troubles of the “outside world.”
Since meals are served in the communal dining room at set times, I quickly unpacked and made my way down the road to make it in time for dinner. One of the great things about staying at Hollyhock is that not only are the meals included in your accommodation, most ingredients are either picked from their garden or caught fresh daily. With a focus on self-sustainability, Hollyhock has made the commitment to be a vegetarian establishment that relies on homegrown ingredients whenever possible. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, you’re guaranteed to have a new appreciation for garden-fresh vegetables and herbs by the end of your stay. Plus, the fresh salmon they serve is so delicious that you’ll forget all about any kind of meat cravings!
After dinner is finished and the plates are cleared, guests tend to disperse for a little alone time before the evening activities. Many people make the trek to Hollyhock for a particular lecture series or course that is being offered, which are usually quite intensive. These attendees particularly like to take this after-dinner down time to relax a little after a long day of meditating, learning or practicing yoga. Everyone seemed to have their own favorite way to enjoy their early evenings here, from strolling the beach or reading a book on the deck, to meditating solo by the hidden pond.
Another unique thing about Hollyhock is that you don’t have to be enrolled in a course or lecture series in order to enjoy the benefits of being a guest here; Hollyhock happily welcomes any guest looking to check in for a few days (or weeks), whatever the reason. A great place to do a little soul searching, Hollyhock becomes a bit like a “choose your own adventure” kind of place when you visit without registering for any classes. Because of the size of the property, guests are free to wander through the trails or along the beach until their heart’s content. Alternatively, guests are also welcome to use amenities such as the meditation room, hot tub (with great ocean views) or computer room at their leisure.
Hollyhock also arranges a number of morning and evening activities, which are usually dependent on what day of the week it is and which courses are currently taking place. From morning rows and sunrise yoga, to singing presentations and oyster BBQ’s, guests are free to decide how much or little they would like to experience during their stay. I will be the first to admit that a lot of times, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I attended events like the singing & chanting presentation, but it turned out to be a positive experience that I won’t soon forget.
Since they aim to accommodate people from all walks of life, Hollyhock offers accommodation options other than the standard private suite option. In order to help meet various budget limitations, tenting and shared (dorm-style) accommodations are also available, with access to all the same amenities and activities. The even offer an incredible work stay program, which allows guests to stay for extended periods of time in exchange for volunteer work throughout the property.
While means of communication are limited on Cortes Island and throughout the Hollyhock resort, they do understand that many of us still need to be in contact with our families and businesses back home. Complimentary wireless internet and pay phones are available are various locations throughout the property and guests are encouraged to use these services when needed.
When one visits a unique place like Hollyhock, it is important to keep an open mind and to be both physically and mentally open to whichever new things you may experience during your stay. Although this may not be your typical vacation destination, it has the power to be a truly a revitalizing experience, regardless if you decide to attend an education program or not. I enjoyed the fact that I was able to experience so many things during my stay that were completely out of my normal comfort zone and I feel like a more humbled person because of it. Somehow between the journey, the peaceful stay and the incredible food, you really do come away with a different way of looking at things.
Hollyhock Educational & Retreat Center