Vacation Inspiration

Vacation Inspiration
Monday Magazine
By: Amanda Farrell
May 26, 2009

Hollyhock offers a weekend getaway to remember

I’m of two minds about all-inclusive vacations. On one hand, the idea of flying halfway across the world to spend most of my time inside of a secure compound drinking beside a pool and not experiencing an iota of said country’s culture doesn’t exactly sound like a great idea—but as I spend more and more time in the big bad real world, the thought of having a bottomless supply of mojitos and not having to cook for a week while I put up my feet is looking more appealing by the day. Well, it turns out there are places where one can have the best of both worlds, where one can relax, take in exotic natural beauty and have your needs tended to while supporting a local economy and saving on jet fuel.

One such place is Hollyhock, the retreat and educational centre on Cortes Island. Granted, this isn’t a place for MTV Spring Break-style beach debauchery, but it is a beautiful, quiet place to go and take some time out to recharge. The majority of guests who visit the 44-acre property—originally a Cortes homestead that became a Gestalt institute in the ’60s and ’70s, before Hollyhock was founded 26 years ago—are there to participate in its educational programs, which range from multi-day courses on mushrooms to week-long intensives on shamanism. But Hollyhock also welcomes folks just looking to relax—and with meals, accommodation and access to things like meditation sessions and an ocean-view hot tub included in their rates, it gives a whole new meaning to the term “all-inclusive vacation.”

My partner and I decided to take a much-needed break and spend a couple of days at Hollyhock at the beginning of May. The journey there is a whole story in itself; we enjoyed a leisurely drive to Campbell River, hopped a ferry over to Quadra Island in time for lunch at the lovely Heriot Bay Inn and then took a second ferry over to Cortes. We drove to the south end of Cortes Island to check in and marketing manager Greg Osoba gave us a brief tour of Hollyhock’s facilities: several types of accommodation ranging from ocean-front cabins to lush, beautiful campsites; a wide array of meeting spaces used for workshops, yoga and meditation sessions or cooking classes; a bodywork studio; 24-hour dining area and hot tub (clothing optional); and the crown jewel of Hollyhock, its extravagant biodynamic garden, which provides much bounty for their kitchen. (Being there in May meant there wasn’t a whole lot to harvest, but we did see some tasty lettuce sprouting and had some delicious flowers in our salads.) We were then left to our own devices and had two days of pure relaxation ahead of us.

Since it was our first excursion to Cortes, we spent some time exploring the island itself, visiting bustling “downtown Manson’s” (home to a museum, cafe, market and post office) and cruising around. We also wandered along the beach, which Osaba told us is privy to warm ocean water in the summer months (since it was still early in the year, we opted to restrict our water time to the hot tub). Then the dinner bell chimed, and all of Hollyhock’s guests filed into the dining room to see what the chefs had prepared. Most meals at Hollyhock are vegetarian, but we were treated to wild almond-crusted dijon salmon with glazed carrots, broccoli, basmati rice pilaf and green salad plus almond lemon squares for dessert. We enjoyed a bottle of wine with our meal (guests are welcome to bring their own libations to dinner, just ask for a cork screw) and then retired for the night after spending a couple more hours reading and soaking in the hot tub.

The next day’s forecast called for rain in the afternoon, so we had our breakfast (if we’d been up earlier, we could have participated in some morning meditation sessions or yoga classes) and then headed off for a hike to Smelt Bay Provincial Park. We got back just in time for the drops to start falling and opted to spend the rest of the afternoon indoors . . . getting massages. Nestled in a quiet corner near the back of the compound, the bodywork studio was a perfect setting for our aromatherapy massages—listening to the rain fall on the roof and woodpeckers tapping nearby trees made for a transcendent experience. After comparing our different experiences, my partner and I learned that each bodywork practitioner had their own approach; Phillippe helped me to focus on my breathing during my session, while Jocelyn spent some time helping my partner stretch.

After a couple more hours with our noses in books or board games, we braved some blustery winds to partake in the weekly beachfront oyster barbeque, where a bounty of fresh Cortes oysters were shucked and offered to guests both raw and cooked. It was a lovely appetizer for our Saturday night dinner—and a great way to socialise with some of the other guests who were either participating in that weekend’s workshop on facilitation or, like us, were just there to relax.

It was definitely difficult to walk through Hollyhock’s garden one last time when we headed home the next morning, but it’s safe to say that won’t be my final visit. True, I didn’t get to drunkenly lounge in the Mexican sun for five days, but I did get to go on a vacation that was truly nourishing. And with a wide range of accommodation options to choose from, there’s a price-point that can work for almost everyone. Hollyhock is also a registered non-profit society that is the single-largest employer on Cortes, providing 12 year-round and 60-70 seasonal jobs—which means your vacation dollars are reinforcing the fabric of a unique community, not lining the pockets of an individual. So next time you think you need to get away from it all, think about doing so in a paradise that’s only a ferry ride (okay, two) away.

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