by Jonathan Vatner | August 01, 2004

Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat

Mountains beyond mountains:
A pristine day at Sleeping
Lady Mountain Retreat

Two years ago, Dorothy Randall left her high-stress job as a meeting planner for Schering-Plough in Kenilworth, N.J., to create a space for her peers to get away. She opened Retreat Art Omi in Ghent, N.Y., a small nonprofit retreat center that hosts meetings for groups of people who need to get out from under the gun. 
    “Everyone who drives up the hill says suddenly all of the tension is gone,” Randall notes.
    Hundreds of simple, peaceful centers promise similar solace. What’s more, companies without big meeting budgets will have no trouble affording the low-tech, no-frills serenity such properties offer.
    “If you want the safe bet located just off a main artery, a retreat center might not be for your group,” says Dawna Foreman, co-founder of All About Retreats, a website that lists retreat centers throughout the United States.
    She adds, “If, on the other hand, you really want an environment that is out of the box and many mental miles from the lights and sounds of the city, a retreat might be just the right thing.”

What to expect
A retreat center is a dedicated meeting venue in a natural setting. If it’s not hours from a city, it should at least lack the sounds of cars buzzing by on highways. And, unlike conference centers, which might welcome leisure business to fill empty rooms, retreat centers seldom are available for individual travelers. Some other important criteria most retreat centers share:
    Purposely small. Retreat centers vary in size, but most have a modest number of guest accommodations on a large plot of land. Often, a meeting group will rent out the whole facility, though some centers host multiple groups at once.
    Low-tech. At most properties, rooms don’t have televisions or telephones. At a proper conference retreat facility, A/V equipment and a business center with Internet access will be available.
     Serious about food. It might seem counterintuitive, but often, the meals are gourmet, organic, healthy and extremely inexpensive. Almost without exception, food is served buffet-style, which makes it easy to accommodate special diets.
    “The food is the most important thing for our guests,” says Randall. “You feed them well and they think you’re wonderful.”
    Extremely affordable. Room prices for the most basic of centers start at about $20 per night. The most expensive rarely crawl above $100, and complete meeting packages (including all meals and meeting facilities) usually are less than $200 per person, per day, especially for double and triple occupancy. Importantly, you get what you pay for, and most centers don’t hide costs or add gratuities. Everything is laid out clearly at the start; rarely are there surprises in the final bill.
    For example, at Colombiere Conference Center in Clarkston, Mich., a complete meeting package, including accommodations, F&B and meeting space, starts at $49. A daylong meeting with lunch costs just $16 per person.
    The prices are low because there’s so little overhead. At Retreat Art Omi, where the meeting package costs $135, “I don’t have room service, I don’t have swimming pools, and I don’t have a golf course,” says Randall. “What I have are very well-appointed, simple rooms where people come to get away from the world.”