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
“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
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
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
“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.”