The fine art of retreating

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I've gotta get away right now. I just can't take it anymore... Have your thoughts run along these lines lately? Retreating from the world when things get to be too much is a primal motivation for travel.

Not every trip is a retreat, but every retreat is a trip away from something, even if it's only from the hubbub of a family-filled kitchen into the empty bedroom upstairs. You don't have to go very far, but you do have to go somewhere else.

Still, a retreat usually requires some quiet and solitude, and it's easier to find these conditions away from home.

Understanding this motivation can help you sell such products as spas -- certainly one of my favorite places to retreat to. Indulging in such treatments as reflexology (a therapeutic foot massage) at these palaces of self-pampering, you eventually reach a nirvana-like state of "spa brain." That's when you're wearing an idiotic grin, and your body and mind both resemble the texture of a wet noodle.

At Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, guests are allowed to indulge in a childish pleasure: coming to dinner straight from their massages, without changing out of their terrycloth robes.

My most fulfilling retreats, however, involve a little more effort on my part. When I go to Kripalu, a yoga center coincidentally located in the same town as Canyon Ranch (Lenox, Mass.), my body starts to ache from doing yoga twice a day.

The place was previously a Jesuit monastery, and it shows. Accommodations are sparse. The bathroom is down the hall, and we sleep in small, not-very-comfortable beds.

All this may sound like self-deprivation hell. But the benefits are heavenly. Doing yoga usually brings a feeling of special well-being to me, but the effect is short-lived, maybe an hour or so. But doing yoga twice a day for three or four days, those peaceful feelings build up until I come away ready to face my life again. And that's the ultimate point of retreating, isn't it?

Other great escapes

W e asked agents to tell us their favorite destinations to escape to when things becomes a little too crazy and frenzied.

If Hawaii's your idea of a great retreat, try the Four Seasons Resort on Maui. Lucy Hirleman, owner of Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J., snatches quiet time in some unlikely places. For example, while cruising, she chills out on "a balcony of the ship."

Also, she said, "forget about the shows, dinner and casinos. I could spend a whole week in my cabin with a bunch of good books and binoculars.

"And believe it or not, I find old cathedrals, churches and synagogues to be very peaceful and relaxing (as long as there are no crowds). Early morning and late afternoon are the best times." Such places "seem to encourage serenity and introspective thinking."

Anastasia Mann, chairman of Mann Travel in West Hollywood, Calif., also snatches peace in non-traditional venues. For example, she finds it's "nice to get on a plane for a long flight," where she can collect her thoughts without being interrupted by phone calls.

For Diane Moore, "It's always Hawaii -- and Maui in particular." Moore, vice president of Vacations Plus in New Berlin, Wis., loves to sit by the ocean.

"The other place I love to go is the Grand Canyon," she said. "If you find the right spot, you hear almost a white sound that helps you really relax."

Far, far away....

For Meta Butler Hunt, owner of Meta Butler Hunt Travel in Austin, Texas, the perfect retreat is one where she gets away from the trappings of civilization. The destination doesn't have to be one particular place, but there's just one requirement: It has to have a culture that is very different from ours. She prefers "someplace remote, like India, Morocco or Ecuador."

A craftswoman in Ecuador.The benefits of such a trip? "You start looking at the world in a different way," she said.

"You don't think about clients or airplane seats; these things don't seem to matter in the big picture.

"The little things you stay awake worrying about don't bother you, and you start getting some perspective."

For example, "Last January we were in a very remote part of Ecuador looking for rare birds. We were totally away from everything, hiking and trekking."

Another recent trip Hunt took was to a remote part of Nepal. Hunt's daughter had just given birth to a son, and this message took a circuitous route to get to Hunt because she was so far from civilization. Hunt's daughter telexed Katmandu, and the message was eventually delivered on horseback to the nearby village.

But that's what Hunt loves. "My goal is to get to places that don't have the comforts we have and to see how other people live. It's soothing to me."

Capri is the perfect retreat for Anastasia Mann, chairman of Mann Travel in West Hollywood, Calif. "It's so natural and charming," she said. "There are no cars; you walk the cobblestoned streets."

There's also the lure of "rocky beaches; simple, casual restaurants, and shopkeepers you get to know year after year. It becomes a community you feel you're at home in, in a wonderful environment. It's a beautiful little escape."

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