In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. I met Sherry S at a Denver event and found out that she was a travel writer! So not only does she have a cool name, but she also has a way with words! All opinions, experiences, and photos here are hers. – Sherry O.
Our taxi bumps down the narrow, cobblestoned street in the small village of Atotonilco, a ten-minute drive from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Dogs run loose and a woman with her head covered in a scarf walks along the path, carrying bags filled with produce.
My friend Donna and I have signed on for a week with Beyond the Nest, a company that incorporates wellness, travel, workshops, and exploration, all with a like-minded community.
The driver stops near a massive door shrouded by greenery and announces we have arrived. He rings the bell, and the ten-foot tall gate opens to a lush, tree-lined villa, which feels like a secret paradise. Birds warble, a gentle breeze blows, and even the air smells perfumed.
I look at Donna and ask, “Is this heaven?”
Wellness Travel in Paradise
Co-founders Vanessa Famighetti and Mary Fusillo greet us with hugs (after asking permission), bottles of chilled water and hand towels. I bury my face in the icy cloth and breathe in the scent of eucalyptus. After a day of noise and grit in airports and planes, it feels like a world of comfort, luxury, and relief.
We’re here to spend the next week at BTN’s “Flying the Coop” wellness travel retreat. The name certainly fits. After 18 months of being cooped up due to COVID, arriving at the estate feels like we have definitely flown the coop.
Tour of Property, Happy Hour, Welcome Dinner
Mary and Vanessa show us to our individual rooms in the main house, which consists of a kitchen, dining room, living areas, and a master suite and large bedroom on the second floor. Several smaller structures with bedrooms and sitting areas are located throughout the two-acre property, as well as a pool, horse stables, and glass gym, all amidst verdant gardens, olive trees and pomegranate trees.
Part of the philosophy of Beyond the Nest wellness travel includes a luxury aspect, and this privately owned home certainly has it. Fine art adorns each room; muted colors of grey, charcoal, and cream create a contemporary yet relaxed vibe. Several months ago, Vanessa scouted properties in the area and settled on this beauty, which Beyond the Nest has rented for the retreat.
At make-your-own-margarita happy hour, we meet Margaret and Sarah, cousins from Houston, who are here for the same reasons we are: to travel after being on lockdown and do some self-discovery.
A local chef named Sunday introduces herself and explains what she has prepared for our welcome feast: esquites (corn) salad, chapulines (Tostada with guacamole) and huitlacoche (corn truffle) quesadillas. And those are just the appetizers. She also serves two types of mole with chicken, and chilis en nogada, (stuffed poblano chile peppers).
Sunday casually mentions the quesadillas are topped with crickets.
We all laugh when Donna prepares to take a bite, but first says, “Sorry, Jiminy.”
Travel and Wellness Vision
Beyond the Nest’s vision is helping others learn to create a passion-filled life
I first learned about Beyond the Nest when I interviewed Mary about the launch of their company. I was impressed by the company’s vision – and I signed on.
Week-long luxury wellness travel retreats provide workshops led by experts, with discussions about topics such as the importance of being connected to a supportive community.
Afternoons and evenings are filled with cultural and wellness activities such as hot yoga, meditation, or exploring San Miguel’s galleries.
Workshops focus on recalibrating after COVID, rediscovering our inner-power, mental and physical wellness, and remote work and travel.
Day One Begins With Yoga
Our first full day starts at 8:30 with vinyasa yoga in the glass-walled gym, a two-minute walk from the main house. Vanessa guides the four of us through our practice as we gaze out onto the lush lawn and trees.
For breakfast, we dine on fresh mangos, yogurt, bacon, egg and cheese-filled homemade tortillas, and locally grown, dark-roast coffee. Then, we gather in the living room of the main house to discuss, “Who am I and where am I going?”
We each come with something on our minds and in our hearts, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, change in professional status, and, of course, the weight and worry of the pandemic.
I share with the group that retirement during COVID was a struggle, especially when friends in the same situation adjusted easily. But, somehow, making the commitment to participate in the retreat somehow kicked off my recalibration. The anticipation of going to Mexico, meeting other travelers, and exploring options for next steps, helped me begin to adjust to the idea of retirement.
Still, after over an hour of talking about personal issues, I’m relieved when one of the housekeepers, Maya, announces lunch.
Botanic Gardens and Rooftop Cocktails
This afternoon, we take a van to the botanical gardens of San Miguel (El Charco del Ingenico – Jardin Botánico) for a guided tour. Andrew, an expat who has lived in San Miguel for seven years with his wife and young child, explains the flora and fauna.
He takes one glance at everyone’s open-toed shoes and advises us not to stand in one place too long because of the ants. We chuckle, hop around, and immediately get a move-on.
After our three-hour excursion, we make our way to the luxury Rosewood Hotel for cocktails at Bar Luna, a rooftop bar with an incredible view of San Miguel. The auburn, gold, and crimson colors of homes and the towering churches make for a striking background. A slight drizzle and the 68-degree temperature feel fabulous to me, but my new friends from Houston cover up with whatever they can find including pillows on the chairs. We all get the giggles as they try to get warm.
The taxi ride back to the estate is even more fun as the four of us – Margaret, Sarah, Donna and I – squeeze into a taxi and stop at a local convenience store to stock up on some forgotten items. We pool what few pesos we have because we haven’t exchanged money yet. Whether it’s the gin and tonics or the laid-back vibe, we feel like old pals on an adventure.
Because of the huge feast last night, we agree tonight’s meal should be lighter, earlier, and more casual. Being flexible and getting to make decisions about what we do or don’t do are aspects I love about being in a small group.
We sit on the patio in the evening breeze (the Houstonians are wrapped in blankets) and snack on chicken salad topped with pomegranates in an avocado.
Day Two: Reiki, Crystals, Spa, Shopping
This morning, Tara from San Diego, a Reiki instructor, joins us after our yoga class. She explains the history of this Japanese practice that promotes healing. Tara also discusses Chakras and explains the basics for beginners.
We each choose a crystal from a table filled with amethyst and other stones.
I go straight for the smooth round piece of rose quartz. Today’s session is relaxing for me and transformative for others in the group.
After yoga and breakfast, we gather for our daily discussion. Vanessa and Mary talk about connections, transformative moments, and having a joy-filled, rather than purpose-driven life. We each share stories of struggles, achievements, and goals.
For lunch, Sunday serves spring rolls with noodles followed by mango and a sweet rice dessert. When Donna mentions this is her favorite dessert, Sunday brings a second helping.