Escape to Nectar Yoga on Bowen Island for a weekend of mindfulness paired with wholesome food.
Imagine a weekend escape full of early morning yoga classes in the middle of a forest, meditating warmly surrounded by the vibrating sounds of bells and gongs and enjoying outstanding Spanish wine on a brisk evening. If you live in the Vancouver area, such a getaway is much closer than you think, in fact, it’s pretty much right in your backyard. I’m talking about Nectar Yoga on beautiful Bowen Island.
Bowen Island is a small but picturesque island located a short twenty-minute ferry ride from the Horseshoe Bay terminal. Its close proximity to Vancouver makes it the perfect weekend trip. Quick enough to avoid a long road trip but far enough that it feels like a genuine trek. It is a whimsical place full of windy roads adorned with sporadic Christmas lights- the only light guiding the otherwise dark island roads. The feeling of a sleepy, small-town community is a wonderful respite from the city where Vancouverites spend more time in rush hour traffic than talking to people.
Located in Howe Sound, the island boasts many unique local businesses, but one seems to stand out from the rest, Nectar Yoga.
Nectar Yoga is a yoga and meditation retreat in the middle of a lush green forest. Tall crisscrossing birch trees surround the facility, and behind them, a grove of alder trees stands tall. Situated on twenty acres of incredible Bowen Island beauty, Nectar Yoga is an excellent refuge from our busy, strenuous lives. In a post-pandemic age where mindfulness is becoming the trend du jour, Nectar Yoga offers an escape while simultaneously bringing one home to stillness and self-reflection.
Yoga classes at Nectar Yoga begin early in the morning in a stunning dome located a short stroll from the guest accommodations. The dome is a large, transparent sphere in which all yoga and meditation classes take place. Its translucent structure allows for amazing views of the surrounding forest. On the way to class, as soon as I opened my door to step outside, the crisp smell of pine and the moist, post-rain forest floor immediately invigorated me. The dome was chilly initially; however, the wood-burning stove inside quickly warmed things up before the practice began. The participants in the yoga class were of different skill levels, but everyone seemed to be equally enjoying the experience. It’s hard not to relax as the rain tip-tapping on the geodesic dome creates a hypnotic rhythm. Meanwhile, the large bay window showed snow falling sporadically like salt from a shaker. The beauty of the moment was not lost on anyone. The Hatha yoga class ended with Shavasana, the final resting pose. Feeling both heavy and light all at once, I felt like I could sleep for days. The instructor ended the class with a short but sweet sound bath: the inside of the dome was enveloped in vibrations. We concluded with breathing exercises and meditation.
Immediately after the yoga class had worked up a sweat, breakfast was served. Nectar Yoga offers a nutritious vegan breakfast inside the Onyx Lodge, the main shared area for guests. The lodge is large and spacious and contains little celestial touches such as glowing moon lamps along with Scandinavian-inspired woodwork. The communal breakfast is served on a long wooden table that comfortably seats all the guests. On both days I was there, breakfast was full of color and laughter. Everyone ooh’d and ahh’d over the bright fruits and vegetables on our plates.
Alongside our healthy and beautiful bowls, there were small index cards on the black and white geometric placemats, each posing a different question. We all took turns reading our cards out loud and answering them. A middle-aged man went first and flipped his card around. “What do you wish your younger self knew?” Without missing a beat, he confidently stated, “You are not your thoughts. I really wish that was something I knew when I was younger”. His bubbly partner nodded emphatically in agreement. She had told us earlier that the two had met in a yoga class. The man had gotten a glimpse of her and boldly placed his yoga mat as close as he could to hers. They had been together since. A lady who stated she was a writer was asked to list something she was proud of accomplishing this year. She said that she had a near-drowning incident in her childhood and suffered a paralyzing fear of water as a result. Beaming, she recounted how she swam 2.5 km in the ocean as part of a charity event this past year. She laughed as she said her children were beyond proud of her.
Even beyond answering the index card questions, it seemed like everyone enjoyed sharing intimate details with strangers. A British man and his Canadian wife recounted how they had met. The woman was in the UK for college and struggled with lugging her enormous suitcase on the train. She had just broken up with her boyfriend the day before, canceling a trip they were going to be going on. The man approached her and asked her if she needed assistance, and she coldly brushed him off. She didn’t want to have anything to do with men. Luckily for the man, he persisted and the rest is history. Seeing the two of them lovingly recounting that chance meeting so many years ago was cute. This sparked a deeper discussion of chance, coincidence, and destiny. Just a bunch of strangers connecting on a visceral level over breakfast. These connections are a wonderful example of the warmness and ease the experience at Nectar Yoga created.
Everyone attending the retreat appeared to be open-minded and welcoming. That being said, you don’t need to participate in a daily meditation practice or be your most enlightened self in order to enjoy a stay here. All you need to be is open to the adventure and willing to connect to yourself and others all while shrouding yourself in gratitude. Be it by yourself on a solo venture, with a significant other, or with a handful of friends, Nectar Yoga is a safe space for everyone and the group sharing showcases the strength in vulnerability.
The Nectar Yoga accommodations include beautiful deluxe cottages named after crystals such as Amethyst, Quartz, and Jade and little A-frame buildings, which house one guest at a time in a quaint setting, named Sunstone, Jasper, and Opa.
I stayed at the Amethyst cottage. It was gorgeous. So beautiful in fact, if the grounds and the Onyx Lodge had not been as wonderful as they were, I never would have left my room! Beautiful recurring tones of grays, browns, and whites adorned the cottage with hanging antler fixtures, muted bedspreads, and oyster-gray throws. The juxtaposition of such a modern and trendy refuge surrounded by the rich natural greens of the forest was lovely.
The cottage included a small little loft nestled upstairs, an outdoor shower, which would be a dream in the summer months, and a comfy reading area. Bundled up in the cabin’s reading nook, I became very aware of the silence. I forgot how much we are accustomed to background noises in our lives. Whether it be the daily sounds of traffic or people, the absence of noise and being enveloped in stillness feels eerie initially but very quickly creates an air of serenity.
Along with the daily yoga, meditation, and breakfast, there are extras such as massages, private yoga lessons, and tarot card readings for purchase. Other amenities include a newly installed indoor hot tub and an outdoor fire pit. On a particularly chilly evening, my friend and I started a crackling fire under the covered gazebo. Cozied up in blankets with our fuzzy socks, we read books with some hot chamomile tea in hand. It was an excellent way to relax for the evening.
Another beauty of the retreat is that aside from the morning activities and food, the rest of the day is free and up to you to do with as you please. This is excellent because, just like Nectar Yoga, Bowen Island is a magical place to explore. Bordered by beautiful beaches and crisscrossed with relaxing hikes, there is much to do on the island. Snug Cove is the central hub conveniently located near the ferry dock. Nestled by the water, Snug Cove is home to a small number of restaurants. While few as they may be, the establishments are exceptional.
We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Tuscany, and midway through our meal, we heard the jingling of bells and loud laughter. Out of nowhere, at least a dozen carolers appeared, all dressed as Santa Claus. The restaurant patrons were positively giddy and excitedly waving at people they somehow recognized with a Santa beard. This illustrated the small-town vibe of the island, where everyone seemed to be acquainted with one another.
Some other restaurants were standouts as well. A charming little spot called The Snug Cafe had great sandwiches and hot drinks for lunch. I also enjoyed the Chai Hot Chocolate from Cocoa West, a chocolatier proud to use locally sourced ingredients. But my favorite restaurant on Bowen Island has to be Barcelona Tapas & Wine Bar. The Spanish tapas served on intricately patterned plates were incredibly delicious. We had the Berenjena con Miel (crispy eggplant with honey and mint), Patatas Bravas, Albondigas (beef and chorizo meatballs), and Ensalada de Alcachofas (roasted artichoke salad with manchego cheese, serrano ham, migas, and basil). We ordered Creme Espanola (see picture), a divine chocolate ganache containing Licor 43 Spanish cream for dessert. It was a wonderful meal in the cozy restaurant. The delicious food only heightened our magical weekend.
On my final day at Nectar Yoga, the snow fell with full force. A shaggy and muddy sheepdog owned by the retreat owners rejoiced with the snowfall. Aptly named Forest, his dirty fur stood in stark contrast to the whiteness of the snow. Seeing him so happy made everyone stop and delight, momentarily pausing from wondering how their cars would make it up the snowy hill of the property upon their exit—these small moments of jubilation occurred often on the island.
As we all said our goodbyes and headed to the ferry terminal to return home, I reflected on how so many people were still looking inwards, still caught in the shadow of the pandemic. We may not have had a lot of control over external circumstances when Covid-19 first made its way into our lives, but many people have slowly found stability again, and that’s allowed them to pay attention to their own well-being. And what is better than being surrounded by Bowen Island’s picturesque scenery, practicing yoga at Nectar Yoga, and eating well, all while feeling incredible gratitude for all the joys life has to offer? As my phenomenal weekend reminded me, life is magic, and it is imperative to savor all the moments, especially the quietest ones.