The Stunning, Sacred Retreats of California


OCTOBER 4, 2013 3:08 PM

Over the past half century, an odd mix of swamis, monks, Zen masters and utopians have secured thousands of acres of prime California real estate to make sanctuaries for those seeking to escape the world. Welcome to God’s country.


nyt-excerptNew Camaldoli is not the only religious retreat that has opened its doors more widely to those of any denomination in search of respite. In 1943, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary bought a piece of property in the foothills of tony Montecito for $35,000 to create La Casa de Maria, originally a Catholic novitiate for women studying to be nuns. In 1955, it became a retreat and conference center. Immaculate Heart now describes itself as “ecumenical” and is no longer a novitiate, but La Casa still has three former nuns on its staff of 30 tending to some 14,000 annual guests.

Its 26 acres are pure splendor, directly bordering the San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito’s most expensive resort (where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned). La Casa and the ranch share the galloping San Ysidro creek, and have the same breathtaking views of the Santa Ynez mountains. But while a night at the ranch can easily set you back a thousand dollars, that amount will cover a week or more at La Casa — meals and prayers included.

A version of this article appears in print on 10/06/2013, on page M2116 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Sacred Ground.

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