In this spa hotel, you stay in the trees

Written by By Reetika Singh, CNN

It was originally designed as a temporary home for three permanent attendees of a psychedelic retreat in the California desert, but the aesthetic for this boutique hotel is anything but temporary.

The Laurel Springs Spa Hotel near Pasadena, California , aims to feel like a friendlier version of those retreats (which are not subject to health and safety regulations) with a hidden backyard restaurant and even a garden canopy bed.

Judith LaChappelle, proprietor of the retreat, moved to California 30 years ago. It was she who thought up the name “Laurel Springs” and the hotel’s aesthetic.

“I’m kind of a 1950s lunatic if I have to give an answer to that,” LaChappelle says, when asked about the main tenets of the retreats. She says there is no overarching medicine, only a message of acceptance. She adds that each member of the group takes that message to heart, even if he or she doesn’t follow it to the letter.

Thriving as a small business

The Laurel Springs Spa Hotel was built with an eye to revitalizing the property for its new inhabitants. Originally owned by the Ruhlfeld Institute, a nonprofit that uses mind-body therapies, LaChappelle and her partner, Joanne Krieger, bought the property in 2013 and worked to transform it into a retreat offering a combination of spiritual and environmental learning.

The property previously used to host lectures and seminars of a scientific nature, but it was neglected, and severely damaged during a 2009 flood.

“We decided we needed to make this property healthy so we could use it for nature, wellness, education and spiritual healing. But we knew we needed to get back to basics,” Krieger says.

“Our first goal was to create the tree that we planted that we could keep going forever. So we put this building back together with all of the natural stone and hardwood and ancient plants you would find in a treehouse. It’s quite remarkable to walk into a building like this and not think that it’s a replica, and feel that you’re being restored and reborn,” LaChappelle says.

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The Zen area, which blends nature and mind, is the largest area on the property. The next area is dedicated to Eastern philosophy, which includes meditation and yoga. A third area features “meditation pods,” where women undergo training to become a “restorative artist” and soak in a pool (props around the perimeter include roots and trees to reflect the animals, called animals asanas, that give shape to the environment around them).

The bathhouse was designed by Tiffany House , a Los Angeles-based studio founded by Kay Castro. Each couple or group pays $525 for a two-night retreat.

Comfort in the desert

LaChappelle says she wanted to create a retreat that was more inviting than the typical wilderness experience. Her retreats, she says, aren’t intended for those who don’t have the ability to take time off work for two weeks, but rather for those who want to be at their freshest and healthiest.

“I am not out to torture people,” LaChappelle says. “If you want to come to the retreat and be comfortable and get zen, then go right ahead. If you are looking for some sort of therapy and to put things into perspective and maybe fall in love a little bit more, then I have you covered.”

That kind of individuality, she says, is integral to her retreat. LaChappelle visits every room to meet with the lodge’s guests, who range from introverts to extroverts, and asks everyone what they would like for their stay.

“People are so thirsty for a kind of new way of healing,” she says. “They want people to walk away from the experience going, ‘I believe now more than ever that this is the path I need to be on.'”

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