Why This Wellness Retreat is the Soul-Quenching Reset You Need

New getaway series Beautiful Nomad promises escape to one-of-a-kind locales, whole-body refresh included



Driving up to The Churchill Residence in Ojai, orange and avocado orchards give way to a dusty winding road that leads to a historic Craftsman farmhouse. A Ventura County landmark, the 1900s residence was built for Civil War veteran General Charles G. Penney. And sometime between then and now, according to local lore, John and Yoko took up residence for a summer. But for one long weekend in February, it’s the scene of wellness retreat brand Beautiful Nomad’s sophomore gathering, promising “healing, adventure and connection.”

Upon crossing the home’s threshold, the scent of dinner’s red bell pepper “feel good” lentil soup bubbling on the kitchen’s restored O’Keefe & Merritt six-burner welcomes you. A cheerily scrawled itinerary posted on a butcher’s paper scroll in the foyer outlines the coming days’ events: integrative massages, yoga and Pilates, a hike in the Los Padres National Forest, a tutorial in mashing (a walking form of massage used to release myofascial tissue), a local citrus tasting, and a clay workshop taught by Mexican artist Mariana Mae of Southern California–based ceramics brand Easy to Breathe.

There’s also free time for languorous walks, soaking in the Redwood hot tub, and trips into town for sweet potato brownies at Food Harmonics, or to comb through the luxe knitting supplies at Cattywampus Crafts. That night, at the fireside welcome circle, expectations are set: There will be coffee. There will be low-proof, all-natural alcoholic beverages (cider, mead and jun from Carpinteria’s The Apiary). There will be sisterhood. “While we are definitely open to one day hosting a co-ed and/or men’s retreat, it seemed natural to lay the foundation of this lady-run venture with what we know best: something indescribable happens when women gather,” says Beautiful Nomad co-founder and Pilates instructor Colleen Ferguson.

The brainchild of Santa Barbara-based best friends Ferguson and massage therapist Linnea Villegas Gilbar, the brand was hatched while the two traveled through South America a year after graduating from Westmont College in 2007. “I like to call this trip the B.C./A.D. marker of our lives!” Ferguson says. “It was during that year that we discovered we had a knack for seeking out off-the-beaten-path gems.”


“Something indescribable happens when women gather”

They recruited chef Melissa Bishop (lead cook at Patagonia’s Ventura headquarters) and New York-based yogini Bonnie Crotzer (co-founder of Ghost Flower activewear) to round out the team. “Though the four of us were all hustling within our own respective careers, we were eager to fuse our talents,” Gilbar says.

For their debut outing last year, they decamped to Telluride’s Steeprock Joinery, a solar-powered art barn and living space sited on 69 acres within a red rock canyon. “It hit all the markers,” says Ferguson. “A remarkable location with loads of history, soul and personality.”

Next month, Beautiful Nomad goes international, with a trip to Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests will stay at Son Rullan, a converted 13th-century monastery flanked by olive groves and Mediterranean vistas. “We want to continue collaborating with local artisans and healers from the area to guest-teach during the retreat,” Gilbar says. “We do our best to honor the rituals and cuisine intrinsic to each locale, celebrating the essence of each place.”

They plan to host three or four retreats each year (for intimate groups of 10 to 15), both closer to home and abroad. In the pipeline: a Berber farm in Morocco, a rural cacao fazenda in northern Brazil, a chateau outside of Paris, seaside cottages in Tasmania, and a private eco-compound in the forests of Tuscany. “We are excited to create a global community,” Ferguson says. Gilbar adds: “When our guests return home and are back in the grind, our wish is for them to recall what it felt like to sit down and truly savor a meal or a cup of tea, to take a quiet moment, to share a good laugh with a new friend. This is where the magic lies.” From $2,100/five nights at Son Rullan in Deià, Mallorca, June 2-7.

Feature image: The property’s pool, surrounded by cobblestoned terraces and ancient olive trees. Photograph by Linnea Villegas Gilbar.

This story originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of C Magazine. 

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