New England was founded by spiritualists escaping feudalistic persecution in Europe. Puritans, Lutherans, Jews, Quakers – even Shakers. It's hardly surprising then that personal retreats of every denomination abound, from cliffs overlooking the Atlantic to the nestled maple groves of Vermont.
Striving to create heaven on earth, the Shakers practiced sexual and racial equality long before it was considered PC. They cohabitated as celibate pacifists and communally worked the land. Needless to say, the sect eventually died out. The Enfield (New Hampshire) Shaker compound consisted of more than 200 buildings and farmed over 3,000 acres between Mt. Assurance and Mascoma Lake. The site, subsequently owned by the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, is now managed as a museum and organic community garden by a non-profit organization whose mission it is to preserve the 200 years of religious history here.
Overnight accommodations are available in the historic seven-story Great Stone Dwelling, the largest building ever constructed by a Shaker community. You can also take a tour of the eight remaining historic buildings. The Mary Keane Chapel contributed by the missionaries houses a Casvant organ and Zettler Studio stained-glass windows.
Perhaps better known is the Shaker Village that the utopians called "The City of Peace" with its round stone barn in Hancock, Massachusetts. Tours are available of this preserved 20-structure Berkshire Mountain site between the months of April and October.
Star Island Family Retreat and Conference Center, a National Historic Place, is a Unitarian Universalism–inspired facility ten miles off the New Hampshire coast. Located on the second-largest of the nine Isles of Shoals, Star Island has been providing liberal spiritual programming since 1916.
The hundred-year-old Oceanic Hotel offers a glimpse of the Victorian Grand Hotel Era, when Star Island attracted notable celebrities such as Nathaniel Hawthorne. The stone Gosport Chapel (top), built in 1800 on the island's highest point of land, is the backdrop for a cherished island ritual: the evening lantern-lit (previously with whale oil) procession up the hill into the church, where the lanterns are then hung on brackets in order to illuminate the non-electric structure.
Rated by Yankee Magazine as one of the top 10 most desired summer job/volunteer sites in New England, Star Island is entrenched in history and surrounded by protected wildlife habitat. Spend just the day kayaking around the island, or bunk up overnight indulging in the windswept sounds of the sea. Wednesday evenings is Lobster Night.
In 1953, the Benedictine monks founded the Weston Priory, one of the coolest places on the planet. Why? Because it’s a quiet place with scenic vistas and home to some of the most hospitable folks alive.
Adjacent to the Green Mountain National Forest just a few miles up a windy road from the colonial village of Weston, Vermont (of WestonPlayhouse fame), the singing monks open their doors to visitors for Saturday evening services. In the summertime, acoustic services are held outdoors on the hilltop, surrounded by organic gardens and forested trails as the sun sets over the valley. Overnight accommodations are available for people (singles or couples) without children.
The National Park Service maps a trail of historic synagogues built in Connecticut. Although most were built ornately in the cities, a small clapboard temple was erected in Milford in 1920 overlooking the Long Island Sound. Due to the hundreds of Jewish families summering there, the area became known as “Bagel Beach.”
If your revelations occur best in the solitude found miles away from modern distractions, then check out the rustic lodges available through the Appalachian Mountain Club. The hike-in White Mountain Huts in New Hampshire are situated above the treeline near lakes or waterfalls. Lodging can be had in Acadia National Park where the mountains fall into the ocean or at higher elevations in Maine’s Moosehead Lake Region.
About an hour south of Burlington International Airport, the Victorian Adirondack–style lakefront stone cottages at Basin Harbor, a National Historic Trust–designated Historic Hotel in Vergennes, Vermont, are well worth the visit to the Northeast. They're ultra-romantic – bring your honey, light a fire, drink some vino and remember why life’s worth living.