Finding Solitude – The Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo, South Africa

The mist, like a gauzy veil, hung suspended between air and earth, as I made my way towards my bed after Evening Meditation. In it, solid forms dissolved and became liquid energy. Behind it, layers and layers of silence seeped into the earth and my being, with only the crunch of my feet stirring the quiet. From Evening Meditation, until after breakfast, Noble Silence is observed, and the only sounds that filled the night were the distant barking of a dog, and the closer calls of a Nightjar.

Purchased by Louis van Loon in 1980, The Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, has grown out of a neglected piece of land into a place of respite for the many retreatants, who find their way here. The centre’s various buildings nestle comfortably and separately amongst tall trees, and lush indigenous bushes, providing a sense of privacy and seclusion, while well maintained footpaths cut through the green vegetation like exposed veins across the 300 acres of land, providing hours of meditative walking. Opportunities for it arose in snatched fragments of time, between the regimented schedule of the retreat. Where one of the paths dead-end at the edge of the valley at the Nalanda rocks, I stopped in awe. Big rocks, like over-sized couches, provide a comfortable space for quiet respite. Here, I felt a deep grounding energy, while my soul expanded and contracted to become one with the deep-blue sky and lush valley, dotted with traditional homesteads.

“There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”

From: Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton


# The name Ixopo, is derived from the Zulu onomatopoeic word, eXobo, used to describe the sound cattle make, when squelching through mud. (The ‘x’ in Zulu is pronounced as a lateral click.)

# The area is perhaps most famous for Alan Paton‘s novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, published in 1948.

# The Buddhist Retreat Centre has carved out a special niche for itself in this beautiful landscape of irridescent green hills, and has been voted as one of the world’s best meditation retreats, while being awarded National Heritage status by former President Nelson Mandela.

# The Centre has become well-known for its tasty vegetarian meals, and it is a running joke that some people come just for the food. Current chef-in-residence, Ray Vogel, joked about writing a memoir about his time there, and came up with various possible titles, including “I Came for Enlightenment, and Left with Love Handles”.

# I only once, lugged my camera around, as it really is a space best appreciated by being in the moment, and not through a lens. No photograph can capture the energy of the place, anyway. It is something best experienced first-hand.

# The Valley House, home to Chrisi and Louis van Loon, when they are at the Centre, is available to rent, when they are not. It is a wonderful space filled with exquisite antiques and mementoes, with an unrivaled view of the valley from the comfort of an over-sized chair. The best part of staying here is the company of Lilly, their cat. Talking softly like a lady, and snuggling up next to one on a cold night, are delights not to be missed.

To Read:

1. The wonderful recipe books from the Centre:

  • Quiet Food (currently out of print, but there are plans for a re-printing)
  • The Cake the Buddha Ate
  • Plentiful

2. Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton

GPS Co-ordinates:

S 30° 06′ 15.78″       E 30° 02′ 46.50″