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Spring Sabbatical Gem - State of Wonder in the Loire Valley

Updated: Jun 25




My spring sabbatical took me to Paris, Brittany, the South of France, the Loire Valley, Tuscany, and Rome, where I experienced both solo adventures and cherished time with friends and family. Still reveling in the enchantment of this transformative time, I feel like I lived many lifetimes in those five weeks, which were imbued with nature, art, beauty, and awe, leaving me with a sense of ribbons of joy wrapped around my heart.


Anaïs Nin wrote, “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” Travel enhances our exterior lives by awakening our senses through new tastes, sounds, sights, scents, and touch; introducing us to different cultures; and fostering human connections in stardust moments of synchronicity. It takes us beyond our comfort zones and routines into an edge of growth, allowing spaciousness for reflections and planting seeds for the future.


I find traveling equally enriches my inner world. Herman Melville wrote, "Life's a voyage that's homeward bound." I have traveled the world, and perhaps ironically, the greatest journey of my lifetime has been the one home to my true self. Travel serves as a gateway to reach this homecoming and a reminder of the widening circles and vastness held within us. When we shed our work responsibilities, live fully in the present, and take each day as a blank canvas on which to paint our every waking hour with experiences that feed our spirit, we restore our sense of aliveness and our essence.


One standout from my sabbatical was my week in the Loire Valley, where wonder became a constant companion.


When planning my sabbatical, I had a vision for a crown jewel of an ending: in a rural location, surrounded by forests, with treehouse lodging, extensive trails right out the door, ample solitude, and a chance to get off the grid. After hours of searching (using Google and even ChatGPT), I finally stumbled upon Loire Valley Lodges located in the heart of over 700 acres of forests, and had a eureka moment.


From the first moment of my starlit late-night arrival onto the beautiful grounds, I knew I was in for an immense treat. Yet the experience so far exceeded my admittedly idyllic vision that I felt like I spent that week living in a dream.


I stayed in a treetop lodge secluded and disconnected from Wi-Fi, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows framing endless forest views, designed by a contemporary artist and filled with art. Sunlight filtered through trees casting cascading hues of green like a verdant glow. Cocooned in nature, with no noise pollution–only melodies of birdsong, frogs, and crickets—and no light pollution obscuring infinite layers of stars, I reveled in restoration and revitalization. Morning runs doubled in distance as I found myself mesmerized and energized by the beauty of the forests.


The experience was so profound that I extended my stay, leading to a serendipitous invitation to a special wine-tasting dinner on my final night. The Chef takes inspiration from the forest, serving a dish adorned with freshly plucked flowers, and a forever favorite dish that marries a cheese plate with dessert. The true gift was getting to know the owners, who are incredibly warm, generous, and kind, with a passion for community, the arts, nature, and extraordinary food and wine. Their friends were so lovely as well; it was a truly unforgettable experience!

 

Another pinnacle was venturing on two 30-mile mountain bike rides, reconnecting with my inner child. Splashing through mud, navigating thick grasses and remote paths, crossing bridges, cycling through fields and country lanes, I felt total euphoric freedom reminiscent of growing up in nature, running around barefoot in the summers, creating entire worlds out of sticks and leaves, allowing my imagination to run wild.


It is one thing to intellectually recall those adventures in childhood, and another to embody them fully, reactivating memories on a cellular level and rekindling the joy of youthful exploration viscerally, appreciating all that this body of mine has carried through this lifetime. Like effervescent bubbles coming to the surface, I relived many beautiful memories bright with emotion from my childhood.


Loire Valley Lodges caters primarily to couples, making my solo stay a bit of an anomaly. One of the lovely women at the front desk commented that it was “so brave” of me to be there alone. Indeed, it has taken several years of healing and effort to create a sense of a cozy home within myself, a place to retreat to and find restoration, one of solitude where intuition, creativity, and imagination flourish. There is a dance between aloneness as a gateway towards restoration and being in community to also feed my spirit. I know for certain that there is a difference between loneliness and aloneness, and my sense of loneliness only grows when I become disconnected from myself.


I often reflect on Emily Dickinson’s verse, “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet,” for it captures the reality that our most sacred experiences tend to be ephemeral, fleeting, never to come again. When we are fully present in those moments, we feel the sweetness of life. If we are not deeply present, we risk missing their treasures. I find I carry my most impactful memories within me, like tiles in an infinite mosaic of life, each containing significance that weaves into patterns over time.


On the theme of inner child, with yesterday marking the summer solstice, I am reminded with nostalgia of my childhood associations with summertime: barefoot at dusk on dewy lawns illuminated by fireflies; the screen door slamming as we darted outside for adventure; entire forts created from blankets and creativity; playful romps through sprinklers; fragrant pink clouds of peonies; contented exhaustion and the lingering smell of chlorine after a full day at the town pool. Today, when I savor a rare treat of Italian ices or buy myself peonies, I unite with cherished summertime memories of the past.


What are some ways you yearn to embrace the essence of summer and adventure as a remembrance to your childlike spirit? It is in these moments that we rediscover the joy and magic of life's simplest pleasures and sprout tendrils of inspiration.


WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,“

and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.

 


Highlight Reel from Spring Sabbatical


RESOURCES

The Sabbatical Project - resources, community, best practices, sabbatical stories, coaching, workplace policies, and more!

David Whyte - poetry that delves into the inner journey




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