True Nature - A Meditation & Yoga Vacation Retreat

Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

14 reviews
Sep 24 - Oct 1, 2022
Group size: 1 - 19
True Nature - A Meditation & Yoga Vacation Retreat
Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

14 reviews

Sep 24 - Oct 1, 2022
Group size: 1 - 19

About this trip


The subtle, understated beauty of Portugal is experienced when you slow down to recieve its full nature. This well crafted retreat will be on the breathtaking Atlantic coast of Portugal, near the charming fishing village of Zambujeira do Mar, in the Alentejo region, which is far removed from the hustling tourist culture of the rest of Europe. This coastline is known for its long stretches of pristine bluffs, sandy coves, and charming white-washed villages.

Enjoy your stay at Cocoon Portugal, a 275 acre coastal farm and retreat, offering inspiration and community for the modern traveller.  Between the oversized hammocks and the freshwater lake, you’ll start to lose track of time.   It's the kind of place where each morning is a celebration, practicing under the canopy of old growth pines, and each evening, with delicious farm-to-table meals and memorable conversation.

There are two yoga shalas at Cocoon. The pine shala is nestled under a canopy of old growth pines and is a dream for morning mediation and practice, especially as the morning fog rolls in. The indoor shala is light filled, with high ceilings and traditional hand-made Santa Catarina tiles.

Each day will begin with an exploration of meditation practices at one of the two breathtaking yoga shalas.  After breakfast and some personal time we will gather for movement/yoga and a Dharma Talk offering time to reconnect with your body, heart and the landscape.  Throughout the week, we’ll build progressively on Buddhist & Ecological wisdom while integrating yoga, functional range of motion, and energetic themes.

Each afternoon there will be ample free time.  You are welcome to explore the farm, swim in the pristine freshwater lake, or simply daydream in an oversized hammock.  If you are up for exploring the area, you can hop on a bicycle and ride to one of the quaint villages nearby or you are just a 10 minute drive from Praia de Malhao beach, perfect for surfing, swimming, or sunbathing.  World class hiking on the famed Costa Vicentina trail is a nearby treasure.

Together we will explore and thread inner landscapes of the body and outer landscapes of the world  - including the four elements as they present themselves in the nature of all things.

True Nature Retreats are a blend of meditation, movement, connection, and vacation.  The pace is slow and the practices are invitational.  This could be a good fit for both new and well seasoned to these practices.  Yes, it could be great for your partner or dear friend to join along.

Brian and I continue to try our best to co-create inclusive spaces, so we welcome people of diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, race, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, and other forms of diversity.

Covid-19 continues to present us with the unknown on a day to day basis.  We open this retreat for registration with the noblest of intentions.  First, that our world will find a way to heal and open pathways to travel once again.  Before Brian and I send our final deposits to Cocoon Portugal, we will send an email out 90 days prior. You will have the options to keep your reservation or cancel with a refund at this time.

If you keep your reservation, please ensure you have travel insurance to cover any unforeseeable circumstances that might prohibit you from travel.  Cocoon Portugal does not provide any refunds.


7 nights of simple, yet elegant accommodations at Cocoon retreat located on a 275 acre farm situated on the Atlantic coast

  • 3 healthy, lovingly prepared farm to table meals each day
  • Coffee and tea throughout the day
  • Daily yoga & meditation, dharma talks and inquiry, including use of yoga mats and props


  • access to a swimmable pristine freshwater lake and oversized hammocks
  • bicycles for daily use to explore local villages
  • explore the charming seafront village of Vila Nova de Milfontes, just a ten minute drive away
  • venture to Praia de Malhao, a fabulous untouched beach, perfect for surfing, swimming or sunbathing
  • world class hiking on the nearby Costa Vincentina Trail


Retreat comes from the Latin word meaning "to pull back." Choosing retreat practice means that you commit to a specific period of time where you pull back from regular life.

1. Pull Back
It’s strategic. You step back from your regular life, pulling in all the energy that’s otherwise fanned out and thinned out in multiple directions.  Unplug from technology and gather your attention to focus on something you really love.  Settle into bed when the sun sets and open your eyes when it rises.

2. Deceleration
By stepping out of your scheduled day-to-day there’s new space and time to explore.  Commitment to work, family, communications, volunteer work, household and daily transport all get a breather.  Retreat offers deceleration — simple patterns and fluidity to experience being instead of doing.

3. Listen
As you settle on retreat all of your senses come alive!  Listen to the sound of your breath, trees blowing in the wind, the sound of wildlife, simple village life, and most importantly the call of your own heart.

4. Recover & Remember
Can you feel the ways you need to recover?  It could be from the death of a loved one, illness, broken hearts, intense work, a big wedding, school, project culmination and more.  We wear so many roles!  Retreat invites us to recover and remember our inner landscape of body and outer landscape of the world. What happens when you get a little distance from your persona to just be.

5. Routine, Practice & Habits
Retreat is a distillation of healthy habits in a concentrated space and time just for you.  Explore yoga, healthy movement patterns, meditation, writing, textural study, plant based food, and nature as an annual ritual of retreat.  You will leave retreat more fit, rested, content, clear to reset and do the work you want to do in the world.  

6. Inspiration
Inspiration comes from the Latin word inspiratus and means to breathe into. 

When you break regular patterns and habits surrounded by fresh landscape and support, the space allows you to breath life into your life — space for downtime and the art of doing nothing.  Experience how you can master this art and still be fully engaged with the world in meaningful ways.


  • 7am | Meditation Practices
  • 8am | Breakfast
  • 9:30am  | Yoga practice & DHARMA TALK
  • 12:15pm | Lunch
  • 1 - 6pm | Free time for excursions, beach, hiking, solitude, etc.
  • 6pm | Dinner
  • 7:30 to 8:30pm | Evening practice


Rooms at Cocoon are clean, bright, and elegant.  Each room has two single beds that can be kept apart or placed together to create a double.  Eight of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms, while the remaining two rooms share a bathroom.  There are plenty of outdoor spaces to relax, read or enjoy conversation.


Cocoon serves three nourishing and delicious farm to table meals each day.  Coffee and herbal teas are available throughout the day.  Food is sourced locally, either from nearby farms or Cocoon’s own gardens. A typical breakfast includes eggs, local fruit, Greek yogurt, homemade granola, local honey, homemade jam, slow-rise bread, and a daily tonic. Lunch is often a bowl; a base of ancient grains like farro, topped with avocado, roasted veggies, nori, or mixed greens. For dinner, expect Indian + Japanese inspired curries, Mediterranean stews, legumes, rice, salad and dessert.


  • A valid passport is required and must be valid at least six months after the date of travel (April 2021). It’s highly recommended to obtain travel and trip cancellation insurance. World Nomad and Allianz are recommended options.
  • Plan to arrive and depart from Lisbon. Cocoon is a 2 hour drive to the south. Rent a car and enjoy the scenery.   Break up the drive with lunch and a swim, stopping at the fabulous Camporta Café.  Check in at Cocoon anytime after 2pm. If you don’t feel comfortable renting a car (or just don’t want to), we can pair you with another guest arriving at the same time, or we can arrange transportation for you for an additional cost.


In October, you can expect high temperatures around 20-24C during the day and temperatures around the late teens in the evening.  The water in the Atlantic ocean is the warmest it gets annually, and is around 18c degrees.

Refund Policy

Your deposit secures your spot for this retreat.

All deposits are refundable up until 90 days before the retreat start date.

The remainder of payment is due 90 days before the retreat start date.  Final payments are non refundable within the 90 days prior to retreat.

In the event of restricted travel due to covid-19, Brian and I will cancel the retreat at 90 days prior to the retreat start date.  Everyone will receive a full refund. Anything past this date will require each attendee to have their own insurance plan to cover any unforeseeable cancellations.

It is very strongly recommended that you purchase both travel and health insurance to support your investment.


With a background in social activism, cultural anthropology, and community organizing, I bring with me a commitment to social justice, and collaborative, non-judgmental, ethical, and compassionate treatment.

I have worked in numerous programs – including a peer-based centre for youth experiencing homelessness, a therapeutic day treatment program for criminally involved youth, and a low-barrier treatment centre for adults.

After graduating with presidential honours from City University of Seattle’s masters in counselling psychology program,  I trained in Los Angeles as a meditation facilitator, and co-created a weekly meditation group for service providers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.  I worked as a counsellor on an Assertive Community Treatment team, assisting individuals to exit homelessness and recover from mental health and substance use struggles.  I have presented at numerous conferences and workshops about our team and the weekly support group that I co-facilitated. I am a registered member in good standing with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors.  I am a national trainer for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

I live with my family on the Sunshine Coast, and when I’m not working I enjoy gardening, cycling, and making music with friends. 


Melissa is a Buddhist Chaplain, member of Upaya Zen Centre, student of Roshi Joan Halifax and lay-ordained in the Soto Zen Prajna Mountain Order.  She also practices with Norman Fischer from Everyday Zen, and is a keen student of Stephen Batchelor.  Chaplaincy guides Melissa to consider how one might come along-side the ways people suffer, while supporting the restoration of goodness in bodies, hearts/minds, and the world.  Her current work explores The Domestic Monastery, community life, ritual/ceremony, cultural anxiety, trauma, addiction, consumption of information technology, time, and the greater impact on the future of our world.  How does self-care and spiritual formation serve as a collective 'we care' ultimately unfolding our greatest aspirations for parenting, partnership, intimacy, ecological connection, meaningful work, and influence on generations moving forward.

Melissa is a yoga/movement and meditation teacher with a clear and well-trained trauma informed lens.  Her movement practice has been transforming for over 25 years and in recent years is most inspired by creative mover Suniti Dernovsek.  She teaches locally and specializes in workshops and retreats in Canada and Internationally.  Most recently Melissa accepted a position as Chaplain in Residence with Third Space Charity and Counselling to support UBC students and graduate Interns from the Masters of Social Work and Clinical Counselling Program.  In 2021 they will spearhead the first Compassionate Engagement Program in the Okanagan for front-line workers, community leaders and philanthropists. As you might have guessed, she loves the art of collaboration and has the honour of working with amazing community leaders, Buddhist Practitioners, Clinical Counsellors, Yoga & Movement Specialists, and Wilderness Guides.  Much of Melissa's courage to keep going was instilled though her great friendship and collaborative years with Michael Stone.  You can read more about her history and offerings on her website

Melissa is married, has three teens, a big black lab and a home tucked into the woods with chores that are never complete.  She used to work as a Music & Recreation Therapist, Addiction Counsellor, and Executive Director of ENSO Society, but then everything changed.  Everything is still shifting and moving today.

Available Packages

Triple with shared bathroom

These rooms are great if you are looking to keep the cost of retreat low.  The rooms are just as beautiful as any other on site, and you will share with another two guests of the same gender.

Three single beds in each triple room. A shared bathroom located within the room.

Double with an ensuite bathroom

Travelling in pairs, or wanting to share with another retreat guest.

A large room with a private bathroom.

Single with a private bath

Single room with a private bathroom.

Double with shared bath

Two beds and a shared bath. Great for travelling in a pair or sharing a room with another person on retreat. Bathroom located just outside the room.

Deposit: €200

Your Organizer

Melissa Berry Appleton
14 reviews
Melissa is a Buddhist Chaplain (Soto Zen), lay ordained by Roshi Joan Halifax, Upaya Zen Centre. She is a Master Clinical Counselling Psychology Candidate, meditation, yoga and somatic movement teacher. Currently a Chaplain at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, educator with Third Space graduate interns, and provides support groups for physicians of Interior Health BC. Her work takes deep interest in care providers and centres around burnout, stress, trauma, moral despair and system theory resilience and flourishing. ​​


This was a wonderfully nourishing experience. Melissa and Suniti's teachings and energy provided a good reminder of all that is important in life. I have been able to 'return to my cushion' with regularity and greater resolve...... the outcome being that I am more present in relationships and daily life. The retreat center was beautiful with stunning gardens and architecture, the delicious meals were freshly prepared (much of it grown on Stowel Lake Farm) and the other participants were a joy to get to know. I would highly recommend a retreat with Melissa and Suniti!
By maria z for Spirit of Zen - Meditation & Yoga Retreat on Oct 09, 2023
The essence of this experience; the practices, the farm, the people, the birds and bunnies, all are continuing to live and breath in me. The opportunity to rest in the sunny fields, help out on the farm, be fed by food and spirit, and practice sitting and moving together was transformational. Attending Spirit of Zen with Melissa and Suniti is a gift.
By Jessica E for Spirit of Zen - Meditation & Yoga Retreat on Sep 26, 2023
Melissa and Suniti created a great container in which to retreat, grow and learn. Thoughtful, supportive, challenging. I unreservedly recommend them if you're considering going on a future retreat.
By Susan M for Spirit of Zen - Meditation & Yoga Retreat on Sep 19, 2023
This is my second time at Stowel Lake Farm Retreat with Melissa. The food is truly a highlight of staying at the Farm. The grounds are gorgeous and tranquil, the accommodations warm and comfy, and there is plenty of time and space to be alone. This retreat is the perfect balance between silent meditation, contemplation and somatic movement to embody practice and regulate the body. Really value attention to fostering an inclusive, safe community. Evening Dharma talks are provocative. Perfect week of attention to mind, body and spirit under the guidance of two fabulous teachers.
By Lynn B for Building Buddha Body - A Meditation & Movement Intensive on Sep 19, 2023
Had such a beautiful experience on this retreat with Brian and Melissa. It was a true vacation for the mind, body, and spirit. Friendship is the whole practice. Much gratitude to all of you, and especially to Brian, Melissa, and Jenn.
By Naomi M for True Nature - A Meditation & Yoga Vacation Retreat on Oct 04, 2022
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I’m so grateful to Melissa for the thoughtful and powerful way she leads retreats, meditation, and movement practice. I particularly appreciate her trauma-informed approach to yoga. I’ve learned so much from her and I look forward to what the future will bring. I treasure Melissa as a wonderful and highly skilled teacher, chaplain, and leader.
By Naomi M on 08 Jul, 2021