Since 1975, certain members of Hollywood’s elite (Oprah, Barbra Streisand, and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few) have made a habit of sneaking away to the hills of Calabasas to The Ashram, a weeklong back-to-basics bootcamp that requires stamina on all fronts. “Forty-five years ago, America was in bad shape—physically, mentally, and spiritually,” explains cofounder Catharina Hedberg, who, along with her partner, Dr. Anne Marie Bennstrom, devised the retreat’s renowned dawn-to-dusk schedule, which couples vigorous exercise with daily massages (a necessity more than an indulgence) and feel-good vegetarian meals. “I found that the program is simple, but the program works. . . . The only [difference] is, in those days people were in such amazingly bad shape that if we had people who could walk up the driveway, they were in good shape!” she notes with a laugh. “Now, we can walk them for 13 or 14 miles.”
Soon, the cult camp will welcome another development: “I like to take people on a little bit of an adventurous journey under The Ashram umbrella,” says Hedberg, who has brought her disciplined devotees to the island of Mallorca and, starting this July, to a family-run lodge located in East Iceland’s Breiedalur. “It’s way, way, way out there in the mountains. It still is a place that has clean water, clean air, clean energy. . . . I’ve never seen such a thing.”
For four weeks, nature-made hot springs will stand in for the Calabasas pool (home to The Ashram’s competitive volleyball matches), just as meals—think local trout (an exception to the program’s vegetarian-only menu) and vegetables from the neighboring organic farm Móeir J?re (“Mother Earth”)—prepared by an Icelandic chef will quickly satisfy any longing for California fare. (The Ashram, it must be said, has come a long way since Streisand referred to it as a “bootcamp without food” in the pages of Vogue’s July 1977 issue.) Meanwhile, daily hikes beginning at 8:00 a.m. are set in deep green valleys and volcanic mountains. “Are there paths? No, there are no paths,” Hedberg notes of the “untouched” terrain. “But we have local guides that are going with us.”
After all that trekking (six hours worth, to be exact), how is one to reset before gearing up for yet another sweat session, be it Pilates or boxing, which is then capped off with evening yoga? “There is a grandmother next door who makes the most beautiful, inexpensive wool sweaters, hats, mittens, and scarves. . .we’re going to invade her farm,” Hedberg says with palpable excitement. “We’re going to want to shop.”
And though heading home with a suitcase brimming with cozy Icelandic treasures is certainly a perk—and likely to get even wellness skeptics vying for one of the session’s 13 spots—consider a clear mind and able body to be the program’s most noteworthy prizes. “It’s chaotic out there,” Hedberg explains. “Especially these days, people need a place to land to get themselves back into the flow, into their own flow. Everyone needs a place to go and stop the clock for a while.”
The Ashram Iceland will run from July 14–20, July 21–27, July 28–August 3, and August 4–10.