If you find yourself driving through the tiny town of Waldersee, Manitoba, the last thing you might expect to stumble upon are two traditional Mongolian yurts, nestled alongside an idyllic creek at the end of a long road. Welcome to Journey Home Artist Retreat, a quaint Bed and Breakfast located 2 hours from Winnipeg, 40 minutes from Riding Mountain National Park, and 1.5 hours from Brandon. If you spend most of your time in the city, the sanctuary is a welcome sight, where rest and relaxation are almost guaranteed. Here’s how you should spend your magical yurt weekend at this stunning retreat…
After a relaxing two hour drive through prairie countryside, we were greeted by a customized welcome sign (it’s all in the details) and a particularly quaint home and property – just the type of thing you might expect from a B&B stay. Journey Home Artist Retreat is owned by Robert and Sherry, a lovely couple with a plethora of experience in areas of therapy, Reiki, cooking and visual arts. As a cat lover, I was delighted to meet the clowder of cats who live on the property. As an allergic cat lover, I was also a bit relieved to know that the cats do not have access to the yurts (although I would have loved to have one to cuddle in the mornings)!
The property overlooks Big Grass River, surrounded by your typical (and beautiful) country scenery and some uniquely Robert-and-Sherry inspired art. The area is ideal for wildlife, and during our short stay we spotted white-tailed deer, garter snakes and plenty of birds.
Of course, we were eager to see where we would be staying for the next two nights. We caught our first glance into the yurt and were blown away by the hand painted details and the roomy interior. The large yurt fits 4 guests while the blue yurt fits 2, but Robert and Sherry spoiled us by giving us the large yurt to occupy for the weekend.
The yurts were made in authentic Mongolian style; in fact, they were actually constructured in Mongolia and shipped to their current location when Robert and Sherry decided to take on the venture. The yurt is secured with horse hair and includes traditional elements like a rope that hangs down in the center, intended for securing a rock on especially windy days.
The yurts were the best place to retire to at the end of our busy days; where an electric heater kept the room in a comforting warmth and glow, and the outer shell blocked outside light which made sleeping in especially easy. On Sunday morning, we awoke to the hypnotic sound of rain hitting the roof, truly the best way to be roused out of a good night’s sleep!
As soon as we walked into Sherry and Robert’s home, we knew we were in for a treat when it came to learning the delicate art of soapstone carving. Self-taught in the discipline, Robert worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for a number of years; experience that really made us feel like we were in good hands. The home is adorned with Robert’s pieces, giving us a lofty goal to strive toward.
We were given two chunks of soapstone, and I have to admit, I had no idea how I was going to craft this slab of stone into something recognizable. After introducing us to the different tools, Robert told us to simply start making marks even if we had no clues on what to create. My creative counterpart caught on right away and established a direction, while I took a while longer to determine that I would attempt a koala. Robert’s style of teaching employs a no-stress approach that allows the artist to see what’s coming out at them from the stone.
The next day, we worked for hours along to the melodies of Belle and Sebastian and Leonard Cohen to complete our masterpieces. Robert stopped in regularly to help with technique and offer advice on direction. The process was downright meditative, and certainly sparked an interest in both of us.
After deciding we were finally content with our shapes, we moved onto the delicate art of sanding and polishing. We worked through three grains of sandpaper before our pieces had a smooth surface.
Next up was waxing. We put our stones in the oven for 10 minutes to heat the surface so that we could melt wax and give it a shiny coat, which helped to bring out the natural colours of the stone.
After waxing, the final step was to give it a coat of pledge and a final polish – and tada – we were done! Robert sent us on our way with some extra wax (in case they got any scratches) and a protective cloth to wrap our creations in.
There was no short supply of food at Journey Home Artist Retreat, and we were well taken care of for all three meals of the day. On our arrival, we were welcomed by a vegetable and peanut sauce dish, followed by a rhubarb-strawberry pastry that was to die for. And what better way to start the weekend than with delicious fare?
Our second day started with a light breakfast and lunch (though whether or not lunch was light is really still up for debate). The reason being, we were slated to cook an Indian Feast with Sherry later in the day.
Once we were done with soapstone carving, we joined Sherry to gather some supplies from the garden and the banks of the river. We picked wild asparagus and mint before heading inside. I couldn’t stop admiring Sherry’s unbelievable herb collection. Our hosts were earth-friendly and part of the Environmental Farm Plan that meant many of their vegetables and herbs came straight from the garden.
Once inside, we got to work making naan bread, Vegetable Korma and a nontraditional version of the samosa; made with filo pastry. I am just starting to get into cooking, so it was a real treat to spend the afternoon and evening with a seasoned pro.
Our efforts came to fruition a few hours later, when we had a 4 (or 5, or 6) course dinner ready to devour. Sherry gave us a cute little booklet that included all of the recipes we had made on the trip.
On our last morning, we asked to have breakfast in the yurt. It was a good decision, given that it was raining and the ambiance was just right for breakfast in bed. We had the pleasure of sampling Sherry’s jam collection on a pile of home baked bread; going back and forth on which was our favourite until our bread was gone and our stomachs were full.
After saying goodbye and starting the journey home, we reflected and reminisced on the unique weekend we had experience right in our home province. In our email, we received a document from Sherry with photos and commentary on all the activities we did throughout the weekend, really re-enforcing that personal touch you can always count on at B&Bs.
Until next time, Journey Home Artist Retreat! Thanks for having us Robert, Sherry and of course, Spitfire!