The view from the creek below the guest house at Diamond Willow.

The view from the creek below the guest house at Diamond Willow.

Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat is an Alberta gem

Sometimes the best way to de-stress and reconnect with your creative side is to try something that you have never done before — even if you are pretty certain you won’t be good at it. “We’re going to start with a little watercolour,” said Karin Huehold, the art instructor at Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat near Turner Valley. “By that I mean you will be painting on little canvases. I’m going to teach you some easy painting techniques and I think you’ll be surprised by the results.”

Sometimes the best way to de-stress and reconnect with your creative side is to try something that you have never done before — even if you are pretty certain you won’t be good at it.

“We’re going to start with a little watercolour,” said Karin Huehold, the art instructor at Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat near Turner Valley.

“By that I mean you will be painting on little canvases. I’m going to teach you some easy painting techniques and I think you’ll be surprised by the results.”

In two hours, I painted eight little canvases and I have to admit, I was surprised by the results.

As expected, nothing I produced was worth framing. My birch trees looked like giraffe necks, one of my landscapes looked like an ink blot test and my northern lights resembled an impressionist painting of African dancers.

The best painting I produced was on the paper towel I used to blot my brush.

The surprising part of the experience was how much fun I had creating the little paintings and how wonderfully relaxing the exercise was for me.

I learned that the benefits of being involved in the process of artistic creation are in many cases more valuable than the final product.

Not long ago, Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat was just a dream and Pat and Doug Lothrop, the owners and managers, were working and living in the city.

They spent several years searching for the right property on which to build their unique retreat and when they found a large building site beside a picturesque creek near Turner Valley, they knew they were finally ready to build the place of their dreams.

Since its opening a few years ago, the 4,500-plus-square-foot house has become a popular retreat for artisans of all kinds including writers, painters, scrap bookers, quilters, photographers, foodies, woodworkers and musicians.

The five guest bedrooms can accommodate 10 to 12 overnight guests in total and many more day guests can be accommodated in a large dorm room for yoga, arts and crafts.

Some guests come to participate in group retreats while others bring their own supplies for an artistic weekend and use Diamond Willow as a bed and breakfast.

For large groups, Pat and Doug can sometimes plan an entire weekend event — including meals. My weekend group retreat began with a make-your-own pizza event where we cooked individual pizzas in a wood-fired pizza oven in the backyard. We relaxed and enjoyed the outstanding view of the brook and the surrounding country landscaping and then went inside to enjoy a house concert with a band known as The Wardens.

Diamond Willow has become known locally for hosting great house concerts and some guests purchase special tickets and come out just for the evening’s entertainment and a few drinks.

The Wardens is a band composed of three actual park wardens who share original stories and songs that relate to their experiences working in Canada’s National Parks System. The group also presented a slideshow that played during their concert.

During the concert intermission, Pat and Doug served hot apple crumble with vanilla ice cream.

Some of the overnight guests enjoyed a relaxing dip in the outdoor hot tub after the concert.

The next morning, our group enjoyed a wonderful homemade breakfast followed by a 90-minute morning yoga class with certified instructor Kim McNeil. Kim offers a therapeutic yoga program designed to relieve stress and help those who live with arthritis and chronic pain, so it is not at all intimidating for a beginner.

We followed up yoga with a two-hour watercolour painting class. And even though I didn’t manage to create anything worth framing, there were several people in the group class who found some previously undiscovered painting talent.

Even those of us who couldn’t paint well discovered that painting is a wonderful way to relax and de-stress.

Like many things in life, it is the experience and not the final outcome that matters most.

If you go:

• Diamond Willow Artisan Retreat is located in the foothills just west of Turner Valley — about an hour’s drive from Calgary.

• Overnight bed and breakfast rates vary based on the room chosen and the season of travel, but they start at $100 per room per night.

• Weekend retreats begin on Friday evenings and end Sunday afternoon. Snacks, meals, activities, non-alcoholic beverages and two nights of accommodations are included. Rates start at $350 per person based on double occupancy. Diamond Willow is a licensed facility and alcoholic beverages are available at an additional charge. Prices on sessions that include instruction such as cooking classes, yoga retreats or art classes are listed in the calendar of events on the website.

• For more information, visit

Two great stops on the Cowboy Trail

The area around Turner Valley and Black Diamond is part of what is known as the Cowboy Trail and even though the surrounding towns are tiny, they have a special kind of charm.

• In Black Diamond, be sure to stop at Marv’s Soda Shop, a 1960s-style diner with checkered floors, a juke box and waitresses in pink dress uniforms.

• Outside Millarville, you’ll find a new cottage winery known as Spirit Hills Honey Winery. Opened in December 2012, the winery is one of a handful in Alberta. Their red wine is produced with organic black currents and Saskatoon berries and their white wine is made from organic dandelions. The wine is available in several high end Calgary restaurants and liquor stores. At this point, the winery is open for tours by appointment. For more information, visit:

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

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