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Chinsegut Hill Retreat Experience is Good for the Soul

By Diane Bedard Posted on January 28, 2021

Just five miles north of downtown Brooksville is a respite on a hill. A place where one can leave their troubles behind without breaking the bank. Chinsegut Hill is mostly known for its magnificent manor house and the history recorded there, but the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center’s cottages offer anyone a wonderful getaway.

And cottage may be a misnomer for these four-bedroom, four-bathroom lodges with a common living, kitchenette, and dining area, as well as a front porch.

There are seven cottages, built by the University of South Florida in 1999-2000 to house students of their programs and classes. The twin beds in the bedrooms definitely say, “dorm,” but change is underway. In my recent stay, the twin beds were moved to create a Queen or King bed size.  Anyone who stays here may request the adjustment to their accommodations.

With two caretakers working exclusively on the 115-acre property surrounding one of the Nature Coast’s most iconic locations, clearing trails, and caring for the property’s extensive landscaping, the improvements made over the last year are worth taking a look at.

Tamara (left) and Renee (right) are full-time Caretakers of the Chinsegut property. With 115-acres to manage, these two volunteers have a true commitment to excellence. Image by Diane Bedard.

This is a great place to get away from the stressors of the world. With no televisions, it is easy to unplug from one’s troubles and get out in nature. The kitchenettes have a refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker, so if your idea of camping doesn’t mean a sleeping bag on the ground, Chinsegut Hill Retreat is a great option. Bring a book, hiking boots, a family game or two, and enjoy the peace and quiet of a Chinsegut Retreat.

Many weekends are taken up with groups, events, weddings – you name it, but weekdays are a special treat for escaping to a natural break on hallowed ground.

Chinsegut has its own cat. He greeted me upon my arrival. Image by Diane Bedard.

The Improvements at Chinsegut Hill Retreat Center are Impressive

Recently, I was able to visit Chinsegut Retreat and Conference Center for an overnight getaway and this is what I found. I arrived about 4pm and my cottage was waiting. I checked in with the onsite cat. My first glimpse of wildlife.

Because the property’s manager was unable to be there for my check-in, we went over given specific instructions for finding my cottage by phone. Upon arrival, my cottage was ready and waiting for me. I was greeted with a “Thank you for choosing us” card and knew Chinsegut Hill Retreat’s slogan, “Where history meets hospitality,” was sincere.

I was welcomed in my cabin with a handwritten ‘Thank You for staying with us’ from Chinsegut’s Retreat Manager. Image by Diane Bedard.

The gate code was provided, although the Chinsegut Hill property was open on my arrival. This is because visitors are welcome to tour Chinsegut’s grounds free of charge daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

Several interpretive signs are located around the public area explaining the location’s history. This self-guided tour by the Tampa Bay History Center is an educational treat – to walk around the property reading, looking, imagining, and enjoying the stories of this very special place.

Each cottage at Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center has a beautiful front porch. Olivia Mackling really liked them. Image by Diane Bedard.

My cottage had a welcoming porch. In fact, each cottage has a front porch with rocking chairs. After unloading my gear, I returned my vehicle to the parking lot. This gave me a chance to walk the area a bit, getting the lay of the land before unpacking.

There is something really special about Chinsegut Hill. It has a magic to it, a peace and tranquility that is balanced by natural energy from the flora and fauna that call it home.

Looking at the Manor House from the Retreat Center area. Image by Diane Bedard

Over the last couple of years, MidFlorida Community Services, Inc. and Hernando County have put significant resources into improving Chinsegut Hill Retreat Center’s grounds. The retreat area has an open feel, although it is encircled by heavy woods and it is easy to get to my cottage, with the dining hall, conference center, cottages, and fire pit grouped as a “camp” of sorts.

The view of the sunset from a bench on “the Hill” overlooks agricultural acreage managed by Florida A&M. Image by Diane Bedard.

Exploring the Chinsegut Hill Grounds

Time for a bit of exploration. A bench overlooks the farm area of Chinsegut, now managed by Florida A & M agricultural college. A large silo and barn are down the hill, and two tall complexes can be seen in the distance – one due west and one northwest. From their locations, I believe they are mines. Still, it is enchanting to watch the sun set over the vista, knowing the Gulf of Mexico is just a few miles due west.

Walking back toward my cottage, I am greeted by a fire prepared for me by my hosts. Next to the fire are two long lighters, enticing me to start the burning now, but I want to wait for dark. As I turn to walk onto my porch, I encounter two white tailed does hopping along the edge of the forest. More magic.

Look at this awesome fire pit setup! And the ‘cottages’ in the background. There are seven cottages onsite, with accommodations for up to 56 people. Image by Diane Bedard.

Easy Access to downtown Brooksville

Friends will meet me in the morning on “the Hill” to enjoy the outdoor paradise. Meanwhile, I take a short drive into Brooksville for a meal, visiting Chop Block Grill, a casual urban restaurant just south of town featuring prime beef and fresh made meals. I order the chicken roulade and mashed potatoes with a tossed salad. It was good. The food, and the service.

Chop Block Grill is a nice restaurant in Brooksville. Image by Diane Bedard.

Back to the Hill, I stop at the gate, input the code and it opens for me. Up the hill I drive, parking in the lot by the conference center, and walk down the hill a bit to work off some of my meal. With the night sky, it is time to spark my evening entertainment. One click and I am in business.

A welcoming fire after dinner, prepared for me by Chinsegut Retreat’s caretakers, adds to the warm feeling I get up here. Video by Diane Bedard.

It is so quiet here. I hear an owl woo-hooing in the distance and a light wind rustling through trees, but mostly I am in solitude on the hill and it is relaxing. My fire crackles and leaps but is safe in a pit surrounded by pavers. I am at peace.

Several lights in the camp area provide a secure feeling and safe passage between cottages and amenities for those who are unaccustomed to rural darkness. To get a full view of the night sky, one can simply go down the trail behind the cottages and enjoy the stars unencumbered.

The Cottage is Comfortable

After my fire has burned down, I amble back to my cottage for the night. All that fresh air had me ready for a horizontal encounter. The bed was pretty comfortable and the whole cottage smelled so clean. I brought my toiletries because cottage said “bring your own” to me.

The towels were clean and soft – not fancy, but clean and soft. There is a simple closet in each bedroom, providing a place to hang a few things and some shelves and shoe space. The bathroom features a full shower, clean and inviting, toilet and sink.

I am a big fan of this simple, comfortable, and inexpensive way to get away. The full-size refrigerator gives plenty of room for drinks and snacks. Bring your own. The living room offers a place to sit down and rest without going to bed. The dining area was perfect for when I had to do some emergency work, using my phone as a hot spot.

Not a bad place to work, if I do say so myself. Image by Diane Bedard.

In the morning I could have brought coffee grounds and a filter to make my own, but instead chose to visit the Lake Lindsay Mall and Deli, where a large cup of coffee is less than $2 made fresh. It is a very interesting place and just a hop, skip and jump from Chinsegut Hill. They also make deli sandwiches, including an excellent Cuban.

The Lake Lindsay Mall & Deli is very close to Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center and has coffee, sandwiches and drinks. Image by Diane Bedard.

Exploring with Family on Chinsegut Hill is a Blast for all Ages

Back to the Hill I went, meeting up with Pat Manfredo, and Kristen, Olivia, and Connor Mackling, as well and Jan Mackling for our family time on the Hill. What a blast!

The children loved the swing. Image by Pat Manfredo.

We explored the Altar Oak and its neighboring giant Live Oak trees. It was pure magic watching the children exploring the grounds, running, climbing, swinging, and posing for a picture or three.

Playing orange toss with Connor. Image by Pat Manfredo.

Connor had never seen an orange tree before and was excited when he found a piece of fruit on the ground. Olivia had to hold it too. We played orange toss.

Enjoying the Manor House porch swing. Image by Pat Manfredo.

Everyone had to sit on the Manor House porch swing. It is simply a need.

Connor helps prepare the next fire at Chinsegut Retreat. Image by Pat Manfredo.

Connor helped add to tonight’s fire.

The whole family climbed the steps of history, enjoying the Sunrise Oak platform at Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center. Image by Diane Bedard

Everyone climbed the stairs to Colonel Robins’ tree, the Sunrise Oak.

There are gorgeous flowers all around the property.

Olivia loved the rockers and porches! Image by Pat Manfredo.

We sat on our cottage porch and explored the renovated dining hall. What a wonderful place for an event!

We rang the bell outside the Dining Hall. It is beautifully renovated. Image by Pat Manfredo.

We read several of the interpretive signs, as the children would allow… and

The interpretive signs added a lot to the experience for those who could read, and listen. Image by Pat Manfredo.

We felt that the previous residents of this special place were very happy to see young people enjoying the outdoors on this beautiful day.

Image by Diane Bedard

Things to Know about Chinsegut Hill Retreat & Conference Center:

  • Rentals require reservations: Call 352-277-1227 for availability and rates.
  • Weekdays are best for quiet encounters. Weekends can get booked up.
  • You can rent a single room in a cabin, or the whole cabin (4 bedrooms).
  • Group rates and reservations are available.
  • The Dining Hall and Conference Center require a separate rental.
  • You will want to bring your own toiletries. If you forget something, check with the staff.
  • There is no food or drink available onsite.
  • Chinsegut Retreat and Conference Center website is here with more information.
  • Guided Tours of the Manor House are available Saturday and Sunday with an online reservation ($5/ages 7+) by Tampa Bay History Center. Click for Info
Chinsegut Hill Retreat is simply a great place for all ages to get away to. Image by Pat Manfredo.

Comments

Greg says

Great writeup & pics, Diane!!
I've passed by this site for years and never thought much about it. I'm already thinking about my wife and I staying there for a few weekday nights, soon!
Always look forward to your Naturecoaster Gmail.
Thanks!
Greg

Replies

Florida's Original NatureCoaster™ says

That is a great plan, Greg! You will surely be glad you did.

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