Italy Fall Castle retreat is over, everyone arrived home safely and full of good mojo and pasta. Before the retreat, I traveled alone through the hill towns near the castle location. Traveling alone was surprisingly good. I was able to relax into my practice of being quiet, independent and curious.
I took a self retreat for several days in Pienza before hosting the castle retreat, hands down my favorite hill town. Home of the striking renaissance style cathedrals, museums, pecorino cheese shops, wineries, leather shops, a favorite restaurant, “Latte de Luna” and Moretto the owner with a big heart. Pienza boasts breathtaking views of the Val d’Orcia, ancient secrets and really good energy. The town itself is quite small but contains everything you need. I practiced being open and testing my Italian language skills. I noticed that Italians love it when you give a good effort at speaking their beautiful language, they have big hearts. Even if you stumble around a bit, give it a whirl.
I feel fortunate that I was able to spend time both alone, and in the community of a retreat. I stay on my toes witnessing how life in the castle unfolds, everyone arrives, settles in, and by the end of the retreat everyone is connected. New friendships are made. Over the years I’ve created great friends in Italy that I return to each year, spend time with and deepen our friendship. Italians are full of life and love. Such a gift to be in the midst of it all. I’ll savor it for a long time.
I’ve traveled to Italy many times and every time I go I fall in love just a little bit more, and dream of going back immediately after I’m gone. I love this quote, “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”
My love of Italy, travel, wellness and adventure drove my desire to host “La Dolce Vita” retreats. I dreamed of it for years, then dove into the creation process in 2014. I love the history and people of Italy. So vital, so alive. Italy just makes sense with it’s ordered chaos. You learn to roll with the flow and energy of it. I have intense Deja Vu whenever I’m there, making it irresistible.
My dream for “La Dolce Vita” retreats was to bring wellness minded people to Tuscany, where they could experience dwelling in a real castle, food was lovingly prepared on site, and there are explorations of the surrounding hill towns, abbeys, wineries, and other beauties of the land. Each day we gather for yoga, meditation, community, and reflection. There would be an occasional dip in the pool. I didn’t want a super tourist-y experience. Something more bohemian.
This year the group was brave and fun loving. See that tall brunette in the back row wearing the aviators? That is my assistant Brenda, to which I owe a great deal of gratitude for her patience and commitment. Jill was our most awesome massage therapist, bottom row, second to the right. Everyone traveled safely and returned home safely. La Dolce Vita castle retreats are not intended to be an all women’s retreat. It just worked out that way this year. Men are encouraged to attend, as our couples.
The retreat is held in an authentic 15th century castle on 600 acres of olive groves, vineyards, wooded stands of oaks and pine, hidden ponds and creeks. It’s very well located in Tuscany, in the Val d’Orcia region. The castle has such soulful beauty including real Etruscan artifacts, family crests and seals, original wall paintings, art collections, marble floors, large areas to reflect and gather, a formal dining room that looks like a museum. The location is in Sarteano, near Chiusi/Chianciano train station. All of the best hill towns, Montelcino, Montepulciano, Pienza are within 30-45 minutes away. The area all around the castle is classic Tuscan. One thing I cherish most about hosting retreats in the castle is the incredible hospitality and knowledge the owners and staff have. Berenice our castle host and my dear friend, does a perfect wine tasting to kick the week off, and is always present to help with anything guests need concerning the castle or excursions. Her warmth and our friendship make this an ideal homecoming for me and the guests.
I was fortunate to have Peggy assist me in my classes. A new yoga teacher, with great energy and enthusiasm. It was a joy to have her by my side. She made tender adjustments, taught morning meditations, and taught an entire class one morning, that was a favorite by many. Love to Peggy xo
Ellie Leonardsmith took all of these gorgeous photos. She took portraits of each guest, which was a huge hit and a creative practice that brought out much loving-kindness. Her tree pose self portrait is divine.
We spent our days mostly starting with yoga, having a huge breakfast, then either chilling poolside, garden side or adventuring through Montelcino, Pienza, Montepulciano, Chiusi. We spent an afternoon visiting an all women’s winery in Montalcino. A great adventure getting there and the wine was lovely. Another day we went to Pienza tasting pecorino, visiting the cathedral in Piazza Pio 11, meeting Isabella in her painting studio, learning about her unique approach to being a tuscan landscape artist, shopping for boots, bags, bobbles of all sorts. It was good, very good.
The castle courtyard is a quiet area for reflection and reading. I went there often.
Walking meditation in the sacred pine circle was a favorite for the group. Everyone slowed way down and reflected.
This is everything. Seriously, Gelato is a food group in Italy. If you are ever on the fence about going, this could be a deciding factor. The beauty that this small cup contains is powerful, and massively delicious. This one involved hot fudge.
This is where I love teaching yoga at the castle. It’s under a sacred circle of pine trees that are sky high, with those low hanging Tuscan clouds floating just so. It’s a little slice of heaven. We form a circle and bond to the space and time. We draw energy from the ground into our bodies. It’s very sacred and healing. There is so much to do each day, that I have to remind everyone to rest, slow down and reflect. This morning we had a slower gentle class outside, it was just right. On the castle retreat, yoga is part of each day, and we learn to take yoga off the mat, into the world. Days spent on retreat are full of Italian life, everyone gets a chance to practice equanimity. Yoga off the mat is the way we relate to each other, the culture, the people, the moment, one breath at a time. I genuinely believe that when people commit to attending a retreat of this scale, powerful shifts happen. It’s a big journey and it requires resources, heartiness, curiosity, bravery and self reflective skills. I’ve seen people leap pretty big on retreat weekends, therefore one can only imagine what sort of transformation will happen when retreating for a week, in another country.
And this. We had kitties and a Mama. They were part of our group. They felt very welcome. In fact they felt so welcome that on the final breakfast morning of the retreat, when everyone was gone, I found them on the dining room table helping themselves to leftovers:))
The longer I live and work with people in a wellness capacity, the more I believe that equanimity is that sweet spot we all crave. In order to find it, we have to focus on turning up our A game for radical self care, love and acceptance. We are not perfect, we struggle, life doesn’t always give us what we want, so we learn through practice how to soften our suffering. All of life is about awakening to who we really are, what makes us human and connected to each other.
One powerful aspect of retreating is the way we create community, a belonging and becoming part of something bigger than us. We all have a deep desire and need to belong, it’s primal. When we feel like we belong there is no separation, much less me versus you, trust is formed, there is more peace and harmony.
Radical self care is uniquely defined for each person. It may include: putting down your phone more often, eating healthy food, staying hydrated, community with like minded souls, ending soul sucking relationships, exploring your truest desires, expanding through travel, deep resting, breathing, meditating, moving in the body, yoga, walking, being present, sharing feelings, thoughts, insights, creativity, spiritual inquiry.
Many people are really on edge these days. In the midst of our current civil unrest, political upheaval and stressed times, we need to stay in our center more than ever. Our center is where our peace is. When we feel our own peace, it emanates out into the world. That’s how the light expands, grows and transforms. It has to start from within.
I look forward to more retreating, more Italy retreating and sharing the journey with you. I have two Italy retreats coming up for 2017. Stay tuned for all of the details right here!