Susan de Maunby discovers an inspirational and refreshingly irreverent yoga retreat in Italy
Susan de Maunby discovers an inspirational and refreshingly irreverent yoga retreat in Italy.
I so needed to get away. It was one of those dismal, late spring mornings when my body and mind screamed ‘enough!’ I had no desire to do anything except drink coffee. The rain was relentless. Thoughts of where I used to live in Italy, in all her warm seductive splendour, kept drifting in and out of my consciousness. Then, on opening my newspaper, my eyes fell upon the provocative title: ‘F**k It’, an expletive that echoed my own disenchantment. Lo and behold, ‘F**k It’ was actually a week-long course taking place near one of my favourite cities in the world, the Renaissance city of Urbino in the Marche region of Italy. I was hooked.
The Hill That Breathes is an enchanting hilltop farmhouse in the midst of acres of woods where a magical mixture is on offer: a variety of holistic disciplines teamed with lashings of hedonism. Week-long retreats include yoga, breathwork, shamanism, re-birthing, writing courses, workshops with famous masters including the Barefoot Doctor and the now infamous F**k It week run by John C Parkin and his wife Gaia Pollini. The organic meals, relaxing hammocks, great local wines and the salt-water pool, coupled with the very reasonable rates, were the final incentive. I signed up for a yoga week there and then.
There are no strict timetables here and no pressure to do anything at all if you don’t feel like it,
I had become increasingly aware of the benefits that yoga brings beyond the strengthening of the body, and I had been determined to recommence my practice. To learn that the various courses all take place in a beautiful Geodesic dome amidst 100 acres of woods, on top of a hill surrounded by views of my much beloved Italian landscape felt like a message from the gods.
On arrival in Ancona (you can fly into Rimini too), the Hill’s personal taxi driver proudly pointed out all the stupendous sights as we drove to Urbino, and preparing us for the equally exquisite surroundings of the Hill. We were warmly greeted by Gaia and John and shown our rooms, some of which are shared in the farmhouse (with mezzanines providing privacy) while other singles are in surrounding buildings. Then we feasted on delicious vegetarian food under the stars while Gaia explained the activities on offer. These included bicycle rides, swimming in waterfalls, excursions to Urbino and the coast as well as sacred tea ceremonies. I had noticed several teepees in the grounds, and this was where various therapies took place. I could hardly wait.
Several guests had already been staying for a week and were now joining our group of around 25 people. I glanced around the tables and noticed people of all ages, glad I was not the only person of ‘a certain age’. Theatre directors, students, housewives, therapists, shoe designers – the mixture was a heady one.
Early next morning I made my way down through the trees to the swimming pool, perched on the hill. It felt like a dream gliding through the water in the midst of such enchanting scenery. Back at the farmhouse breakfast was being served. Like all meals, it is Italian and vegetarian and it is also top notch.
With its laidback atmosphere, there are no strict timetables here and no pressure to do anything at all if you don’t feel like it, but I had come to rekindle my love of yoga and I certainly managed it. Two gentle and brilliant Iyengar teachers, Bharti and Duccio Alessandri, led the daily classes in the Dome. By the end of the week we were all visibly more agile, serene and happy. It was quite an experience. In between classes and long languorous meals, our spare time was spent by the pool, lying around in the hammocks reading, or visiting one of the teepees to have a shiatsu massage or other therapy.
This is certainly no ordinary place. As Gaia puts it: “We believe everything’s spiritual: swearing, drinking, laughing, scoffing chocolate cake, and the desire to be peaceful. It’s spiritual hedonism.” If this is what New Age retreating is all about then you can definitely count me in.
Costs from 845 Euros including full board accommodation and classes. Call (0039) 0722 347 895 or visit thehillthatbreathes.com
If you liked the sound of that, then why not check out these other European yoga retreats?
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
This one-week yoga retreat set in the peaceful village of Tarabeen on the warm shores of the Red Sea takes an in-depth look at the Sivananda system of yoga through twice daily classes. Focus upon the five ways of living under the Sivananda system: proper thinking, proper eating, proper exercise, proper rest, and proper actions. You will be taught to understand yoga as a way of life, practising all its different elements from meditation and breathing to healing and diet so you can return home feeling relaxed and restored.
To book, visit GoLearnTo.com or call 08445 020 445.
Balance your mind, body and soul with a seven night yoga retreat in Mallorca offered by Spa in Spain at the Vedamar Ayurveda wellness centre. You will partake in four hours of yoga each day, including a combination of meditation, various asanas and pranayamas, plus an introduction to the theory of yoga. All meals can be ayurvedic if you wish, and ayurvedic wellness treatments are also offered. Afternoons are free to enjoy a stroll on the beach or explore the local area. Starting at Sa Bassa Rotja, Mallorca can be covered quite easily.
For more information and to book, visit spa-in-spain.com
Experience yoga in untouched and idyllic surroundings at the Midnight Sun ashtanga yoga retreat. The retreat is situated on the island of Kadermo, 10km north east of Hanko, Finland. A typical day at the retreat includes two sessions of yoga plus one of pranayama and meditation, with the choice to take part in other activities such as boat trips, swimming, saunas, canoeing, tango or salsa classes. All meals are purely vegetarian. Guests stay in double bedrooms, and group sizes are kept small to encourage a close-knit atmosphere.
Visit yogaartsmagic.net for more details.
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