A Week in Italy with Yogascapes
November 5, 2015
Following our appetites for one-of-a-kind destinations and delicious local cuisine, part of the Yogascapes team (Founder Ben + Experience Designer Leah) took a road trip through Italy to find the next best retreat venue. After hosting a retreat on the Amalfi Coast, the bar was set pretty high. What we found was a deeper look into the heart of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We uncovered a place where one is continuously met with wide open arms, a spot at the dinner table, rich history, and an incredible connection to the land and harvest — where our journeys in between places were just as overflowing with alluring possibilities as the incredible destinations themselves. At Yogascapes, we’re proud to offer truly unique experiences that evoke the real essence of a place, and we’re more than willing to go off the beaten path to make it happen… especially when the reward is secret hot springs next to a river or the most delicious gelato ever.
Visiting Amalfi Coast to Basilicata, Puglia to Bari, and Umbria to Tuscany in just a week, we covered a lot of ground and left with amazing retreat plans for you. From a hilltop villa with an underground wellness spa and infinity pool to a saffron farm that can host sunrise sailing on the ocean, we look forward to bringing you into the heart of Italy with us. Let’s just say that we are on a mission to share the most delicious and awesome travel experiences we can find. Accompanied by some hilarious Italian podcasts and guided by our senses, here is a glimpse into our Italy adventure in a week:
South of Italy – Basilicata & Puglia
Our first stop after the Amalfi Coast retreat was Matera, an ancient city carved directly into the mountain. With the BEST gelato we’ve ever had in hand, we explored the maze of the city and fell in love with it quickly. Ever corner we turned gave a new perspective on the awe-inspiring design that was connected so deeply with it’s surroundings. As we ambled through the pathways and found the edge of the old city, we could see how it actually sits alongside a dramatic valley that plummets downwards and is speckled with waterfalls and a flowing river at it’s base. Our dinner at Osteria Pico immediately brought us right into the rich flavors and atmosphere of Basilicata, starting with a mixed appetizer plate of delicious roasted red pepper chips, ricotta with honey, mushroom crostini, and lemon thyme potato puree to name a few. Yet the highlight for us was the Wild boar stewed with tomatoes and mushrooms, so incredible tender and flavorful. After walking around the lively city at night and doing some of our morning practices in the rain the next morning, we were off to Martina Franca.
Inspired by the traditional architecture and abundance of olive oil, we traveled next to the Itria valley in Puglia, Italy. We made the necessary visit to Alberbello to walk through a village of trulli (singular trullo), which Lonely Planet calls “an urban sprawl for gnomes.” The trulli originally served as temporary storehouses or homes of farmers in the 19th century, and are sometimes painted with mystic ‘primitive’, ‘Magic’ or ‘Christian’ symbols connecting them to nature and society at the time.The arrival to our next destination gave us an indication of how unprepared our GPS was to go off the beaten path with us. Relying on minimal directions and our (Ben’s) excellent directional sense, we arrived at the countryside getaway of Masseria Pavone situated amidst a sprawling open landscape. Masseria Pavone features beautifully preserved trulli, offering warm and comforting spaces inside, as well as an outdoor jacuzzi and shower, beautiful pool on the old stable grounds, sweet yoga shala, and swinging hammocks under olive trees. We enjoyed getting a glimpse back in time through this authentic, historic retreat center and followed the olive orchards and coast on the horizon to our next stop, Delicious Nature Saffron farm in Le Marche.
East of Italy – Umbria, Tuscany and Sabina
We could not have asked for a more warm welcome from our friends at the saffron farm, Delicious Nature. As travelers who are led through adventure by our senses, and especially our taste buds, we were touched by the big hugs and family meal we were welcomed to by Anna and Caspar. Eating with other farm volunteers, we were so sweetly reminded of what rich experience can be found when opening up your table to others. We shared stories over seasonal soup, home-cooked bread and sinfully delicious saffron torrone (a traditional Christmas dessert in Italy)… yet another bite that almost brought to tears, bursting with flavor, and just outright ridiculous.
Ben and I jumped at the opportunity to help harvest the saffron at sunrise the following day with the group. We woke up with the sun and were outfitted with boots and full body jumpers. The fog still rested in the valley and the sun slowly crept in as we picked. Paying attention to our breath and postures as we picked, we sunk into a quiet rhythm of harvesting the flowers. Saffron blooms there in October, and is known to be a natural anti-depressant and show benefits for macular degeneration. After the flowers are gently plucked from the grown, the flowers are opened and the stigma is kept for cooking and dye. All of this is done lovingly by hand, and worth it for such a beautiful spice. Along with the beautiful farm experience, Delicious Nature works with a traditional villa just up the road to host groups.
After lunch in Fabriano, we discovered Locanda del Gallo. The approach is wonderfully scenic, as you round the corner and see it perched on the edge of a hill in the distance. A thirty year project of owners Paola and Irish, Locanda del Gallo is a complete gem; it is one of those places where time seems to move more slowly and everyday pressures to be active melt away. Through thoughtful design and incredible taste, this country home has an inviting personality and honest beauty. Maybe it’s a combination of the guest baskets with soft robes, infinity pool and jacuzzi, panoramic yoga studio, Moroccan furnishings, or multi-course plated meals that takes it to the next level… or the underground wellness spa (Hammam) with heated seats, steam room, and refreshing mister that do it. Together these elements weave the foundation for a beautiful experience and we can’t wait to return for our Umbria Yoga Retreat!
Every morning of our trip we found that we weren’t ready to leave the location. Which is exactly what we could hope for. We actually started wishing that we wouldn’t enjoy our next destination as much as the last because we had experienced so many incredible, different retreat venues. We felt this deeply as we packed to leave that rainy morning at Locanda, but were yet again excited by our next stop, Monestevole.
With 3-4 hours of driving per day, we cultivated a natural commitment to our morning practices daily. We each woke at up 6 am every morning to set the tone for the day and bath in the unique quality of the spaces. On a road trip that is constantly moving, we could bring internal grounding and energy to full days.
Welcomed again to a family meal, we sat down to pesto gnocci and curried gnocci (new to us, and delicious!) with the owner of Monestevole. We learned about the lifestyle at Monestevole, a great working farm that was once the look out for a nearby castle, and the culture around people and nourishing food that we share. During our tour, we saw how every room was special and offered a level of comfort that might not always be found on the farm. We are excited to return to Monestevole for a Farm to Table Yoga Retreat that will connect us deeply with the authentic Italian experiences of living close to our food and learning how to play in that abundance.
After some more fun Italy podcasts and a pitstop in Siena, we journeyed next to our next spot, Spannocchia farm. Not surprisingly we were met again by a community meal including baked fennel (recipe to come) and friendly company. Spannocchia is a member-based farm that demonstrates Italy’s deep-seeded connection with farming. Every single place that we visited during our whirlwind week had a working farm, integrating lifestyle with cultivation of the land and leaving us inspired by the self-reliance.
Rounding the final corner of our week, we landed at Ebbio with Molly and Franz, both generous hosts and great company. Ebbio, a working farm and retreat center, sits on powerful volcanic crater that is bursting with wet forest and mossy stone. Molly and Franz welcomed us into the group that was retreating there for the week and we quickly blended right in, enjoying secret hot springs and a local farm meal with them. With a warm yoga space and wonderful hosts, we look forward to future collaboration with Molly and Franz.
For a final stop, we settled in the garden oasis of In Sabina with gracious owner, Giulia. Created with such care, In Sabina is one of those places where there are a million secret corners to sneak away to. From a hammock in the trees to the open air yoga platform, In Sabina is clearly a nourishing space that offers quiet and serenity for those that aren’t apposed to hanging day beds over the lawn and trickling streams.
Leaving inspired and behind on emails, we left with new retreats on the calendar and deep gratitude for our hosts along the way. They constantly reminded us of true Italian hospitality and demonstrated time and time again the deep integration of farming in lifestyle there. We experienced the undercurrent of slowness in relationship with food in Italy and witnessed how it is passed on through generations. The younger generation is revitalizing older traditions and reconnecting to traditional practices that bring resilience and reclamation of our own nourishment. Italy is home to some of the most special retreat centers we know and we thank you for going on this journey with us. We hope to see you on the Heart of Italy Farm Retreat at Monestevole or Umbria Retreat at Locanda del Gallo.