This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
The sun went behind the distant mountain as we stood in — coincidentally — mountain pose. I opened my eyes to take in the golden light that adorned the valley and Lucca, the Tuscan town below.
No, I was not an actress in the next Frances Mayes novel-turned-movie. I was practicing yoga in Italy and loving every minute.
The Idyllic Setting
You’d think it would be hard to impress me with my environ. After all, I’d just spent a week hiking The Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, a place that would steal your breath with its unbelievable mountain scapes. And yet, here I was in Tuscany on a weeklong yoga retreat, and I couldn’t stop taking photos in an effort to capture the serene beauty of my surroundings.
The yoga retreat was put on by Lisa Hampton of Mindful Fitness, based in San Diego. When she told me she was hosting a yoga retreat in Tuscany last year, I immediately signed up. Combining two of my favorite things — yoga and travel — was something I couldn’t skip out on.
The retreat was held at Il Borghino, a charming villa on the edge of Lucca. Under the Tuscan Sun could have been filmed here, it was so perfect.
Three peach-colored houses flanked the pool, which overlooked the valley. Each house was so carefully and authentically decorated, you’d swear it’d been like that for hundreds of years. But while the buildings themselves have been there for aeons, the current owners remodeled all the buildings in the last few years. They did an excellent job, and spared no expense in creating a heavenly getaway in Tuscany.
Another company, Yoga in Italy, rents out Il Borghino for about 22 weeks each year, and hosts yoga retreats with yoga instructors like Lisa. They provide the framework, the yoga equipment, the food (more on that in a moment), and the excursions. Our retreat was the perfect balance of yoga (twice a day, if you wanted), relaxing by the pool, eating amazing vegetarian cuisine and seeing local sights.
The food was prepared by a local woman in her 80s, Maria Angela, who had a lifetime of experience cooking for other people. But despite the state-of-the-art kitchen at Il Borghino, she preferred to cook our daily meals in her own kitchen, where she knew where everything was, and then schlep the food over in styrofoam containers. No one else was allowed in her kitchen!
Most of the 14 attendees weren’t vegetarian, and I think we all were a little skeptical about eating no meat (especially in a region known for its cured meats), but the food was over and above our expectations. In fact, Maria Angela is the author of a cookbook, which most of us purchased, in an effort to take home a little slice of our dining experience in Tuscany.
All the excursions were optional, but most of us attended them because they were so irresistible. There was a biking and walking tour in Lucca, where we learned about the history of the small but prosperous walled city. Then we took a stroll from our villa to a local winery, where we toured the gardens and wine and olive making facilities. Maria Angela gave a cooking class, with the help of a patient translator, and we learned to make gnocchi with pesto, as well as tiramisu.
I’d expected before the retreat that I would have ample time to sit with my journal or book and reflect, but honestly, I was too excited getting to know my new yoga friends. It’s amazing how a week with total strangers turns around and they become close friends.
A week doing yoga in Italy did more than free up my joints. It freed up my mind, introduced me to new experiences, and helped me forge bonds with fellow yogis.