A retreat for the soul in the heart of Umbria

As I turn off Autostrada 1 I reach for the directions I’ve been sent by the owner of the remote, monastic health retreat for which I am destined. At first glance they seem somewhat overly-detailed but I soon see why. Eremito Hotelito del Alma (The Hermitage) is not a place that’s meant to be found at random. Like ‘The Beach’ you have to know that it’s there and trust your guides.

After bumping down a rough track for 15 minutes or so I meet Marcello, Eremito’s charismatic owner, and we continue by (beaten up, old) Land Rover the last, even bumpier, few kilometres until we reach the head of a verdant, unspoilt valley. There’s no formal check-in on arrival, simply an invitation to join the rest of the party, who are halfway through lunch out on the terrace. Everyone introduces themselves freely. There are one or two couples up from Rome for the weekend but otherwise it is mostly solo travellers from various parts of Europe.

As we chat, plans for the afternoon begin to form. Katya proposes a walk to the dam while others decide to sunbathe. Having risen at 3am I opt for an afternoon nap and head up to my ‘celluzza’. Small, sparsely-furnished but perfectly equipped it is indeed a cell but an extremely well-appointed and comfortable one. I lie on my large single bed and drift off to the sing-song lilt of Italian voices on the lawn below.

I wake in time for an impromptu yoga session being conducted on the lawn by another guest, Carolina from the Netherlands. We salute the sun as it sets over the valley spread out before us.

Then it’s the part every new guest finds most intriguing, the silent dinner. Every dinner at Eremito is served in complete silence, the theory being that this allows you some time alone with your thoughts while enjoying the superb, vegetarian fare served by Eremito’s chefs. It is a revelation. Not only do I feel vastly more relaxed than I would normally do when dining with strangers (no pressure to be entertaining) but flavours are truly enhanced now that I can focus on them and eat ‘mindfully’.

After dinner we sit on the lawn around the firepit, happily chatting and finishing our wine.

The following day begins with a reading in the small chapel (for those who want to) then, after breakfast, an impromptu pasta making lesson as Enzo shows us how to make strozzapreti (literally, strangled priests). An expedition to a nearby village is mooted and this takes us on a picturesque hour or so’s walk to Cantone, located on the next hill over from ours. As it is the weekend, we find the café open and can therefore reward ourselves with an Aperol Spritz before lolloping home for lunch. Later in the afternoon most of us head to the steam room and Jacuzzi, which becomes a social hub until it’s time to get dressed for dinner. Another blissfully silent affair.

Sam with Enzo at Erermito

On this last night, knowing I have to leave in the morning I am a little wakeful so, once everyone else is in bed, I slip up the stairs, through the chapel and out onto the roof. It’s perfect – the valley dark and velvety, the sky clear and starlit. I sit quietly for a while simply meditating on the view. This is my farewell to Eremito……….I know I will come back.

For further first-hand information on Eremito and other Zen retreats in Europe, contact Sam Gee on +44 (0)1242 787800.