Yoga, Yummy Food & Beautiful Countryside: A Weekend Yoga Retreat in TuscanyFriday, November 11, 2016
Yoga, great food & Tuscan countryside, what more could you want from an escape away from the city? A couple of weekends ago I went on my first yoga retreat weekend in the rolling Tuscan hills. The getaway was organised by one of my beautiful friends Shirley who made a life-changing decision to move to Florence a couple of years ago after falling in love with the place when she came on a yoga retreat herself - and it's not hard to see why!
I had never done yoga before so I was a little bit nervous as I am also the most un-flexible person and although I would like to think that one day I will be a little gym bunny it's probably never going to happen because I just hate sports. Hate. Them. I do not see the fun in running around and getting all tired and sweaty and hating life whilst doing it. Every fitness program I have ever started has shortly ended after a few awful weeks and although abs are nice, so are my morning lie ins and eating pizza so I thank the gods every day that I was blessed with fast metabolism. Anyway, yoga was a type of exercise which I had always thought about but never actually gotten into - it didn't seem as rigorous or heart-attack-inducing and has a bunch of other health benefits as well so I was excited to try it out!
Over the weekend we had two yoga sessions a day, each of them different, and it was so interesting to do. Shirley was such a wonderful teacher because although some of the practices were a little more advanced, she offered alternatives for the beginners (me lol) so that we didn't strain our bodies too much. By the end of the retreat my arms and glutes (as well everything else) were aching so much but this just meant that my body had been well-exercised. My favourite part of the sessions was the end part called shavasana which is where you get to lay down, with blankets, and relax afterwards. One of the sessions actually included a guided meditation which is where I fell asleep hahaha... but hey, I must have been really relaxed then right?
Although it was a yoga retreat, my favourite part of the trip was probably the food. Shirley had a chef there for us who cooked everything and it was honestly the most incredible food. All of it was vegetarian and most vegan. There were these phenomenal lentil "burgers" with guacamole and a quinoa salad with aubergine, courgette and carrots which I will definitely try to recreate and put on here. Besides all of the amazing food which was prepared for us, we also had an Italian cooking lesson, which involved lots and lots of vino rosso of course.
We learned how to make two types of fresh pasta: fettuccine and strozzapreti, which literally means strangle the priest. One had a simple tomato basil sauce and the other had the most wonderful creamy roasted pepper sauce. You need to have a machine to make them but it's actually surprisingly easy, just time consuming because you also have to wait for the dough to activate etc. etc.
We also learned how to make what we, English speakers, call biscotti, which actually just means cookies in Italian. They're called cantucci in Italian and are the best things ever. The ones that we made were wayyy better than the ones I used to buy in Starbucks back in England and we made two different kinds: one vegan version and one "traditional" version which uses eggs. To be honest I couldn't really tell the difference other than the fact that one had raisins and lemon zest and the other didn't so if you're vegan or don't have any eggs lying around you can easily substitute them with a plant-based milk & vegetable oil mix.
The smell of these wafting out of the oven was actually incredible and some of us couldn't wait to tuck into the cookies before they were even ready - you have to bake them twice, once when they're in rows and then after this once again when they're cut into individual pieces which is what gives them their distinctive texture.
The place that we stayed had breathtaking views of the Tuscan countryside. It's called Borgo Iesolana (i'll put a map down below) and the Bucine station in Tuscany is the closest one to it. They had beautiful vinyards, a lake, two swimming pools and a hammock which I would have quite happily spent all day in.
On the last day we decided to go for a little adventure to another Tuscan city, Siena which I already spoke a little bit about in one of my other blogposts: A Weekend in the Medieval City of Siena. We walked up the Facciatone for breathtaking views of the city (with our new local tour guide Tamara) which was a similar experience to walking up the Cupola in Florence, however it was less tight walk and there were less stairs to climb.
Tuscany is honestly so beautiful and if you're ever visiting you must go to the countryside. Florence is a nice place but you need to venture into rural Tuscany to really experience it - Chianti is much closer and it's the perfect excuse for a wine tour as well. The yoga was also really incredible and such a wonderful, eye-opening experience. Shirley hosts a couple of yoga retreats per year and I would definitely recommend going on one. It was so so relaxing and just what I needed, not to mention the fact that she is the most beautiful person inside and out. You can find more details of her retreats here - link!