F**K It Magic Movement retreat review | healing holiday, Italy
Off-beat holistic retreat on a volcanic island in Italy
In a nutshell: Run by the co-founder of the F**k It retreats Gaia Pollini, these Magic retreats centre on healing and take different themes – Movement, Freedom, Dissolving, Truth and Shadows. Movement, which takes place at a charming hotel on Stromboli, aims to unblock energy and harness the natural life-force and power of an active volcano. This makes it sound a bit New Age kaftan-esque. It’s not. The clue’s in the name. It’s off-beat, irreverent and fun –with tears on the side. Therapy packaged in a Mediterranean holiday. When we tried to think of the best way to describe it, the words rushing in were: liberating, empowering, nurturing – deceptively effective and surprisingly powerful. In a nutshell? Magic.
Who it’s best for: John C Parkin and Gaia Pollini launched the original F**k It retreats at their farmhouse in Umbria, The Hill that Breathes (yes really) over a decade ago. The F**k It ‘philosophy’ (outlined in their best-selling F**k It books) is the Western take on the Eastern spiritual idea of letting go, and so F**k It, by its very nature, tends to attract an open-minded bunch of people – all walks of life, all nationalities and all ages – many have read the books, others are drawn to the humour and tongue-in-cheek website.
There are also repeat offenders – the F**k It Family. People come back again and again. The Magic retreats are open to both men and women (there is one women-only retreat each year in Le Marche) but in Stromboli out of a group of about 20 there was just one man (slightly dazed on day one admittedly). It’s perfect for those who need nurturing and healing – with ice-cream on the side. This is a healing retreat but there’s plenty of local Italian wine, swimming in the sea, volcano-climbing and Italian gelato and pizza thrown in.
Who it’s not for: The straight-laced, the tight-lipped, anyone with personal space issues. And anyone who has a problem screaming F**k It from the roof… actually that’s not true. The straight-laced and the tight-lipped are exactly who it’s for. It takes you out of your comfort zone. It peels away the façade and strips you of your armour. One whole session was dedicated to discussing which part of the week had made us feel uncomfortable – and exploring why. Cue personal revelations, emotional release.
What you can do: On this Movement retreat there are morning and late afternoon sessions in Stromboli because of the heat, both lasting two, maybe three, hours. The sessions take place under an awning on the roof terrace of the hotel. You sit in a circle on yoga mats and cushions. The exercises led by Gaia often take place in pairs and open the emotional floodgates surreptitiously. For instance, saying ‘I love the way you dream’ to a stranger, looking into their eyes, repeating the words at intervals, was powerful and unexpectedly moving.
The middle chunk of the day is yours to head to the beach, wander round the little village and indulge in long, lazy lunches followed by a siesta. There are boat trips to the other side of the island and a volcano to climb.
The schlep to the top of the volcano is challenging (and optional). It’s tough. It’s too hot to climb during the day so groups leave – with crash helmets (to protect you from spewing lava) and face-masks (from the dust kicked up on the way down) – late afternoon. It takes three and a half hours to reach the top, the last part of the climb struggling through shifting grey sand dunes. But once you’re perched on the edge of the crater and the volcano throws out its deafening and vivid pyrotechnic displays it’s worth every bead of sweat. You can feel the raw power and energy. The journey down, slithering and sliding in the dark takes a mere hour and a half.
Where you stay: The pretty 3 star Hotel Villaggio Stromboli is a jumble of white buildings on different levels cut into the cliff and practically tumbling into the sea. It’s a relaxed, friendly bougainvillea-splashed hotel but rooms do vary in size. My single with a sea view was more like a cupboard with a bed squeezed in. But it was so close to the sea I went to sleep each night to the soundtrack of the waves crashing on the rocks below my window.
How was it for us: This was my third F**k It retreat. I’m turning into a F**k It junkie. I went on the original ‘classic’ back in 2008, then the Women’s retreat in Urbino in 2015 so I knew what to expect. It’s a journey rather than a quick fix. But still, the power of the process sneaks up on you. The emotion too, from a song played as you’re looking out to sea or gazing up at the volcano towering above, a word, a reading, a touch when you least expect it. There’s nowhere to hide. But you’re cradled and supported by the group. For me, the mix works: it’s a sort of stealth healing.
What we took home: A support network via a private Facebook group that I know from my women’s retreat is a virtual hug whenever you need it. I also signed up for the e-course which meant that I had Gaia-fix every day for the next 21 days.
Would we go back: Yes. In a heartbeat.
Food view: It’s half-board so usually we had dinner as a group. A list came round the night before and you made your choice – usually a simple pasta dish followed by meat, fish and vegetarian option. The food was good, wholesome home-cooking in style served in a large dining room – probably the least attractive part of the hotel. There is also a pretty outdoor terrace restaurant overlooking the sea. On the last night we went out to a local restaurant for a meal in a gorgeous lush garden beneath the stars.
What’s queenly: Gaia is a bit of guru. And the setting is spectacular. From the large roof terrace (cordoned off for the retreat during our stay) you can gaze out to sea in one direction, in the other Stromboli towers above you, spirals of grey smoke swirling up into the vivid blue, reminding you constantly of its presence.
What’s lowly: The heat can be intense in July – I got prickly heat and by the time I left my feet were swollen like sausages.
Insider tip: Don’t wear mascara. Expect hugging. It’s very, very hot on Stromboli in July. Bring loose, light clothing for the sessions and a head-torch as there are no streetlights. You’ll also need a torch if you climb the volcano. You can hire everything you need (rucksack, walking boots, socks, walking poles and torch but it will help to keep costs down if you don’t have to hire everything).
Price: The retreat costs €1200 per person for the week. You pay the hotel direct and prices vary depending on whether you opt to share a room or pay extra for a single. A week’s half-board in a single with a sea view cost €645. You also need to factor in the flight to Naples (from the UK British Airways and easyjet fly direct) and then the hydrofoil crossing with SNAV.
Value for Money: There are often offers or early bird savings to be bagged and you can cut the costs by sharing a room. The F**k It retreats’ costs vary depending on the location and the modular format means that you can go for a deluxe version (added extras including a follow up e-course or for a more cost effective version opt for a triple-share room and the basic package. For me it’s worth every penny. Two for the price of one: holiday and healing combined.
Sister retreats: F**k It founders John and Gaia practise what they preach, and after a few years of changing sheets and unblocking toilets at The Hill That Breathes said F**k It themselves, decamping and moving the retreats to a handful of hotels in Italy, along with the odd weekend in London. The couple have also fine-tuned what they do best. John focuses more on life coaching and Qigong, while Gaia’s ‘Magic’ retreats centre on healing. F**k It retreats are also held at the Urbino Resort & Spa in Le Marche (full-board) and in the town of Pesaro (sessions in a five-star seafront hotel but you’ve a choice of accommodation options) and at the Hill that Breathes for those who have been on a retreat before and are part of the ‘Family’.
Read our F**k It book review.
Reviewed by Lucy Gillmore
© Queen of Retreats