Tuscan Getaway, Italy
Indulgent wellbeing escapes to nurture & inspire in a spectacular setting
For the Tuscan Girls Getaway and the Tuscan Mind & Body Week, 35 to 60 year old women alone or with a friend who want to energise their bodies, clear their minds and start a new phase in their life in supportive, stimulating and spectacular surrounds. The Tuscan Gourmet Week is open to men and women who adore food, wine and culture.
Those seeking to completely detox. Those looking to flop and drop or seeking solitude. Although there is some space for ‘me time’ and plenty of land to wander in your thoughts. the camaraderie of the group is an important aspect of the experience.
These well-orchestrated and potentially life-changing getaways take place at a truly luxurious boutique villa near the sleepy Tuscan village of Montefollonico. They have been crafted by British-born Debbie Travis, a television producer and host in North America, who followed her dream to renovate a breathtaking Tuscan villa on a hundred acre olive tree farm and where she now inspires others to envisage and pursue their own dreams. At Villa Reniella you are welcomed like a house guest between April and October on a range of week-long group retreats that combine yoga, mindfulness meditation and massage with coaching talks and forums, hiking, swimming and e-biking, cultural trips and stupendously good food and wine. Choose the Tuscan Girls Getaway to design your next chapter or enjoy a bucket list fun filled week, the Tuscan Mind & Body Week for a greater focus on health and wellbeing, or a Tuscan Gourmet Week (the only one open to both men and women) to explore the region’s culinary and wine delights. Bespoke retreats are also available.
Debbie Travis is a charismatic and dynamic retreat leader with a great sense of humour and an infectious can-do attitude, and her co-host Jacky Brown has a natural warmth and empathy. Debbie’s creation, Villa Reniella, is a haven of luxury and serenity, as jaw-droppingly beautiful as the view that surrounds it. The mantra is ‘Non Ho Orario’ (‘I don’t have a schedule’ in Italian), so you can truly recuperate. At this well-organised retreat, there’s meticulous attention to detail behind the scenes, so you don’t have to lift a finger.
With excellent teachers and therapists at your disposal, you might find yourself, as we did, wanting to spend more time on health and wellbeing activities on the Mind & Body Week at the expense of cultural trips and dining out.
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Choose week-long Tuscan Getaway retreats between April and October or come year round for a bespoke retreat with friends or family. You can expect a combination of yoga, mindfulness meditation and massage treatments with talks and forums, swimming, hiking and e-biking, cultural experiences and trips, amazing shopping, and cooking classes. All activities are optional, although most guests join in. The Tuscan Mind & Body Week has a greater focus on health and wellbeing and includes healthy eating demonstrations and nutritional consultations, the Tuscan Girls Getaway will help you design your next chapter, while the Tuscan Gourmet Week is open to both men and women and explores the region’s culinary delights. Guests are invited to leave their phones ‘at home’, and subtle printed signs on the breakfast tables are a gentle reminder to put them away or use in your rooms. There is full wifi though everywhere, though, and you are always welcome to use phones to take photos.
The weeks are led by British-born Debbie Travis, a television producer and host of home design programmes in North America, with her friend Jacky Brown, a London-based British nutritionist. The two met when they were modelling in Tokyo and have been best friends for over 30 years. They have run retreats for more than ten years and have every detail covered, tweaking each week depending on the weather and the group vibe and energy. Debbie draws on her own book, Design Your Next Chapter: How to Realise your Dreams and Reinvent your Life published by Penguin Random House.
Cultural trips to local historic towns are part of a Tuscan Getaway and often include a meal out. Enjoy spectacular scenery and explore nearby walled medieval hill villages and towns such as Pienza, famed for its pecorino cheese, wine tasting at unique wineries, and a private tour of La Foce, one of Italy’s finest gardens created by Iris Origo. You’ll be beautifully chauffeured and entertained along the way by Debbie’s husband Hans, a TV producer, Jacky’s husband Steve, a record producer, and the eclectic staff at the villa.
In Italy, a forum was an open public space for discussion and these chats are an important part of the week. Debbie leads several forums on ‘Designing your Next Chapter’, which are loosely based on the contents of her book, inspired by her journey from being a television producer and host in North America to renovating an ancient property in Tuscany and sharing ‘la dolce vita’ on retreats there. These are held in different spaces, including under the olive trees or around the firepit, depending partly on the weather – our introductory forum was in the barn, and the closing forum was in the alfresco lounge beside the swimming pool.
It was Debbie’s dream to have women around the kitchen table drinking prosecco and laughing as they learned how to cook, and was her reason for creating a huge slab in the centre of the semi-professional kitchen. Every retreat includes at least one class on the art of Tuscan cooking – learning how to make the likes of pici al fumo and tiramisu – with the talented Chef Francesco, who is passionate about locally-sourced and gourmet food and who heads a high-end restaurant in nearby Cortona. During the health weeks there are added classes on fermentation, sprouting and creating your own buddy bowls (all with recpies to take home) and during the Girls Getaway and Gourmet weeks there are both cooking classes and limoncello making.
Talks on healthy living include an introduction to nutrition and the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and a session with Debbie on Olive Oil. There are also useful demonstrations on healthy foods to make at home – from fermented and pickled foods, sprouts and kefir to sweet treats.
The nutritional programme starts with a detailed pre-arrival questionnaire detailing your medical history, and dietary and lifestyle habits, which is sent to your co-host, London-based British nutritionist Jacky Brown, whose natural warmth and empathy makes her a good therapist. During the week, each participant has an hour-long individual consultation with either Jacky or her colleague Sofie, in order to produce a personalised nutritional programme to take home. It may include dietary, exercise and lifestyle guidelines and the opportunity for follow up treatments if desired.
Both Jacky and Sophie studied nutritional therapy at the Naturopathic Medicine College in London and specialise in regaining and preserving optimum vitality through lifestyle and dietary changes. Sofie is also a warm and caring therapist, who emanates wellness, and, with a background in dietetics, goes into the more technical details about nutrition.
During the Tuscan Girls Getaway and the Tuscan Mind & Body Week, softly-spoken mindfulness meditation leader Pam hosts effective small group sessions on mindfulness and two half hour mindfulness meditation sessions. Originally prescribed a course in mindfulness for anxiety by her doctor, Pam has 30 years of personal practice in mindfulness and is a certified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) instructor and mindfulness trainer who attends annual insight meditation retreats with high profile teachers including Christina Feldman, John Peacock, Saki Santorelli, Thich Nhat Hanh and Corrado Pensa.
Both the Mind & Body Week and Tuscan Girls Getaway include three yoga sessions with Rupert, a British Chiropractor and Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga teacher living in Tuscany who has studied alternative therapies over 30 years. He teaches a unique style of body balancing yin yang yoga, aimed at all levels, weaving philosophical aspects into the class. A yoga mat, blocks and a strap are provided.
During whichever week you choose you’ll have one massage in a treatments hut in the flower-filled garden with hand picked Ayurveda-trained Italian therapists. They use either ayurvedic oils imported from India or one of the two organic oils produced by the farm: soothing lavender for relaxation, or stimulating rosemary, which is good for aching joints.
Movement is an energising part of each retreat, and hiking, e-biking and swimming are on offer throughout the week. Go on early morning hikes past olive groves, vineyards and woods to the medieval hill top village of Montefollonico, led by Jacky’s husband Steve most days. The hike usually includes a hill or two, and gets more challenging as the week progresses. There’s also an option of a three hour e-bike ride on excellent quality bikes through the back roads (with some instruction and practice time included for those who haven’t done it before), and daily swims in the villa’s saltwater infinity pool, which shimmers with Bisazza glass tiles and overlooks the valley.
Bedrooms: There are 14 en-suite air-conditioned suites housed in either the porcilaia (pigsty), which are closest to the main villa, in the fienile (barn), or in the main villa which has wooden floors and private entrances. All suites were designed as calm, contemporary sanctuaries, with shutters painted the same colour as the underside of an olive leaf. Attention to detail is fantastic – Debbie even retouches the walls (in case of luggage scuffs) between each retreat, to make sure they are spotless.
Rooms luxuriously simple, with stone floors (from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains), modern wrought iron beds featuring quality frette sheets (and towels), organic duvets and wool mattresses to ensure a good nights sleep, and state of the art lighting (and Wi-Fi). Debbie jumped over farmers fences and scoured antique markets in London and Italy to source rustic antiques which, along with a splash of colour, give the suites a homely, welcoming feel. Thoughtful touches include partitions around the bedhead on twin beds, to give some privacy for guests sharing, and most have private gardens (with sitting areas) stuffed with pretty flowers and lavender.
Plush Italian bathrooms have a rainforest shower, Ortigia toiletries (made using natural products from Sicily), a silky robe (embossed with their mantra Non Ho Orario – ‘I don’t have a schedule’ in Italian) and even an anti-steam light on the bathroom mirror.
Other spaces to be: Guests are free to roam the 100-acre grounds, and the best spots to seek solitude and silence are the meditation pergola by the pond, hidden from view, on a wooden bench overlooking the grape vines, or on a lone walk on the clear track through the woods.
Read Debbie’s book, Design Your Next Chapter: How to Realise your Dreams and Reinvent your Life with case studies, stories from her ten years of running these retreats, and helpful exercises to help you get the most out of your stay. Pre-order Debbie’s organic extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil for a health investment, and get tempted by her organic lavender oil products. Shopping opportunities in the small towns mean you can pick up a quality cashmere wrap or leather bag and there are linen bargains to be had in the local market in Cortona. Gifts to take home include the famous local Italian red wines (Hans can advise on this), and pecorino cheese (with truffles, walnut or covered in ash).
When to Go
The Tuscan Retreats are held from April to October when the weather is generally warm and sunny, and most suitable for outdoor living – with cool mornings and nights during late spring and early autumn. Each season has its beauty – from poppies in the spring to the grape harvest and truffle hunting in the woods in early autumn. Bespoke retreats and private rentals are year round, and in winter, there’s a pretty dusting of snow on the Tuscan hills.
Breakfast is always in the villa, on individual tables on the Lemon Terrace (decked with potted lemon trees). Lunch and dinner can be either al fresco at the villa, or at your hosts favourite gourmet restaurants in the region. Meals in the villa are served on a communal table, in different, and equally wonderful, settings. Lunches are poolside on a long wooden farm table under basket lampshades overlooking the valley, or under domed navy umbrellas in the courtyard. Dinners are candlelit in the Orange Tree Greenhouse, in the courtyard or on the Pomegranate Terrace, under a pergola dripping with glass chandeliers surrounded by 200-year-old pomegranate trees. The tables are always set differently, and beautifully decorated, from the vases of fresh flowers (some come from a wildflower business run by women, on a nearby farm), to silver cutlery, and decorative plates by Fornasetti or from Debbie’s own collection.
Sumptuous buffet-style organic Tuscan breakfasts prepared by the fun-loving, hardworking housekeeper Ewelina and her assistant Marianna feature fresh ricotta, locally-farmed eggs used to make frittata, smoked salmon/preserved meats and mixed roast vegetables, fresh fruits, chia seed pudding, natural yoghurt, bread with homemade jams and cereal (and non-diary milks) and freshly-squeezed organic lemon water from the surrounding trees.
Lunch and gourmet dinners in the villa are traditional Tuscan cuisine with a healthy twist, prepared by talented local Chef Francesco with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the farms’ organic kitchen garden and from the local market (organic food is used as much as possible). This region produces the world’s best olive oil – including oil made from the property, which is used liberally – and meals are paired with famous quality wines of the region such as Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti, and the Super Tuscans and after dinner homemade limoncello.
Food is naturally delicious, and with four course meals the norm, you won’t go hungry. Although meat is a central part of Tuscan cuisine, vegetarians, vegans and any dietary restrictions are well-catered for. A typical dinner in the villa would be traditional Zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese antipasta, followed by black rice with onion absolute, Pecorino ganache and yellow pepper caramel then Duck Breast, aromatic salt, honey and fresh herbs, with beetroot, spinach and roast carrots followed by lemon sorbet and fresh fruit salad for dessert.
Alcohol and caffeine (Ewa makes legendary cappuccinos) are served freely, alongside herbal teas. An open kitchen means guests can help themselves to tea and coffee, filtered sparkling or flat water, wine or prosecco (all alcoholic drinks are included) and snacks at anytime. On the top floor of the Barn is a self-service fully-stocked bar where guests can help themselves to what they fancy, with freshly-picked walnuts to crack as healthy bar snacks.
Debbie and Hans have built a loyal, tight knit team, having worked with mostly the same staff for more than 10 years (5 years at Villa Reniella). Eco-friendly initiatives include subtly-placed solar panels to heat the water, a saltwater swimming pool and a no plastic policy, with a refillable water bottle with your name on it in your room. As a dry region, water conservation is paramount, so there’s one towel and bed linen change mid-week and pond water is used to irrigate the garden. No chemicals are sprayed on the land and the wine and olive oil produced is organic.
Villa Reniella, Montefollonico, 53049, Torrita di Siena, Italy
Airport: Perugia, Florence, Rome & Pisa
Transfer time: 1 hour from Perugia; 1.5 hours from Florence; 2 hours from Rome & Pisa