New retreats to reset body, mind and spirit
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Creative nurture in Umbria
Here at HTSI quite a few of us are familiar with the soothingly beautiful Instagram feed of photographer and creative director Charlotte Bland. Together with her friend and longtime creative conspirator Ros Badger, Bland began hosting week-long getaways for small groups in Italy in 2019. Attendees immerse in the wabi-sabi beauty of Villa Pia, on the edge of Lippiano, which sits right on the Umbria-Tuscany border; they come to tap their creative expression under the tutelage of artists, flower designers and gardeners, fellow photographers and more, who lead daily workshops; among those who’ve participated in the past are gardener-photographer (and sometime HTSI contributor) Amy Merrick, author Christobel Kent, and calligraphic artist Kate Ridyard.
Most weeks include excursions to antiques and bric-a-brac markets (the excellent one in Arezzo, just over the divide in Tuscany, is not to be missed); the communal feasts prepared back at Villa Pia, and the estate’s sprawling grounds, are almost as much of a draw as the programmes themselves. The final two of this year are sold out, but Bland will start taking bookings for her 2024 retreats in October. blandbadger.com, from £1,500
The soulful side of the Maldives
There’s been a feelgood explosion in the Maldives over the last couple of years, with hotel-adjacent-spas of world-class quality opening, among them Joali Being, a private island dedicated to the pursuit – spiritual, physical, medical – of wellbeing. But few do Maldivian hospitality in all its best facets (including, importantly, sustainability), better than Soneva founder Sonu Shivdasani. Next month at his flagship Soneva Fushi resort, he’ll inaugurate the Soneva Soul Festival, in partnership with Organic India, a leader in Ayurvedic health products and programmes.
The 10-day festival will include workshops and one-on-one consultations with the likes of Emeran Mayer (a gastroenterologist and the author of The Mind-Gut Connection), and Shamini Jain, a psychologist who founded CHI, the Consciousness and Healing Initiative. It marks the launch of Soneva Soul –dedicated wellness centres at each of the Soneva resorts, where programmes of nutrition, movement, detoxification, meditation, spiritual work and more can be built in to a guest’s stay; effectively making any holiday a semi-bespoke retreat, whether a three-day reset or a two-week Time Rewind programme. soneva.com; see website for pricings
Shifting energy in the Moroccan Agafay desert
Morocco-philes will know Philomena Schurer Merckoll as the owner of the achingly stylish Riad Mena, in the heart of the Marrakech medina. What they probably don’t know is that for years she’s been a devout practitioner of Kundalini yoga, and pursuer of mind-body-spirit connections and the people who specialise in them. In 2022 she launched To Retreat, a series of multiple-day healing retreats held at a stunning private estate in the Agafay desert, designed by eminent Paris-based firm Studio KO.
The focus is on actively shifting energy through the body to return to one’s highest potential self, whether that be through Kundalini yoga or somatic therapy or other treatments. This November is sold out, but in January she’ll host a four-day “Women’s Circle,” with shaman and somatic therapist Andréa Ararê, that will focus on shamanic energy work and somatic body therapy. There’s no wifi or phone signal, so guests disconnect completely to reconnect to themselves and the world around them. There’s the option to tag on a day or two in town – where Schurer Merckoll is one of Marrakech’s most accomplished hosts – before or after. riadmenaandbeyond; 18 to 21 January; from €2,750 full-board, not including flights
Finding digital balance in Sri Lanka
Santani Wellness, a retreat near Kandy in Sri Lanka, has the idea of retreat built into its operations, from the privacy of the 20 suites and chalets spread across its 116 acres (formerly a tea estate, they’re now lush and partially wooded), to the quality of the treatments (it’s won dozens of awards across the media and wellness industries).
Founder Vickum Nawagamuwage has solid beliefs about mental health in the contemporary age, and ideas about managing stress, sleep and digital technology around wellbeing. To this end, he recently launched sleep- and stress-management retreats designed to help guests integrate tech – as it isn’t going away any time soon – more healthily into their lives, rather than limit, or eschew, it unrealistically (he calls this “human sustainability”). Ayurveda and meditation feature, but also jungle gyms, mountain biking and wild swimming. So too do guided nature walks, nutrition workshops (the food is based in Ayurvedic traditions), lectures, and even cultural visits to the nearby ancient capital of Kandy. Both retreats last a minimum of five and up to 21 nights. santani.com, from about $2,400
FT Weekend Festival
FT Weekend Festival returns on Saturday September 2 at Kenwood House Gardens, London. Book your tickets to enjoy a day of debates, tastings, Q&As and more . . . Speakers include Henry Holland, Rosh Mahtani, Patrick Grant, Luke Edward Hall and many others, plus all your favourite FT writers and editors. Register now at ft.com/festival.