Saturday, January 17, 2015

Monteriggioni Meditation

Doves, horses, donkeys, geese - and yoga

The drive from Le Ripe to Monteriggioni is one of Tuscany's finest, along the 222 to Castellina and then west down through open, rolling vineyards, olive plantations and wheatfields to the Val d'Elsa.

Monteriggioni is unmistakable, sitting on its hill above the highway like a crown, to paraphrase Dante. From this small hilltop town you can continue on to Siena or deviate to San Gimignano, as the pilgrims of the Via Francigena used to do; the signs are still there today for those who wish to retrace the pilgrims' path.

And yet, if you are searching for peace, quiet and a different perspective on life you might decide to turn right toward Gallinaio along an unsealed road.


Proceed for one kilometre, past some stone houses tucked away in the evergreen oak (quercus ilex or holm oak) forest. You may even encounter a rider and his horse or two.
The road narrows and darkens until you reemerge into a circular hollow fringed by these dark-leaved evergreen oaks.

Sitting on the eastern edge of what is an ancient volcanic crater, surrounded by olive trees, stone walls and cypresses, you find a handsome stone farmhouse
The farm is called Ebbio and the building hails from the 1200s, when nearby Monteriggioni and its towers were newly constructed by the Sienese as a defence against the Florentines. Quite probably the farm, sitting in its protective hollow, was an outlying settlement which worked the surrounding land to feed the garrison at the fortification.

Now it is home to three generations of a family which has converted it into a 21st century retreat for yoga practitioners and a haven for creatures great and small, from doves to chianina cattle. Disclosure: the owner of this retreat is a cousin of my husband's.

You will be greeted by ponies, horses and geese, and, accompanied by dogs, you can visit the cattle and the donkeys, be observed by cats and ignored by a variety of hens and roosters, not to mention the white doves.

Visiting Ebbio is like visiting a world apart, a world with its own rhythms and perspectives. There is a feeling of peace and shelter enhanced by the encircling forest. 
the pond where small waterfalls trickle down and create summer cool

at the front door

yoga-meditation room towards garden
one end of the meditation-yoga room
detail from one of eleven bedrooms

the living room with its huge original fireplace

this special bedroom used to be the summer kitchen

another pretty bedroom

massage room, former chicken coop with niches for hens to brood in

sculptures perched on the roof - San Gimignano can be seen from this window, looking north

the owner's cottage
Outside we find sculptures dotted about, picturesque pieces of farm equipment from the past, hidden hollows, animals at every turn, secret places. Inside, local art and craft is blended with eastern artifacts: a small Buddha sits next to the age-old niches where hens used to hatch their eggs; eastern fabrics decorate Italian antique furniture; each room has its own character, its own harmony of colour and light.
original terracotta floor tiles pave the whole house, apart from the warm timber of the meditation room
Ebbio welcomes yoga courses and individual visits.

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