My friend, Tami, and I recently held a yoga holiday at a stunning retreat center in Tuscany called Ebbio. Named after a plant similar to elder blossom, which grows in abundance on the 300-acre national forest where the retreat lies, Ebbio is truly a magical place. In addition to providing a tranquil setting for yoga and meditation groups, Ebbio is a working, organic farm and vineyard, as well as a sanctuary for many animals, including wild horses, tenacious donkeys, wandering geese, colorful peacocks, baby chicks, fluttering doves, sweet-natured dogs and aloof tomcats – animals are everywhere; it’s wonderful!

Our group was a mix of Americans, Swedes, Swiss and Canadians. We lived together, like a large family, in a 14th-century farmhouse, which sat high in the hills above the Tuscan countryside. Restored to perfection, the 800 year-old dwelling featured stone floors, a two-meter high fireplace, artisan woodwork and countless windows overlooking a distant castle, cypress trees, olive groves and sunflower fields. Daily, we were served delicious, healthy food, with vegetables, fruits, herbs and eggs gathered just hours before from the gardens. Prepared with love by Sasha, the French chef, and Franz, the center’s Neapolitan owner, the Italian-vegetarian food was abundant, flavorful and unforgettable. Both Sasha and Franz were exquisite cooks and perfect hosts, forever making sure that we were well-nourished, enjoying our stay and taking us on excursions to experience the most beautiful sights of Tuscany, including the Monteriggioni Castle, San Gimignano, Siena, Castellina in Chianti and the Roman Hot Springs.

Our morning alarm was the sound of the roosters, and we did our yoga in a sweet, rustic space that was once the horse stable. Daily, the horses would come by the yoga shala and observe – we weren’t sure if they were drawn by the energy of our practice or missing their former home. The gaggle of geese also made frequent visits, always watching patiently and curiously through the French doors of the shala (I have a new found love and respect for geese, until now, I’d never spent much time with them).

When we weren’t sight-seeing, doing yoga or enjoying fabulous food, we explored the land surrounding Ebbio with Emma, a lovely young American woman volunteering at the center as a WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). She guided our group on one of the many maintained hiking trails that looped through the forested property. We also enjoyed feeding the horses and donkeys, retrieving eggs from the hen house and relaxing in the warm sun on the many lawn chairs to take a nap or read.

Franz’ mother, who founded Ebbio 20 years ago, has infused the land and houses with her caring energy. A beautiful woman in her 60’s, she was at one time very close to Osho and is a Sannyasin. I had only a brief interaction with her, but during our conversation, I was in awe of her light, warmth and grace.

I’m hoping one day to return to Ebbio. Many thanks to all the friends who joined us there for the retreat, and our deepest gratitude to Franz, Sasha, Emma and all of the others who made our stay so special – Grazie Mille!