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13.11.2019. Le Sirenuse
Let’s start with the rainbow. It appeared as the group descended the Path of the Gods on a windy final day when the rain and the sun played tag with each other. The sun was winning when we turned a corner and saw the shimmering arcobaleno, as Italians call it, caught in the droplets of a shower on the other side of a rocky ridge that was arclit by the low November sun. The pot of gold looked as if it was right there on the beach of Positano, just below the famous stack of houses that were briefly daubed red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, until the rain shifted and the vision faded.
That same stack of houses was the backdrop for Elena Brower’s restorative dawn and dusk yoga and meditation sessions, which took place in the long, main space of Le Sirenuse’s La Sponda restaurant. It felt a little odd at first doing downward dog or pigeon poses on the floor in a room that, for most hotel guests, is a candlelit venue for romantic dinners. But the strangeness soon wore off. In fact, gently coached and coaxed by Elena, we soon discovered what a perfect venue this was. The waves breaking on the beach below provided the soundtrack and merged with the rhythm of our breathing, while the play of light on the church dome and townhouses of Positano brought beauty and wonder into the room.
There’s no denying that the morning treks, led by local trail runner Giovanni ‘Ironman’ Cuccaro and his team of guides, were tough. On the Amalfi Coast, many of the footpaths that connect coastal towns like Positano with their mountain cousins are flights of steps with barely a single flat stretch. Around 1,700 steps separate Nocelle village church from the coast road below: that’s the Empire State Building (1,576 steps) and then some. It doesn’t exactly help to be told that the inhabitants of Nocelle, young and old, would negotiate this ‘stairway to heaven’ several times a week before the remote village was finally reached by a paved road in 2001. They were used to it; we weren’t. And strangely, going down all those stairs was often more taxing on the calves, quads and knees than going up.
But despite the uncertain weather, the rewards were great. Once we were up high enough, we were able to turn onto one of several flat or gently undulating balcony footpaths that connect the high villages and pastures. We were regaled with stunning views down the coast in both directions. Wild cyclamens nodded beneath stands of oak and chestnut, while mushrooms, encouraged by the rain, sprouted everywhere (one of our guides, Fabio, explained which were good to eat and which should be avoided at all costs).
On day one, we climbed to the ‘Buco di Montepertuso’, a natural pierced rock that locals ascribe to a contest between the Devil and the Virgin Mary. A cute black and white dog who had been just hanging out here followed us all the way back down to Positano, where he seemed equally at home. On day three, we braved the weather on a gentle walk to the lighthouse of Punta Campanella, and were rewarded, when the clouds lifted a little, by views of Capri right there across the water. On Thursday, which dawned fine and bright, we climbed to the viewpoint of Monte Comune – accompanied again by our canine friend – to find that Le Sirenuse’s head gardener and repository of arcane plant lore, Nello Trapani, had set up an impromptu snack dispensary at the mountain’s highest point and was serving up wholemeal bread bruschetta dotted with lemon zest and rosemary and drizzled with just-pressed olive oil.
What’s the best afternoon follow-up to a challenging morning trek? There are probably several answers to that question that involve words like ‘sleep’, but at Dolce Vitality the correct response is ‘A couple of vigorous gym workouts’. Trainers Francesca and Alessandra helped us work all those muscles that hadn’t been activated earlier in the day (plus a few that had). Thank goodness for the massages, deftly coordinated by spa manager Silvana. Rarely has the laying of hands felt so necessary and good. Evening yoga and meditation, as clouds scudded across the purple sky behind Positano’s stack of houses, felt positively restful after all that exercise – thanks to Elena, who listened to our tired bodies and adapted her lessons accordingly. One evening we all began the lesson with legs propped up vertically against a wall, a blessed relief once the hamstrings got used to the stretch. Mindful body and breath work merged seamlessly into stress-relieving meditation, lulled and cradled by the sound of the waves. This mind-freeing and attention-sharpening meditation work was a revelation for many of us, a holistic closure of the Dolce Vitality circle.
And then, of course, there was the food. Crafted by Le Sirenuse’s executive chef Gennaro Russo with the aid of health coach Valentina Dolci, the vegan menu was a delight. At first the portions seemed decidedly small, especially on day one, as our appetites and expectations adjusted. But already on the second day, a breakfast of low-sugar granola with homemade almond milk seemed positively indulgent, especially when it was followed up by pasta for lunch (not real pasta of course – it was made from lentil flour and served with a thyme-infused broccoli pesto). Some of the group had problems with caffeine withdrawal, but these had passed by midweek. Sure, conversations kept coming back to food, and there was plenty of talk about what we were all planning to eat when the week was over (Neapolitan pizza got several votes). But the zing and glow of eating healthily, exercising, practising yoga, sleeping like babies, and being on top of the world each morning, was better than any sugar rush and carb load.
The most memorable and lasting aspect of Dolce Vitality Fall 2019 was the group spirit, the bonding that came from doing all this together. As we became a team, as we became attuned to each other, firm friendships were formed, and the WhatApp group set up so we could all post our pictures soon took on a life of its own, running well beyond the end of the retreat as we shared memories and recipes, and carried Dolce Vitality’s lessons back into our daily lives. In this uncertain, difficult world, this too is an achievement.
Dolce Vitality March 2020 is booking now