Write, Travel, Transform: Tuscany
Tentatively scheduled for 5-15 June, 2022
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, all of my in-person retreats have been temporarily suspended. This page will always have the most up-to-date information about their availability. You can scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to be notified about future opportunities to write and travel with me in person.
In the meantime, to learn about my online offerings during the pandemic, you can go to this page.
Located in central Italy, Tuscany is home to stunning landscapes, world-class food and the historic cities of Florence & Siena. It’s a place of art, delicious local dishes, Chianti wines and charming hilltop towns.
Tuscany is famous for many things, but of all its qualities, the countryside is perhaps the most remarkable. Whether you are walking the vineyard trails, or driving a winding road to one of the hilltop towns, its hills, valleys and cypress trees always seem to arrange themselves into an exquisite view. Each one more impressive than the next.
The retreat takes place at Villa I Bonsi, located 400m above sea level in the beautiful Tuscan hills, 45 minutes away from the magical city of Florence. Originally built in the fifteenth-century, the Villa estate covers hundreds of hectares filled with olive groves, vineyards and forest.
The Villa belongs to a noble Florentine family who dedicated themselves to restoring it to its original glorious state after it was occupied by Germans during WWII. Between the rolling hills, the wild white peacocks strolling free on the grounds, and the air of Florentine history, one has plenty to inspire and awaken the senses.
Olive trees on the estate produce one of the finest olive oils in the world. Grapes from the expansive vineyards are used to produce delicious organic wine. The land also produces fine raw honey, seasonal garden vegetables, and its own “Vinsanto” – a delicate white dessert wine that is traditionally aged in oak barrels for at least five years. Simply divine!
Writing, Yoga, Mindfulness, and Cultural Exploration
There will be a writing workshop every day except for the two days we go on all-day outings. Laura Davis will help you sharpen your powers of observation and ability to write vivid description. You will learn to record your experiences and insights with clarity and depth, facilitating a richer travel experience. We will also use writing practice, developed by Natalie Goldberg, to discover our "wild mind" and tap our deep creativity.
Beginning and experienced writers are welcome, but since the material in the class builds progressively, this will not be a drop-in class.
Each morning before breakfast, Karen Zelin will offer an hour of meditation and yoga instruction. Whether you are new to yoga and meditation practice or you are an ongoing practitioner, the classes are designed to help you stay grounded, and to help you integrate your travel and writing experience. You will learn the Four Foundations of Mindfulness practice, explore compassion and impermanence, and gain new skills for meeting life, on and off the travel path.
Meditations will include body scans, awareness of breath, working with pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and guided awareness of thoughts and feelings. The yoga will offer simple instruction, no matter your level of yoga experience.
Beginners at yoga and meditation are welcome.
Most days, we'll have an hour-long yoga/mindfulness class and a 2.5 hour writing class, as well as time for relaxation, exploration and rest.
A typical day will look like this:
8:00-9:00 AM: Yoga and Mindfulness Class with Karen Zelin
9:00-10:00 AM: Breakfast
10:00-10:30 AM: Free
10:30-1:00 PM: Writing Workshop with Laura Davis
1:00-2:30 PM: Lunch
2:30-5:00 PM: Personal Time: Siesta, Journaling, Pool Time
5:00-8:00 PM: Late Afternoon Activities (varies by day)
8:00-10:00 PM: Dinner
A highlight of this experience is time shared with your new community of writers. Whether you walk in the vineyards or participate in our daily mindfulness/yoga class, you’ll have the chance to relax, rejuvenate and share with others. Here are some of the wonderful opportunities we’ve created for you.
Note: All activities on this tour are subject to change. There may be unique opportunities we can take advantage of in the moment. Participating in one of these opportunities may preclude doing something that’s already on the itinerary or change the sequence of activities. Weather may also cause changes to our itinerary. In case any activity must be canceled, another similar activity will be substituted if possible. There will be no refunds for any activities that participants do not attend. Anyone who leaves the tour itinerary at any time FOR ANY REASON will be responsible for their own costs and safety.
Who This Trip is For:
Although this is a retreat designed with writers in mind, this isn't a retreat where you hole up and write for most of the day. Rather, this trip is designed for people who are looking for something other than an intensive writing retreat. Our itinerary features excursions and daily opportunities to actively explore Tuscany’s natural, cultural, and culinary treasures. Writing, yoga and mindfulness are the tools that will help you integrate this relaxing, immersion experience.
Non-Writing Spouses and Friends are welcome to join our trip. They are free to use the hours of writing class for rest, relaxation, photography, painting, exploration on their own, unexpected adventures, or whatever else they enjoy doing while on vacation.
Physical Requirements: This trip is designed for anyone in reasonable physical health, capable of walking at a relaxed pace for one to two hours at a time, able to traverse uneven terrain without the kind of assistance we take for granted in the US, like hand railings or standard step heights.
To see Italy at ground-level requires walking, and we will walk on dirt roads or cobblestone at various times during the trip. Plan to wear sturdy and supportive footwear: tennis or walking shoes.
Just about everybody will feel sleepy during the day from the time change, which is why we include midday siestas in the schedule. We highly recommend arriving in Florence at least a few days before the retreat to help you acclimate to your new schedule.
Laura Davis: Writing Teacher
The author of seven non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. Laura’s groundbreaking books have sold more than 1.8 million copies around the world. Laura has also worked as a columnist, talk show host, radio reporter, radio producer, blogger, editor and speaker. Words have always been at the core of her work and her self-expression.
Laura has been mentoring and supporting writers for the past 20 years. It is truly the work of her heart: “I love teaching. I love watching my students find their natural voice and their rhythm. I love it when they find their true stories and discover the courage to put them on the page. I feel like a midwife as my students birth their stories, and I feel honored to witness their bursts of creativity and pure life energy pouring out on the page. Our writing circles are safe places where skills are honed, tears and laughter are welcome, and each writer is seen, heard and deeply known.”
Currently, Laura leads weekly writing groups and retreats in the Santa Cruz, CA region, as well as retreats internationally. She has taken writers to Bali, Scotland, Greece, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Peru. She documents these trips to the delight of many readers in her blog, The Virtual Vacation. You can read about her past trips to Bali, Scotland and Peru. You can read a wonderful interview with Laura here.
Praise for Laura
Laura is a phenomenal, soul-based, sensitive, thoughtful, considerate teacher. She did a great job creating group safety and community.
--Si Steinberg, Boise, Idaho
Laura is a master of her craft. Her prompts and introductory guidance really opened up my writing in a way that delighted me. I found Laura to be abundant with wisdom. Amazingly, she showed up for us fully when she wasn’t well, and this is real leadership.
--Doug Wallace, Mill Valley, California
I loved the writing circle—the prompts, the practice. Laura guides you and frees you to find your own voice. I learned some powerful new techniques I will take home with me. I feel energized personally and as a writer.
--Lucie Eggleston, Columbia, South Carolina
Laura is my favorite writing teacher. She creates a safe environment and balances instruction with the freedom to be your own creative self.
--Joyce Bartlett, Marblehead, Massachusetts
Laura is an incredibly gifted and talented writer and teacher. Her compassionate, no-nonsense approach provides a safe container for her students to explore their innermost landscapes. I loved the camaraderie and the encouragement I felt in her writers’ group.
--Michelle Walters, Sacramento, California
Laura enables me to tap into places that reveal things I didn’t know about myself. Through her techniques, I have been able to transform and expand as a person and as a writer.
--Carol Foster, Santa Cruz, California
Laura is an intelligent, compassionate teacher with the skill and resources to inspire a group of diverse people to write their truths and share them with each other.
--Annie Hampford, Connecticut
Laura knows how to inspire the best writing. She taught me see with my writer’s eye and to add more detail to what I notice when I travel. She taught me to jot down notes, guiding me to wonder and question. I will keep Laura’s voice, her questions, poems and encouragement on my shoulder every time I sit down to write.
--Nancy Brown, Bonny Doon, California
Laura is skilled at creating a safe environment in which to explore and discover your hidden stories. She helped me turn off my critic so I could more easily let my words flow.
--Tamara Myers, Santa Cruz, California
Laura is solid and reliable. She believes in her own wisdom regarding the writing path and communicates her teaching in a way that brings others into the practice. I loved having the space and acceptance to be authentic in her writing circles.
--Kendra Dorfman, Santa Cruz, California
Laura was born to teach her classes. She excels at it.
--Alaina Olson, Charlton, Massachusetts
Laura sets up a stimulating framework for all writers. For me, it was her acceptance, even encouragement of deviations, of coloring outside the lines, that kept me juiced.
--Glen Brown, Santa Cruz, CA.
I’ve done free writing before, but I’ve never felt so free. I was able to access content I usually avoid. Laura’s class provided a phenomenal way to tap my inner resources and to gain access to deeper levels of myself. I loved reading to the group and being held by the group. What a magnificent way to grown through writing and as a writer!
--Si Steinberg, Boise, Idaho
Laura is a very gifted teacher, extremely skilled at creating a safe space for her students.
--Juliana Quinn, Columbia and California
Laura is a seasoned skilled group facilitator, thoughtful and just flexible enough. I loved Laura’s bag of writing tricks. I only wish I could have received more of them!
--Kim Steinberg, Boise, Idaho
Thank you, Laura, for all you do, all that you are and all that you help midwife into the world. I will carry memories of this trip with me always.
--Michelle Walters, Sacramento, California
I find Laura gifted, creative, responsive, honest, real and dedicated. I appreciated her commitment to the group and to helping build a rich community.
--Brook Stone, Mill Valley, California
Graseilah’s passion for creating enriching educational experiences has been as diverse as her interests and background. She has led and organized international conferences and retreats for over 10 years. She has hosted events for a wide variety of groups and organizations such as the United Nations, the US government, the University of California, and many other organizations in the defense and space arena. Graseilah is the founder and host of Epic Gatherings, an international community of health enthusiasts and adventurers who come together every year to enjoy culinary and lifestyle pleasures in Italy.
Graseilah has a Master’s degree in International Policy and Bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Economics. She’s also an alumna of the Global Startup Program at Singularity University at NASA-Ames.
In her free time, Graseilah acts as a Transformational Nutrition ambassador and is on a mission to help people live healthier lives. Graseilah is fluent in Italian, Spanish and English. She is also proficient in French and Portuguese. She currently resides in Santa Cruz, CA with her beloved husband and continues to travel the world.
Praise for Epic Gatherings, Tuscany
The retreat surpassed all my own expectations: from the food to the people, the mentors, and everything that I was learning everyday…I leave with so much gratitude and a full heart. This is the type of experience you want to have at least once in your life.
It was so wonderful to start from the one feeling full of life energy and hope for the future. I mistakenly thought it would not be until “the end” of the retreat that I would feel the benefit. Rather, by the end my heart was as full as it has ever been. I came away with rich relationships, heartfelt revelations, and a sense of well-being I can share with the world around me.
I love places with soul, history and heart, Epic Tuscany has all of that. It was truly an epic experience to live the Italian lifestyle and see why so many people are centenarians. I will definitely come back to this retreat.
--Dr. Liz Esalen
I had an amazing time at Epic Tuscany. Being in such a majestic villa was one of the many highlights. Such a beautiful landscape with all the gardens, olive groves, vineyards and the old architecture… it really was epic. It was so special to be in a place with so much history that still keeps ancient traditions alive for making olive oil, wine and living from the land.
This retreat was exactly what I needed to get away from my high stress job and reconnect with what’s really important: uninterrupted life enjoyment, taking care of my body and sharing beautiful moments with awesome people. I’m SO coming back!
Karen Zelin has been a teacher and student of yoga, mindfulness and meditation for the past twenty-five years. She is one of the owners/teachers of Yoga Within in Aptos, California and a community teacher at Insight Santa Cruz, a Buddhist meditation center. She teaches regular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes at Dominican Hospital as part of their community education program.
Karen has trained at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, in Judith Lassater’s Relax and Renew Certification program, and at the Spirit Rock Yoga & Mindfulness Certification program. Her long-time yoga teacher is Kofi Busia.
Karen’s teaching draws from her extensive training, years of experience and deep grounding in her own practice. Classes are designed to bring compassion to the body/mind, while increasing awareness, steadiness and flexibility. In her classes, you will learn yoga poses, and get a taste of philosophy, anatomy, and mindfulness. It’s all connected.
Karen and Laura have been friends for 40 years and have dreamed of teaching a retreat together for a long time. You will benefit from their long and deep collaboration!
Karen lives in Santa Cruz, California with her husband, Bill, has two grown sons, and loves being a part of the thriving yoga/mindfulness and art/writing community.
Praise for Karen
Karen is a wonderful & kind yoga teacher—meeting people at their own pace and level, while at the same time challenging us to deepen and grow.
A fabulous mindfulness and yoga teacher, Karen brings her presence, love and wisdom to every class she teaches. Her classes are an open and supportive learning environment where you can meet yourself with compassion and understanding.
--Bob Stahl, Ph.D.
I’ve been studying with Karen for eleven years. Her teaching emphasizes the deep connections within the body, the heart and the world around us. Her yoga teaching is precise, nuanced, inspiring and kind.
Florence: Pick-up and Drop off: Our remote piece of paradise is not easily accessible by public transportation, which is why we have arranged a complementary shuttle service to take us to and from the retreat as a group. Our pick-up spot will be close to central Florence, but just outside the city center to avoid traffic.
Please plan to be at our pick-up spot by 2pm on June 2nd, 2021
Pick-up Location: Hotel Loggiato Dei Serviti, Florence - see Google Maps.
If you are coming from overseas, we suggest arriving in Florence at least 2 nights before the retreat. We highly encourage you to take a few days to visit the magical city of Florence while acclimating. Even if you have visited before, it’s absolutely worth every minute.
Round-trip transportation from Florence to the Villa is included in your registration fee. If you are unable to arrive at the pick-up spot on time, you’ll need to arrange and pay for your own transportation to the Villa. In this case, please let us know as soon as possible.
Please do not book your return flight in the morning or afternoon of June 12th. If you do, you’ll miss our final closing session, and will also be responsible for arranging for and paying for your own transportation back to Florence.
TIP: We recommend that you stay in Florence at least one last night after the retreat.
Flights: Florence is well-connected with the rest of Italy and Europe. It is easy to get to by air, land or rail. Both Florence (FLR) and Pisa (PSA) airports have easy access into the center of Florence, 15 to 60 minutes away depending on which airport. Pisa Airport generally has more options, with direct flights from London and all other major European cities. Try to avoid flying into London Heathrow (LHR) and having to bus to Gatwick (45 min).
Flying into Rome is also an option, continuing on to Florence by air or rail. Transfer by train to Florence takes roughly 2 hours but requires a transfer from the Fiumicino airport to Roma Termini (30 mins) then a speed train into Florence (1.5 hours).
We encourage you to book your flights with our extraordinary and very wonderful travel planner, Linda, so arrival times, departure times, and ground transportation can be coordinated. Linda can also help you if you want to arrive sooner, leave later, or add other destinations into your itinerary.
Linda is available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9:30 am until 5 pm and is on Pacific Time:
Pacific Harbor Travel
519 Seabright Ave #201
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
Travel Insurance: Travel insurance is required for this trip. It needs to cover any medical expenses that occur during your trip and should also cover trip cancellation, in case illness or injury prevents you from going on the trip.
Most companies require that you get the insurance soon after signing up. If you do not buy your insurance soon after you book the trip, pre-existing conditions may not be covered. Depending on your needs, most policies cost $100 to $650. If your needs are more complex, our travel agent can help you find a suitable policy.
More information about trip insurance will be sent after you register.
Passports, Visa and Health: A passport is required, valid six months from date of entry. No special visas are required for US citizens.
Accommodations are held in charming apartments with double or single bedrooms and a shared living-room with fireplace. Apartments are located in a seventeenth-century building attached to the main Villa, historically used as a convent. Its original structure has been meticulously and elegantly maintained for an authentic experience.
ALL 10 NIGHTS OF LODGING ARE INCLUDED WITH YOUR REGISTRATION.
Accommodations are simple with an old world charm. You'll feel like you’ve stepped back into the era of the “Grand Tour” with the beautiful period furniture.
Participants will enjoy exclusive access to Villa amenities including the elegant gardens, stunning pool overlooking the Tuscan countryside and miles of olive groves and vineyard trails.
NOTE: If you choose a spot in a double occupancy room, you will have the opportunity to give us the name of your roommate at registration. If a roommate is not chosen through the registration system, we will do our best to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If we cannot find you a roommate, you will need to upgrade to a single room. Please note that guests will not be able to choose roommates at check-in.
There are three accommodation options available:
Double-Occupancy Room with Two Twin Beds and Shared Bath
Per person based on double occupancy. You can bring a spouse or a friend, or we can help you find a roommate. For couples, the two twin beds are pushed together, European style.
Private Room with Shared Bath
Per person based on single occupancy.
3. SINGLE PLUS
Private Room with Private Bath
Per person based on single occupancy.
Traditional Tuscan Cuisine
Taking time and enjoying ‘slow’ meals in community are invaluable components for aging gracefully, happily and fulfilled. This is an integral part of this trip’s experience — and Italians are not new to this concept!
On most days, you will enjoy three daily multi-course meals during the retreat. Lunches will be served outside on the terrazza that overlooks the main garden. The dining room is located inside the main Villa — a seventeenth century room where you will feel like royalty!
The menu is filled with ancient Mediterranean flavors that Italian centenarians have enjoyed for generations.
The dishes are a celebration of the Tuscan lifestyle. They strive for creating local traditional recipes – not following the latest fads.
They use organic, fresh, seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.
*Please note that grains and grain products, such as bread and pasta, barley, spelt, oats, etc. are important and prevalent components of Italian cuisine. Our team is able to make reasonable accommodations for gluten and dairy free options upon request. However, if you have a severe allergy to gluten or any other kind of severe allergy, this experience may not be the right fit for you. Please be sure to discuss your needs with our team before making your reservation.
Click to view a sample menu …and just keep scrolling!
How Many Participants Do You Accept at the Retreat?
We work on delivering an experience that is intimate, with enough time for quality interaction and support. We are making only 20 spots, with a minimum of 10.
How Many Days Will I Need to Take Off?
We’ve found that the sweet spot for this retreat is 10 nights. You will need to take off 10 days for the retreat and 2 days for traveling on either side, for a total of fourteen days minimum. If you are new to this piece of paradise, you will want to explore Florence and all the charming hilltop towns nearby (before and/or after the retreat), so keep that in mind. You can also easily combine this retreat with other European destinations.
How Much Does It Cost Per Person?
Pricing varies on your accommodation selection. Please see registration section for price details. NOTE: The cost is the same even if someone is not participating in the writing portion of the trip.
Do I Need to Put a Deposit Down to Secure My Reservation?
Yes. Once registration opens, you may secure your spot with a $1000 non-refundable deposit as part of your registration. You may do this by clicking on your accommodation preference and selecting the deposit option.
Should I Plan to Spend the Night in Florence Before Pick-Up Day?
Yes. That’s always a safe bet. The courtesy shuttle to the Villa leaves on Sunday in the early afternoon. The date and time are posted in the travel section.
For those traveling a long way, we encourage you to arrive in Florence several days earlier to help you adjust and get over the jet lag, as well as give you time to warm up to a new culture.
Can I Get a Direct Flight to Florence from the US?
No, most airlines will have you connect to a major European city like Frankfurt, London, Paris or Rome. Please refer to our travel section for more travel tips.
Can I Rent a Car Instead and Drive Myself to the Villa?
Yes. However once at the retreat, you will not need a car. If you are staying in the city center of Florence before or after the retreat, a car isn’t necessary either. In fact, cars are more of headache given that most streets in Florence are for pedestrian use only. Renting a car for personal use is entirely up to you depending on what you plan to do before or after the retreat.
Can I Extend My Stay Beyond the Retreat?
No, it is not possible to stay at the Villa beyond our retreat dates.
I Still Have a Few Questions. Can I Talk to Someone?
Absolutely! We love hearing from potential participants and answering any questions you may have to see whether or not our retreats are right for you. Feel free to contact us.
Our 10-day Trip Includes:
- Lodging for 10 nights at a tranquil charming Villa apartment
- Round-trip transportation from our meeting point in Florence to the Villa. Please consult the schedule for pick-up and return info.
- Writing workshops with Laura almost every day
- Yoga and mindfulness instruction with Karen every morning
- Locally sourced traditional meals, freshly prepared by our Epic chef and curated by our in-house nutrition guru and host. Including:
- A casual welcome gathering with aperitifs
- Healthy breakfast each morning
- Daily lunches in the garden, except for two while we are out exploring the area
- Family-style dinners inside the elegant Villa or outside under the myriad of stars (weather permitting)
- Fresh juice and healthy snacks during session breaks
- Access to Villa amenities including the elegant gardens and stunning pool overlooking the Tuscan countryside
- Cooking lessons on Italian cuisine
- A truffle hunt with a professional truffle hunter and his dogs in the hills surrounding Montespertoli
- Afternoon medicinal teas at the Villa
- Vineyard trip with a wine tasting and tour of its castle
- A day trip to the towered, medieval city of San Gimignano
- A tour to explore the making of organic, locally grown Laudemio olive oil
- Local guides for many of the activities
- Tips for activities and drivers included on the itinerary
- A supportive, relaxed and nurturing environment
- A wonderful experience of community and connection with a creative, adventurous group of fellow travelers
- Multiple opportunities for deep relaxation, personal insight, pleasure, intimacy, adventure and joy
What's Not Included:
- Round-trip flight to and from Florence
- Overnight accommodations in Florence, if necessary for your flight itinerary
- Transportation from your airport to our meeting place in Florence and back at the end of the trip
- Two lunches
- Personal, medical or trip cancellation insurance.
- Souvenir shopping
- Personal phone calls.
- Bottled water, alcoholic drinks not included in the wine tasting or extra snacks
- Extra taxis
How Do I Sign Up For This Amazing Adventure?
Write, Travel, Transform:
Writing, Yoga, Mindfulness, and Cultural Exploration in Tuscany
Tentatively scheduled for 5-15 June, 2022
Cost: $5800 for double occupancy based on two people sharing a twin-bedded room at the Villa. Accommodations are European style; if you’re a couple and want to have one bed, it may be two twins pushed together. Bathrooms for the double-occupancy rooms are typically outside the bedroom, shared with one or two other rooms. PLEASE NOTE: These prices are for the 2020 trip and have not yet been updated for 2021 so are subject to change at this time.
Single Room Supplement: There are two types of single room upgrades. The first is a single with a shared bath that costs an additional $600. The second is a single plus with a private bath that costs an additional $950. PLEASE NOTE: These prices are for the 2020 trip and have not yet been updated for 2021 so are subject to change at this time.
Roommates: If you're traveling alone and would like a roommate, we'll do our best to find you a compatible person. If we can't match you up with someone, you'll will be placed in a single with a shared bath and charged the supplement of $600.
Size of Trip: This is an intimate vacation, limited to 20 people, with a minimum of 10.
Payment Schedule: A non-refundable deposit of $1000 is due with registration. A second payment of $2400 is due on November 15, 2020. The final balance of $2400, plus any supplements, will be due February 1, 2021.
Small Group Supplement: We will take a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 travelers. If we end up with 13 or fewer people, you will be charged a small group supplement of $300 at the time of your final payment.
Cancellations and Refunds: The initial $1,000 non-refundable deposit will be forfeited in all cases. A cancellation fee of $2,400 (this includes your initial deposit) will be collected between November 15, 2020 and February 1, 2021. After February 1st, there will be no refunds. Exceptions to this cancellation policy cannot be made for any reason, including personal emergencies. Travel protection insurance will provide your only option for recouping your investment in the trip.
We reserve the right to cancel the trip if it is not meeting the trip minimum. If we cancel, everything you've paid will be refunded.