Silent retreats get a luxury makeover

Turning down the volume

Why silence is the new luxury.

Words by Ute Junker

Photos supplied

At first glance, there is nothing revolutionary about Eremito. Set in an atmospheric stone house in a secluded Umbrian Valley, this picturesque retreat – a member of Design Hotels – offers the soft landing you might expect from any boutique Italian hideaway, with little luxuries ranging from the expected (delicious local cuisine) to the unanticipated (the underfloor heating is a treat).

Marcello Murzilli, the hotelier who founded Eremito, is not interested in offering just another getaway, however. He wants to give his guests something different: the opportunity to retreat into themselves. “Eremito is like a contemporary monastery,” he says. “If you want to reset something in your life but you don’t want a monk, you don’t want a guru, come to Eremito.”

This approach is reflected not just in the bedrooms – sparsely-furnished single rooms – but in the absence of everyday distractions including mobile phones, wi-fi, even chatter. Guests at Eremito are encouraged to embrace silence as a tool. Talking is banned at mealtimes, although the after-dinner sessions around the fire include convivial conversation.

Yes, the silent retreat is moving out of the ashram and into the mainstream – perhaps not surprising in a world where the ability to disconnect is becoming a lost art. Stillness brings plenty of documented health benefits including healthy cell growth in the hippocampus, a decrease in the heart rate and a lowering of blood pressure. Devotees of silent retreats say they also lead to extraordinary clarity.

“If you just be still and stop talking, you can check in with what is going on inside your body and inside your mind. You can find answers to issues without thinking intensely about it,” says Caroline Sylger Jones. The founder of wellness website Queen of Retreats, Sylger Jones speaks from experience. “The silent retreat is my go-to. It’s the one retreat I always find solace in.”

Sylger Jones says that communal silence can be particularly powerful. “To step away from your personal back story and drop down into yourself within a community of people is amazing,” she says. “You feel supported by them in silence – it’s a really unexpected, grounding experience, very powerful.”

At Eremito, guests can join group walks and yoga classes or let their minds wander during a steam session or massage. Murzilli says that as recently as two years ago, his concept was regarded as eccentric, but it is now being embraced.

“Luxury is not about five or six stars any more, it is about experiencing the natural. Pure air, organic food, harmony in silence – that is the future of luxury.”

A version of this article first appeared in T Australia: the New York Times Style Magazine

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