June 2011

Locanda del Gallo

Would you love to learn new things and meet new people? If you answered no, just keep watching TV. For the rest of us, the gateway drug to further education is the beautifully compact mini class. Seminars, retreats, courses, classes, oh my! I love em. The combination of travel and study is an excuse to stay in one zone and mingle at the markets and local bars which elevates your trip status to “heavenly”.

Italy is just bubbling with creativity bottled up and waiting to be served. Think photography workshops in Rome, cooking classes in Venice, writing workshops in Sicily, fashion design summers in Florence or yoga retreats in Umbria. Lovely.

Today I am pleased to share an interview with the industrious miss Danielle Diamond, an American who has cooked up some undeniably tempting Yoga retreats, in yes, the Umbrian countryside.

I snagged Danielle to give us the lowdown on her idea because her concept seemed to posses the right mix of art and soul (and gelato).

Bianca: Ciao Danielle! I always love the behind the scenes stories. Tell us how you came up with the idea to run a yoga retreat in Umbria?

Danielle: My best friend Ali Campbell and I are both yoga teachers who are obsessed with all things Italian; the food, the language, the landscape, and the people (especially Italian football players). She lived in Rome for two years and I had traveled there extensively, falling in love more each time. We envisioned a retreat for our students where they could have an amazing cultural experience while also delving deeper into their yoga practice with teachers they trust.

Me: The geography is very picturesque- describe the villa where you hold the retreats.

Danielle: We stay outside Perugia at Locando Del Gallo which is absolutely magical. From far off it appears as a picturesque castle with a breathtaking infinity pool overlooking the olive groves. Up close it is a beautifully restored welcoming villa where the owners have perfected every detail. There is gourmet healthy food and a relaxing new spa. I think their personal service rivals that of the Four Seasons concierge. I have been extremely lucky to travel the world in style, and I was very focused on finding a place where discerning travelers would feel pampered. The sheets are very soft!

Me: What about that particular environment keeps you coming back?

Danielle: I knew I had found my spiritual place the first time I walked into the yard and simultaneously took in the panoramic view and the smell of a hundred feet of rosemary bushes. When I  sat at the edge of the pool and looked across the valley at the other villas tucked in the hillside I felt a surreal sense of being in a movie with subtitles. In the evenings, after yoga in our glass studio overlooking the hills, we come back to chat on the lawn in plush chaise lounges with a glass of wine while wafts of  Italian cooking tempts us before dinner. Who could ask for a more perfect moment than that- and we get to do it 7 days in a row!

Me: Why make the trip all the way to Italy to practice yoga when there is a studio on every corner here in North America?

There is something so special about being out of your environment and on retreat. I go to Kripalu twice a year to deepen my practice and that is only two hours from my house. But because I remove myself from the daily grind I am able to truly relax. What makes a retreat so special is that there is no laundry to go home to, no kids needing to be shuffled around after school, and no deadlines- unless you are foolish enough to bring your computer. I am completely unplugged while there except for goodnight calls to my boys.  Being removed from our everyday responsibilities allows us to focus on parts of ourselves that we neglect when taking care of everyone else.  We can re-connect with our hopes, our dreams, and our true nature.  Going to a yoga class for an hour and then immediately doing errands or grabbing the subway to work just doesn’t cut it!

Me: Describe to me the typical day’s schedule at the retreat.

Danielle: We have villa days and travel days.

A typical villa day would be a morning vinyasa yoga class around 8:30 a.m. which is the more vigorous class of the day. Breakfast is served around 10:00. Then there is free time to explore the villa or have a massage and relax. We of course eat again, which  is  followed by free time and may include a cooking lesson. Around 5pm we practice yoga  in a more restorative type class. The evenings are always very relaxing with cocktails and a late dinner.

A trip day would consist of a 7:30 a.m. meditation followed by breakfast. We skip out for a day in Florence and return to the villa for dinner. A fire ceremony under the moon is planned after that!

Me: I feel there is some fantastic momentum in the air for this type of specialized service.  Do you see your idea expanding?

Danielle: I absolutely see the idea expanding. We are toying with the idea of a family retreat next fall. We both have young kids who love to travel and know we’re not alone in wanting to explore the globe with our family in tow. There is a certain niche for families who would love to experience the joy of a retreat within a family setting. The days would be filled with yoga for parents in the morning and  family yoga in the afternoon with pizza making classes and day trips to kid friendly sites to really encourage creative exploration with children.

Some future plans include investigating a spring retreat in the Dominican Republic for a group of maybe 10 people at an exclusive villa on the beach with daily yoga and possibly incorporating a raw foods chef  for our meals.

Me: Thanks Danielle for letting us pry into your thoughts and get a sense of what people can expect from a week with you.


Well friends, next time you are planning a trip, consider surrounding yourself with energetic, inspired people. Yeah, you can also find these types at 3am outside the local discoteca, but the health benefits might not be as profound. Surrounding yourself with people who love to experiment and practice new skills in an environment of creative interaction can fuel your imagination for months and years. It worked for me. I took a month long language course in Florence, and I gained new skills and friends for life. If you want to jump on The Umbrian yoga retreats that Danielle and Ali have designed for us, get going! Danielle runs regular classes stateside and her  approach to Yoga has won her accolades.  I would like to share with you a great shout out by Bobbi Brown.

Danielle is one of a kind. She lights up a room and has great energy which is incredibly infectious. Her classes are terrific and her new technique incorporating weights with yoga is genius. As an instructor, she is the perfect combination of both tough and gentle – so she pushes you while always being really encouraging. Plus, she’s an amazing cook and has tons of healthy recipes that she shares with her students.

Bobbi Brown, Founder and CEO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics

As of writing there are three spots available for this coming September 24th – October 1. Prices range according to room size and run between $1550-2400 U.S. and are inclusive of  meals, lodging and yoga classes.  You can find all the juicy details here.

CHECK THIS OUT:  The first person who grabs a remaining spot on this retreat will also receive a free 1 on 1 consult and personal itinerary for the Cinque Terre from moi.  This is a $125.00 value. My offer ends July 20, 2011

Currently flights out of Vancouver cost roughly $1200.  From LA they are $1100 and NY has some deals for $700.

Your hosts in Umbria- Danielle Diamond (right) and Ali Campbell (left) in the photo below.

Umbria Yoga

umbria yoga

umbria yoga

Umbria yoga

Umbria Yoga

Umbria Yoga

I would love to hear your experiences with mini courses and classes in the comments below. If anyone has participated in one of Danielle and Ali’s retreats or is planning to it would be fab to hear your feedback. Grazie!

Photo credits: Ali Campbell (via students Barbara Martire, Sara Martire). Photos 5&6 by Danielle Diamond.


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Photos: Italy In Greyscale

by Bianca Gignac

Jeff Curto is one of those people who never misses a great opportunity for a photograph. He has been showing people how to do the same through his photography classes in Italy. In the last couple months he has taught in Rome, Umbria,  and Tuscany. Not a bad gig.

Capturing the architectural landscape of Italy with his lens has been his passion for over 20 years.  Jeff shared these photos from his collection titled Evidence of Hands on Stone. What captured my interest with this particular portfolio is the timelessness. They could have been taken 50 years ago or yesterday. There is nothing in the scene that denotes a particular time frame. In Italy and in life I take a million photos that I think will be great, but they’re not.  Also, with the proliferation of groovy apps it makes taking phone photos a snap, but it’s very difficult to get a photo not illustrative of the year you took it and the media which captured it. They will all look dated in 5 years.

I think Jeff’s photos have a sense of being exactly what we hold in our minds eye of  Italy, and I like that.

All photos taken by Jeff Curto. The full portfolio is here.


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Fantastic Villa Delle Sirene is carved into the terraces slopes of the Amalfi coastline. Whitewashed exteriors and Mediterranean blues are indicative of a relaxed tempo. While this  modern home is designed to indulge, it’s charm lies in the stripped down relaxed cool of  Mediterranean vernacular architecture.

What I love about this home is the amazing outdoor living spaces dotted around the property enabling the  residents to take advantage of the shade as the light shifts throughout the day. But hey, when the heat becomes overpowering just saunter down the steps to your private jetty access and have a dip. Caterina at Ville in Italia can arrange your week at this villa if you’re feeling rockstar.

Many people dream of staying in a villa when visiting Italy. If you shop around it may not be as expensive as you think. If you are planning to arrange a group stay it can be a great way to have some privacy and cooking facilities. A little gem in Sicily I also have my eye on is called Villa Firriato, which has reasonable rates during spring and fall.

Have you ever rented a villa in Italy? Do you have any rave reviews? I would love to hear your experiences.

Amalfi coast rental, villa italy, holiday


amalfi coast, villa italy, vacation rental


amalfi coast, villa italy, vacation rental


amalfi coast, villa italy, vacation rental


amalfi coast, villa italy, vacation rental




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