Berry-red leaves festooned the ancient stone gateway and in the garden, summer-parched and autumn-bronzed leaves scuttled along the pathways. Swallows swooped overhead, and as I dozed in the mellow sunlight, the trees in the green valley below waved a gentle greeting in the breeze. Crafted out of a golden stone, Eremito is built to resemble an old monastery, full of arches and niches cradling candles and religious artefacts. There is a tiny chapel in a square tower, with a terrace outside commanding heavenly views of the restful countryside by day and of the stars by night. Communal meals are taken in a refectory, with an arched stone roof, wooden tables and simple cloths. Motes of sunlight drift lazily through the windows by day; at night, the silent dinners are eaten by flickering candlelight and served on heavy earthenware against a backdrop of soothing Gregorian chants. The (vegetarian) food is wholesome and tasty, with organic vegtables and herbs grown in the garden and bread, cakes and jams homemade on the premises.
This is Eremito and I was here for what the website describes as a digital detox, booked after I read an article singing the hotel’s praises in Psychologies magazine. With an emphasis on the solo traveller looking to recharge their batteries – couples are welcome, but there are no double rooms – the theme is spartan luxury, a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Entering the building through a heavy, stonewashed door to a long passageway strung with candles and with spiky twigs hanging from the ceiling like woody chandeliers, I was instantly transported to the magical world of Narnia. Rooms are called celluze or cells, and each is named after a saint. I stayed in San Bruno, and when I flung open my shuttered windows on my first morning, having arrived in darkness the night before, the view of the shadowy forested hills and the luminous trees edging the grassy terrace of the hotel had me gasping with delight. Inside the cells, soft lights glow in clever niches, the beds have iron frames in a bedknobs and broomsticks style, the uneven slabbed floor is bedecked with an almost penitential coir mat. Instead of the usual fluffy white gowns of a spa hotel, there is a hooded monk-brown robe. Yet the effect is cosy, comforting and gloriously restful, leaving you feel pampered with peace rather than with ostentatious treats. My pared back cells felt like a stone nest – a haven to retreat to every night and to linger in by day.
A peaceful structure of mealtimes marks out the day and in between, guests are left to their own devices, with owner Marcello urging us to ‘get boring’ and do not very much, taking a break from the busy-ness and digital distractions of our normal lives. In the evening, the spa is open, so if the mind-calming views and soul-stilling quiet haven’t soothed you enough, you can take further solace in the jacuzzi dug painstakingly out of solid rock and cloaking yourself in the swirling, scalding clouds of the steam room. The water in the jacuzzi is playfully multicoloured, a carousel of candyfloss froth, sometimes in a changing palette of reds, blues and greens, twinkling like children’s glitter, or, in keeping with the distinctly ecclesiastical surroundings, like stained glass, sometimes silvery-white like the wash of a ship. With its rock-hewn walls and the steam bath growling like a disgruntled volcano next door, the atmosphere is timeless and elemental.
Floating atop a green ocean of forest, Eremito is the brainchild of Marcello Murzilli, former fashion designer turned hotelier and secular spiritualist. Founder of successful Italian jeans company Charro, this is not his first hotel-with-a-difference. In the early 1990s he created the pioneering Hotelito Desconocido in Mexico, which ultimately belied its name as the little-known little hotel to become an internationally famous eco-lodge, to which celebrities flocked, despite its having no electricity (Marcello likes his candles!) and no professional chef. Eremito has electricity but no chef, though the food, prepared largely by Marcello’s lifelong friend, the beautifully calm Enzo, is delicious. After 14 years on the Pacific coast, Marcello sold Hotelito Desconocido, returned to his native Italy and designed the Eremito concept, a deliciously mad scheme that involved buying 3000 hectares of land, hacking an unpaved road up the hillside and building an ‘ancient’ monastery from scratch. Subtle signs hark back to his Mexican past, like the colourful painting behind the reception desk, the sombrero outside the refectory, and other decorations dotted around reflect his extensive travels. Blended together, they make for a harmonious whole.
So what of the digital detox? I found it blissful to abandon my relentless to do lists and a blessed relief to have nothing to achieve or accomplish. Instead I snoozed and stretched and sank my teeth into novels and steamed myself in the spa. The hotel has no wifi or TV (I didn’t miss either) and the mobile signal is scanty (though if you’re desperate you can find it intermittently). On two days of my stay, I was the only guest and I wallowed in the luxury of solitude. Tellingly, the one time I felt the pressure creep back in was when I left Eremito to meet a client friend in nearby Orvieto. I made the mistake of checking my email while waiting for him and was shocked by how quickly a vague sensation of anxiety grabbed at my chest with intrusive fingers – the upside being that it made me realise how relaxed I’d been feeling without the usual digital invasions.
Eremito’s website bills it as a small hotel for the soul. This encapsulates the experience you can have here if you allow your body, mind and soul to be cossetted by this unique hotel experience in a remote patch of Umbria. Its dazzling simplicity masks a huge amount of effort, planning and creativity. Dawdling in the tiny village of Cantare and as usual, slightly lost, a friendly local asked me if I was looking for a bella vista. There are gorgeous views aplenty both inside and outside Eremito. What you find when you look inside yourself in the quiet days you spend here – well, that’s your responsibility!
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