A month ago I boarded an airplane to Pisa. From there, I took a train to Florence, spend a day strolling the streets filled with art I remember from 18 years ago, ate gelato&pasta, drank wine and went to bed alone. The next morning I waited outside the station for a group of ladies I never met. We just had one thing in common so far: we all booked a spot at the Ponderosa & Thyme clarity retreat. The first 2 women I met at that station would change my life and I didn’t even know it yet.
But the second Sonal with her beautiful smile passed the corner, spread out her arms and yelled: “there you are!”, I felt it: I’m supposed to be here. It was like we have been friends for years. The same thing happened with Pilar, that walked up to us a minute later. Together with them and 4 other amazing girls I stepped into a taxi and so our journey began.
WARNING: longest post I’ve ever written. Loads of photos and stories here! Just so you know haha :) And you’ll want to put on this song while you read it for the full experience!
Our destination: this jaw dropping gorgeous castle: Castello di Potentino. Set in the middle of Tuscany, surrounded by their own vineyard, cyprus trees, and overall beautiful nature, the venue alone is a dream. The inside is even better than outside, you’ll see in a bit. We got of the car, walked up the hill and there they were: team Ponderosa & Thyme!
A little background info: I have been following Katie (owner/artist of P&T, pictured above with her focus face haha) for more than 3 years now. And we have been online friends for two of those years. To finally see each other in person was so surreal and so normal at the same time. Same goes for the rest of the team: Sarah, Mark, James, Kim.. it just felt right instantly.
We all had different reasons to come, but kind of had the same goal: gain some perspective, get clarity, find a sense of peace. For me, it was mostly clarity about my upcoming rebrand. I’m shifting from styling to flowers (quite obviously haha!) and don’t always know what decisions to take. Also: sometimes I’m tired of taking all of them by myself. Working alone can be a blessing and a curse! So some help with those big decisions was more than welcome.
This week away in Tuscany, with a group of inspiring people, that landscape, the warm light, amazing food&wine, sweet animals (kittens!!) and the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen.. it was definitely more than I dreamed it would be! I mean, look at my bedroom and private bathroom in the photos below. HOW? I still can’t believe I got to live there for 5 days (which felt like a month, in the best way possible!).
I quickly realized this place was not for instagramming or using my phone all the time so I put it down, ignored all the sweet messages by my friends&family (sorry about that) and went 100% into my Italy bubble. I did bring my film camera with me at some points, which was a perfect fit for the more mindful pace.
Besides my personal view on the week I’d love to share what we did, in case anyone wants to know :) We had all kinds of creative sessions, talks and activities. All developed to reset our brains, learn about creative process and feel inspired.
On the first day we had brunch (have I mentioned the food?! omg) and some time to unpack and explore the castle. We also got a tour by Alexander, one of the owners, who served us more food afterwards. In the afternoon we watched Katie make a bouquet with foraged flowers from the castle grounds. So special to see her create art up close&personal!
Pilar and I got distracted by a good talk and kittens so we were a bit late, but before dinner we had a pretty fun wine tasting led by Charlotte, castle owner&chief wine. I can still smell that hint of violet ;)
Day 2: Waking up in that green room, with a glorious sunrise over the castle.. it felt like dream. I actually said to myself while I was in the bathtub (showering in there would have been an insult): ”this is a dream, this can’t be real..” and cried some happy tears looking up a gold chandelier on a painted ceiling, with cicadas singing in the background, realising it wás real. INSANE. I kept feeling that way throughout the entire week haha!
We started our day with a foraging walk around the castle, looking for stuff we could use for our bouquet session that afternoon. So fun to see all these different textures and flowers! I immediately fell for dried stuff, as usual. I tried adding some greenery, but it was quite clear: I needed to make a gold&copper coloured bouquet. Which is a nicer term for dead stuff haha! The clematis wreath you can see below I made by ‘accident’, while yanking the vines out of a tree (being tall has it’s perks). I think that was serendipity at work, because it looked like it belonged there the second I hang it on the wall.
We were all sweaty and overheated when we sat down for a business session with Katie&Sarah, about life strategy. So interesting! We could have talked for hours, if it wasn’t for the food :)
I had my 1-on-1 session with Katie after lunch and boy, does she know how to say the right things (and make you cry haha). Her kind&honest words have been echoing in my head ever since and will stay with me for much longer, I’m sure. She just saw me for who I really am, even the parts I didn’t realize myself. Like the teacher part. Which I fully embraced just before my first workshop!
The gesture drawing class led by James (a very talented artist, as well as the office manager/videographer of P&T) that afternoon was the perfect relaxing moment I needed. Nothing like sketching for the fun of it to stop a buzzing brain (also: a certain bug scene by the pool helped but that’s for insiders only).
During the bouquet session at sunset I watched the other girls design. Everybody had their own style, worked in their own way and it was so amazing to watch. Standing there, with my gold bouquet in the golden light, hearing the perfect music and looking out over the castle and all the happy faces.. I hate the term blessed, but I truly felt blessed. There’s no better word.
After another amazing dinner we had a group reflection and a few of us went to the pool for some stargazing (we could see the Milky way!). That night changed my life for reasons I can’t put into words. It was emotional, beautiful, hard, honest, raw, sad, vulnerable, brave and above all: full of love. Love for and by this new found sisterhood. It was a precious moment for all of us.
Are you still with me? Yay! No hard feelings if you’re just here for the pretty film photos. But I know some of you want to know ALL about the retreat! And as you might remember, I’m no minimalist so I’ll just keep talking and talking and talking hahaha! That’s one of the things I fully embraced that week: being my open, oversharing self. And it’s my own blog, so you can’t stop me anyway, mwuhahaha! ;)
Grab some tea and a snack because I’m barely halfway through! (eek!)
You see, the thing with such a glorious place is.. even when I went to bed at 3AM, I woke up at 6 and had to go out. Why? Because there was a stream of light coming through the shutters and I couldn’t wait to see the sunrise over the castle. So I jumped out of bed, grabbed my film camera and started capturing the first rays of sun. As you can see below: it was worth the 3 hours of sleep.
I didn’t sleep much at all that week, but I figured: I can sleep when I’m home ;) Complete fomo I guess. And I felt great (really great: energised, positive, light, all the things!) for a long time, although the sleep deprivation did hit me on Thursday. But we’re not there yet! Welcome to Wednesday: day 3!
Did you just scroll passed this photo without really looking? Look again.
How breathtaking is that sunrise?
100% homesick for the castle now.
We started with a flower meditation by Katie, again with foraged finds. James filmed it for Ponderosa Classroom Online on the spot and it was MAGICAL. Like everything that week, so I’m probably over-using the word when I talk about it all. But it really was magical. You can see the end result below but I definitely recommend becoming a member of PCO and watch the video online!
Later that morning we explored color charts with watercolor, had a finance session with Sarah and a spontaneous watercolor class by Sonal (who is a crazy talented painter herself). I drew, sketched and painted quite a bit when I was young but I kind of forgot about it. This was a good reminder on how much I actually like it! It also helps to put away those phones.. so much time left all the sudden! :)
The good times continued with a baking class by mister Big Wig Donuts: Mark. We made glutenfree plum galettes (soooo yummy) with plums we picked ourselves in the garden. We had our own little ‘bake off’ moment that afternoon, including stress about melted butter. All we needed was Mary Berry haha!
Since Katie used to (teach) dance, she decided to put down an optional activity in the schedule: aqua dancing. Aka she looked freaking amazing on the side of the pool, showing us all the steps, and we looked like we were drowning, trying to follow her lead. We did more laughing than dancing but at least we had our workout ;) These pool photos below are from a different day, but same incredible view!
Our dinner was pretty special that day. Because a friend of the castle: Mark Springer, a quite famous pianist, surprised us with a concert. Did I mention the word magic?! <3
We stayed in the dining room, drinking loads of the finest Potentino wine and chatting away, until it was Thursday. Too much fun.
Day 4, the day of my little breakdown. It started off so good with a hike to a waterfall, where we also did some foraging for our group installation. My Tarzan-fail moment, where I slammed my elbow into a rock while climbing down a security rope, aside. Whoops. My own fault though, I was just being dumb. I’m always covered in bruises because I bump into things, so nothing new here haha! New scar, new story to tell.
We melted a bit during the foraging part, walking up hill in 35 degrees (celsius) with bundles of branches and flowers. So the indoor branding session was more than welcome after that! Really inspiring to come up with things that fit your brand, like the taste of cinnamon and the smell of rosemary (in my case). Overflowing brain alert!
I used my ‘rest/playtime’ after lunch for something both useful and fun. At least for me, because I love it: foraging some more! Katie send out Mark&James for big stuff for our group install, I joined them and spend over an hour in the mid-day sun cutting down huge bushes. I had a blast though! I couldn’t breathe because I was a bit overheated when I got back but still: 100% worth it.
The only not-film photo in this post, because this photo of Mark with 1/6 of our haul is too good not to share :)
Part of our group worked on the install you can see below. We were balancing on the table, twigs in our faces and hair, living the florist life haha! The second I got down it was time for a group photoshoot. We all made a contribution to it, like a beautiful poem, handlettering, natural elements, a painting, all kinds of beautiful things. I was responsible for the styling part.
And then the lack of sleep, a day without any breaks and the heat got to me. I didn’t really appreciate the beauty that was in front of me, I didn’t know what I was doing, felt insecure and well.. all kinds of things I didn’t want to feel at that moment, in that place. As soon as the set was done and the shoot was going well I fled inside, into the cool castle air. Thank god for those thick walls. And more importantly: for honest talks with new friends, crying your heart out, a refreshing swim and all the love.
By the time we sat down for our final candlelight dinner, underneath our install, I felt so much better and everything was magic again.
I don’t want to share what I struggled with exactly, because that is for me and the people close to me. But I experienced something I already knew: we need each other. We need to open up to each other. Working alone, from home, makes me feel lonely sometimes. It can be hard to do everything on your own, to only talk to your cat (she talkes back though ;)) and be with your own thoughts. So having these sweet people around 24/7 all the sudden was a gift!
We ended our night under the stars again. This time, a bit less emotional. We made up constellations, drank wine, flashed our eyes to pieces with my instax camera, talked about wolves, spiders & dancing praying mantises, and laughed until our faces hurt. I think we all needed the lightness of that night.
The last morning, I felt it in my bones. It was almost time to say goodbye. And with a magical (there it is again!) morning, the castle wasn’t going to make this easy for me. Katie had another early morning mediation, this time with all dried flowers (I had some stuff left she was eyeing all week ;)). The music, Katies process, the feeling of friendship, the sheer beauty of the textures and colors together, the upcoming goodbyes, the tears came running back like there was a black Friday sale.
I have said and written many things about the retreat already, but the most special words I saved for my friends. Like I said: some of the people I met this week changed my life. And I’m not even being dramatic! Pictured below are two of them, Pilar&Sonal. I have never made friends that easy, of felt perfectly at home with someone I just met. I’m not going to share everything online, but I want to say this:
You mean the world to me. You made this retreat a life-changing experience. You filled my heart with grace, friendship and happiness. You made me feel whole again for the first time in long time. You made me love me, every single part of me, not just ‘the good stuff’. You made me realize it is all the good stuff. Your kind words will forever be in my heart.
You ARE the magic. Love=magic. Because above all other things: You are LOVE. You know who you are. You are part of my life now and I feel so lucky to have you!
I hoped to leave Italy with some direction, a clearer vision on my business and steps to take. Those things were all there. But I also left with friends for life, a completer self, a sense of belonging, the happiest feeling I’ve had in years and LOVE, so much love. I feel lighter than I felt in a long time, more confident in the path I’m taking, some people mentioned I’m glowing. And I know that I am. And I’m even more motivated to make a change in this world. To teach people about the beauty of nature, to create art, love and magic.
I cannot explain how all of this happened, but somewhere in between those inspiring creative sessions, the foraging, business strategies, honest talks, pool chillings, music, animals, wine and food.. it just did. And I’m very happy I caught some of those moments on film so they can live on forever.
That’s it friends, thanks for sticking with me until the end! And thanks to all the people at Potentino, the attendees and team for making this week a time I will never, ever forget.
If you have the chance to visit Castello di Potentino: please do. You won’t regret it. In the meantime: buy their wine and olive oil online so you can catch a glimpse of what it’s like.
And finally: Thank you Stefan, for gifting me this experience. No words for how grateful and humble I am.
Love you all,
PS: now go back to the song on youtube and watch the video because oof.. you’ll see!