Published by Telegraph Travel, November 2017
Eremito Hotelito del Alma, Umbria, Italy: 8/10
Monastic life is not for everyone, but a luxurious hermitage-come-design-hotel imagined by an ex-fashion designer and buried deep in the Umbrian hills holds wider appeal. Designed with solo travellers in mind, this ‘little hotel of the soul’ is the perfect restorative escape from the modern world.
Owner Marcello Murzilli went to extreme lengths to guarantee unspoilt peace and tranquility by purchasing an entire valley and constructing his modern monastery, stone by stone, at its heart. The nearest village (Cantone) is an hour’s walk away, while the pretty town of Parrano is 20 minutes away by car. For those arriving by car, it’s a simple enough drive from the Fabro exit of the A1 toll road to a designated pick up zone using the hotel’s detailed directions; a 4×4 then drives the last 20 minutes up near vertical white tracks to Eremito. Pick ups can also be arranged from Fabro-Ficulle station, where there is a direct route to both Rome Termini (1 hour 30 minutes) and Florence Santa Maria Novella (1 hour 50 minutes).
It feels centuries-old, but Eremito is actually a new build. The hermitage was built from the ground up using traditional masonry techniques while also embracing technology by way of state-of-the-art underfloor heating and an efficient solar energy system. A narrow, up-lit passage leads to the reception desk and a lounge with cushion seating, scatter rugs and a crackling fire. For an ascetic retreat, the space is welcoming and surprisingly sensuous. Guests float between the spa, garden and fireside while a soundtrack of Gregorian chanting plays throughout.
Service & facilities 8/10
An agenda is pinned to the wall each day, beginning with morning readings in the chapel and a yoga class. Breakfast is served at 8.30am, after which guests are invited for a walk in the woods. The group reconvenes for lunch in the garden with conversation mostly led by Marcello, who misses no opportunity assume his role as story teller. The spa opens from 5pm, and features an atmospheric thermal plunge pool and a stone steam room. Slippers and tan coloured robes with pointed hoods are provided. There’s nothing else to do at Eremito, and that’s entirely the point. The atmosphere is meditative, but it feels more like a family home than a hotel. Working alongside Marcello is his brother Sergio and two childhood friends, and their small team is completely charming – warm hugs goodbye are the norm here.
There are 12 single rooms modelled on monastic cells, each with an iron framed bed, rock-hewn desk and a bathroom behind a sackcloth curtain. It’s pared back but undeniably comfortable with luxury manifesting in the details: brass shower heads the size of dinner plates, thick hemp sheets and marble sinks. Soaps are handmade by Marcello’s sister, and shampoo is decanted into brass dishes. There’s no minibar, telephone, TV or Wi-Fi.
Food & drink 7/10
The full board offer includes a four-course lunch and dinner. It’s a set menu of simple but wholesome vegetarian dishes inspired by traditional monastic recipes. At the sound of a gong, the group soberly files into the candlelit dining room, where long communal tables are arranged in a horseshoe. Dinner is taken in silence. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’re in the swing of it (and, perhaps, after the first cup of wine has been generously replenished), a simple meal transcends into a completely extraordinary experience. I only wish the clatters of the kitchen were a little further away. The gong clangs again to signal the end of dinner, and everyone moves into the lounge. Those who have stayed several nights previous head for their favourite spots next to the fire or under LED reading lights where their books lie waiting, and trays of hot apple tea are shortly offered around.
Breakfast is also served in the dining room. Cereal, yoghurt, fruit, bread, jams – etc, are displayed on an attractive buffet table, while scrambled eggs are cooked to order.
Value for money 7/10
Rack rates from €196 (£175) on a full board basis including wine and access to the spa. Open year-round. No Wi-Fi, naturally.
Localita’ Tarina 2, 05010 Parrano TR, Italy (+39 0763 891010; eremito.com)