Technology detoxes are gaining momentum, but while leaving your phone at home for an afternoon might do the trick, Tuscany offers spectacular opportunities for more ambitious off-the-griding.
There exists a place, in the province of Arezzo, where quiet reigns supreme. It’s an unusual place, far from anything and only visited by those who have made it their intention to spend the day away from the real world. There are no accidental tourists here. Camaldoli is a medieval monastery and hermitage deep in the woods, with a small but active religious community whose life is centered on the monastic rule established by Saint Romuald, the 11th-century monk.
Spending time at Camaldoli is a reprieve from everyday life. Literally in the middle of nowhere, there are only a few buildings and even fewer shops, all immersed in an immense forest endlessly crisscrossed by walking paths. You’d be better off leaving your cell phone in the car because there is little service here. No messages, no email, no Facebook or Instagram: you are separated from the world in this silent green bubble. Most visitors who come to Camaldoli do so for this very reason, seeking out a place to detox and take in the freshest of air.
Even closer to Florence is Vallombrosa (meaning “shaded valley”), a popular destination for Florentines desperate for a cool place to relax on hot summer days. Also a monastery, Vallombrosa was founded in the 11th century by St. Giovanni Gualberto after he stayed briefly in Camaldoli during his search for a corruption-free setting to carry out his life’s work. Like Camaldoli, Vallombrosa abbey is surrounded by acres of trees—indeed, the road there takes you on a tour of the timbers with its six-plus kilometers of hairpin bends and total shade. On arrival, head for the pratone, a large field where visitors can picnic under the sun. More touristy compared to Camaldoli, there are camping grounds, restaurants and shops, though thankfully cell reception is still hard to come by. Just an hour’s drive from Florence, Vallombrosa is an ideal getaway for a relaxing tech-free day trip or overnight stay in the area.
As the Camaldolese monk Axel Bayer put it when describing his chosen home: “I find that being immersed in the Casentino Forests is fruitful for the inner life. Living in direct contact with nature, with the alternating seasons, becomes a metaphor for life. Death, silence, resurrection: we can experience these with the birth of a new day, with the transition from the plenitude of summer to the decline of autumn, from winter’s nature to the first buds of spring.”
For those in search of something beyond the typical vacation, a moment of real rest and relaxation to reset mind and body, a trip to Camaldoli or Vallombrosa might just prove the answer.