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One of the best spas I have ever visited is in a former medieval monastery in Italy. I was making my way up North from Rome, and wanted to find something to quiet my mind before meeting up with friends to surf in Moliets.


I googled “meditation in Italy,” and found myself signing up for a St. Francis meditation tour in Assisi. I didn’t even know who St. Francis was.


To understand Assisi is to really go there. As I first walked out of my train, a bus full of nuns had excitedly piled out of a tour bus. This is where God’s people went on vacation.




We walked by day in St. Francis’ footsteps, going to the small churches inside convents, and churches so grand they fit another church inside. I learned St. Francis was cool AF. I took in colorful frescos and ceilings painted by medieval artists from Rome and Tuscany. I meditated for hours at night and dawn. I listened to summer thunderstorms out of my window, in a room made of stone. I had early pasta dinners with our mixed group, where we talked about love, wine and God.







I found something even better than God. I found Mary. On another pilgrimage with our group, we walked from town to the famous St. Francis Basilica. Inside was a very simple church dedicated to Mary. The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary.


When I entered, a strange, tingly feeling came over my body. My legs gave way, and I found the nearest prayer pew to keep from falling. Here, I decided to finally pray.


We were instructed to meet outside in quiet reflection. After a long time, someone else on the tour asked, “did anyone else feel their legs give out?”


Then we went to get wine. In the back room of a shop, I tasted truffle oil for the first time.


But the torta al testo remains in my soul—a crispy, thin bread layered with generous slices of creamy cheeses and meats. After long walks by myself, I’d find myself climbing the top of a little hill, where there was a place that I liked. Arugula, cheese, and parma ham was my order. Can’t remember which cheese, but isn’t it all good in Italy? It was next to a church, so I would eat my little lunch there before walking down.








 




Back to the spa. 1st century AD limestone columns and a natural pool grace its main entrance. Its bones are from Roman excavations, renovated to perfection. Entering felt like stepping into a Stargate portal.









After days of walking in the July heat, we came early to have the whole place to ourselves. We bathed like the Romans did, 2000 years ago. Sometimes I like to fully take in a place before I inundate myself with its history. I found out much later, the convent was built in 1275 for Benedictine nuns. Its renovation uncovered a Roman amphitheater, which transformed it into a museum-chic refuge.


© Photo: Chiara Gazziero

 

Later in the week, I had dinner at an elegant restaurant above the spa. We ate outside on a luxurious patio, overlooking a sparkling city and its iconic Mount Subasio at sunset. I don’t remember what I ate, but we had single servings of wine in baby decanters. I’d never seen those before, and was so delighted.


“We drink a little to enjoy a lot,” I was instructed by my date.



After dinner we drove with the top down, listening to Con Te Partirò by Andrea Bocelli (his choice, not mine). I got a generous picture of Assisi by night—its winding stone roads, a bell tower clock perched at its very most top hill, a peaceful existence.


Could I have fallen in love here, have babies with someone who had an impressive knowledge of wine and truffles, curated a deep understanding of my favorite country in the world?


In that night, I lived it all.




 


On my last day, I went to lunch with the remaining people from the group. We had beautiful ribbons of pasta sauced to perfection. Servings upon servings in the restaurant I had the best meals at.


Stay longer, someone insisted. I took in a glass of wine. It was early afternoon.









There’s something romantic about saying goodbye to people you’re unsure you’ll ever see again, and do not have an online presence. An agreement of sorts, to keep the time you spent together wrapped in your own memory. The acceptance of, even if we could’ve gone on much longer, we absolve a goodbye in mystery.



"If you do stay,” my new friend mentioned, “find me in the main plaza at 10 am. I’ll be having coffee there.” He didn’t have a phone, and I liked that about him. I smiled. We all hugged, and parted to different streets.


As I walked up the Piazza del Comune, I heard the most delightful surprise. A cello group played “Ave Maria,” as a woman with a melodic, deep voice sang. The birds fluttered around them, more nuns pooled into the streets, a grandiose fountain glittered in the light.


So I’ll stay another week, I thought.







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