What’s It Like Staying in a Secular Monastery?
As I arrived at the hermitage on the hill overlooking 7,500 acres of Umbrian wilderness (a UNESCO nature reserve), Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to “The Mission” was wafting to the heavens as I entered Eremito (www.eremito.com). Perfectly choreographed, the staff escorted me to the steam room and stone hot tub (full of the sounds of Gregorian chanting) to cleanse myself from my earthly sins that accompanied me from Venice. And, soon after that - I was lying on the ground in the cellar with six other guests and three staff, vibrating in a Tibetan bell sound healing session.
I’m still processing my 48-hours last week created by the modern day monk, Marcello Murzilli. 75-year-old Marcello created the rebellious “El Charro” fashion brand in his early twenties. After experiencing the superficiality of the fashion world, he went traveling on a small sailing boat around the world for two years and re-discovered the essence of life (simplicity), which led him to creating one of the world’s first off-the-grid luxury eco-resorts south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After many years in the jungle, he was drawn back to his Roman roots, desiring to create a place of inner peace within a couple hours of his hometown. He found this mystical valley - near the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi - a place longing for self-discovery and the connection with the divine.
Why was I drawn to this secular monastery? I’ve made the trek to the Zen Buddhist refuge Tassajara in the Big Sur wilderness as well as to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, just south of Big Sur. In both places, I felt a sense of profound groundedness. I’ve even sought out boutique hotels around the world that used to be monasteries like Monasterio in Cusco, Peru and Le Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City, Canada. Additionally, MEA bought a former Catholic seminary in Santa Fe to become a future campus (in 2026) which has a Carmelite monastery next door. And, my long-time evolutionary astrologer Steven Forrest (highly recommend you take his MEA workshop with me in Santa Fe in May) has told me multiple times that I was a “horny monk” in many past lives. LOL.
I was escorted to my cell (how many hotels call their guest rooms “cells”?) and learned of Saint Bruno, the namesake for my cell. Bruno dreamed of living in solitude and prayer and I could feel that vibe in this tiny room with the stone writing table facing the valley. Boy, did I have great dreams taking a nap before our Silent Dinner, a nightly tradition at Eremito.
The bell rings and we usher ourselves into our seats in the Refectory with no one facing each other. Instead, we face dozens of candles and a four-course meal of basic, healthy Italian staples. It’s an intimate experience to spend 45-minutes in silence with a couple of other people right next to you chewing and contemplating.
Eremito takes a unique approach to ecology, technology and spirituality. It’s completely off-the-grid so there were times of the day when I had no electricity and, at night, I was comforted by the candles. This is a “digital detox” zone, so - with no WiFi and nearly no cell service - you need to become comfortable without techno-distractions. And, finally, our day was punctuated with morning and evening prayers, poetry and meditations (guests and employees together which was quite beautiful), yoga and movement, and a tone of spirituality that I’ve never experienced at another Design Hotel, a brand which tends to be all flash and less substance.
I loved my hikes to the nearby villages of Cantone and Parrano, the former being a classic hillside Italian village where the average age is 80 with just 20 residents in a town that used to have 100 community members. Whether it’s the rural villages of Japan or the hill towns of Italy (or the more than 500 Italian monasteries and convents), there’s an opportunity in the next decade to re-populate these dying, soulful communities.
Like at MEA, the best part of a deeply personal travel experience is getting to know your fellow guests. While Eremito says that it’s dedicated to solo travelers, I was the only one who fit that description on night one as I was with three other couples - from Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. With one of those couples, Karl and Julia, I forged an intimate bond as within minutes after meeting, we were expressing some of our most secretive life stories. I loved doing yoga the last morning with them - with no yoga instructor - as each of us led one-third of the class and I particularly appreciated Karl saying we were now going to do “Downward God'' rather than “Downward Dog.” We only hope that we are being looked after by a Downward-facing God, don’t we?
On my last morning, a Danish kid named Michael, who is 70 years old, emerged from the basement. We walked silently together to the tiny chapel on the top floor to do our morning prayers, until he opened up to me. This was Michael’s 15th visit to Eremito and, just two months earlier, he’d met a staff member and fell precipitously in love (ironic to find your love in a monastery). He took me to the rooftop terrace to witness the evaporation of the valley fog just as he was telling me about how his identity as the CEO of his company was melting as, after 35 years, he was passing this role along to his son. Eremito represents Michael’s pilgrimage from his past identity to his future one, much like many of you experience at MEA.
Eremito isn’t for everyone and it’s far from perfect. Perfectly imperfect. The lovely Marcello is, at times, caught up in his own life narrative. And, would you expect a contemporary hermitage to be ostentatiously exhibiting more than a dozen travel awards in the entry hallway? Yes, there is no phone, no television, no minibar, no air conditioning and no swimming pool. This was nothing like staying at the posh St. Regis in Venice, a vestige of “old luxury” defined by service and stuff. The “new luxury” of “St. Eremito” is about solitude and soul.
On this trip, I came to realize something that my co-founder Christine has said - spaciousness and quiet are the new luxury. This brought me a big smile as that’s what our MEA campus in Santa Fe is all about.