‘Hello autumn, be golden and kind to us…’ – these are the words that start Pentreath and Hall’s September newsletter, and I’m pinching them (thank you Bridie). They sum up what we all hope for as we emerge out of lockdown’s hibernation into the brightness of the world. And we needed a shove, which is where Bland Badger stepped in. The autumn retreats, run by dynamic duo Charlotte Bland and Ros Badger, hence the name Bland Badger, offer a kind of creative house party at Villa Pia in the Umbrian hills.
This September I joined the group which included 15 women from all over the world. The majority had arrived alone, with a trio of friends from New York and a pair of sisters from Scotland adding to the mix. Most, but not all, worked in creative fields from fashion to production to textile design and we were soon one big gang. By day all sorts of activities were laid on for us: foraging in the hedgerows followed by flower arranging with Amy Merrick, baking galette and sugared peach cookies with Letitia Clark, practising swirling calligraphy with Kate Ridyard and learning book binding with Ros Badger. Photographer Charlotte Bland gave her expert guidance after each session so that we could capture our efforts on our iPhones and cameras.
In the evening apéro hour started at 7, and we sat about with Campari spritzes and olives, chatting amongst ourselves or listening to talks from the panel of workshop hosts, and one evening to guest speaker, author Christobel Kent. There then followed a four-course Italian feast complete with a pasta course, which we all ate together at one long table outdoors. The delicious food appears as if by magic from a team of local Italian cooks, who chatter away in the kitchen. This is classic Villa Pia which has the feel of a country house with its charming old-fashioned details (sit-up baths and sheets and blankets) but all the while you’re looked after as well as you would be at a hotel by the friendliest staff.
As well as the creative workshops which everyone was free to dip in and out of, there was plenty more to fill your days. Some people went swimming at sunrise with the mist rolling over the hills like a painting. I opted for early morning yoga, before sitting around the log fire with a coffee. One day we visited the nearby town of Cortona for the flea market, coming back laden with Murano glasses and splatterware and linen. Late one afternoon I set off on foot for the nearby town of Monterchi where Piero della Francesca’s famous fresco, the Madonna del Parto, painted in 1460 is housed, just 45 minutes walk from Villa Pia.
Bland Badger definitely feels more like a holiday than a ‘retreat’ with the tone set by the lovely hosts, Charlotte and Ros. Even so, by the end of the week many in the group had found a new resolve: to continue a new skill, even to change career path. We had all found new friends. ‘Sogni d’oro’ is an Italian phrase I learned this summer, which roughly means ‘sweet dreams’ but a closer translation would be ‘golden dreams’. Bland Badger will be weaving its golden kindness into my dreams until next autumn…
The Bland Badger Retreat is now taking bookings for 2022. There are two weeks available, each with a maximum group size of 16 per week and they do sell out, so book ahead here.