My pre-wedding yoga retreat: the trip of a lifetime

Health Retreats, Healthy Travel, Italy


Over the past several weeks I’ve shared glimpses of my recent travels: a surprise pre-wedding trip from my mom. Out of the blue, she texted me with a simple, “Have your bags and passport ready.” Incredible!

Eventually I got a rough idea of where we were going, but still no details even when I arrived at the airport.

I couldn’t believe it. No one has ever done something quite like this for me. It was so special having that sort of one-on-one time with my mom before getting married; truly nourishing for my soul and something I will treasure forever. Just being with her every day was enough – regardless of where we are – but experiencing those sights and such beauty with my mom was such an incredible gift.

Location #1 – ROME

Our first destination was Rome, and wow. The charm and romance of that city is enough to make your whole body fill with love.

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We stayed in the most incredible hotel, Hotel De Russie – which I highly recommend. And if you don’t stay there, go simply to enjoy a glass of champagne in the courtyard. A must.

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We were in Rome for just a day, but we walked around to explore all the historical monuments. In the morning we headed back to the airport – still not knowing where our next destination was – although I assumed a yoga retreat because I was told to bring yoga clothes (and my mom is a total yogi devotee!)

At the airport and found our fellow yogi friends for the week and our gorgeous yoga teacher, Gayle Olson. Gayle is the founder of Exotic Yoga Retreats, and thanks to her program we met some of the most special people I have ever known. Friends for life.

This particular yoga retreat was in Umbria, about 3 hours from Rome. We boarded a big bus – which was like a scene out of a movie – and set off. It was a long drive with a lot of traffic, so my mom and I chatted about the week ahead. We had little expectation of what it would be like and where we would be staying to practice yoga. And then…


We arrived at Borgo Di Carpiano – the most heavily Italian villa you could ever imagine. It’s actually an ancient castle turned villa and run by a darling couple – by the end we all felt like they were our adopted parents. They were authentic and passionate Italians who just know how to take care of people – and oh, do they know good food and wine! The taste of the villa was impeccable.

The rooms, the pool, the courtyard where we would eat our meals – were straight out of a movie – I kept turning to my mom and saying, “This is a dream, Mom.”


We put our bags down and immediately began with an opening yoga class to introduce ourselves. Each day we would practice yoga twice – morning and afternoon.

The experience was more of a yoga holiday than a strict yoga course. It was relaxed – and everything my mom and I love. We got to enjoy our yoga, but we also got to have a holiday where we could relax with food, drink wine and lie by the pool with a book. This is what I love. It is not the place to go if you are looking for discipline and restriction – it’s a holiday, not a “cleanse.”

IMG_4016This is a big statement coming, I know – but both my mom and I really feel the yoga retreat was probably one of the best weeks of our lives.

The structure of the day:

7:00am – Silent meditation in the chapel

7:30am – A walk In the Italian countryside


8:30-9:30am – Cappuccino on the terrace followed by a wholesome breakfast – fresh fruits (figs from the trees), eggs, cheese, Italian pastries if you wish – gluten free! The catering was all gluten free upon request.

10:30am – First yoga class of the day. It was mainly Vinyasa flow at the beginner-intermediate level, and we were really able to focus on alignment and posture. We practiced all our yoga in an ancient chapel – incredible. It was truly divine.


12:00pm – A swim in the infinity salt water pool – so refreshing!


12:30-1pm – Lunch. The meals were light; a gourmet salad of some sort followed by a fresh dessert – usually fruit or sorbet. The non-dairy 90% chocolate sorbet was a total highlight!


2:00-5:00pm – Rest/Activity time. Choices are: lie by the pool, rest, adventure into a nearby medieval town (and eat gelato!), take a cooking class or enjoy a massage – heaven, right?

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5:00pm – Afternoon yoga. This was a restorative yoga session.

7:00pm – The highlight of my day – an Aperitiv as the sun goes down on the courtyard overlooking the Italian hills. My drink of choice was prosecco or an aperol spritz. It felt good to let go – relax with a drink after yoga and before dinner – laugh with our new friends and take in this moment. Life is good. Life felt extra good there.

The food:


The best I’ve ever had in my entire life. I know what a big statement that may be, but it really was. The tastiest food my mouth has ever experienced. It was all gourmet Mediterranean cuisine with fresh olive oil and organic vegetables grown right there in the villa garden. We were advised to eat mindfully (something I try and do in my everyday life anyway) and I did this even more in Italy.

The Italian people really inspired me in this way. They know how to enjoy their food and they don’t believe in rushing such a pleasurable experience. The way they eat – is like an art.


We felt immense gratitude for each plate. You could taste how perfect the quality of the produce was – carefully chosen. Each portion was small but a taste explosion. So we really wanted to savour each mouthful. We put our knife and fork down between each mouthful.

Dinner was a 3-4 course meal – so you really want to go slow! When you eat slowly, you brain can recognize when you are full. You eat less but enjoy your food more. Isn’t that great?


The chef was truly amazing, preparing authentic Italian food with a healthy twist. And some meals were really indulgent. As mentioned – all my meals were gluten free (eg: gluten free pasta – I was in Italy – pasta was a must!)


Dairy is also a big part of the Italian diet and it was a big part of the food we ate – all good quality dairy.

I allowed myself all the indulgences of Italy – without the guilt! How? Because I believe this is healthy and balanced. I rarely eat gelato and pasta – but when in Italy – eat like the Italians!

The wine:

Each sip of wine (made with organic grapes!) was a delight. I savored the unique and sexy aroma of it. I held my glass of wine like a lover. (And the nutritionist in me remembered to drink a glass of water after each glass of wine!)

The yoga:

We practiced twice a day, and our yoga teacher was just amazing; teaching us proper alignment and getting each pose right for our bodies. I loved the yoga flow, too.


You would always get a special card on your yoga mat in the afternoons – a note from our teacher that would inspire the class that day. Such a gorgeous gesture.

The people:

We become like a close family. It amazed me how yoga and 6 days together can bring a group of people so close. This is the power of yoga too – it opens you up! We all cried when we had to say goodbye. We just didn’t want to part.

What I loved most:


I was present in every moment

I ate mindfully – more than ever

Mom and daughter time. I couldn’t have felt luckier to enjoy this time with my mom – our bond was reinforced so beautifully.

The eating experience – I ate what my body enjoys and desires. I tuned into my appetite. I ate slowly and enjoyed each mouthful. I felt so balanced because of it.

The people I met


You would think 6 days here was just enough. Not quite.

My mom then surprised me with 5 days in Paris.

A blog post on my time and recommendations in Paris are coming next!

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To Mom, thank you. How can I ever thank you enough? The memories have been tucked away in a pocket of my heart. I will never forget the moments we had. You are amazing to have done this for me!






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Hi Jessica, I believe in synchronicity so when I was guided to you .on FB I was intrigued and inspired. I turned 46 last week and my husband bought me your book. I wanted to thank you for sharing your wisdom in such a beautifully presented way. My  copy is now filled with tabs and post it notes with actual notes throughout. I am dairy intolerant since having my gallbladder removed 15+ years ago, I don't eat meat, very minimal gluten and was told 12 months ago my gut was not digesting my food properly so I wasn't receiving sufficient nutrients and taking supplements would be a waste of time.  My weight fluctuates tending to gain rather than lose but now I believe I have a tool to help me bring my body back into balance that I need for my health and longevity of life - so again thank you. The first few steps to creating a stronger path forward for my health has found its foundation in your beautiful book, The Healthy Life.

With kindest regards Samantha

I'm writing this email because I wanted to tell you how much I love your blog and how you really helped me in my health journey. Thank you for sharing all your advices and experiences.

When I started my studies, I was drinking lots of coffee and I was eaten the wrong foods, and feel bad about it, I wasn't at my best. So I had done some research on the net but at first I didn't found advices that are for me, and then I found your blog. It was exactly what I was looking for, good advices and healthy recipes. Now I'm following your advices on rest more, and snacks between meals and prep the meals and take time for myself to reconnect with my body and let go my anxiety, etc, and I have a more balanced life and have a new relationship with food thanks to you.

I bought your book and it's honestly the best book I have ever bought. I suffer from IBS and anxiety. I have paid so much money seeing naturopaths however after reading your book and all of your tips I'm noticing so much of a difference, so simple and easy to follow. And symptoms have dramatically decreased. Also you have helped me to relax. Currently drinking the protein health smoothie! Thankyou your amazing.


Hey Jessica!
I haven’t yet brought ‘The Healthy Life’, but I do have the clean life and your slim down plan! I would like to thank you so much for the knowledge your share and the message you put across about health and wellness. I’m studying Nutritional Medicine in Melbourne and absolutely love the philosophy that you share with your JSHealth community. The work you’ve done to show people that leading a healthy lifestyle isn’t boring, tasteless, difficult or depriving is amazing and hope to share the message myself one day. You’ve inspired me to start my own blog , to share the message and have taught me so many things about my own health! You should be proud of your achievements! Thank you again

- Jacinta

I searched for help and tips through the Internet and found Jessica Sepel. This is seriously not exaggerated, but she was the reason why I have dared myself to eat again, to have snacks in between, to nourish my body. I could slowly improve my negative thoughts about my body image and my stupid anxiety of gaining weight. Besides, The Cleanest Gut was awesome too! A huge thank you! Especially from my mum. Seriously, without you I wouldn’t be where I am now!


Congratulations on your new book! It looks absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been following you on Instagram for a few years and you’ve inspired me to slowly but surely eat healthier without giving myself a hard time when I don’t. It made me so happy (and weirdly proud) to see the Daily Mail article on The Healthy Life. I remember trying out your recipes before you even had your eBook out! I can’t wait to get my hands on the book. Keep up the great work.

– Sophie

Cooking in this way truly brought out the foodie in me and has instilled a huge passion for health and wellness! Life throws you hard and frustrating things sometimes but I truly believe that this is where we learn more about ourselves and what our passions in life are! Thank you for inspiring me on my journey to health and wellness!


I am a yoga teacher in Johannesburg and am thrilled to have bought your book today. I love making healthy, nutritious food for my family, friends and fellow yogis! Thank you for this book and your inspiration (had to share a pic of my book on my recipe stand in the kitchen).

– Helene

I bought your beautiful book during the week and told my bestie to go out and buy it also! I love love love it. It is the book I would give to my younger self if I could (I am 41 years old). Everything is just so sensible and informative and is definitely a book all teenagers should have. This should be a text book for girls becoming teens. I will love going back and re-reading it many many times and can't wait to make more of the recipes. Thank you Jess - you are an incredibly inspiring woman and you should feel so proud

Michelle Curtis

My fiancé bought your book and we have cooked some of your meals. Amazing! I love your outlook on a healthy lifestyle and your hints and tips with preparing tasty meals are fantastic. Thanks for reviving us to live a healthier lifestyle and get our bodies wedding ready.