Alchemy School of Healing Arts - ASHA - is a retreat and community centre just outside Castell’Azzara, a medieval village in Southern Tuscany. ASHA was born as a result of the Alchemy online community seeking a way to meet in person, and it coincides with a 10-year search for the ideal place to plant a seed for a new vision to grow. Of course, “ideal’ is a very ambitious word, and one of our first learnings has been that to catalyse a gathering of people in a physical location is very different than doing so online! Nonetheless, the seed has been planted, the learnings have been many, and the first sprouts can now be seen.
Fortunately, as Alchemy has chosen Asha as a location to host its retreats, many people will be introduced to the area’s beauty that has remained largely undiscovered. Most people consider Florence and Chianti as the heart of Tuscany. Castell’Azzara is very different, untouched by many aspects of modern life. It has been spared the degradation of mass tourism, the land remains pristine, the water is clean, and the fresh, clean air is to be savoured.
ASHA’s soft opening in the Fall of 2020 was a heart-warming and motivating experience. After 5,000 volunteer hours from our incredible on-site team, we were finally ready to welcome 20 guests for a 10-day BreathCamp in September. We were humbled by the outpouring of love and support we received and look forward to beginning this next chapter together as a community. Our goal is to be fully open to the public in the Spring of 2021.
Follow us on Facebook to join the ASHA community and learn more about future retreats and programs.
Although we are not fully launched yet, the Centre is currently open for community use only. Members have begun hosting meditations, breathwork sessions, yoga classes, ceremonies, and group talks in our Dharma Den.
ASHA’s Village Project in Tuscany is our conscious experiment in connecting, collaborating, and co-creating a way forward that meets the needs of today. The first purchase of land and buildings provides the venue for retreats and a portal to the experiment of regeneration, revival and a return to the values of generations that have lived here in the past.
Since our first move here, there has been a community hub and website (insert link here) community hub, as well as 25 people, some of whom came here four years ago to contribute to a haven dedicated to ethically, environmentally, and socially responsible living, commerce, and business.
What used to be a bustling mining town with 4000 inhabitants, many shops, and 18 restaurants is now very different. The mines were closed thirty years (CHECK) ago, and many of the younger generation left for the cities to find new careers. The core inhabitants of the area now number less than 600, many of the houses are empty, and there is only one restaurant, La Tana Dell’Orso, open all year. A second, La Rosa Dei Venti, is open on weekend evenings and in August. Already, the 25 people that have moved here have impacted the area, and it is essential that the integration continues to be careful and caring, lest we fall into the trap of thinking “we know best” or that we are here to “solve a problem”.
The local people carry the wisdom of centuries in their bones, and we are here to learn from them and partner with them in ways we can to preserve and revitalise their town to the level it deserves. It doesn’t take much to notice there are about 3400 fewer people here than there used to be. But our goal is not to fill those spaces with foreigners but equally to encourage the younger generations that have left the area to consider returning to the town and contributing to its restoration.
The fledgling foreign community has already established a co-working space, a Whats App Community Group, and a website (LINK). One member has opened an ice-cream shop, and another is opening a laundromat in the coming months. There are special interest groups that enjoy archery, music collaborations, and there is even a fully functioning music studio ready to produce.
There are challenges, too. Services have become more sparse in a small town with virtually no industry for 30 years. Finding builders, plumbers, and electricians is difficult. Even though we have collated information on almost 100 houses for sale or rent in the area to help newcomers settle in, we don’t yet have the resources to show them or provide advice or support for new arrivals. These are all aspects the community is working on, yet it is understandably a slow process.
Our vision for the community is founded on selfless service and integrating a complimentary economy that interweaves with existing cultural heritage. With the understanding and commitment that creating a new community is an inside-out job, we seek members who are stable and self-sufficient, and who share a common ethos dedicated to co-creativity and inspired living. Our community culture is guided by the teachings of the 10 Co-Commitments.
In the future, we aim to develop leadership and business programs, apprenticeships and scholarships, a children’s school, elder mentorship and outreach programs, hospice care, and a digital centre for the creation and broadcast of teaching initiatives with global outreach.
We see the Retreat Centre as the nexus of this opportunity. As Asha becomes a productive farm, it will provide employment and attract international attention to the area. So far, 7-800 people have visited, and many have said they would like to move here, at least part-time. Whilst we are enthusiastic to welcome everyone, we are also aware that there is little infrastructure to accommodate a large influx of people. In the meantime, with the support of Alchemy’s retreats and Breathcamps happening at Asha, we will continue to do what we do best, which is, to provide a benign environment for people who seek to create transformation in their lives.
We see Asha as a centre for all the healing arts, including dance, theatre, music, and many other modalities. So far we have increased the accommodations from about 24 people up to 34 in houses on the property, and we have a glamping village that can take up to another 30. Over the next 2-years, we should reach a capacity of 88-100, and we are envisioning festivals and other cultural events that will honour the local population and welcome newbies.
We now have a fully operative Solar Farm that is producing 25KW of energy, we are installing a charging point for EVs and electric bicycles, and we are planning a 6 acre lavender farm, plus an organic veggie garden to feed our guests.
ASHA seeks to play its part in providing an alternative to the global crisis we face, supporting sustainable solutions for a holistic culture. The pilot project in Italy is an experiment in transforming the concept of an online community into one that is land-based.
Our mission is to support the regeneration of a thriving economy attractive to conscious investment. We plan to achieve this by introducing give-back programs and green business initiatives, providing business consulting and financing services, and contributing to sustainable community programs founded on education, outreach, and support.
Anthony and Amy had been looking for the right property to bring their community, colleagues, friends, and family after leaving Bali in 2015. Finally, in 2020, they acquired Asha on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic. Delayed several months due to lockdowns, they eventually took possession on June 11th 2020. Since Alchemy of Breath sought a land-based retreat centre for its international members and students to gather, they took out a lease of care and custodianship of the property.