Time to Log Off is a company offering breaks with a difference. We sampled one of their unique digital detox retreats and discovered the joys of unplugging from technology and getting back to basics in a creative and mindful environment.
Our home for three nights was the stunning Masseria della Zingara – a beautifully restored farmhouse in the heart of the Pugliese countryside in Southern Italy, about an hour’s drive from Bari Airport. Set in more than 20 acres of land and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, this was the perfect hideaway to switch off and recharge. Shortly after arrival we were required to surrender our phones, and any other internet capable devices, which were then locked away in a safe for the duration of our stay. Apart from an emergency landline, we were completely cut-off from communication with the outside world.
The aim of this digital detox is to combat the symptoms of digital addiction – something that a staggering number of us are suffering from. Over-exposure to the blue light that’s emitted from screens, whether one is diligently compiling spreadsheets or scrolling through Grindr, is known to cause problems ranging from insomnia to diabetes, as well as certain types of cancer, lupus, and migraine headaches. Digital addiction can also reduce our attention spans and trigger other psychological problems, including stress and anxiety. And with research showing that adults in the UK spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes a day using technology, this is a problem that it’d seem to be wise to address sooner rather than later.
Having handed over our technology, we were kept busy with a variety of physical and creative activities. There was a twice-daily yoga program with a top instructor in the dedicated studio for those who wished to partake – although nothing was compulsory. Other options included swimming in the Masseria’s pool, breathtaking cycle rides through the beautiful Italian countryside, or just flopping about in the sunshine with a good book. A highlight was the hour-long de-stressing afternoon massage that we were treated to by a local practitioner. We were also encouraged to engage in creative projects, such as photography and mindful colouring-in. (Colouring-in for adults – surprisingly more enjoyable and satisfying than it sounds!)
Mindfulness – the act of engaging with and fully experiencing the present moment – formed a philosophical backbone of the retreat. Early morning group walks were conducted in complete silence, allowing us to focus on and appreciate the natural landscape. On one particularly pleasant evening we followed a meditative yoga session, in which we were gently led into a trance-like state, with an entirely silent meal. Then we roasted chestnuts on the fire and ventured out for a spot of stargazing by the pool – the rural environment, with minimal artificial light, making for a particularly impressive and dazzling night sky.
The lack of electronic devices and no opportunity to withdraw into Facebook, texting, or Twitter, meant that we inevitably spent more time interacting with and getting to know the nine-strong group of fellow retreaters. Many happy hours were spent chatting and laughing and learning about each other. The retreat had a policy of no coffee and no alcohol, which, while a little frustrating when one is in the heart of wine country and surrounded by some of the best vineyards in the world, turned out to be a lot easier than we’d imagined. And it at least ensured that we didn’t do anything to embarrass ourselves in front of our newfound friends.
The food was entirely vegetarian and all meals were freshly prepared by the on-site staff. A majority of the ingredients came from the Masseria’s own organic vegetable garden and combined to make inventive dishes bursting with flavour. Parmesan-stuffed artichokes, roasted aubergines and hand-made gnocchi were complemented by hearty salads, fruits and a variety of freshly prepared juices and smoothies. There were also a selection of flavoursome and entirely sugar-free cakes and desserts – we never went hungry and definitely felt the benefits of this deliciously nutritious diet.
We surprised ourselves by not really missing the constant connection of our phones – finding the unplugging more of a pleasure than a trial. Being given permission to completely ignore texts and emails and social media turned out to be something of a treat. Our quality of sleep hugely improved over the duration of the retreat and we fully intend to incorporate regular technology breaks into our everyday lives. We came away feeling astonishingly refreshed and restored. The modern world is a marvellous thing – no one is suggesting that we should do without our devices altogether – but our eyes have been well and truly opened to the extraordinary benefits, and pleasures, of a short hiatus from the constant noise of information. This was a well-organised, friendly and worthwhile restorative. Blissful.