Some of you may have read a previous blog about my love of the Italian agriturismo but for those you who have not heard of an agriturismo it is an independently-owned farm used partially for accommodation purposes. This means that this might be a place with one room/ apartment or 20, it really depends.
We have finally decided that we will put our home on the market in May and have made the rather brave assumption that come August 1st we will be bound for Europe, house free! We have yet to figure out where to fly, where to buy a car (or move our car - a new idea I need to explore) but we figure that this process to buy or collect our car will take about a week. So come the 11th or so of August we are ready to experience agriturismo life and so far the plan is to stay in various agriturismos until November. We are going to start with a 2 week stay in the Alto Adige region which is where you will find the stunning Dolomites, the stunning Northern Italian Alps.
Wow, is it hard to find a place in this region that actually has availability in summer! We love to go to this region to experience the summer hiking, fresh air and stunning mountains. Our first choice was to stay in a lovely sounding town called Castelrotto which is the largest town in the Seiser Alm region which is largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe but alas for our budget everywhere is booked. After more research done, on my husband’s part we have landed on the town of St Magdalena. Check out this picture - not a bad place to stay huh! And, yes, this is the view from the place we are staying.
One great thing about these places in the Dolomites is that they often throw in these activity cards. For this particular location the card is called the DolomiteMobil Card which offers free use of public transport, free entry in over 80 museums, guided excursions and alpine tours, free use of the local swimming pool and free rides on the Seceda funicular! What a deal - can’t wait to get there!
Apologies for the silence for so long, life got the better of me. Also when you decide to move to another country your list to things to do becomes SO much longer. I am in the the process of trying to find a home for over 30 orchids as I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars heating my greenhouse this winter when I will be moving to Italy this year. This is just one of many tasks I am trying to tick off the list. Here in Seattle we have had some bad weather these last couple of months and we lost a lovely ornamental evergreen which was a good 30 feet tall, it is still in the garden along with many branches….more tasks.
With the start of the new year is the start of the real planning which is exciting, some big decisions and larger questions are:
The list really does go on and on. Some people might be overwhelmed by this but frankly I am pumped. I am going methodically check each on of these off the list in the coming weeks and months so that when it is time to go we will be all set.
My husband and I are lucky enough to be away on our first trip alone since having our son 2 years ago. We decided to head to Mexico as flying to Cabo is an easy flight from Seattle. We decided to come back to an amazing hotel which we have visited several times before. Rancho Pescadero, which is several miles outside of Todos Santos seems to value the concept of farm to table. They have an amazing Garden Restaurant which serves food which it seems is 100% made from scratch. They grow most of their own vegetables in a lovely garden of about 1/4-1/2 acre. They have just planted the crops that will see them through the winter. They are lucky enough to grow almost anything they need through our winter months.
I love all the various salsas that they pair with the various meals, everything has such a simple but fresh flavor. Ceviche is another delicious treat with the fish caught that day and paired with simple ingredients: lime juice, cucumber, avocado, red onion and tomatoes.
We have spent our first two days reading books, eating, drinking, swimming and playing Yahtzee of course. This time doing essentially nothing has made us ask ourselves, 'why are we waiting until 2020 to move to Italy'? The obvious answer is 'we need to have enough money' but in the last two days I have thought to myself, 'is it ever enough'? I have been conditioned to save and save and if I am honest with myself do I know when I will feel like I have 'enough'?
Doing some research on cost of living in Italy I came across this site: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/cost-of-living-in-italy. Which clearly states that the cost is EUR 33,996 for a family of four to live in Milan (excluding rent). We are a family of 3 and plan to live in the countryside!
With this time to think things through and do a little research we have decided that 2018 is the new 2020! We will hope to leave the US in the first half of 2018, buy a car and caravan and vacation around Europe until November. We will then head to an Italian town like Todi, Spoleto or Perugia and hibernate, learn Italian and start the property search with the hope of buying a property so we can move in by the Spring/Summer 2019!
Wow, this feels great to make plans which are imminent!
What an amazing walk it was today. Everywhere I looked it was like a picture on a postcard. Those postcards of Tuscan landscapes are real. When you get up close you see that the various shades of browns, yellows and greens are from the different crops growing in the fields. Today I saw a dark, almost black, wheat growing in a field. The colors are really amazing and what I love is that they are really using almost every bit of land to grow something. Of course this area is famous for the Brunello wine which is 100% Sangiovese grapes but the olive oil and fruit is also amazing. I can say I have had so much amazing olive oil. The flavor is so rich and nutty and a flavor I have rarely tasted in the US. I read that a study done in 2010 said 69% of the imported olive oil in the US is rancid.
The fruit I am sure is amazing but based on the time of year I am here in Italy I have only been able to pick cherries from the trees and wow are they good. There are cherry trees everywhere, in manicured gardens but also in the hedgerows as well. This goes for other fruit trees like apples, pears, plums and figs. There are walnut everywhere as well. I just love seeing people growing so much and wonder why we don't see more people growing food in the US.
One things that I find quite interesting is that many of the fruit trees are much smaller than in the US. Possibly they are using different rootstock but apples, pears and plums for example are mature and standing about 10 foot high with the crown 6 foot in diameter with the trunk as the center point. These trees are covered in fruit. I am going to try and learn a little more while here.
We have moved on (sadly) from the wonderful sustainable farm to start our InnTravel walking holiday. Leaving Umbria and entering Tuscany has been more extreme, landscape-wise, than expected. Umbria was so green and lush with vegetation. To me, Umbria is perfect as you can grow everything that it is possible to grow in Tuscany but Umbria has lush forests and trees which are hard to find in Tuscany. As we drove to our agriturismo we passed through the typical Tuscan countryside, fields of various shades of brown, yellow and green lined with the imposing Cypress trees and gorgeous villas.
Agriturismos are very special and unique to Italy. They are usually working farms that incorporate tourism. I am a huge fan for several reasons, 1) They are almost always in the countryside 2) They are usually very traditional and give you a feeling that you are experiencing the ‘real’ Italy 3) You get exposure to a farm in Italy 4) They are usually reasonably priced and lastly 5) You often get to eat the delicious produce that they produce!
We are staying at the Fattoria Pieve A Salti which is an amazing 700 hectare farm producing only organic products, and mainly focusing on cereals and beans. I am sucker for this stuff which made the shop a very appealing place to spend time (and money). The dinners and breakfasts were filled with the farms home-made items like granola, farro risotto and more.
The walking here is gorgeous, I really love it because you get to see what everyone is growing. People here in Italy grow vegetables on the smallest plots of land. In the towns people are growing artichokes, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and more. There is really a culture of growing your own regardless of how much land you have. To me this is a great thing, eating seasonally and locally is not a trend it is just how people eat here. The olive oil and wine are literally from ‘down the road’. More to come...
Today I decided to venture out of the farm for a walk in the countryside to see what wild flowers the Umbrian countryside has to offer. From discussions with the locals I have learned that they have had a lot less rain so far this year and it is much hotter than it normally is this time of year. Although there has been a lack of rainfall there are still so many flowers out.
One thing that has surprised me is the abundance of gorse; I was surprised to see it everywhere. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest I lived in England for 10 years which is where I first came across this plant. The Pacific Northwest is covered in it. Clearly this is a versatile plant given that it can thrive in all of these places. It has such an amazing scent that the wind carries so you smell it constantly everywhere you go! Thyme and fennel are growing everywhere here, and the thyme is blooming now which makes some patches of the ground a sea of pinkish-purple.
Italian honeysuckle grows amongst the shrubs but adds a blast of color which really draws your eye! I was surprised to see hellebore that had finished flowering and were heavy with seed heads. I was not aware that they were native to Italy! Lovely red poppies were everywhere along with the bright purple wild salvias. What an amazing countryside with so much to see!
Walking around the farm I am struck by how many varieties of fruit and nuts you can grow here in Umbria! Also the variety means that throughout the summer you really can have an abundance of fruit. Additionally, they can grow fruit that stores well so you can really grow all the fruit you need for the entire year! Not to mention the hedgerow fruit and nuts you can collect. On my walk I noticed blackberries, elderberries and juniper berries!
This farm produces wine and olive oil so these are by far the largest group of plants. They have 350 olive trees. Interestingly I have been told it is rude to ask how many olive trees someone has as this is equivalent to asking someone how much they earn since each tree gives a predictable amount of olive oil each year and everyone knows what you can sell it for. They also have hundreds of other fruit and nut trees, and as this is a 100 acre farm, I am sure I have missed a few varieties as well.
It is May here and we are currently eating the most amazing cherries which they have in abundance. In fact I am writing this blog while laying in a hammock attached to an olive tree and a cherry tree, this makes for excellent snack breaks! The figs will be ready in a month or so. The mulberries are not totally ready but I found the random ripe one or two. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago my neighboor had a mulberry tree which I adored but I had to eat the berries without anyone knowing so I used to put bags on my feet so as not to dye my shoes and get caught. I used to spend hours picking and eating this delicious fruit!
In the late summer they will have walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds; they will also have peaches, apricots and kiwi. Then in autumn they will have quince, apples, persimmons and pears. Surprisingly the weather on the hill where the farm is located is too hard on citrus so they have built a greenhouse to house the lemons and limes.
What abundance this climate has to offer.
This morning I fed the animals and having raised chickens myself before not all of it was new but some of the practices are new to me and I wanted to share them! At Monestevole they have pigs, goats, sheeps, horses, chickens, geese and ducks. One of the very interesting practices here is the way they use manure. Basically the horses are housed (when not out to pasture) in a shed at the top of a hill. When the manure is cleared out it is swept into the area where the chickens are. They pick out and eat all of the seeds so that after a short period of time the manure is free from seeds which is great as when this is spread as a soil amendment there will be no sprouting seeds.
They have both chickens for eggs and chickens for eating. This is certainly something I would like to do myself, these chickens looks so healthy. Being able to incubate your own chickens makes this a very economical practice. The ducks and geese are also a nice addition for eggs as well.
The pigs are also happy and healthy looking. As you may or may not know there are lots of wild boar here in Italy and as they do not have a natural predator they are a nuisance. They are hunted in October - December but the rest of the year they do damage on farms. There are little piglets running around and they are ½ wild boar as a wild boar broke into the pig pen and impregnated the pigs. In Italy farmers are fined when a pig is impregnated by a wild boar which is frustrating for the farmers (based on my conversations) as there is little they can do, these wild boar are smart!
Based on my experiences I would say that chickens, pigs and ducks are what I aspire to keep when 2020 rolls around!
I have arrived in Italy after nearly 24 hours of travel with a 21 month old, I am tired but the minute I am driving away from Florence airport in my rental car I see the scenery and immediately feel at home. I am excited to see a different part of Italy on this trip. We are first headed to Northern Umbria and then to the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany.
The first stop is Monestevole an ecotourism sustainable community in northern Umbria. Monestevole was originally built in the 15th century as a watch-tower for nearby castle. Over the coming centuries, additional parts were added to the tower to develop it into the current hamlet structure.
As we drove up into the hills from the nearby town of Umbertide it was clear that we would not be hearing traffic noise which is something we are constantly trying to avoid. When we arrived everyone was eating homemade pizza by the outdoor pizza oven and enjoying the carafes filled with wine. What a great welcome and start to the holiday!
The owners really do take sustainability seriously, they recycle all the water and use the gray water for irrigation and flushing toilets. The solar panels give the home enough power in the summer and once they get their new Tesla batteries they are going to be able to store the power for the non-sunny times of the year! They invite guests to plant hedges to offset their carbon footprint. They grow enough food to feed 25 people year round based on the many things that they grow and make.
This place is inspirational and even though I have only been here for 24 hours it has helped me know about what I do and don't want to do with my land once I move to Italy. Whilst I like the idea of sustainable living I also know that these practices take a lot of time and effort which I want to put into growing food, raising animals and making things (like beer, cheese, wine etc.).
My summer vacation/reconnaissance mission to Italy has been booked and I am excited! Italy is a very strong contender in terms of where we will move to live the self sufficient life in 2020. Having been to Italy many times I just think it is perfect. The people are so friendly and welcoming, the lifestyle and quality of life are something to be admired. The food and people’s love of living off the land and eating fresh, seasonal and local is very appealing. While in Italy we might even check out some potential properties, I look forward to blogging all about this when we are there! Funnily enough, right now, there is a BBC Show called Second Chance Summer which is about 10 people heading to Italy to live on a working farm for 2 months to fulfill a dream.
We are spending a week on a farm in Northern Umbria and then walking in the Val d’Orcia for a week . Here are the specific details:
Thinking of this trip will keep me going for the next couple of months as the rain here in Seattle is almost a daily occurrence. Here are some pictures of Tuscany from my last vacation there, how can someone not want to live here?