Part one of our Italian Adventures, May 2016
One of the pillars of our travel plans was always to spend a chunk of time in Italy. Ideally the best part of a year in a tiny hilltop town off the tourist trail, with views to die for. Spending our days in the town square sipping coffee with the old boys, watching the world go by. Eating simple Italian food and consuming a reasonable amount of the local vino. How close have we come to that dream? Pretty darn close.
The first of our two Italian house sits (find out more about house sitting) was in the Le Marche region, three hours North East of Rome and forty minutes from the Adriatic Coast. Home for ten weeks was a remote property owned by an English family, consisting of the main house, guest accommodation (The Cantina), a swimming pool, 3 hectares of land and 240 vines. With stunning views across the valley to the Sibillini Mountains National Park. Unlike previous house sits this one had no pets. We did, however, have work to do in the garden and on the vines. Once the work was done for the day, we were free to explore.
The Cantina, which isn’t visible from the main house, was our base and is also where the owner makes his wine. On a good year close to 200 bottles, a mixture of red, white and rose. The Cantina served as our kitchen-come-dining room. There are also two bedrooms and a bathroom. What more could a nomadic couple need? How about a portico so that we could relax outdoors and soak up the million dollar views?
So for the first two weeks, builders would often appear at 7.00am outside our bedroom window. No lazy mornings around here. The poor weather also meant that a job that should have taken a few days stretched over a couple of weeks. But when finished we had a lovely covered area, great for chilling and reading with a glass of wine or two.
We quickly settled into local life. Visiting the market to top up with succulent tomatoes, fresh greens and herbs. Popping into the bakery for our 'pane con cereal (granary bread) and occasional 'biscotti limoni' (homemade lemon biscuits). Julie will say it became more of a habit rather than a treat.
The local hotel put on a special fish and chips dinner complete with live music. Four fish related courses including spaghetti and clams, mussels, crab salad and for the main course three types of fish all washed down with as much wine as we wanted. The music was courtesy of two guys playing a mixture of blues and the odd rock tune. We got talking to the couple at the next table, Karen and Colin. Before you knew it, we were invited to join them on walks with Maggie and Monty, their two gorgeous Rhodesian Ridgebacks. A great evening enhanced by making friends.
We both enjoyed getting stuck into the gardening and other tasks. These involved spraying, strimming, weeding and watering. The spraying was best done before the sun hit the vines which meant a couple of 5 am starts. Then it was time for a swim followed by coffee and pastry in San Ginesio.
We did have the help of Claudia the housekeeper and Giuseppe, the wine consultant. Giuseppe would appear once a month and provide guidance on taking care of the vines. He pruned with the deftness of Edward Scissorhands. His visits were also an excellent opportunity to practice our Italian. Claudia and her husband Duncan were a great help when it came to sorting out some car challenges along with ideas on where to visit.
While there were no pets, we did have one or two visitors from the animal world. Moving a sun umbrella stand, I discovered a small viper. These can be deadly if you don’t get treatment right away, but this was a baby and very sleepy. Still, we did check the location of the nearest hospital as soon as we could. Then there is the wild boar, or as the locals call them cinghiale. Given the woods nearby it was no surprise to find that we had a resident cinghiale family of five adults and ten young. They came within 50 metres of The Cantina one evening. Then there’s the European scorpion who tend to hang out in the bathroom so going barefoot for a midnight pee was not recommended. A couple of deer came very close to the pool fence. Add in the pine martins that we saw on a drive home, the numerous wall lizards, and it was quite a diverse collection.
We did have several dramas with our not-so-trusty chariot. The poor quality Italian roads were taking its toll. On one occasion the exhaust fell off after one too many bumps. With the help of Claudia, we managed to get it welded back on at a local garage. Then leaving the market in San Ginesio one Sunday we found a flat tyre. Not a problem, let’s just whip the spare on. That turned out to be flat as well. We limped to the nearest petrol station to pump some air into both tires, headed into Tolentino the next day to get new tyres and stretch Julie’s Italian. Then this muppet left the car lights on and completely killed the battery. Claudia’s husband came to the rescue, and we eventually bought a new battery from our friends at the local garage.
Evenings were spent watching the sunset over the mountains from up by the vines or sipping wine under the portico. Fireflies would light up and dance all around The Cantina. It was so peaceful and quiet during the daytime but the evenings were deafeningly silent. With next to no light pollution the night sky bristled with clarity.
Towards the end of our stay, the surrounding fields burst into a sea of yellow. Sunflowers as far as the eye could see, adding to the majestic beauty of the region. And yes there are a thousand photos of sunflowers for your viewing pleasure.
With so many quaint hilltop towns to visit, stunning walks to hike and local wines to taste we could be here all day so we will cover these off in future posts.
Despite the damp start to our stay, we had a wonderful time in Le Marche. Certainly an underrated region we would recommend and one that we hope to be back exploring further next year. It was gratifying to watch the development of the vines during our stay. Fingers crossed this year's vintage will prove to be exceptional for the owners. We count our blessing to have been chosen for such an amazing house sit. And we haven’t even mentioned the fabulous gelato.
For more photos of the Italian Job click here.
Next Stop, Stepping out with wolves, hiking the Sibillini.