An easy day on the water relaxing and scuba diving they said. And it was, until that part I nearly died. Maybe that is a little overblown for the sake of drama, but when you are meters deep below the surface with lead weights strapped to you starting to fall unconscious, you might freak out as well. Everything began and ended fine, because I wouldn’t be writing to you today and showing you this gnarly video if I was dead, but there was an in between bit that I thought I was doomed.Read More
Ever since I was a wee little boy, Italy was the country I dreamed of seeing over everything else. It was probably the badass gladiatorial culture that fascinated me as a youngin’ but as I got older it was the history and impact on the world that drew my curiosity. I never thought I would see it, like it was a fantasy place from movies. But after I had to leave Thailand because of the military coup, Italy was my first choice to visit. Over the course of a month on and off I explored Italy, sometimes flat broke and scraping for cash, and other times on an inclusive tour with other bloggers. Here are some of the adventures.
10 Days of Paradise in Italy
From eating bread and ketchup completely broke in Rome, to a 10 day tour with a group of awesome travel blogger, I find myself swept away seeing and eating the best Italy has to offer. Come explore Rome, Umbria, Tuscany, and Ponza Island.
A Surprise at Campo Dalto Villa
Sometimes unexpected things happen when you reach a place. After a long late night drive from Rome to Umbria, I arrived at the Villa Campo Dalto under a full moon. Here would be my base for 3 days, and I didn’t think it would be like this.
Frontone Beach Villa on Ponza Island
After a 2 hour train ride from Umbria to Formia, and a 3 hour long ferry ride, we finally arrived in Ponza Island. We took a tiny van around the treacherous cliff roads to our accommodation for the week, Frontone Beach Villa, and I was in love.
Il Fontanaro Organic Estate in Umbria
Il Fontanaro estate in Umbria Italy is a place of passion and care when it comes to growing olives and grapes, and more so with hospitality. For the first few days of our 10 day tour of Italy, much time would be spent here learning Italian traditions.
Tantalizing Food Tour of Ponza
Once upon a time I could have been considered the pickiest eater alive. On Ponza Island in Italy we toured restaurants and tried some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted. From octopus to calamari, anchovies to oyster. Warning, you may drool.
Video: Exploring Ancient caves in Ponza
Penza Island is unique geographically for the rock compositions and formations that make up this beautiful island. Settled by the Etruscans, caves and underwater passageways create fascinating labyrinths hidden around, and I take you there.
The moment I stepped foot in the backyard of Il Fontanaro, I knew I was going to quite enjoy myself. Maybe it was Bob humming along as he cut the lawn, or maybe it was the pool beyond the hedges the overlooked the green gum-drop dotted hills around, or maybe it was the hammock swaying in the breeze (after all, hammocks make everything better). Maybe it was the drive through the valley that did it, or the old brown dogs that greeted us after passing by the family vegetable garden. Even under the grey washed sky it was a beautiful place set in the valley above Paciano, Umbria, and there was much to gawk at.
It could have also been Alina asking if I wanted a glass of wine on arrival. It’s possible.
Oh, and meet Bob, well as I named him…
Welcome to Il Fontanaro Olive and Grape Estate, almost 100 acres of protected wood and land crawling with vineyards or sprouting with olive trees perched in the rolling hillside of Umbria, Italy. After arriving late night to our villa Campodalto where we would be staying during a 10-day blogger tour, day two introduced us to our base of operations in the area where super secret blogger pow-wows would happen. Or, in reality, where we would meet up for lunch or dinner and go over plans for the day and experience what the estate has to offer with its award winning wine and olive oils.
But before we delve into some of the experiences over 4 days around the estate (and my wine glass count which may or may not top 100) I want to share some of my first impressions in photos as I noted above, which are some of the details that made Il Fontanaro such a special place.
Everybody loves dogs. That is the only reason they are on here to get oohs and ahhs out of you. No, I’m kidding, Fontanaro brings out the big guns in first impressions with the welcome committee consisting of these two. I can’t tell you how many photos us bloggers took of them.
Hammock hung from an olive tree overlooking the hillside. Enough said.
Care for a swim in the secret garden?
All around Il Fontanaro life and color was bursting everywhere you looked. Beside the large family garden in the front of the property where the family gets the majority of ingredients they cook with, all over were lilac and flowers and even artichoke growing. By the way, the crazy awesome purple flower above is what an artichoke in bloom looks like! If you already knew that, go away. I didn’t, and it was exciting for me. Don’t crush my enjoyment.
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Award winning at that!)
One of the days on the estate, we had the opportunity and pleasure of getting a tour of the olive orchard and mill where they make the award winning olive oils. We were led through the orchard and told of the history of the farm, the process of growing and maintaining the olive trees, and the process at which they produce the extra virgin olive oil. Our guide, the one and only true Mamma Lucia, told us of how the estate only had a small portion of olive trees growing on it, and now they produce some 2,000 liters of it annually.
Momma Lucia explains how the olives are harvested, carefully of course, and how the trees are decades old and they have used no chemicals at all on the farm.
Olives in growth, just beginning to pop their little green heads out into the world.
Our other guide, Ciccio, always followed us about the estate and knew of the best places to relax.
Some of the bees in the bee hives just below the olive trees. Not only to they produce olive oils, but also 300kg this year of organic raw honey.
The valley splitting open, revealing the rolling hills of Umbria and the town below. Quite a view from the mill.
Mamma Lucia takes a moment to show us photos of the estate and of baby Alina so we could embarrass her later by telling her how cute she was. Apparently, all throughout their childhood, the kids of the household were always eager to help with whatever they were producing.
Some of the machinery involved in the olive oil pressing.
While on the olive oil tour, we had a chance to take shots, of olive oil of course, to see if we could guess the cheap store bought brand versus their organic oil. Instantly I could see the difference; the store bought was a transparent golden color, whereas their olive oil was a thicker consistency and was slightly green. Alina told us how to sip the oil specifically, and doing so I could feel the oil triple down my throat and burn all the way to my stomach. Not in a painful way, but almost like I would sip a fine whiskey.
“I use it for everything. If I feel sick, or have a stomach ache, I take a spoonful of olive oil.”
Now that is something the United States won’t back — organic natural medicine? That would probably be deemed blasphemous. Yet, I believed it, and when she explained all of the benefits of olive oil, and the nutrients and vitamins in organically produced olive oil, it was something I would definitely be using back home.
Wine Tastings (and my new found love for it.)
Another part of the experience at Il Fontanaro is the wine tastings of their own wine produced from a small vineyard on the property. I can definitely say I love my wine, with their brand being called by the exact same name of My Wine, and no doubt there is reasoning behind it because I never wanted to give it up.
Alina, during the wine tasting, went through the history of wine in the region and the main types produced there, with Il Fontanaro’s stock being exclusive to the guests who stay there.
I remember asking Alina at one point a question that completely baffled me, “Why is it that I haven’t gotten a hangover yet?” I inquired. Truth be told, I get headaches from wine even if I only have two glasses, let alone the first day when I had upwards of ten. Exaggerating that claim or not, she filled me in on the blunt reason behind my lack of hangover, and with her thick Italian accent she retorted, “Because you aren’t drinking shit wine like America.”
We all laughed, but it is potentially true, given her explanation that organic wines from Umbria and Tuscany wouldn’t have preservatives in them, and more importantly, sulfates that cause headaches in wines. With a gulp of My Wine, I nodded and felt enlightened.
After the clanking of glasses and sipping of more wine, we were taken into the kitchen where we were to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta from scratch. To my relief, it didn’t appear that I was the only one lacking experience in this field as Alina instructed us each step of the way. And usually delegating the hand-cramping task of making the dough and folding and massaging it to the “strong men”. I think the girls just wanted to sit back and sip wine and laugh at our attempt at cooking.
Pasta Making (I learn how to cook! Kind of.)
Soon, the floor began forming a volcano…well, we formed it into a volcano to stir ever-so gently pesto into it to create the pesto ribbon pasta.
In Umbria, everything has got to be hearty. Raguout means hunks of meat chucked into a pan and simmered together in glorious carnivorous synchronization of flavor. The kinda’ food that will keep you warm during the cold winters there. I’m sure the red wine helps too.
Just as our dough was settling, we were taught two ways to slice them into pasta: Momma’s and Alina’s. There was a reason why both were never in the kitchen at the same time, since Alina refused to use a hand-crank pasta slicer whereas Momma Lucia snuck us out back to show us how.
Here around the table daily, us bloggers sat and talked and ate and drank and laughed, all in the good company of Fontanaro Estate’s family. Everything they do on that farm and around the other guesthouses they own is done with a long-lasting passion you can see in their eyes and hear in the enthusiasm in their voices. Though we were visiting for four days, four was not enough since I wanted to stay and actually help with a harvest. At some point I will. Or, mainly sleep in that hammock out back. But it was the perfect location to launch our amazing blog tour from, and a place that helped us all get familiar with the roots of tradition in the Umbria region and history of an ancient art like olive oil.
*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Il Fontanaro for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
Family values are a big thing in Italy. And even bigger, are the enormous and lengthy family style dinners that Italy is famous for. And while staying at Campodalto in the hills of Umbria, I had my first experience which made a lasting memory.
Something happened to me during the five days of my stay in the hills of Umbria. On that hour or so ride from Rome late at night to Paciano where a 10-day blog tour of Italy would be kicking off, I could not have imagined what it would be like — and even if I could have, this sudden and unexpected occurrence wouldn’t have come to mind.
After a rendezvous with one of the tour hosts Linnea, a fellow blogger (DJ of Dream Eurotrip) and I hopped into Giovanni’s car and left the Eternal City in the rear view mirror. Giovanni, who is brother to our other tour host Alina and family owners of Fontanaro Farm where much of our base of operations would take place, told us of the area we would be staying in and bits and pieces about the region’s history.
Once we were off the highway, dark curving roads turned to gravel; smothered in dust kicked up from the car and lined with the dark walls of long grass dancing in the wind. The distant hills, monochrome in the twilight, surrounded the valley as we crept deeper into Umbria.
Under a full moon we arrived at our destination, Campdalto Villa, around midnight. There was a gentle breeze, and the sounds of crickets were the only thing stirring in the night. We passed under the silhouette of an ivy-lined archway to the villa which was completely dark besides a dim porch light illuminating the front door with a hand-painted “Welcome” sign at the center. Marlina greeted us, host and owner of Campodalto, who had a ginormous warm smile, so much so that it caused her eyes to squint just to make room for it, the kind of smile that makes someone feel like family at first meetin. Then, out popped the second blogger of the tour, Serena, who was already eager to gush about the villa’s secret in the garden.
We plopped our bags down inside of our room and Marliza gave us a tour of the house. Our room was large and cozy, a far cry from the crowded and uncomfortable hostels I had inhabited the past few months. And a bed! A real bed with real pillows and real blankets. Oh so marvelous. Our bathroom was bigger than my last apartment as well, with a walk in shower and decorated with handmade goodies. All around it just felt comfortable, but even more-so it felt like an easy place to call home for the week.
As much as I wanted to face-plant into the bed, Marliza and Serena both demanded that we go explore the backyard of Campodalto, for some super secret and amazing ‘something” awaited us back there. We wandered toward the back yard and into the blackness of the night, but soon, as our eyes adjusted, we were all “ooohs” and “ahhhs” at the sight before us.
The distant town lights glowed in the valley, but the sea of fireflies (or lightning bugs as I called them as a child) overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillsides around us — and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so wouldn’t miss them that night.
Somewhere in those hills a dog howled at the great moon above us. Something else in the darkness growled fiercely, which I looked down and discovered it was my belly. I guess I was quite hungry. I let out long sigh, it felt good to be away from the city lights and the noise. DJ and Serena both seemed to be feeling the same. I had been crashing in one hostel after the other, and with a nearly exhausted budget, had been living on bread and ketchup while waiting for some extra funds to come in. But here I didn’t have to worry about where to slept night and if I might eat. Here, I left the fireflies to mock the stars and went into the villa for a cup of coffee and a biscotti, and plopped into the lavender-scented bed, pulled the knitted blanket over myself, and drifted into a deep sleep.
In the morning under the Umbrian sun I could finally take in the sprawling views of the countryside and see Campodalto in all its rustic glory. Stone walls and pastel accents, ceramic tile rooftop and bright-colored plants all around. It was as if someone had dug into my mind and constructed my dream house. Or maybe that after-thought was a product of how much I couldn’t stop ogling over every itty-bitty detail of the house.
Though it was considered “home” for the 5 days that our blog tour would be exploring Umbria, the majority of the time spent here was just for sleeping. Most days, Linnea and Alina were taking us exploring all over the region from early morning to late at night, or we were around Fontanaro Farm feasting, cooking, and guzzling down wine. But even though we didn’t spend much time at the villa itself, I have told many people that of all of the awesome things done on this blog tour; from exploring sea caves in Ponza, to the day-long hike around Il Trasimeno Lake, and everything in between — an experience at Campodalto stood out to me above most else.
What was this unexpected experience?
Well, it was falling in love.
I fell in love in Campodalto in the hills of Umbria, fell in love with not a person or a thing or a scene, but of a concept. A tradition. I fell in love with Italian hospitality, but more specifically, the Italian-style dinners. How could this be one of the favorites of a trip filled with so many amazing things?
Well, besides Italian food in general making it easy to fall head-over-chucks, and surely good wine makes falling in love easy sometimes, it was something else.
When we all entered Campodalto after a day wine tastings and an in-depth tour of Paciano by the tourism leader in the area, aromas tickled our nostrils and rumbled our hungry stomachs. Again, Marliza and her warm smile invited us all in to the dining room — dimly lit with stained-glass lamps and polished wood furniture, with a great table in the center strewn with scrumptious finger foods. This was aperitivo baby, one Italian concept which is basically appetizers to snack on while you drink wine and talk amongst friends as you wait for dinner.
Marliza, after telling us all to drink and eat, went straight back into the kitchen and began crafting her Napoli-style pasta originating from her home town, and something she had eaten as a child. She had to have been cooking and preparing the spread all day, and everything on it from the flat bread with artichokes to the tomato and mozzarella was incredible. It just seemed like she was so passionate about having guests over and cooking for them, and as we all huddled around the kitchen at times to watch her create culinary masterpieces, we also just mingled and talked and laughed all night.
For three or so hours.
That is exactly why I loved the experience of Campodalto so much.
That is what I fell in love with.
As I was sipping my wine I thought about how great it was to have a huge dinner where everyone is talking and eating and enjoying the food and company…nobody was on their phones or watching television. It was a whole affair, an event, and it was something I hadn’t felt all too often.
When I was growing up, we would occasionally have family dinners on holidays, or I would go to family dinners of friends as well, but majority of the time when my brother and father and I ate dinner, it involved taking our plate to air respective areas (dad went to the TV, I went to my room, and my brother went to his). Family dinners weren’t a common thing for us growing up, and if we did sit together we were eating off fold out stands in front of the tube. So, though I enjoy family gatherings and dinners around the holidays, I’ve always felt awkward like I didn’t know how to be a part of the gathering.
But somehow inside Campodalto amongst the new friends and fellow bloggers, and with Marliza and her husband, I felt completely normal. I felt like I was experiencing this big dinner without a second thought to being out-of-place. And though I had already eaten my fair share of Italian food, it had never been what is one of the underlying fundamentals of Italian culture — being present with family and friends and enjoying the tastes and the company. Italian dinners (not all the time though) are typically an event where the food goes fast but the smiles don’t die. It isn’t a rush to leave anytime soon. And its a passion it seems.
With nearly three plates of Marliza’s pasta in my belly, and maybe about 4 glasses of wine, I observed her creating a work of art in the kitchen as the cap stone of the night. She drizzled caramel she had just made as the final touches over a desert only Dali could have conceived — sweet massive crackers with candied fruits, caramel, and homemade cream. As she presented it, nobody dared touch it as we all gawked at the construction. We didn’t want to destroy something so beautiful, however much our stomachs wanted us too. But, as she urged us to dig in, I was voted to make the first blow. Everything about it was fresh and unique and delicious, and though it took so much time to prepare, it was gone in seconds. I guess beauty doesn’t last, especially around hungry bloggers.
This crazy concept of cooking big dinners with friends over a few hours and enjoying company isn’t new, but it was somewhat for me. That dinner, the hospitality of Marliza and her husband, and the overall feel of Campodalto in general is what truly made the experience one of the most memorable from my time spent in Italy.
Now I’ve got to get my friends in the US to adopt this kind of concept. As long as they are the ones cooking.
*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Campodalto for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
Up in the hills above the 15th century town of Paciano Italy and overlooking the countryside of Umbria sits the villa of Campodalto. At the beginning of my 10-day blogger tour through Italy, this sight was one of the more unexpectedly memorable ones — and it happened on day one after arriving late night to Campodalto where we would stay during our time in Umbria. I just remember wandering outside and into the back lawn that was pitch black. The distant town lights glowed, but the sea of fireflies overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillside around us, and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so we could still see them.
Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!
Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)