At last I’ve found the Italy holiday experience I’ve been looking for since before I first travelled to Europe. When I first read about the Italian setup of ‘Agriturismos’ I imagined experiencing an idyllic Italian farm with olive groves and a big kitchen where people gather to cook and eat and drink. A place to be close to the land and people, delving into the cultural traditions of a region.
I have enjoyed the agriturismos we have stayed at in other parts of Italy but they were all simply B&Bs (or airBnBs before airBnB was invented) set in the Italian countryside. Absolutely lovely but not what I had in mind. But at last I’ve found it.
Here in the Marche region of Italy, Roberto Feretti has created a sustainable tourism dream. Where he shares the riches of this stunning hidden gem of Italian countryside and has evolved a ‘tourism of relationship’ at La Scentella, a place where nature, food and friendship blend to create an experience that awakens the senses.
This golden-stoned farmhouse nestled on a hillside beneath the charming village of Petritoli, is in the Val d’Aso, nicknamed the garden of the Le Marche region of Italy. The Val d’Aso has no fewer than 23 such villages, each a picture postcard in its own right.
Roberto and other accommodation providers in the valley work together to promote their dream of sustainable tourism, where people from different backgrounds can come together and experience the joy of nature and the country table in an atmosphere of friendship.
From field to fork in Le Marche, Italy
Of course, the kitchen is the heart of La Scentella and Roberto’s is a cosy, working kitchen, with a fireplace and bookshelves and a long table that welcomes all. The focus is on making dishes with local, seasonal ingredients. Farm to table cooking that celebrates local fare.
Within an hour of arriving at La Scentella, my daughter was mixing up an apple and walnut cake in the kitchen and we later partook of a delicious meal of minestrone and chicken prepared by Roberto. We were also introduced to Vino Cotta (cooked wine), made from grapes pressed by foot under the boughs of the cherry orchard here on the farm and then cooked in a cauldron over an open fire and stored in a wooden wine barrel in the kitchen.
This winter I travelled through California’s Central Valley, perhaps one of the most famous fruit and vegetable growing areas in the world. Mono-crops as far as the eye can see. Beneath the trees and between the rows, not a weed or a blade of grass to harbour insects that may sully the produce and reduce the profit.
The Val d’Aso is the complete opposite. Everywhere you look is a riot of natural growth. Every little farm grows a myriad of vegetables and fruit. We visited Eric the local cheesemaker, and his goats and cows, who make 25 different types of cheese. And that says everything you need to know about the Garden of Le Marche. It’s a garden of diversity.
There’s an open invitation to forage for all sorts of edible things here. Gather citrus in the spring, or grapes, pomegranates, persimmons, olives and walnuts in the autumn. It was Roberto’s especial passion to engage us in the discovering the wonders of foraging for wild herbs and greens in the farmhouse garden. One day we went on a walk in the mountains with the local truffle hunter and his dog, bringing back the white gold to grate over the pasta we had made at the kitchen table.
Hospitality with heart
Just as the valley lives and breathes biodiversity, Roberto and his friends celebrate cultural diversity as we sit at the table with fellow guests, sharing lives and stories as we share delicious food. In front of the farmhouse are set rustic tables for al fresco dining, with views over the cherry orchard. Or spend some time reading a book in the deep spreading shade of the mulberry tree.
We visited the extraordinary nearby cities of Fermo and Ascoli Piceno to get our fix of elegant piazzas and historical sites. We ate fresh-off-the-boat seafood out of paper cones on the seaside Riviera de la Palme, where ice cream coloured hotels line the coast. This area is rich in sights, sounds and tastes.
If you’re looking for an environmentally sustainable place to holiday, this is it. Whether you want an educational culinary break or simply more mindful eating, a cultural experience or complete relaxation in the countryside. It’s not commercial, it’s not a transaction. I’d hardly even call it tourism. Meet Roberto and discover his world.
~ By Natasha von Geldern
Travel details for La Scentella and Le Marche
We travelled by train from London to the Marche region, including the overnight sleeper train from Paris to Milan or Verona. This service has recently been refurbished and will hopefully be just part of the ongoing renaissance of overnight trains in Europe. A regional train carried us to the city of Ancona. Or you can fly direct to Ancona or Bologna if you are short on time.
From Ancona you can either hire a small car or get a train one hour to Pedaso. Roberto often meets guests at Pedaso and we didn’t really need the car during the week as he took us out and about or we were relaxing (and eating) at the farmhouse. But If you want to be more independent that’s fine too.
Lead image: Village of Petritoli Val d’Aso Le Marche Italy. Photo by Bruce Nixon.