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italian excursion

100+ Posts
Having just returned from a research trip to Italy I am still processing all the wonderful people and places I encountered. Of course, because this trip was meant as a test case for the future, it was not what I would call "slow travel". We stayed in five different agritourismos and ate out twice daily, which is not my usual pace! However, it was well worth the exploration and netted much valuable information.

Thanks to Erica Jarman of Sapori & Saperi Adventures who invited me to spend the week of collaborative exploration for an upcoming Textiles & Tastes tour, and did incredible research beforehand, I am still reeling from all of the new information and knowledge gained.

The Casentina, is where we started out and if you were unaware of it, is actually in Tuscany, but a remote part of that region that doesn't seem to get much attention from travelers. We also spent time nearby in Le Marche and Umbria as they all bump up against one another.

Each area had its own historical treasures and the people, once they saw our interest, were more than accommodating in sharing their traditions with us. For example, in the tiny village of Cetica there was the Ecomuseo del Carbonaio, which is mostly a lost tradition and we were interested in learning about those cultural bits that are disappearing. We arrived and due to a festa, it was closed. We found the curator and asked if he would be willing to open it for just a few minutes, which he conceded to for just "cinque minuti" but once inside he kept us there for an hour and a half, so engaged in sharing with us! Now we know just how charcoal has been made for hundreds of years.

Another fascinating tradition is the wool weaving and we found several families each with a long lineage entwined in this art. We did the whole gambit; from shearing, to natural dyes to encountering the final products. We visited a small sheep farmer and witnessed the shearing of the wool so we could follow its journey to completion. The shearing is done by a traveling tradesman who goes from farm to farm. There was also cheese making in Nonna's kitchen at this small farm which was at the end of a very long road near Bibbiena.

We spent two days at a converted monastery in Lamoli della Pace, a village of 90 people to see where the plants for natural dying happens. Max and two of his friends had curated a sweet little museum for the plant dying process using only natural plants from the area and included a history of such from other countries. The plant they referred to as Wode, which resembles any old green weed, produces the most brilliant blue color imaginable. He also teaches this tradition to adults and the school children in the area in the hopes of keeping it alive. We will hire him to give our tour group a workshop when we go back.

We also met Patrizia at the monastery, who cooks things like fried elderberry flowers and nettle pasta from the plants in her vicinity and hugs everyone she meets because she is just a happy woman, doing what she loves. (Her amazing 6 course meals at the monastery where we stayed cost all of 15 euros)! The setting was so peaceful and beautiful, with rolling hills and forest nearby that it was difficult to leave after two days. And the Romanesque church on the grounds contained the same beauty as the outdoors.

Then we visited a museum for weaving in Stia, where the last weaver (her vocation for 50 years) is the docent/curator. She does workshops in all phases of weaving and the museum is a treasure of the last couple of hundred years of weaving in wool, linen, cotton and hemp. We sat and talked with her for 3 hours and then went next door to a family owned weaving business that had looms from the 1920's, mechanized, not treadle like the museum had displayed. We spent another 2 hours there seeing the generations of change, the beautiful clothing they made, including a copy of a coat that Audrey Hepburn wore in one of her films. The history in all of these places took my breath away. And I was almost persuaded to purchase the softest cashmere coat but came to my senses when I remembered I live in San Diego!!! We don't need coats, cashmere or otherwise!

Citta di Castello held more treasures that were mind-blowing. We met a woman who is cultivating and saving heirloom fruit trees from all over Italy (she's an author and just received her Ph.d in Archeologea Arboreta) and she lives in a house attached to an 1100 year old church! Her property was overwhelmingly fascinating. Then there was the Museo di Erbe in Citta that holds illuminated books and relics of old Farmacia's from the 16th century. The care and beauty with which this museum was created makes it a must see when visiting this town.

The last place we stayed was high up above San Sepolcro where 4 generations have raised pristine cinta senese pigs for salumi cured more than 3 years! The young proprietor and his father were so proud of their small business and shared all about the history, showed us the coolers for prosciutto, cooked us a fabulous meal and housed us in the most beautiful apartment; three ensuite bedrooms complete with antiques. The accommodations were stunning as were the views and the food in their small restaurant. Then we visited the museo with the Piero della Francesca fresco that is being restored. Wow! Oh and the palazzo with private Della Robbia's in the loggia. On our way out of town we visited the Burri exhibit at a palazzo exclusively housing only his works.

I've not mentioned the castle, hosted by a charming, noblewoman, the incredible meals & wines in remote places or the Carbonaio museo in a high mountain village of 130. Every day was filled with new and wonderful things, but it was mostly the people that were so captivating. When they saw our interest they opened up and shared the generations of knowledge and traditions that were such treasures. There was much more but I am still processing it all. Our goal is to solicit and support the existing family members, especially the young ones, in continuing these important artisan traditions.

So, yes, I am hooked on this new interest and look forward to collaborating with Erica on some small group tours to these very special places.

Sapori e Saperi - www.sapori-e-saperi.com
Museo dell Arte della Lana - www.museodellalana.it
Sansepolcro Museum - www.museocivicosansepolcro.it
Aboca Museum - www.abocamuseum.it

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1000+ Posts
If you feel inclined, maybe you could write this out into a "Travel Note", so that Pauline could put this in the "Slow Masters" category. I've put up a similar Note for Piemonte artisans. Your post would be a great addition to this, and could highlight a worthy subject : small-scale artisans in Italy.

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