Another Year for us in Italy

January :  When the future months appear like a blank sheet of paper, a clean slate. A time for renewal and a time to re evaluate our lives.

It invites reflection,  aspirations for the future and it’s always a time for us to make plans.

It is often full of crisp, cold days with glints of brilliant sunshine and clear starlit nights. I can already see the tiny buds on the almond trees waiting patiently for warmer, longer days.

I make lists in my head, on scrappy bits of paper, and when I’m feeling organised in my diary.  January is when I sit down with Thomas and discuss what jobs need doing at Casa Montalto.  The list is always long and normally includes some redecorating,  some refurnishing plus maintenance issues.  Not only the house itself requires our attention and time,  but our acres and acres of land which surrounds it.

Purchasing this faded country house 15 years ago was a feat in itself. We rather unwillingly ( at the time)  had to buy the whole lot……farmland, vines, and crumbling ruin, because the owners didn’t wish to sell the main house alone.

Now however, we feel truly blessed to be the managers of this grand farmhouse and its surrounding land,  that sits within a valley of views of the Le Marche hills.

Luckily, we have the most amazing Italian farmer neighbours. (pictured below) Its not a very January photo of them I know ( summer sunflowers) but one of my favourites!!

On day one they rocked up with gifts from their farm and have in fact never stopped,  much to our delight!  A bottle of their best homemade vino cotto was presented to Thomas during his first week here, in a repurposed beer bottle. After a days work Thomas opened it, swigging it back thinking it was a beer. I think it was a pleasant surprise to taste the homemade, rich, red, slightly sweet cooked wine, a regional speciality.

The son, Emilio has been essential in our land management. He works alongside his mother and father and I’m in awe of their constant energy and enthusiasm. His mother, Louigiena is mid 70s and his father Vinicio mid 80s.  They taught us how to pick olives, when to plant vegetables, how to handle the rich but sticky clay soil. Not long after we purchased the estate we sold a hefty portion of vineyard to them, which enabled Emilio to give up his job in a factory making soles for shoes and become a full time farmer. He has a deep love, respect and understanding for the land and is now certified organic. We are thrilled with this and are already  the proud owners of an organically run vineyard.  During this Winter our bottom field has been deep, then shallow ploughed, ready for the next exciting  development.

With Emilio we are planting 300 olive trees and 50 fruit trees to create a productive orchard. This has always been a dream of ours and we did plant 30 trees some 8 years back but we are far more effective working alongside Emilio and his family, utilising their generations of experience.

They saw our move here, I’m sure, as an opportunity to reinvigorate this valley. Before we moved here the house had been abandoned and the land rented out to a lazy farmer who only planted quick turnover crops and used pesticides. He littered the landscape with plastic bags and plastic cups which he had simply thrown down where he stood. With my parents help and young children in tow we spent months walking the land with bags, to collect the bits of half disintegrated rubbish. However, that’s all history!

If you would like to wander amongst our olive trees, pick fruit straight from the trees, stay a while within the relaxing, quintessential Italian landscape of rolling fields,  then we rent out the main house in its entirety each summer and into Autumn.  There are only a few weeks left, as January is also a time when everyone seems to be planning their summer holidays !

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