DOWN ON THE FARM
My favorite bargain lodgings are the agriturismos of Italy. These are beautifully located working farms and vineyards that rent a few rooms to tourists. Some offer only breakfast, others include sumptuous dinners. All the ingredients, including the wine and the olive oil, are usually organic and produced on the property. If there is a heaven, it’s gotta be a lot like an Italian agriturismo.
One farm we discovered in our wanderings was La Riserva Montebello. It consists of some ancient stone buildings overlooking the medieval lake town of Bolsena – a 2½ hour drive north of Rome.
When we arrived, there were two bottles of the house wine – one red, one white – welcoming us to a room furnished with charming antiques. Rustic decals were painted on the walls, and just outside the door was a small terrace overlooking spectacular Lake Bolsena: an auspicious beginning.
Nothing is perfect, however: the bath towels were as thin as dish cloths. Since then, I’ve learned to pack my own terry bath sheet – no big deal.
There were two spring-fed swimming pools (Spring-fed means FREEZING, but fresh and invigorating. Italians don’t heat their pools, just as the English don’t heat their homes.)
We enjoyed archery, ping-pong, and beautiful strolls along the farm paths, with visits to the barnyard animals. One day we were walking in the woods and came across the owner’s girl friend filling up a basket with mushrooms. That evening, the first course at dinner was wild mushrooms sautéed with olive oil and garlic: a splendid testimony to the local food movement!
We could drive ten minutes to medieval Bolsena, or twenty minutes to the splendid city of Orvieto. For serious sight-seeing, the clean, punctual train from Orvieto to Rome takes an hour and ten minutes.
All these activities were a pleasant way of killing time between the really important events of the day: the meals. The breakfast buffet consisted of
• Home-made yogurt
• Home-grown fruit
• A variety of breads and cakes
• Local cheeses
• Various cereals, jams, and honey
• Eggs boiled to order
• Ham, salami and prosciutto home-cured from the farm’s own pigs. This gave me a half-a-moment’s pause because we had enjoyed our contact with the animals, but at least they had lived a good, natural life.
Dinner began with an aperitif on the terrace – either a glass of Prosecco or the house red mixed with a little fruit juice: a post-modern sangria. Olives, salami, cheese, and nuts were also offered, which we munched on while gazing at the sun setting over the lake.
The meal was served in a romantic candle-lit dining room. This was a leisurely, two-hour affair with at least four or five courses. The menu changed every day. Here’s a typical dinner.
• Mixed bruschetta
• Gnocchi with meat sauce
• Grilled lake fish with parsley/lemon sauce) and mashed potatoes
• Fruit and Cheese
The feast was enhanced by several wines, and after-dinner liqueurs.
Since there are only a dozen guest rooms, the intimate atmosphere allowed for friendly contact. There was the Norwegian wedding party – which we mistook for a funeral because everyone was so quiet and somber. And the Republican lawyers from San Diego who had never heard of Jon Stuart, but who offered to lend us some fleece vests on a chilly evening. And the Dutch minister who was on his way to Israel to study Hebrew.
We got friendly with Marco, the gentleman farmer who owns the property. He invited us for a ride in his vintage Lotus convertible and promised to show us his modern art collection on our next visit. When we checked out, Marco insisted on giving us four bottles of wine to take home.
The daily charge for all this bliss bliss bliss – including food and wine – was a little over two hundred dollars for two people. The only thing cheaper would have been camping, and that’s not this baby’s idea of a good time. VIVA L’ITALIA!