Italy From Bottom to Top: Farm Work and Hiking in Abruzzo

After a few days at Italy Farm Stay, I’ve pinpointed the reason that it’s so unique: Guests are able to directly experience the lives of the Siragusa family. Antonello manages the Farm Stay; his mother, Maria, teaches cooking classes and prepares lunch and dinner for guests and volunteers; Antonello’s father, Giuseppe, takes care of the livestock, the gardens, and—perhaps most important—the wine.

Bottling WineKristin and I work 2 ½ hours a day in exchange for a free place to camp, and so far our work has been mostly wine-related. The first day I met Giuseppe, I told him that we might be a little late for work. We had to return the rental car that morning, then go shopping in the nearby town of Sora. From Sora, we needed to walk back to Le Moglie. Giuseppe, who only speaks Italian, responded, “Non fate problemi. La vita é bella!” Do not make problems for yourself. Life is beautiful! In other words, relax and enjoy.

Giuseppe is Italy incarnate (at least my American concept of Italy). He is relaxed and content, loves to spread happiness, and share his homemade wine. We usually begin our workday with a glass of wine (he says that he himself never drinks less that 1.5 liters a day), and if we ever look like we are working too hard, he says, “Con calma, con calma.” Calmly, calmly.

The work is rewarding: I’ve gotten to talk about the wine-making process while bottling over 100 liters of chardonnay (for the whole story, check out my blog.)  It’s not all fun and games, however; today, Kristin and I worked to build a stone wall. Other volunteers are busy stripping and varnishing old Buildings being Restoredwooden doors. Still others are pruning grape vines. The entire philosophy of the place is to build an international community of volunteers in order to help Antonello and his family; currently, they are renovating several buildings, which will be turned into a B&B. As a recent article in the Seattle Times reports,  Antonello graduated from university in Liverpool, then, after working as a waiter in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, he decided to move home again. He needed to make some money. He instantly thought of bringing tourism to the Lazio area, but he did so in a creative way: by offering low-budget travelers a free place to stay in exchange for work. More offers like these can be found on the Work Away website.

Hiking and WaterfallPersonally, I think that working 5 hours a day is too much, and I’m glad that Kristin and I decided to forgo electricity and work only 2 ½ hours a day. Further, the Italy Farm Stay does not give days off; the only option is to double up one day in order to take another day off. This is what our new friend Elizabeth did, in order to join Kristin and me on a beautiful hike to a waterfall. Elizabeth is from Austin, Texas, and she is staying on the farm for a month. It quickly turned out that we had a lot in common, and this turned out to be the norm at Italy Farm Stay: The people who stay there, both paying guests and volunteers, are open and friendly. At all times of the day you can find a group sitting on the porch discussing all manner of subjects, philosophy and travel included. This is another reason Italy Farm Stay is an especially rewarding experience, both for volunteers and guests. In particular, the families we’ve met here have enjoyed themselves; their Waterfallchildren love getting taken on horse and donkey rides on the surrounding trails. Prices range from 10-38 euro per person, per night.

Lastly, yesterday’s hike to the waterfall was exceptional. The views from the cliff-hugging trails and the slippery walk through the gorge up to the waterfall combined to make me forget my failed trip to Trento and the Alps. We experienced brief altitude sickness, and our legs were tired by the end, but the mist and the raw power of the waterfall made it all worth it. The hike takes 8 hours round trip.

I think that I’m beginning to fall into Le Moglie’s rhythm. I’ve collected enough firewood and learned how to boil water on an open fire, and Kristin has developed an ingenious system for doing the dishes. I spend my morning reading, my afternoons working the land, and my evenings sitting by the campfire. It’s not for everyone, but this type of living isn’t so bad in the short term.

Written by and photos by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com

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Comments

  1. says

    You are right to put the word “vacation” in quotes. Unless you are staying at Italy Farm Stay’s B&B, it is not a vacation. It is a work exchange program and volunteers are not paid.

    It IS a great way to learn the language, meet great people (local and international), and experience a way of life that is totally different than your normal life.

    Thanks for the comment!
    —-Mattie

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