September 21, 2015

Vacation Photos: Italy // The House

The Italian olive grove where we stayed 

We're back from the heels of a 2 week vacation in Italy — it's a bittersweet spot to be in as we're happy to be home and re-energized to take on the busy season ahead, though our heads keep wandering back to the remote hills of Umbria and the 300 year old farmhouse where we stayed while away.

We've rounded up many of our favorite snaps from this family vacation and are eager to archive them here on the blog along with a recount of the memories we made. If you care to see, we'll start by sharing the details about the house and area we stayed in, and later round up many of the sights and outside activities we enjoyed in an upcoming entry (pssst...we've since recapped our travels in this post).

Our time spent in this area of Italy was truly a retreat. We stayed in a beautiful rustic and fully restored stone farmhouse, privately nestled among the hills of Umbria with views of the historic town of Assisi and Mount Subasio — you know, the kind you only imagine exist in dreams.

We'd flown into Rome and rented a car to drive while abroad, and as we drove up the winding dirt road towards the farmhouse, our breath was literally taken at the first glimpse of our Italian home away from home. We'd found the house using AirBnB — it's dubbed "Casale Nella Natura," which literally translates from Italian to "Farmhouse in Nature," and this place was straight out of the picture books.

It sat among an olive grove and the grounds were landscaped in all sorts of additional fruit trees and herbs — figs, cherries, apples, grapes and nuts, rosemary, lavender, thyme, oregano, sage, parsley, basil & wild dill — all of which our gracious host, Evaristo, said to help ourselves to before handing off the keys.

My personal favorite was picking fresh figs straight from the tree, slicing to eat immediately or saving to cook with throughout the week:

The farmhouse had two landings — a lower patio where the wood burning grill was situated and an upper terrace with a wisteria and grapevine covered pergola. We spent the majority of evenings out on this terrace drinking wine, taking in the views while the sun was setting and eating family-style meals.

Guys, can you see in my face how much I loved this terrace?

Inside, the farmhouse has been fully restored, retaining the historic and rustic architectural details which we love so much amidst the modern upgrades.

There were winding trails and a cleared loop around the mountain we'd walk in the early mornings or mid-evenings to get an even better view of the historic town of Assisi, or just to get the blood flowing and breathe in nature.

As you can probably gather, this vacation was all about living a little slower — we spent the two weeks without the TV, had limited access to internet, but copious access to nature, unreal views and good company — a perfect combination for leaning into relaxing and deep conversations with close family.

We washed the dishes by hand, hung freshly washed clothes out to air dry, made coffee over the stovetop in a Moka pot and cooked with fresh ingredients from around the farm on a wood burning grill. Meals were simple. When cooking at home we used heaps of olive oil, salt and pepper to season everything from meats to vegetables and even bread. We overindulged in cheeses, meats & salumi, olives, bread, pastas and wine. Oh, the wine.

One of our greatest delights was learning how to cook on the wood burning outdoor grill. When we arrived, we asked our host where the outdoor grill was, as he pointed over to the very simple metal structure next to a pile of collected fire wood (that we were hoping was not the wood burning grill).

I explained how wood burning grills like these aren't common as compared to the charcoal or gas grills where we live. After a quick roughly translated tutorial and chuckle from our host (silly Americans he must have been thinking), Tim felt like he knew enough to give it a go early during the stay...

...and I can now proudly say we know how to cook using this method — which actually seems much simpler than we ever would have imagined. The process really amounted to burning wood in the top portion of the structure, then spreading the hot fallen coals onto the slab. Once spread evenly, a metal grate with feet can be rested on top of the hot slab to cook a meal just as one would on a charcoal grill. As the dinner begins to cook you continually collect hot coals and continue to spread them underneath as needed to maintain an even temperature.

Mom and I would gather dried olive branches from the base of the grove during our morning walks to rest by the grill for starting the fire (evidently olive and oak are some of the best woods for a flavorful smoke). We'd drink wine while the sun set and Tim would start the fire and prep the food.

We felt rustic. We felt primitive. We felt like we could do anything.

In terms of area, as mentioned, the farmhouse was located just outside the historic town of Assisi. It had a complete remote feeling to it with quick access (about a 10 minute drive) right into town where markets, modern conveniences and sights to see were at our fingertips. The location was perfect for making day trips to larger destinations like Florence and Rome, and shorter stints into the smaller surrounding towns like Perugia, Bevagne and Spello before returning back to our home retreat in the hills. Stay tuned for an upcoming entry recounting the sights and activities we explored in Italy while away from this incredible home base (pssst...we've since published that recap here).

For those curious, you can view the listing for the farmhouse we stayed in here, on AirBnB with about 100 more photos of the space. Evaristo, our host, mills the olives from the grove to produce olive oil in small batches for his personal family and small scale use. He gave us a can of oil as a parting gift from our stay and it's absolutely one of our favorite souvenirs from the trip.

Now back home with only the near memories and pictures, we're more inspired than ever to reinvigorate our little patio garden, continue to cultivate the perennial herbs we've started and to try and live in the moment, just slowing down (and being OK with that) where possible. As always, thank you for taking the time to check in on us and share in some of these special moments and memories we're making. For a fuller look into the collective snaps from everyone on our trip, explore the tag #TMItaly15 on Instagram.

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  1. These are AMAZING! Can't wait to see more!

  2. I LOVE it!! Especially the part about the wood burning grill…cooking over a fire or coals does make you feel like you can do anything, sort of like that scene with Tom Hanks in The Castaway when he makes his first fire ;)

  3. We should all spend a couple of weeks relaxing together. Well done.

  4. Fabulous story and pictures! So glad you guys went off and did this, it was a perfect experience for you both (and family). Looking forward to the next installment...


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