One of the most striking things about Casal dei Fichi is the view. The house sits on a hillside in Le Marche region of Italy; between the Adriatic Sea and the Apennines. It looks across to perfectly cultivated hills, topped by medieval towns such as Monte San Petrangeli in the distance. Surrounded by fields of sunflowers, it’s a peaceful setting that bears a strong resemblance to the kind of landscape usually spotted in paintings by Renaissance maestros.
The owners, Bob and Ian, left their London jobs behind six years ago to follow their dream to set up eco-friendly, luxury apartments. They restored and converted the farmhouse into six spacious one and two-bedroom apartments, each named after a local artist or composer – for example Orsini, a one-bed apartment which is luxuriously furnished and has original timber beams. Apartments have TVs, DVDs and stereos and some have fireplaces. Outside, there’s a 15 metre pool, landscaped gardens, and each apartment has a private garden or terrazzo. The only sounds are birdsong and the hum of insects, with the odd cockerel crow or echo of church bells across the valley. It’s a great place to escape the buzz of the city. If you’re a dog lover, you’ll enjoy meeting Hattie and Balzo too, who the majority of guests end up wanting to adopt.
The number one ‘activity’ is relaxing under the vine-covered pergola at the pool and just enjoying the views. The region does have plenty to offer though, such as a visit to the morning market in Mogliano for a glimpse into life in a walled hilltop town. Other guests go to the beach for the day (the Adriatic is a half hour drive away) or take a day trip to the Sibillini Mountains. The hosts can organise cookery classes, wine tastings, truffle hunts and there are always village festivals in summer. There are plenty of local walks, plus a badminton net, free WiFi and a DVD library on site.
Self-catering is easy too. Kitchens are fully equipped, even with a cookbook of Italian recipes. Guests can pick herbs, vegetables and fruit from the garden and the local village, Francavilla d’Ete (2km), has a bakery, flour mill, butcher and grocer. Local produce includes meats, cheeses, olive oil, lentils and truffles. Each apartment has an outdoor dining space and there’s a barbecue area. Monday is Pizza night, where Bob and Ian invite all the guests to make pizzas in the original wood-fired outdoor oven. It’s a nice way to meet people in the other apartments. The area also has plenty of restaurants.
Casal dei Fichi was designed with the planet in mind, so it has impeccable green credentials. The owners don’t preach to guests but they can offer advice. Apartments don’t have air conditioning but bedrooms are on the cooler side of the building, fly screens allow windows to be open at night and shutters provide ventilation. A fan is also supplied.
To reduce food miles, everything is either produced on site or comes from the local area. Vegetables and fruit come from the garden, olive oil from Bob and Ian’s trees and eggs from the chickens. Waste is either composted or recycled. Reusable shopping bags and glass wine and water bottles are supplied. Water from a well feeds the garden and septic tanks provide nutrients for the soil. Tap water is drinkable and both hot water and the pool are heated by solar panels. Appliances and light bulbs are energy-efficient and most of the laundry is line-dried. The owners have committed to the 10:10 initiative to cut annual carbon emissions and have planted 120 trees including the aforementioned olives. Each apartment comes with olive oil, a litre of local wine and fresh eggs. For more wine, borrow a demijohn (five litre jar) from Bob and Ian and fill it at the local La Murola vineyard. It is reasonably priced and you are not buying glass bottles which have to be recycled. Tap water is also drinkable.
Overall, Casal dei Fichi is a relaxed, easy-going place and a great escape from the buzz of the city. The apartments are well equipped and there’s plenty to see in the area, but make time to enjoy the stunning countryside setting too. It’s no surprise that many guests return for the relaxed atmosphere and unspoilt traditional Italian countryside.
Casal dei Fichi,
Contrada Pieve Vecchia,
63020 Francavilla d'Ete
Tel: (0039) 0734 959018
Need to know
To get there from the UK, take the Eurostar and then a train from Milan or Bologna to Civitanova Marche and another to Corridonia, 15km from the house. There is little public transport in the area. Bikes are available but the area is quite hilly. Ancona is an hour away and Pescara and Rimini are around 90 minutes away. The owners ask guests who are hiring cars to choose economical models.
In the area
Le Marche, with its Adriatic coastline and mountainous peaks, really does have something for everyone whether you’re looking for culture, history, great food or simply somewhere to kick back. The Sibillini Mountains National Park to the west is home to a plethora of wildlife, ranging from the spectacular – think golden eagles, roe deer and wolves – to the spiky in the shape of the crested porcupine. The region’s troubled history of invasion and counter-invasion by diverse groups, including the Goths, French and Venetians, has resulted in some of the best – and most eclectic – defensive architecture in the Italian peninsula, with the hilltop town of Cingoli boasting some of the most impressive. Also worth a visit is the Le Grotte di Frasassi warren of caves in Genga near Ancona. Formerly used as a sort of extended wine cellar, they’re a good pit stop on the way to or from one of the many regional wineries that offer a chance to sit and sample some of the local vintages.
This review was written by Yvonne Gordon, contributor to Greentraveller. For more information go to Greentraveller's Casal dei Fichi listing.
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