Sunday, 5 April 2009

Rural retreats in Italy; the home of 'slow'

The slow movement began back in the 1980's in Italy to counteract fast food and fast life and promote local, traditional food culture and a slower pace of life. Guido, the owner of Barbialla Nuova guesthouse (pictured) in the Tuscan countryside sums up his devotion to slow living:

"We are Slow through and through: we wait for just the right moment to collect truffles; we raise our cattle in a leisurely way, giving them all the time they need to grow naturally. We run our agriturismo in a way that we feel helps our guests to leave behind the stresses of modern life."

As I read this, I thought; 'when's my next holiday? I'm going to Tuscany'. I couldn't have come across a more relevant article for slowmoves as I flicked through last weekend's Observer and read an article about rural retreats in Italy called 'A slow traveler's guide to Italy'. Alaistar Sawday has just published a new book called 'Go Slow Italy' and he's hand-picked a selection of the places to stay for the Observer. They all have a focus on home-grown products, the pleasures of the communal table, abide to social and environmentally-sound practices.

Here is a selection of the wonderfully dreamy and inspiring places... let me know if you ever have the pleasure of making your way to any of them, I would love to hear about it.

Locanda Casanuova, Tuscany (pictured below)

Locanda Casanuova is a place of contemplation - and always has been, for it began life as a monastery. Bedrooms are almost monastically simple, but have splashes of colour and style to introduce a perfect measure of modernity.

The 23 hectares of vineyards and olives produce 7,000 litres of wine and a lot of olive oil; there is an organic vegetable garden too. It is an intensely personal place. It was 20 years ago that they came here and resolved to rescue it. They have done so much more: Ursula practises yoga in the early mornings - you are welcome to join her - and is a superb cook; meals are wonderfully convivial affairs in the refectory, off which is a library where you can pore over trekking maps at a big round table.

• Locanda Casanuova, near Figline Valdarno (00 39 055 950 0027; Twelve doubles, two suites, four singles - from €70 per person half board. Two apartments, from €75 a night for two. Nearest train station: Figline Valdarno

I Mandorli Agriturismo, Umbria

Wanda is the overseer of this 45-hectare estate. With her three daughters, Maria, Alessandra and Sara, and their daughters, you have the privilege of seeing Italian family life in action. I Mandorli is a higgledy-piggledy house with little steps here and there leading to rooms and apartments, outhouses, lofts and old olive mills. Flowers tumble from pots, capers scale stone walls and fruit and cypress trees give shade in the garden. Bedrooms are simple affairs with wrought-iron beds and pale homemade patchwork quilts; the small bathrooms are spotless. The vineyard is managed organically; vegetables and sunflowers are grown and there is a little outlet for the estate's produce; you can buy wine, lentils, oils and jams to take home.

Guests can wander the land, pick herbs, help with the olive harvest, take cookery lessons, cycle, walk and go rafting. Children will love the wooden slide and seesaw, the old pathways and steps on this shallow hillside, the new pool - wonderful to return to after outings to Assisi and Spoleto.

• I Mandorli Agriturismo, near Trevi (00 39 0742 78669; One twin/double, two triples, from €40. Three apartments: one for two; two for four, from €65 a night. Nearest train station: Trevi

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