There is an unbeatable charm about Italy in winter. It is mellow, relaxed, more genuine and welcoming. Surely, the skiing destinations in the North are buzzing but head towards central Italy and you will find slower pace and fewer tourists. Below are my favourite winter spots which offer much more than just a room and food, they offer different ways to experience the Italy less travelled.
Winter retreat in Tuscany
The magnificent Villa Ferraia is located about 20 minutes from Siena. To reach it I had to drive for a few kilometres on an unpaved road in the woods. I stopped a few times: once to let a fox to cross the road, then, a minute later, to look at two fallow deer running between the trees. The villa has been lovingly restored by Vittorio Cambria who turned a 13th century borgo on the Tuscan back roads into a luxurious retreat. Vittorio came up with a fantastic idea to offer wintering programmes for the guests who come between November and April. Apart from the sauna and cold-water swimming pool with a view of the forest, guests can spend their time in the astronomical observatory with the astronomer in-residence, explore Tuscan hidden gems on a horseback, take cooking lessons, paint or work in the organic garden and green house. The food at Villa Ferraia is cooked by Stefano, who turns humble local produce into delicious Tuscan dishes that you will never forget. He showed me how to make the best gnocchi I have ever tasted in Italy. Vittorio Cambria says that he wants his guests to embrace the ancient Roman concept of “otium”, which means withdrawing from one’s daily business and immersing yourself in pleasure, quiet time, contemplation and learning new things.
Slow Country Living in Umbria
Alina and her mother Lucia run the Fontanaro organic farm, villas and culinary school with gusto. Alina, a whirlwind of energy and ideas, is a certified sommelier, so she keeps a well-stocked wine cellar and offers wine tasting. She also runs cookery classes all year round for everyone who wants to learn the secrets of Umbrian cuisine. The curious can also visit Il Fontanaro state of the art olive mill where they make excellent organic olive oil. When I told Alina I was writing a post about wintering in Italy she was happy to offer a free cooking lesson to all my readers who book a stay at Il Fontanaro estate. Just mention Green Holiday Italy when talking to Alina.
Simple pleasures in Abruzzo
Picturesque olive groves and dramatic mountains surround the Kokopelli camping in the little known to foreign visitors region of Abruzzo. This small camping site is open all year round and is a perfect place for those who like simple pleasures. The British couple Jacqui and Kevin, who run the Kokopelli, are happy to take their guests out snowshoeing and hiking in winter. Snowshoes are available free for everyone. They also offer self-guided snowshoe hikes around the stunning Maiella National Park. You can stay in a self-catering room, a retired VW Camper that comfortably sleeps four or set up a tent (provided that you have a warm winter sleeping bag!).