Driving on a narrow road between the famous hills of Monferrato in Piemonte, I stopped every few minutes to admire the view and take a closer look at the large cascine, as farmsteads are called in this part of Italy, scattered here and there. I was lost but happy to discover the area unhurriedly. After a while, I spotted an old lady walking with a dog and asked her how to get to the agriturismo Cascina Faletta where I was going to stay for a few days. “It is just over that hill”, she pointed the direction. “When I was little I worked there during grape harvests”, the lady told me. “The new owners did a very good job renovating it”.
I am very picky when it comes to choosing accommodation while travelling. I always look for authentic places that show respect for local history, traditions and the environment. Thankfully, there are many of those in Italy and I will never get tired of telling you, my readers, about them. Cascina Faletta in Casale Monferrato ticked all the boxes: an eco-friendly restored farm with organic vineyards and beautiful views.
The Rosso family, Elena, Giorgio and their son Lorenzo, work hard to realise their dream of bringing back to splendour the land where their ancestors lived and worked. Both Elena’s and Girgio’s families have been living in the area and keeping the tradition of viniculture going for many generations. The Rosso bought the long abandoned 19th century Cascina Faletta a few years ago and threw themselves in the reconstruction. Vines were replanted, the building was restored to the highest standards with the goal of achieving zero emission, most original features were lovingly preserved and the history of the farm thoroughly researched. It turned out many of their ancestors worked here. “We even found a photo of some family members with the cascina on the background. We were meant to be here”, told me Elena. Faletta was once owned by an eccentric Marquess Virginia who was known for financing a Garibaldi campaign. If the noble lady happened to turn up at the cascina these days she would be pleased to see that the original floors in some rooms downstairs were still intact, the floral fresco decorations on the ceilings were painstakingly restored and the 200-year-old wooden beams reused to a dramatic effect.
The walls are painted with traditional lime and natural pigments, the house is heated with a geothermal and solar energy system, which keeps it warm in winter and cool in summer without the help of air conditioners. For the underfloor heating structure Giorgio together with an engineer friend developed a new technology that uses plant-derived materials that allows to use the produced energy effectively and without waste. Elena explained me that nothing was left to chance: “Perhaps a stone-faced house would look prettier but we covered the walls inside and out with a special thermos-insulating natural material to keep the house condensation-free and temperatures steady”.
Lorenzo showed me the wine cellar lined up with barrels of organic Barbera DOC, syrah, chardonnay that come from their vineyards. After finishing a university degree he travelled around the world, lived in New Zealand and came back to help his parents with the business. He spends a lot of time in the Cascina Faletta restaurant assisting the chef. The restaurant is another place where the old and new are combined with the menu featuring modern interpretations of traditional dishes made with strictly local ingredients.
During the restoration, in a secret windowless room, three old rifles were found wrapped in an old newspaper from 1947. Nobody knows why they were hidden there. “Locals often come to our restaurant and tell us stories from the farmstead’s past, show us old photos”, said Lorenzo. Who knows, maybe one day somebody will explain the mystery of the three rifles. These days they are hanging peacefully above the fireplace in the lounge room and are depicted in the logo of Cascina Faletta, the ancient farmstead where the past is found side by side with cutting edge technologies.