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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Fabio and his wife Suzanne love two things above all in this world: Tuscany and nature. The result of their passions is the creation of an eco-haven set in a two-hundred-year-old-farmhouse surrounded by hills, vineyards, olive groves and organic gardens in the eco-destination of Follonico, Tuscany.
Embarking on agro tourism in Tuscany is a step back in time to a realm of rustic enchantment: here, geese roaming in the garden act guardians for the ancient accommodations, which are decorated with vintage touches like clacky typewriters and charming farmer’s boots stuffed with bursts of flowers.
The couple has retained all the most beautiful aspects of their country house, but have also made upgrades, in environmentally-friendly ways. In fact, their aim is to be as independent as possible from national infrastructure, without yet being completely off the grid: there is a small pond to collect and reuse rainwater for irrigation; a vegetable garden for food, and solar panels provide much of the energy for the place, for example.
The main concept behind the house at Follonico is to bring an agro-tourism experience to mainly city dwellers without compromising on the luxuries urbanites are accustomed to. The couple understand modern needs well. They previously lived in Tivoli and would spend hours in traffic to commute to Rome where they worked – but they were miserable.
As Fabio explained to me: “It all began because we wanted to take care of our family and not leave our children to grandparents and babysitters, since we were working 12 hours per day. So we started to explore Umbria, Marche and Tuscany to find a new situation to change our lifestyle. After two years, we fell in love with this place, with the idea of working together, being closer to our children and reconnecting with Mother Earth. The choice we made was not a marketing strategy, but a personal one.”
Forget processed food and the polluting waste of urban life; Follonico is the quintessence of natural, slow living, where you can literally disconnect from wifi and the madness of modern living, and reconnect with the real world as Mother Nature intended.
A Tuscan Travel Diary
My stay here was a simple one. I roamed about in the vast gardens that overlooked an uncontaminated hilly landscape, and my taste buds enjoyed the flavours of fresh foods, recently locally harvested. Specifically, one particular dinner Fabio cooked was exquisite: an artichoke bruschetta made from handmade wholewheat bread, followed by a main course of a kind of pasta similar to spaghetti, but wider and thicker, flavoured with rich olive oil and breadcrumbs. This is a simple dish that dates back to what Italian peasants used to eat, and though it seems basic, the purity of the ingredients made the dish truly come alive. All was accompanied by a sumptuous Follonico red wine, made with the grapes from the estate.
Retiring afterwards to my spacious room, I was at first slightly disorientated: television sets are nowhere to be found here – this is not the place to stick yourself in from of a screen — but there is a WiFi connection in case you are planning to do a bit of work. I wasn’t sure how to manage my time in this rural environment, and happily ended up reading an actual book for the first time in ages.
Awakening to the twittering of the birds is something you’d normally associate with a Disney movie, but this is what truly happens at Follonico. As the morning light creates a magical effect in the surrounding landscape, the soundtrack of nature gently wakes you from slumber.
My breakfast was just as homey and scrumptious as my dinner, with Fabio preparing ricotta with honey and pine nuts along with fresh fruit, coffee and handmade breads, jams and yogurt. Once I was pumped up by the breakfast of champions, I could visit the nearby areas, bountiful with inspiring surprises.
Places To See Nearby
Once you arrive in this charming place, you won’t be surprised to discover that UNESCO declared the town of Pienza a World Heritage Site. Set in the mesmerising Val d’Orcia, it is considered the “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism,” since during the 15th century Pope Pius II commissioned Rossellino to redesign his home village into the perfect Renaissance town. The result was the majestic Pienza, with perfectly proportioned streets, well planned public squares and beautiful buildings such as the Duomo, the Town Hall, and the Papal palace, which was used in the filming of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.
If you want a natural spa experience, you can’t miss the thermal destination of Bagno Vignoni which has been in use since Etruscan and Roman times. At the heart of the Italian village and hamlet of San Quirico d’Orcia is a rectangular tank from the 16th century which contains the water that comes from a subterranean aquifer of volcanic origins. These thermal waters have been experienced by both humble travellers and eminent personalities, including Lorenzo the Magnificent and Saint Catherine of Siena. If you go during the summer, the spa is open at night, allowing you to swim under the stars.
This Medieval town near Siena is full of ancient churches and Renaissance palaces. The main square, Piazza Grande, is the heart of Montepulciano and is the setting for its main events, including the barrel-racing contest held in August every year. Teams of two runners representing the eight districts of the town compete to be the first to roll an 80 kg wine barrel through the streets and past the finish line.
Podere il Casale
This was my favourite excursion, and that most inspirational in terms of sustainable travel. Fabio recommended I visit this farm, which produces ethical dairy products without pasteurisation. I was introduced by Fabio to Micha, who moved with his family from Zurich to Tuscany in 1991 to create an organic cheese business at Podere il Casale. I was highly impressed by this enchanting place, which also offers glamping experiences on their grounds.