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Matt meets Paolo, Francavilla FC captain and manager, at our local pizza box factory.

We’ve been keeping a secret since June. Well we’ve told a few people, quite a few probably.
Earlier this year Casal dei Fichi was chosen as one of a handful of  properties to be featured in a pilot tv series highlighting holiday rental business which stand out as excellent.

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce the crew to some of our favourite activities and places. With just 3 days filming our greatest challenge was to decide what to leave out!

Our schedule ranged from truffle hunting in the mountains to one of our favourite coastal walks that very few locals know. Being a keen sports fan and football player we arranged for the presenter, Matt, to achieve his ambition of meeting the local community by training with Francavilla F.C. With memorable meals at La Botteguccia del Campo enjoying  the truffles we gathered and exquisite Osteria del Baffo with stunning views over the Adriatic we treated them to the best of mountain and sea cuisine. Inbetween we snuck in the Michelin featured Le Logge, a proud participant in our Treedom scheme.

Bob, bigfoot? Never.

And to prove that Marche produces some of Italy’s finest wines, not only did we pick up our wine for the pizza party at Muròla, we enjoyed a tasting of their fine wines as well. Did we mention pizza party?, well what visit to Casal dei Fichi would be complete without one.

Just in case the weather was unkind we asked our friend Emanuelle from Mymarca to recommend an interesting indoor activity. His suggestion of an artisan shoemaker represents one of the most important industries in our region. Though his introduction to charismatic Pepe was a revelation to us. This native of our village still makes shoes to order in his tiny higgledy piggledy workshop, specialising in meeting the global demand for clowns shoes! Unfortunately the sun didn’t stop shining so the footage wasn’t needed.

Matt Landau, the presenter and driving force behind the series, is a recognised authority on holiday, or vacation rentals. Co-starring were dogs Jakes and Obi and our 47 year old Alfa Romeo Spider, all supporting roles to Marche, la protagonista!

So now the secret’s out, click here to discover everything.

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It must be a sign that the climate is changing as the ultra traditional Italian country folk are now picking their olives earlier than ever. 13 years ago, when we first gathered a meagre crop from our neglected trees November was considered the traditional picking month, some starting after the All Saints’ Day on 1 November, others waiting until San Martino on 11th, the day for opening that years’ new wine. The press would run well into December, sometimes right up to Christmas Eve. Those visiting their Italian country estate to harvest their olives during the British half term holiday in late October would have to carefully schedule themselves around the one afternoon that the odd press would open that week.

Jakes and Sofia down tools for a rest.

This year the summer was so hot and long that the olives started maturing early in September and by mid October the fields were littered with people anxious to enjoy the autumn sunshine and gather up their bountiful yields. An added bonus being the ability to pick for longer as daylight wasting time hadn’t even begun. Hot dry weather is the nemesis of the flies that lay their larvae in the olive so there was no chance of the blight which devastated previous harvests.

Our local press installed state of the art processing equipment this year and was challenged to open earlier than tradition dictates, with a few teething issues they made it. Producing the oil in a closed environment limits the opportunities for it to react with the air so keeps it fresh.

Results of our work.

The down side is the loss of the giant granite grinding wheels which transform the whole olives, stones, skins and all, into a pulp. As well as being mesmerising to watch, the time consuming process produces the most wonderful aroma which used to fill the whole building. But the process of crushing the olives, churning the paste then separating out the water in a centrifuge has not changed and the oil still emerges, almost fluorescent green, from a single tap into the motley collection of containers which the customers have brought along to take their oil home in.

We started picking our olives last week, assisted on the first tree by the guests on our gourmet weekend. Friday evening we filled 2 cars with as many olives as they could carry and took 900Kg to the press, emerging some time later with about 100 litres of ultra fresh oil.

Computer says “Fichi”

For staunch traditionalists the older process at the press has been maintained, always known as the “old press” this room still has the granite grinding wheels and the stack of circular once straw, now nylon, mats sandwiching the paste is built up to over a metre in height. This is loaded into presses over 60 years old to have the oil squeezed out. When you tire of monitoring your oil’s progress on the computer monitor you can still stroll through be hypnotised by the grinding wheels and fill your lungs with the wonderful smell of fresh olives. Though only in November.

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Now that most people are about to have, or maybe have already had their summer holiday it may be time to line something up to see you through the autumn. Something to make those Monday mornings bearable.

Coming at the end of October when the weather is usually still very pleasant our Gourmet Breaks are a great way to get away for a few days of delicious indulgence. From the minute we meet you at the airport you can switch off and leave everything to us, we’ll take care of all the driving, menu selecting and ordering. Though if you have particular dietary requirements or preferences, we’ll make sure they are provided, vegetarian and vegans gladly catered for, or if you’d just like some more of that delicious pudding or wine – it’s no problem.

On the last morning as you head home you will wonder how you managed to do so much in 4 days yet still feel as if you’ve had a relaxing break. From the magnificent Sibillini mountains to the dramatic Conero coastline, wine tasting in the beautiful golden vineyards to seeing the olive harvest being processed in the brand new press, you will enjoy a fascinating insight into Marche and its delicious and varied cuisine.

We still have availability from 27 to 30 October when the weekend starts at Perugia airport. Passing Assisi we take you straight to the heart of the mountains for a gentle walk with the cutest truffle dog and you can watch her expertly and gently unearth the precious tubers. Lunch at a quirky local restaurant features fresh mountain produce with those very truffles.

For a sample itinerary please see www.casaldeifichi.com/specials/gourmet-break

Maybe it’s because of the amazing weather we’ve been having but other people are planning even further ahead. Many of our regular guests have asked us to book them in for next year. If you think you might be planning a visit to Casal dei Fichi in 2018 then please bear in mind that we are pretty heavily booked for June and July and August is starting to fill up too. We hate to disappoint people, particularly our loyal guests, and just wanted to make sure we’d let you know.

Finally, for those who aren’t able to plan ahead, we do have some space in late September and October this year, so if you are looking for some late summer sun our pool will still be open and is solar heated.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.

 

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Not a complaint you hear often and not one we make seriously. It’s just that the winter is when we have all those jobs which we are meant to do during those endless months and now, our first guests are here and we keep on thinking how much easier it would have been had we had a few more weeks or days, or even hours to get everything ship-shape.

But we made it, well just about. Being on hand at Casal dei Fichi means, of course, that travel is practically impossible when guests are here. So our closed months are when we catch up with friends and family and spend some time in London to get our exhibition and theatre fix.

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Spuma, eager to hunt

Once again November saw the end of the season here at Casal dei Fichi with our gourmet weekend breaks. Loosely themed around the olive harvest we always try to vary them slightly from year to year, to introduce new places and experiences that we have discovered and provide a bit of variety to our regular visitors. As Perugia airport is now so easily accessible we began the first weekend by meeting our guests there. With an hour to fill before lunch we stopped on the Marche / Umbria border for a walk in the beautiful countryside through the Sibillini mountains where, in a glade of oaks, Cristine and Danielle from La Cerqua explained the basics of truffle hunting, ably assisted by their delightful Lagotto Romangnolo pedigree “truffle hound” Spuma. Soon she started scratching around the trees and found some tiny tubers – the training and instinct clearly paying off. Later from the denser undergrowth she proudly emerged with one, and then another, black truffle.
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assisi

The historic city of Assisi

Although across the border from Marche you have to admit that Umbria has its fair share of lovely towns: Spoletto, Gubbio, Orvietto and Todi, to name but a few. And whilst there is certainly no denying its beauty, Umbria is the only region on the Italian peninsular which is totally landlocked.
Now however eastern Umbria finds itself an hour closer to the coast. It is true that the Adriatic is slowly edging inland, in the time that we have been here we have seen houses succumb to its advances. That might have shortened the journey time by a few seconds.
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macerata norma

The chorus against the medieval walls in Norma.

macerata sferisterio boxes

A box gives a good view of the stage, handy for people watching too.

One of the highlights of our summer is the Macerata Opera Festival. Every July and August three productions, generally of Grand Opera are staged in the magnificent Sferisterio Opera House. Built originally for the game bracciale, where a ball was played against a long stretch of the ancient city walls using menacing spiked gauntlets, the building is now used for more urbane purposes.

We like to book a box with 4 friends and enjoy the spectacle with a civilising drop of prosecco which you are welcome to bring into the building. This year we attended Norma, above, and Il Trovatore whose gloomy plot is made cheerful by Verdi’s lively music.

 

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obi 1

Aren’t I cute?

Hello, or as Bob and Ian say to me Hell-Obi, or Hell-Obi dobey doo. I think they are being friendly. Though life is so confusing for a little dog. Although Bob and Ian had hoped to revisit the dog rescue centre to help out, it is quite a way from Casal dei Fichi and they have been very busy. So their return visit was driven by the sad loss of my predecessor, Hattie.  When first we met I was just 6 weeks old and caged up with my abandoned siblings and Mum, they seemed a good bet so I nuzzled my way to the front and impressed myself on the puppy selection entourage. I was marked down as reserved and 3 weeks ago, when I was 12 weeks old, I moved to my new home at Casal dei Fichi.

 

 

 

dogs jamie

Me and Jakes with our new best mate.

WOW. Life at the kennel was kind, we were well fed, cleaned, exercised and loved. But nobody ever told us about the great big world outside. Within hours of arriving I found myself at my first pizza party, so many people wanting to cuddle me and give me just a few scraps. Since then I have been on walks, swam in the sea, travelled in an open top sports car and met more people than I ever imagined existed, all of whom have been kind and gentle to me, as well as a few more pizza parties, I don’t tell anyone about the scraps.

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We were delighted to see that the famous British chef Rick Stein chose Bologna for one of his weekend breaks as it is one of our favourite Italian cities. Of course Marche has its share of beautiful small cities like Ascoli Piceno, Fermo, Macerata and Urbino, each with historic architecture, magnificent squares, fascinating galleries, world class opera etc., but none of them have that big city cosmopolitan buzz.

bologna maggiore

Boasting Europe’s oldest university Bologna is a beautiful historic city and the still thriving student population ensures that it has a vibrant feel. At weekends the city centre is closed to traffic accommodating  street food, street entertainment  and street art. The shops and markets prove that this is a city that loves its food, the freshest and finest ingredients are all beautifully displayed in the maze of narrow streets which make up the historic centre. Its nickname (one of many) may be Bologna the Fat but you cannot say that about the majority of the population, clearly in moderation top quality and fresh food make for stylish healthy living.

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spider hattie

Always ready to jump in for an adventure

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Hattie was the dog you expected to live for ever. As long as she was breathing her trademark curved plume of a tail would wag and her face seemed fixed in a happy smile. So we couldn’t believe it when just a week ago on her regular daily walk she fell victim to barbaric poison put down to kill foxes.

 

 

We know nothing of Hattie’s pedigree, the black and white markings and those soft pert ears which flopped over so endearingly, as well as her gentle disposition, suggested Border Collie. Though her size, feisty temperament and determination – particularly for digging in the wrong places – made us think she had some terrier in her, maybe Jack Russell.

tiny hattie

Showing off her trademark tail

As a 5 month cat and dogsold pup she soon got the measure of young Balzo making him pursue her in loops up and down walls until he lay exhausted. A huge fan of nuts she would take the fallen walnuts up to our apartment and cracking open the shell, leaving all of the detritus on Balzo’s bed. Though in later years when the big farm dogs would turn on blind Balzo she wouldn’t hesitate to defend him, chasing off the attackers and snapping at their legs. Now she lies alongside her old friend.

Less instinctively gregarious than Balzo, Hattie was a more loyal dog, and whilst happy to chat to the guests would return to us. After lunch it was almost impossible to sit on the sofa before she had jumped onto one of our laps for her afternoon cuddle. Though she did soon learn that guests mean scraps and she was often sat near the garden tables not actually scrounging but making it plain that if anything came her way it wouldn’t be wasted. Barbeques became a favourite of hers and if more than one was grilling she would run back and forth checking when the coals would be ready and a surplus sausage might go her way.

Wary at first of Jakes they soon bonded and Hattie enjoyed company on those longer walks which had been too much for Balzo in later years. Right up to the end she ran around with the agility of a goat and the speed of a greyhound, exhausting the young dog.

 

It wasn’t possible to look at Hattie and not smile, her cheeky face always looked so happy, now we have to rely on memories to make us smile. Luckily, like so many of our guests, we have plenty of those.

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