A Spring in the Wood: Sustainable Tourism Event at Heartland

Burning holes in Yurt Wheel

This will be a month long event, tying together some amazing wood work projects, wild outdoor living (in yurts), and fire side cooking. We will explore the creation of some products to help Glamping in Central Italy take off: making yurts, a Shepherds’ hut, a cruck frame marquee. We well know how beautiful and versatile yurts are as a living space, and are introducing the others, the Cruck Frame Marquee being more suited to a kitchen/dining room/workshop/event space. We will be living as a little tribe around the camp fire, and alongside all there will be the the Beltane celebration, conscious cooking, a sweat lodge, and some energy work exchange, maybe even a small participatory performance.

One of the structures we plan to make is a Shepherd’s Hut, a wagon which was, since the 15th century and into the 20th Century, used by shepherds during sheep raising and lambing, primarily in the United Kingdom and France. It has become a popular accommodation on UK glamping sites. We intend to construct an oak chassis and frame with prefabricated iron wheels. 

Shepherds Hut

Shepherds Hut Chassis

Another structure is a Cruck Frame Marquees a traditional timber framed marquee, based on a 13th century Gothic design. 

Cruck Frame Marquee

This mini festival is laying the foundation for the Heartland spring festival, where we come to celebrate the sacred marriage and the start of the season. This year’s theme is Sustainable Tourism, but with a twist – we will explore the role sustainable tourism has in helping to create economy in marginal rural areas and the role well-being practitioners and organic farming plays in this.

But mainly we will be having fun, living togther in a tribal setting like we always do, exploring nature and our inner connection, eating good food and working outside.

Sweat Lodge

Admission is free, the event is run by the Heartland Association which is a small non profit, but we suggest a donation of about 12 euros a day towards food so we can keep it flowing with honey from the hive of the queen bee herself.

We will be hosting from around 16th of April up to 10th of May.

See Facebook page for more information.

Brexit while you can and Italienter?

 

Roccascalegna, Abruzzo

Brits : If you have long had a romantic rural dream and are thinking of jumping ship as Le Grande Divorce approaches – howabout starting a Glamping site in Italy? (Also for non-Brits, just the Brexit thing is so loud…)

There is a rural regeneration revolution happening in Abruzzo, Central Italy!
Abruzzo, the Green Heart of Europe is a magical secret. Most people have heard of Tuscany and Umbria but Abruzzo is almost unheard of, even though it has the most magnificent mountains just a short drive from the beaches of the Adriatic Coast, national parks and ancient villages with rich tradition. It is not, however gonna be the next Tuscany or Umbria full of ex-pats with holiday homes, who create a surge in the house prices, but has a new culture full of people who want to integrate with and learn from the local culture, whilst bringing new ideas and sustainable projects. As written about in previous posts, much of Southern Europe is suffering from the disease of rural depopulation and a cure is needed. As talked about in the previous post, development of sustainable tourism projects is one such cure, and our speciality is the building of glamping sites so we want to connect the places with the future guardians.

Even though it is possible to find gems of places in the mountains for shockingly low prices, I’m not saying it’s all easy to set up a campsite in Italy: Italian bureaucracy is somewhat medieval with processes that would be just a click away in other European countries, needing patience-testing repetitive paperwork. Also, planning permission for a campsite can take time although the Italian administration is slowly waking up to new forms of land use.

That said, the increasing call for a greener future is putting pressure on central and local governments to provide more sustainable industries and the EU has more and more grants to support such industries. Alongside this, it also recognises the need to stop the trend of rural depopulation spreading and there are grants and schemes to support sustainable development in marginalised areas.

Also the global populist trend is asking the Italian administration to look at reducing taxes and help small businesses, which would make it easier and cheaper to establish a small business.

We have many years of experience in setting up and maintaining glamping sites in the UK, other European countries and Israel, so have seen what works and what doesn’t and especially enjoy coming up with the perfect vision to suit the place and the predilection of the owners.  We have a network of glamping business specialists who can help with the various challenges of setting one up. Our Heartland Association is focusing on sustainable tourism projects to share this beautiful, powerful land with responsible tourists and is working with regional planning departments to make planning permission for campsites easier. There will be more information coming later about our latest projects in Italy, but for now as well as making our UK yurts, tipis and other nomadic tents, we are now the sole agents in Italy.for Outstanding Safari Tents who make beautiful safari tents at affordable prices.

Outstanding safari tents

Outstanding Safari Tent

We have also got Featherdown Farm on board who, if you haven’t heard of them, have a network of locations which are working farms that offer accommodation in wonderful safari-style tents with rustic furniture. They have diversified into land which isn’t a working farm as such but could be an olive grove or other rural location. If you choose to go with them, you become one of their sites and get bookings through their website. It was very well established in the UK and Holland, then expanded to France, South Africa, USA,Germany, Belgium and Ireland – now we are putting it on the ground in Italy. 

Featherdown

So if you like the idea of establishing a campsite in Abruzzo – now is the time!
(Nevermind mountains, sea, good food, warm people, amazing weather…)

Get in touch if curious..

Glamping as a Solution with The Glamping Revolution

Ready for the GlampItalia Revolution…? 

After 10 years of so, the Glamping (glamorous camping) trend in the UK shows no sign of cooling off, with new campsites popping up all the time and there are hundreds, maybe even over a thousand of such sites in the UK. By glamping I mean the holiday experience of staying on a site which has structures (mostly nomadic canvas tents), with a level of comfort above that of ‘traditional’ camping. (Personally I dislike the word ‘glamping’, with its connotations of drinking martinis around a fire and a sanitised experience of nature, but it has become the all-encompassing term for this type of holidaying). Of course, living in luxury in nomadic tents isn’t a new thing by any means: the Mughal Emperors, for example, in the 16th century travelled with entire cities of nomadic tents with a large and opulent palace tent  for the Emperor which had the most ornate decorations and was sumptuously furnished. (To give you an idea of the standard – the Taj Mahal was built by one of the Mughal Emperors).

The market for these sort of holidays is big in the UK as the UK has a strong tradition of outdoors and camping holidays and many know the experience of pitching a tent in the rain or taking a caravan park with rows of identical caravans, so the glamping idea presents something more comfortable and closer to nature, and now has become a mainstream vacation. These sort of sites, also lend themselves to spa-type of retreat or a luxury resort with a natural edge.

Over the years we, as tent makers, have been involved in the setting up and/or maintenance of a very many of these sites in the UK, other countries in Europe and Israel. After looking for many many years to find a place where we can build a campsite of our own –  Abruzzo, known as the Green Heart of Europe, called us into its heart of hearts two years ago and we have been  building up Heartland, our own wild, yurt campsite in the Majella Mountains.

Kissing Yurts at Heartland

The Italian rural mountain villages in this area are generally very traditional and conservative with few foreigners, but the local people have been overwhelmingly open to us from the start. (A while after we first arrived, even the local priest came to our little house on a dirt road, in full ceremonial dress and blessed us and the house with prayers and holy water. And local farmers drive by in their tractors and deliver boxes of fresh produce). The main 12 hectare site is in an isolated place a few km from the village and is not yet accessible without a 4×4 vehicle, which means that it is only the adventurous and/or inquistive who make the journey. The locals might have not fully understood what we were intending to do down there but the support and positive reports given by visitors and participants in events, have created a sort of excitement in the village, about the ‘English’, who have brought new energy to the area.

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Torricella Peligna

However, as you may have read in previous posts, these mountain villages are suffering from the disease of rural depopulation, which means the outlying farmlands have become overgrown and abandoned, and the younger generation have left, meaning that there is no one to continue the traditional ways of agriculture..
The are old ways still there : the families going out to pick their olives at harvest time, the old people getting their wood for the winter taking a picnic into the fields, the guy going out at first light all summer to look for truffles, the knowledge of the day in June when, if it rains it will be a bad year for the olives and the day in September when you can tell if it will be a cold winter. The traditional recipes, of sowing seeds. These old ways are disappearing as the village collapses in towards the centre leaving the outlying properties and lands to be taken over by the overgrowth of forest and wild boars. There are whole olive fields abandoned and classic stone houses and barns falling into ruin. 

So GLAMPING TO THE RESCUE…we are bringing the glamping model to local land owners to start initiatives with anything from a single yurt B&B in their field, to complete campsites with several units and a restaraunt. This sustainable tourism allows farmers to supplement their income and brings people and energy to these abandoned areas.

yurt in abruzzo

Yurt B&B in Abruzzo

Italy is ready for a GLAMPING REVOLUTION with the idea already caught in the North and slowly filtering down from the North to Abruzzo which is surprisingly undiscovered as a holiday destination, with its wild mountains, medieval villages perched on the mountaintops, national parks full of wildlife and the Adriatic coast with its endless beaches. We certainly don’t want to encourage a massive influx of tourism to this magical area, but slow, sustainable tourism is a needed to boost the area, and bring life to the lands.

As pioneers in the industry, we are enflaming this revolution in Italy, and alongside Heartland, our wilder site, we are working with an Italian partner to set up a campsite at the top of Torricella Peligna, the local town to Heartland, which will be a shop window of sorts, for the glamping scene. People who are new to the glamping idea and interested in setting up an initiative can experience it first hand, as well as experienced site owners getting some new ideas. This site will feature examples of the possiblities for a eco-site: yurts, safari tents, tipis, shepherd’s huts, wooden saunas, hot-tubs, compost toilets, off-grid energy solutions as well as access to experts in the field offering business advice from geographical considerations to finance and marketing. 

The GlampItalia Revolution is on. Get in touch if you are looking to start a new eco-tourism initiative in Italy, or want to expand an exisiting site with new ideas or are have suitable product to put out to the Italian market.

The Sybil

It was late afternoon, I was a little tired and the smell of sulphur was hanging strong over my skin, I looked at the map, I wanted to find a place to stop for the night soon, but wanted to head towards the monte Sibbilini national park a little more first, we were drawn to the place because of its name, the mountains of the sybil (the oracle) I remembered reading at some point over the summer that there used to be a cave up one of the mountains where the oracle used to live.

Anyway the day was getting old, and much have happened It felt like if I can drive us of the main road in the direction of the national park, and we can simply find a resting place that would be best, I stopped relying on google navigation at some point because of all the closed roads, so whilst driving a quick look at the edge of our map showed me mount Sibbila, there seemed to actually be a road that went up the mountain, I guessed that it wouldn’t be drivable to cars, and anyway all roads seemed closed.

But heading towards that name place seemed the goal for the night, I thought we were leaving the earthquake centre, but even here on the small roads, there was a lot of damage, at times it seemed that there was even more, small villages nestled on the Ridgeline, very beautiful, but even here many houses were collapsed, and it seemed that any road but the one I was driving was closed, I was heading towards the village of montemoncao, I thought it being a little late we can park there for the night, maybe in the morning we can see if we can find the road up that mountain, and ask the locals if they heard about the cave too.

I almost got to the village, but the road was closed, it was funny because we also reached the end of the map (its Abruzzo and Molise map) I couldnt drive through the village and there was no where for our sizeable camper either, I drove back and took the first turning, it was a small road, I was tired, I remember saying out of exhaustion It seemed we arent meant to find that mountain, the road is closed, I came to another small turning, the road sign in brown said …. MONTE SIBBILA….!!! the road to the mountain wasnt closed after all, in fact, it was the only one I could have taken, that was getting a little strange….

I drove on, something seemed to have a mind of its own, and it wasnt mine, I got to the bottom of the mountain, there was a 4×4 parked, by a barrier, this was the small road I seen on the map, the road to the Oracle mountain, as it seemed something led us here, I just drove passed the barrier, it wasnt really blocking the road and it seemed too late to do anything else, It was a small gravel road, and we were in a 7.5 ton truck, it snaked up the mountain, with drops of 1000 meter at either side, the valleys in front of us and the surrounding peaks of the monte Sibbilini were something else, a cloud hung up above, and I was relieved when we drove into the fog, because I was scared someone would see us driving the big yellow monster, at one point there was a massive boulder in the middle of the road, the earthquakes must have lodged it free from the mountain, but here too I could pass through, I felt like the something really wanted us up that mountain.

the road up sibilla

The view going up the 4×4 road

We got to the rifugio Sibbila just before dark, I was relieved to see a couple of other cars, it seemed the Italians like me dont bother with barriers, I parked the truck at the edge, below us the whole land laid like a map, it was such a strong day, looking down on all that area, and knowing how shaken it was, having been working to promote sustainable tourism in the rural mountains of Abruzzo we know what it must have felt for the locals, it seemed fighting abandonment was so much more of an issue now, but it also seemed that there is ancient myth right under our feet, a sleeping entity who is awakening.

Before we went it to make dinner, I went to read the tourist map, I was somewhat shocked to find that the cave I was after was up that very mountain!, the sign said that in medieval times people used to come up the mountain because its mystery power, that it symbolised the earth mother, and that they came to dream here, it seems very auspicious  to me.

This mountain range, Monte Sibillini is named after the sibyls, wise women, priestesses who could read the energy of things, see into the future. The sibyls are also known as oracles, the most famous being the Oracle of Delphi and the difference being that the oracles would speak the words of the Spirit, like the Oracle of Delphi speaking for Apollo: “He says…”, whereas the Sibyls would speak the words of the Spirit directly as themselves. The first story of the sibyl can be traced through Roman folklore to the 5th century BC in Greece. There were several sibyls, but this story is about the Apennine Sibyl, who lived in a cave in the heart of a mountain, which became known as Monte Sibilla. The cave could well have been the entrance to an underground labyrinth where the sibyl lived and worked on the mysterious side of things. Wandering knights of medieval times would come and seek counsel with the sibyl and people would come to the cave to dream. Supposedly people would come to seek her advice, of course we no longer know how the ancients view it all, the power of place for them was the first religion, the spirit of the mountain and its connection with the deep (through the cave) was why the oracle prophesied there.

mount sibilla

An old map of the oracle cave

The Mountain is believed to be the centre of the earth, the Navel, there are other spots like that, like the above mentioned temple in Delphi, the same goes for Cusco in Peru, the tibetans too believed the earth was a goddess, and in order to achieve super natural abilities they would travel her body, in search of the mysterious waterfall that would transport them to other worlds, In India it is believed that meditation on certain spots can advance you spiritually as much as doing the same work for years in any other place.

Anyway we get the gist, its the power of place, and its affect on the spirit of Man (or in this case Woman).

mount sibilla

The ring road of the mountain, and the cave at the top

The next morning we climbed up the mountain……there are two possible roads one can take, in fact its like a ring, and you can approach the mountain from both directions, we vouched for the way up Monte Zampa, this proved to be a good choice, because although the ascent to Monte Zampa is a little devoid of scenery, once you get there, to are confronted by a long dragon back of monte Sibbila, and the valley below was so breathtaking, I decided on the spot it was in my 5 top places ive ever visited, the view reminded me of how it felt looking down from Mt. Sinai, its pristine.

the secret valley below mount sibilla

The secret valley below the mountains

There is a convent the other side of the valley. I thought that this must be the most amazing place in Europe, the half moon was right over the Sibbila mountain, and it seemed like we were walking in the footprints of a legend, like we were brought here for a reason even, our Abruzzan shepherd loved the hike even more than us, we decided it was time teach him to carry loads, so every km or so we tied another bit of clothing around his waist, hoping that one day he can carry our loads for us, or at least learn to carry loads as part of his work, he didn’t seem to mind the pile of woollen jumpers around his middle, he was in the mountains and he felt like home, we all did, especially now he was carrying more of our clothes.

Abruzzen Shepard

The Shepard of Abruzzo carrying our clothes

After some steep ascents and some bits we had to almost carry the dog, we got to the top, the cave itself was closed obviously, There is rumoured to be a labyrinth under the entrance, with halls and magic, where the oracle used to live, the cave entrance was also blown in an attempt to try and open it, which actually made it even harder to enter, there is however a little opening that borrows down, for the brave of heart.

There are secret stories in the area rumours the locals spread, and how they believe it is best the cave is left alone, the witchcraft left untouched, maybe it was them taht blew the entrance to make sure the secret of the caves would never be explored, to dissuade people from stirring the earth again, but the strongest punch line of it all, is that once we climbed that mountain that seemed to call us, whilst we explored the area, we have come to realise that every one of the hundred or so earthquakes that occoured in Italy in the last months, seemed to be centred around the cave, some of the biggest shakes were not 15km away as the crow flies, so it seems that maybe the locals were right, or maybe they were wrong, because it seemed no one can keep the Oracle from returning, the mountain that held her for 1500 years is now shaking the area is all adrift, it seemed she has decided it is time to come out, it is time for her to find a new Woman, one that would heed the call and be the voice for the spirit.

oracle

Spirit’s voice

 

 

The Goddess of the deep

Its the beginning of winter, because this is usually our busiest time, we try and find a moment to go away on the road, to rest a little from the everyday, to find sometime to connect to the power of story and place, using travel to find our inner bearings so to speak.

Because we have spent a lot of the last year working on our Heratland site in Italy, we have been present through a series of strong earthquake, this has been on the news everywhere obviously.

A few days ago we finally found sometime to go and see the reality of things ourselves, the winter has not really set on central Italy yet, the weather is very warm, and travelling through Abruzzo we didnt really feel like we were a week or so from December, Abruzzo felt sleepy, stopping for fuel in the camper truck, I got talking with the lady in the cafe, she said that the earthquakes on top of it all made one really want to leave, I told her that someone has to stay, to work this Amazing land, we have started a cultural association in order to help fight the issues of land abandonment, and to brung sustainable tourism as a way to regenerate the land.

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Lake Campotosto

We drove past L’aquila, we were headed towards the hot springs of aquasanta terme, at some point that day we realised that the road is going to take us through the whole earthquake hit zone, there is a spot we love around lake Campotosto.  We parked there for the night, it was good to be on the road again, the quiet around the lake….. mingled with the sense of myth were really high that night, slowly it seemed like a story was emerging, the lake for us also represents the first contact we had with Abruzzo so we love it for that too, looking at the map that night, I realised that we actually drove through Amatrice (one of the towns that was devastated worst by the earthquakes), one could say it was for us the door into Abruzzo, it was strange, like the door collapsed on us, and now we were going to see the damage.

The next morning we drove on that same road we took the small road to Amatrice, it was early morning, sunny and warm, the world seemed peaceful, but the closer we got to the town, more and more signs of devastation were apparent, collapsed houses army trucks, fire department trucks and police were everywhere, small tent cities are dotted around, we drove through Amatrice itself, it felt like we were in some army base, trucks and man were everywhere, we drove in disbelief, and yes the road we wanted to take north was blocked, we got diverted, it seemed like the army and all the workers actually made a whole new road leading to the SS4, it wasnt very clear if we can pass there with our 4×4 camper because some of the bridges were under 3.5T, but we risked it and came out.

IMG_5519

Amatrice aftre the earthquake

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italian army

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Broken houses by main road

We now were in earthquake central, even by the main road, every other house was broken, cracks in stone, collapsed restaurants, the small hamlet of Pescara del Tronto, lies just above the SS4, passing through on the road, we were somewhat amazed to see that nothing was left, it seemed the whole town just fell of the cliff, cars were lying in the ravine, and two stories of shipping containers were put to protect the road from the landslide, but what was sliding wasnt the mountain, it was the remains of the town.

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The remains of Pescara Del Tronto

It really was like traveling through some nightmare, the road though was open, the next fuel station had no more diesel, I guess having all the Italian army, and fire department meant there was more demand tan usual.

Here too new tent cities were everywhere, and army trucks blocked the road on every other cross road, google maps was really emergency state like, as it had so many red circles, it basically seemed like we couldnt go anywhere but where we were going, somehow it felt like it didnt touch us, like we were driving through a dream scene, we got to Aquasanta terme, the town seemed asleep, having taken a little small road a km before, had seeing the destroyed houses in the hamlet above, It was a relief to find our that no house collapsed in the quake, all the terme were closed for the winter, but some now had red tape around because of quake damage.

We walked down to the river, the sulphur water comes out in a big rush to join the river, the place was abandoned, so we took our clothes of and entered, it seemed so serene so out of place and time.

aquasanta terme

The Aquasanta (holy water) pool by the river

Aquasanta terme

A peak into the godeess’ Mephitis chasm

There is an old goddess worshipped in pre-roman times, she is called Mephitis, the goddes of evil smelling water, she is the goddess of hot springs, and chasms, the goddess of the places below, where the deep comes up to the surface, right above where we were bathing, there is a cave which is now closed by iron grate, but there the rush of hot sulphur water made me think of that goddess, with all the earthquakes it seemed relevant that something below is moving.

We were following a thread of sorts, it seemed that the road wasnt just leading us in a certain direction we simply couldnt take any other roads, the whole area was closed, but somehow the path to the open pool by the river was just there, like it was waiting for us.

A myth was emerging, bit by bit, the land was telling us a story something deep was moving, the pre roman Goddess had a message for us so it seemed but as this Blog entry is already a little long we must continue it with another…….

 

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