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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Heartland 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.

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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.

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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…….

 

Models of Repopulation

As you may know, alongside making yurts and other tents and supplying replacement yurt covers for a big chunk of the UK campsite industry, we also are looking to create a sort of multi-use site in the centre of Italy, yes juggling many balls may be demanding at times,

Lately we have had a short break from making yurt covers that has allowed us to focus on a model for repopulating rural villages in southern Europe.

We are now working on the creation of a cultural association called Heartland (like the site we are building), whose aims are to promote eco-tourism, organic agricultural and low impact ways of building, as ways to repopulate the abandoned lands of southern Europe.

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The abandoned church of Valley Piola

In Italy there has been a very strong trend of rural depopulation: whole villages on the Apennines are now empty, one example is valley Piola now for sale as a whole village and in other places, you can be given an old house for free if you agree to renovate it. The historic centres of quite a few villages in south Italy are drawing investors that way.

We felt that we want to find a way to give something back to the region of Abruzzo and the best thing we can focus on, is to help this amazing region to introduce systems of sustainable tourism and green building legislation. Italy, as a whole, is still behind Northern Europe when it comes to the green tourism wave: yurt campsites, holidays on working farms, low impact building etc., even though the Italians love going on holiday and have lots of it.

Anyway we are getting off track here, the issue is that many places in southern Europe have become depopulated, due to economic issues (mainly), a change in life style and the hardship of mountain living and agriculture –  the village contracts inwards so to speak, the land furthest from the village core, at times become totally abandoned, the dirt roads fall into disuse.

The model we are developing currently is one in which those lands which are furthest from the village get developed as a sort of green belt, – we realise that the fact the village contracted inwards, (meaning that most people from the surrounding countryside now live inside the village), means that change in the centre is hardest. The Italian village is like a fortress. In the mountains it usually has a very strong identity, people still mill around until late at night in summer, sitting on benches and having coffee. It is hard to bring change to local communes – the village people are welcoming of course (it’s Italy after all), but the strong identity of who they are also serves to inhibit change, the traditional way which is so attractive, serves to keep things as they were.

So instead we are focusing on developing the furthest reaches of rural communes in the mountain region where we want to create the Heartland centre as the place where new movement will come from.

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yurt campsite

The focus is on creating an eco-centre in each commune, it could be a green tourist attraction, a small yurt village or maybe an organic farm where you can stay, maybe a place that studies new organic farming methods one that can be implemented in the fields of the old farmers, crops like giant bamboo, truffle growing, ancient grains.

Or it could be a small mobile saw mill focusing on km zero production in this region where massive mountains oaks grow wild. The only forestry the locals know is called firewood. Anyway you get the point, endowed lands gets developed into a green zone, that serves as some sort of responsible and ecological attraction.

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mobile saw milling

Next we are looking to the Region to establish new laws to help green building and low impact structures to be built in that green zone, with the hope to attract those green operators: the people that will come like pioneers to dig the ancient hills and plow it into an organic paradise will get an incentive The back-to-the-land movement is strong, if a bit under publicised, in Italy.

There has been so much in the area – growing ancient varieties of grain, fruit and vegetables, there is so much nature, amazing mountains, in fact Abruzzo has more national parks than almost anywhere else in Europe, walks between caves in the mountains, wild life to dream of, but yet it is still falling into abandonment. It is amazing, because, being specialists in alternative tourism and professional campsite builders, we feel we are able to help this region take a leap into a sustainable future, away from creating hotels on the mountain and paved walking paths. We envisage more old stone houses becoming Alberghi Difusi, yurts serving as small places to stay, safari tents as places to holiday on working organic farms, small dirt roads that lead from one small mountain municipality are tied together green area to neighbouring green area, what a dream right?!!.

There is a lot of work to do that is for sure, but it’s nice seeing the first seeds starting to grow, people coming to the region in a responsible manner, no more of selling whole villages to some foreign investors. Rural communities need to maintain their identity not to sell their soul, if you too are looking to help the sustainable future of southern Europe we urge you to get involved, thinking about having your own campsite?, your own little bit of paradise where you grow organic produce? The situation in a lot of rural Southern Europe is similar to that in Abruzzo, Italy.

Little by little we see how our small area of activity has already made a difference, our centre building is already forming new relationships, already bringing energy and people to an abandoned area, and its amazing to realise that the whole side of the local hill would turn back into jungle if it wasn’t for our efforts, to know the olives are cut again, the wells are all clean, to know that the thousand year old road is now being resurfaced by us in conjunction with the local commune. It feels good to be able to make a difference and help those mountain people of southern Europe come back to their roots in a new people, a new generation of green mountain people.

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Building old roads

If all of this speaks to you too feel free to contact us, you can also become a member of the Heartland Association or subscribe to the mailing list (button at bottom of page) to keep abreast of new development of the association and our tent making activity.

Acrylic Canvas

Yes, to most tent people, the idea of acrylic canvas, sounds strange and unnatural, on these beautiful, traditional nomadic structures. But, the truth is, of course, that to make cotton and polycotton able to withstand the elements in a European climate, various chemical products need to be applied. Don’t worry, all have passed safety tests.

If you have lived in or worked with canvas, you are well aware of the black spot mould which appears and the inevitable deterioration of the fabric. We recommend, every year, to clean the canvas with a soft brush and mild detergent and then to reproof the canvas with a reproofing solution (we can supply a paint-on FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed) solution). Acrylic canvas, however, doesn’t rot.

8 years ago we made this yurt cover for Tithe Farm B&B in Lincolnshire, England. They chose to have acrylic canvas, rather than the usual cotton canvas we were working with at that time, for longevity.

After standing outside for 8 years in Britain (to quote Biff Vernon, the yurt owner): “The fabric is still completely waterproof. The only problem we had was that where the six ropes that hold the top star down rub on the canvas at the roof/wall angle little holes have been worn. We stuck patches on with fabric glue to reinforce these and wrapped the ropes in a fabric sleeve to reduce the pressure. That might be less of a problem with curved roof poles but ours are straight so there’s quite a sharp angle”. (This issue can be prevented by threading a small piece of clear plastic hosepipe onto the star ropes, to sit on this shoulder of the roof rafter).

(Guess which is new and which is 8 years later).

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A more natural fabric like cotton or even polycotton would have well perished long ago in these conditions. The synthetic fabrics are woven and look very much the polycotton, only hang a bit more stiffly.

And here is the lovely little wedding pavilion at Cornish Tipi Holidays which we made 7 years ago, which we have heard, is still fine, only a bit ‘not perfect and wedding’.FullSizeRender-4

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These fabrics were PU coated, but we are now working with a FWR (flame, water and rot-proofed), fabric in which the proofing is in the fibres themselves, so is permanent, and can’t be removed.

Acrylic canvas is expensive, and not for everyone, but weighing up all the odds and external conditions, may be worth the investment, especially for a more upmarket look.