We promised some exciting new plans for this year, and we have been working hard. We spent a lovely sun-bathed day putting a new yurt up in Pianella, Abruzzo for a beautiful new campsite. This campsite is owned by one of our clients in the UK, so it was funny seeing two yurts going up at the same time in two different countries and symbolic in a way for where we are taking the Heartland rural development program, as a land bridge between the UK and the continent, sprouting new projects and sustainable rural development.
We are attempting to steer Glamping into a new direction in earnest, and this is how the Heartland program was born. Being one of the main structure providers in the UK, has put us in a central position to influence our campsite clients and learn from them. This innovative program is running parallel now both in Italy and in the UK. We started working with landowners, Estates, and small holdings on creating a new type of campsite, with sustainable development at heart. Kerry Roy who has become a good friend is a really good example, and we believe in her! She is the rising star of Glamping, everything this woman touches turns into gold, so keep your eyes peeled for her new Italian retreat centre! She manages the successful Camp Katur in the UK too.
It was fun seeing yurts we made by Volunteers and in some of the transformational events we run, go up over the same week in two different countries.
As Italy is a waking market where Glamping is concerned, it has given us time to reflect and design things from the ground up, and what has started as a project aimed to build our own campsite in the mountains of Abruzzo has turned into something much bigger. We now run a full service for people wanting to set up campsites in Italy and have a list of properties we hand-pick that are gorgeous and perfect for this type of venture. We have also chosen some of the most beautiful structure providers with saunas, tents and more, alongside some local log cabin builders etc and of course let us not forget our own unique tents. This is a program that takes new owners, especially people from the UK by the hand through all the rigmaroles of setting up a newly sustainable campsite in Italy. But the success of this program has also brought up some questions for us because we work mainly in the UK.
We asked ourselves why don’t we do the same for rural areas in the UK, help land-owners and investors into a new program of rural development, help the large profile of campsites we work with move into a more sustainable route, and so the Heartland program is now coming to the UK too! Into a big and well-proven industry. So if you are a land-owner or someone wanting to set up a new site contact us for more details. If you want to take your new site along a more sustainable route we have a plug-in model that has been proven, but its also a way we can really give back to rural areas, to help preserve history and tradition, bring personal development and transformational events in integration with small scale country living.
In the meantime here are some nice photos of our yurt going up in Italy.
My inspiration currently is food, I’m getting really excited about the connection between old vegetables, cereal and legumes and a way of life that is being forgotten. Like you probably already know we do a lot of work in Italy with sustainable tourism. My current hero though is an American chef called, sean brock.
Hence the title (I stole it from him) – he revived the culinary traditions of the American south from the ground up, that is what I find exciting claiming them back before it disappearnd it’s too late. He didn’t just recreate the recipes which he had loved growing up, he went as far as getting people to grow old grains that were extinct, like Carolina rice, in a search after the real taste. I sometimes play with the idea of running a restaurant like that or having a company called “Real Tastes”, finding the real foods that aren’t grown anymore, growing them and making food for people from them. If you end up at my kitchen table that’s the game I play almost every day, and I think everyone should.
What excites me about all of this is creating a way to take people into another layer, into an experience. Into the well being of the past, into the rich taste of real stripey tomatoes, black chickpeas. I mean, seriously wherever you live there have been veg, cereal pulse, cheeses, all grown or made in certain ways for hundreds of years, and it’s worth reaching for that taste, finding that old way of being, and weaving it into your life.
What I like about Sean Brook’s work is that he went after taste the wholesome way, and that inspires me. We have been working with cultivating some old Italian Varieties for the Heartland Association, mainly wheat, with the queen grain in my view being Solina, the soft and warm mountain grain of Abruzzo. You wait until you taste a homemade pasta made with this grain (don’t freak out if you can’t find any, just send us an email and we can get some sent to you).
I love taking our volunteers and getting them to help plant the fields, grow grain, harvest it by hand with us, plant herbs and gardens, and I love teaching them about conscious cooking, and the art of Alchemy in food.
I am not joking you, eating from your garden is one thing, but eating ancient grains that have been grown in the mountains of central Italy for thousands of years, and getting people to learn how to cook them with magic, eating them with veg and pulses that too have molded to the people and the land over a millennia and simply sitting in front of the fire and letting all of that go in…. it’s like what the locals say about olive oil, “it’s not food, its medicine”. The olives are not only not sprayed, for the better part they have not even been picked for years, seeing no man, but the air and water are pure, and so you end up with – sun, stone. solitude, and silence, as is the olive tree lore.
The thing that inspires me, in all of that, is creating an experience. I am working on a new model for sustainable tourism, and developing a new type of campsite experience, and I want to make the Alchemy of conscious cooking one of its main pillars.
Along with all of that, I believe its time we take Glamping, as it’s called, into another direction, I don’t appreciate that it has become this Instagram sort of experience, I want it to be real, I want to combine 4 elements in the campsites we work to create. We already covered food, the second is obviously, open unspoiled nature, the third is the structures themselves, and I have always preferred the tribal ones, although I have seen some amazing spaces that inspire me in other directions. You can inspire people in so many ways by taking them into a setting. I loved staying at the Albergo Diffuso (scattered hotel, as in, it’s not just one building but half of the old village) of Sextantio in North of Abruzzo, it’s like living in an untouched medieval hilltown – the whole feel is 15th century, the houses are untouched and all done in an old way, the restaurant is in a castle cellar, it allows one to drift into another place, to dream..
The fourth pillar is inner work. My volunteers make me laugh a lot (even if I make them cry in return) but together we have made experiments in group conscious work, I am their guinea pig and they are mine, and for a spell, we experiment together in another way of being. The setting is wild Abruzzo and you can feel the old Samnite pastoral nomads walking their sheep in the air, and so we too let go and find different ways. I let them explore consciousness and they let me take them to places they haven’t been before, and we keep the process open and shared. We also run events that take people into this process on a deeper layer, and so this fourth element is the one I deem most important. A lot of it is allowing people to share more, and putting things in the centre, but the connection to weather and body and how everything communicates with itself is also important. One of the things that happen when we host for example is that it always rains when new people come, it’s like a rule, we will be enjoying months of Italian sunshine and…. boom, a newcomer and a storm. Explain it to a 21-year-old?!, but the thing is that some of them get it, so much so they kind of control the weather afterwards, so if you end up seeing some really strange weather, it isn’t climate change, it’s one of our volunteers on a wild day, Ok I’m just joking.
I’ve seen our workers become telepathic, and all it took is putting them into the group making process, living in nature, and sharing life together in a tribal setting, they wake up at 4 am in different tents going through the same thing, later they go back living in separate countries and the same thing happens, its like for a spell they are still connected, yet after a while the spell (usually) fades.
I would like to develop this whole system into the campsites we design and work with, that’s what excites me, a framework and experience from the ground up. Lucy is also a fountain of ideas, she has endless experience types, and how to tailor them around a business plan and she makes me really laugh at some of the ideas of what she would like to see in a campsite/retreat experience.
So this is our current focus – we have started designing a whole new type of experience, and its code is going back to wholesome, to the food grown in a locality, to its history and tradition. The magic of being together in nature. I feel quite amazed that somehow all I need to do is choose a new direction and life finds me the people to work with, and suddenly there is this flow of people asking for our help to design their campsites. And here was me thinking we went against the “Glamping” stream, in that we always push for sustainability and back to earth practices. I thought most people just want to turn their campsite into a money-making machine, but I was wrong, and people find us exactly for that, so in order to help, I thought I would write the basics down, good ideas should be shared openly. I can’t say it will be a good idea for everyone but it inspires me, before it’s too late.
The next was the September edition of the International Glamping Business Magazine, which coincided with the Glamping Show, an annual event for the Glamping Industry in the UK. It runs a whole feature on Glamping in Italy and we are on page 21 – and strangely there is a story of some other people who came from the UK to Abruzzo to start a glamping project.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.