Life's pleasures of living in Italy
Today as we strolled by the fast running stream towards the still working flour mill in the small fraction of Gombola, which is part of the Territory of Polinago I pondered the question we are asked so frequently, “why are you living in Polinago?”.
There was a cold, damp feeling as we walked past the various stalls of the annual Christmas markets. Lots of brightly hand knitted or crocheted scarves and hats were on sale, side by side with organic vegetables, wholemeal flours of varying descriptions and many handmade decorative Christmas items. Saying “buon giorno” to friends and acquaintances and stopping to have a warming drink of just mixed Vin Brule (which we had noticed, had not only red wine in it, but a hefty flagon of grappa and bottle of Jack Daniels). The friendly, welcoming and joyful atmosphere, despite the weather made for a very cheery Sunday morning.
Why not Polinago? Almost ten years ago we decided to search for a place to live in Italy. My personal selection was for anywhere in Italy, the region, mountains, sea, city it didn’t matter. My heart had for so long wanted to move permanently to live somewhere in Italy. My new husband had no idea of what or where in Italy, he was happy to help me fulfil my dream. However, when on our honeymoon and driving through the snow to the small town of Acquaria, he said, “if you are looking at places in Italy, I would like it to be somewhere where it snows”. That was enough for me. I then started the online search for places in and around this part of south-west Emilia Romagna.
On deciding that a tumbledown stone farmhouse set in 16 acres of sloping land with outstanding views (on a clear day it is possible to see the Dolomites in the far distance to the north) we absolutely had no doubt that this was ‘it’. That fateful day in early May, we had recently arrived from a drought-stricken Canberra area, to be greeted by rolling green hills, soft sunshine and a little light, misty rain. Buttercups were everywhere in the grass, primulas peering out under massive chestnut trees and wild cherry trees covered in white blossom. After the years of dryness and brown lawns and gardens, this seemed like paradise.
True to our two characters, we decided first on the place, and then worked to adapt the living situation to what we wanted. The intention had always been to open a Bed and Breakfast, but we hadn’t given any thought to searching for something in a location which was attractive to tourists. It took us a while to realise that Polinago is really on a road to nowhere, so passing traffic would not be a way to attract clients.
Polinago - as a small town here in the lower Appennines, there was also no booming industrial base. The main industry consists of fields growing the grasses necessary to feed the cows in the local dairies producing milk to make the famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The largest overall employer is SAU which employees over 110 people in the manufacturing of precision machine tools. There is one ceramic tile factory and for the rest there are the varied services required for a small-town of 1650 inhabitants, the majority of whom are elderly.
However, we weren’t daunted. We realised that we would have to create and promote all the places we were slowly discovering for ourselves. We noticed that the locals themselves could not see what we saw, the marvellous places there were to visit and experience. The authenticity of their daily lives were already so special to us.
When we first arrived in 2011 both the regional and provincial governments were barely paying lip service to tourism. The region is called Emilia Romagna with the western part of the region consisting of the cities stretching from the north, of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Bologna. These are regarded as the Emiliano area and those towards the east of Ferrara, Imola, Forlì, Faenza, Ravenna and Rimini are the Romagnolo area. Bologna is the capital of the region. The overall region it is economically a prosperous one and the province of Modena (where Polinago is located) is regarded as the third wealthiest in Europe. So, there was scant regard paid to tourism. This is now changing with tourism sector slowly growing.
Due to the geography of the area, the Appennines border Tuscany to the south and Liguria to the west and descending to the east is the pianura, or plains which are extremely flat and fertile and an excellent location for a variety of industries as well as the farming of pork, stone fruit, corn, rice, Grano Padano cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and vineyards for the San Giovese and Lambrusco wines.
Polinago is the only town in the Appennines which faces Mt Cimone (2165mt) directly, and along with Abetone, the highest mountain on the Tuscan side, offers over 50km of ski slopes. In the past, many Italians in the area enjoyed skiing in winter and hiking the many trails in the area during summer, therefore there were many hotels of various sizes and holiday homes in the area. However, with the advent of budget airlines and the ease with which one could travel internationally, internal tourism became more and more depressed, with little heed to what was happening.
We quickly realised that there was enormous potential in promoting tourism of the experiential variety. With mass tourism everywhere these days, we ourselves would much prefer to visit out of the way places, savour the local foods, engage closely with the locals on a human level and above all avoid the crowds.
The places we have discovered in our region alone have been unique, sometimes mind blowing and often visually enchanting, touching all the senses. We have been very fortunate to have what we call our ‘only in Italy’ moments. Times when we have had to recalibrate the day because something has occurred unexpectedly. We have met many different people, mainly Italian but with different ideas and a focus on retaining their ways of life. The warm welcomes we receive and the pride they demonstrate when we start enquiring about their towns, places, jobs etc. We feel that we are living and discovering the real Italy. Not the cities which now abound with tourists, cater only for tourists and the cash which may be earned.
Come to visit Polinago and let us take you to the places we have discovered and are still discovering – we never get lost, we just find another route - and experience the real Italy with us.
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